Demolished Resort Hotel in Ohio

Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky Ohio
Date added: October 01, 2023 Categories:

Hotel Breakers is a large late Victorian Chateau-like resort hotel built in 1905, during the "golden age" of the resort hotel in America. It was designed by Wilm Knox and John H. Elliott, a noted architectural team of Cleveland. The Breakers is one of the few remaining major resort hotels from the turn-of-the-century age of the resort hotel in America. It was also the site of events of historic interest, including the perfecting of the forward pass and the terminus of a record-setting flight over water.

The resort hotel has always, in one form or another, been a very popular recreational form in America. Many were built near natural and scenic wonders; sometimes, like the Breakers, they were also linked to amusement parks and entertainment centers. Coney Island in New York City once boasted several fine resort hotels; in fact, the hotels there pre-dated the rides and other attractions. A variety of factors made resort hotels popular. They were large, opulent for the standards of the day, and, most importantly, they offered a variety of activities under one roof. To use a modern phrase, they were one-stop vacations. Eating and drinking, dancing, band concerts and music of all kinds, games, and lectures were all attractions.

Few hotels of that grand era (roughly 1890 to 1915) have survived. Most were frame and were susceptible to fire. With the Depression and the coming of the automobile, long visits to resorts decreased in popularity and many of the hotels were torn down or converted to apartment buildings. The Breakers is a true example of the classic American resort hotel, and a rare instance of one that survives in conjunction with an amusement park.

The Sandusky Bay/Lake Erie Islands area of the State of Ohio has been a popular vacation area for more than a century. The history of tourism and recreation is an important factor in the overall development of the region. Recreation gives the area much of its character and charm, as well as providing an economic base. This region of Ohio, roughly the area from Vermilion to Port Clinton including the islands, has traditionally been the most popular vacation area in the State. In fact, it is the only area in the State in which recreation and tourism have played an important historical role in terms of economic and social development.

Major resort hotels once existed on South Bass Island in Lake Erie and on Johnson's Island in Sandusky Bay. Both, however, were destroyed by fire prior to World War I.

The Breakers was conceived and built by George A. Boeckling, an Indiana entrepreneur who was one of the great amusement park and resort developers early in this century. Boeckling bought Cedar Point in 1897, and soon announced an ambitious program of development. At that point, the principal facility was the White House Hotel and its Bay Shore addition. He built Cedar Point from a small local resort, used as early as the 1860s, into a Midwest showplace.

In 1904, the "lagoons" were begun. These 10' deep and 60'-150' wide channels or canals offered various advantages: for recreation, supply, and land reclamation. In 1905-06, the Breakers and the pavilion known as the Coliseum were built, and in 1907 construction of an amusement section, or midway, began to its southeast.

Boat travel to and from Cedar Point was common. Boeckling's namesake steamer G. A. Boeckling served beginning in 1909, supplementing service by other vessels.

From Boeckling's death in 1931 until 1950, the property was administered by trustees and then leased to a Cleveland hotel operator. It had declined dramatically in the intervening years. Both its physical plant and its financial condition were perilous. In 1960, however, a new syndicate, including George A. Roose of Toledo, E. A. Legros of Cleveland, and Paul A. Dunn, decided to emulate Disneyland, bringing in a Disney veteran to manage Cedar Point. The new managers reversed the decades of decline and brought prosperity to the Park. Among other steps, they introduced new rides, including one of the first Mill Race Log Flumes (1963) and the "Blue Streak" Roller Coaster (1964), and restored old ones. In 1965, the Park passed two million in attendance for the first time; in 1978, three million.

The Breakers has been the site of events of historic interest. On August 31st, 1910, pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss flew non-stop from the waterfront at Euclid Beach Park, just east of Cleveland, to the beach in front of the Hotel Breakers, a distance of 64 miles. This long-distance flight over water eclipsed the record of 25 miles over the English Channel by the French aviator Louis Bleriot. A crowd of 20,000 witnessed the landing. In 1911, Curtiss gave exhibition flights at Cedar Point in his new hydro-plane, the "Triad."

Football immortals Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais of Notre Dame perfected the forward pass while working as lifeguards on the Breakers' beach in the summer of 1913. That fall, they applied their new techniques with devastating effect to defeat Army and usher in a new age of football. Rockne returned and married Bonnie Skiles of Sandusky, who was also working at the Breakers, the next summer. Later, the "Four Horsemen" worked at Cedar Point.

In 1916 a featherweight championship boxing match between George Chaney and defender Johnny Kilbane was held in a canvas open-air arena erected southeast of the bay dock. The scheduled fifteen-round title bout ended with a knockout in the third round by the champion, who retained his crown. The previous year the champion had met Alvin Miller of Lorain, Ohio, at Cedar Point in a non-title twelve-round bout which went the distance. Another bonus bout, between Frank Mason and Joe Thomas, flyweights, in 1920, was the last held.

Boeckling was an impresario who brought many stars of the New York Metropolitan Opera to sing at the Breakers while on their summer tours to Chicago. Nellie Melba, John McCormack, Enrico Caruso, Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and others gave impromptu concerts from the balconies in the Rotunda.

During the early and middle decades of this century, the Breakers was a top gathering place for many famous people, including John Philip Sousa, and six U.S. Presidents: William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower. The Breakers has even entered literature, for another guest, the American writer Sherwood Anderson, who was from nearby Clyde, Ohio, used Cedar Point and its great hotel as a setting for some of his short stories.

The one innovation in the 1930s, a period when Cedar Point was otherwise in the doldrums, that was both popular and profitable was the conversion of the Coliseum dance floor into a ballroom with refreshment service in 1939. To this ballroom over the next few years came many of the popular bands of the day, among them the following:

Don Bestor, Shep Fields, Bob Zurke, George Olsen, Gene Krupa, Paul Whiteman, Russ Morgan, Ozzie Nelson, Ted Weems, Charlie Barnet, Glenn Gray, Ted Lewis, Blue Barron, Vincent Lopez, Bob Crosby, Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo, Benny Goodman, Buddy Rogers, Wayne King, Henry Busse, Woody Herman, Frankie Masters, Ray Noble.

Building Description

The eight original wings of Hotel Breakers were constructed in 1905 to the specifications of G. A. Boeckling, following his visit to the Loire Valley in France. The resulting design is French Chateau-style country architecture with rough plaster exterior walls, presently white with black trim. One additional wing, Bon Aire, the largest and northernmost, was added in 1924. It is of the same design. The structure covers eight acres, with nine wings extending like fingers off a main hallway which parallels Lake Erie. Each wing is three stories high. However, the wings are connected only on their ground floors. Each wing that faces the lake ends in two rounded towers.

Features of the adjacent Cedar Point amusement park include one of the two remaining Derby Racers in the United States (originally at Euclid Beach Park, near Cleveland, and brought to Cedar Point in 1967), four carousels, and the Casino building, a contemporary of the hotel, which has been modified for use as an arcade. The steamer, G. A. Boeckling, which ferried visitors from Sandusky to Cedar Point in 1909-51, survives, but is docked across the Bay in the town of Sandusky; the ferry is significantly altered.

Cedar Point's carousels include the following:

1) A rare (probably only six exist) Daniel C. Muller (1912), previously at Revere Beach, Massachusetts, which was installed in the park about 1942. It appears to be missing its fifth row of horses, but is otherwise well-preserved.

2) An Allan Herschell miniature of aluminum purchased new for the Park in 1953.

3) A Dentzel (c. 1925) that was brought to Cedar Point from Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1968.

4) A 1921 Dentzel in the Park's "Frontier town" section that came to Cedar Point in 1971 from Aurora, Illinois, via Haslett, Michigan.

The main lobby is quite large with a high ceiling, surrounded by balconies on the upper levels. The ceilings and upper walls are tin relief in a fleur-de-lis pattern. Suspended from the ceiling are three Tiffany glass chandeliers. Original stained glass panels by Louis Buser of Tiffany's, the famous glass cutter who did the stained glass work for the Mormon Tabernacle and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York City, are positioned on three sides atop the balcony rail. All are under protective glass.

The Rotunda, adjacent to the Lobby on the lakeside, is of note. This section of the hotel is five stories high and cylindrical, with odd-shaped rooms. All upper floors have the original spoked railings. The flooring on the first level is the original maple and gum.

Room arrangement, on either side of long interior hallways, has remained consistent through extensive remodeling programs. Many sets of two or three rooms, which each averaged 9' x 12', have been combined to form modernized rooms or suites. Two back wings, away from the lake, are presently used as employee accommodations and are unchanged. Their original partitions and wood flooring are intact.

All guest areas have modern baths and the walls have been refinished with either commercial paneling or decorative wallboard. Their ceilings are suspended.

Interior modernization began about 1959 with the Bon Aire wing. Further remodeling has proceeded floor by floor and wing by wing. The last major undertaking was the refurbishing in 1977 of Section C, nearest the amusement area.

The only significant exterior alteration to the Hotel is the southwest portico, which was added in the 1960s. The orientation of the main entrance was thus changed from the lakeshore to the automobile approach. It is simply an extension of the original southwest wing. This portico replaced a service entrance, the "back door" of the hotel wing, consisting of a small door and a few wooden steps that had never been used by the guests and had no architectural distinction.

Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky Ohio

Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky Ohio

Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky Ohio