OCEAN GROVE – At the Central Avenue House in Ocean Grove, owner Jennifer Sirois, a fifth-generation female hotel owner, sometimes wishes the walls could talk. After all, at 146 years old, they would have a lot to say. With property and hotel ownership historically being one of the careers open to women in decades past, “my great-great grandmother, Lottie Burr, who was rumored to be a descendant of Aaron Burr, owned The Burrington Hotel on Seventh Avenue in Asbury Park in the late 1870s,” she said. “Then, in 1901, my great-grandmother, Cora Mae Applegate, purchased Central Avenue House in a sheriff’s sale for $2,500 using $1,000 she borrowed from her mother. My grandmother, Myrtle Davis, inherited ownership in 1966 and passed it to my mother, JoAnne Culp, in 1989. My mom then gifted it to me in 2000 so that I could have what I’d wanted all my life – she wanted me to enjoy the hotel and carry on a family tradition because she knew how passionate I was about it,” Sirois said. “I’m honored to be in the 115th year of my family’s stewardship of this property,” she said. “A long line of females have owned and operated this hotel; these savvy women had tremendous drive, resilience, and intelligence and we stand among Ocean Grove’s proud ‘living history’ of women.”
Born and raised in Haddonfield, but spending so many summers in Ocean Grove that “it feels like my home,” Sirois, a former military intelligence officer who served in the U.S. Army from 1984 until her retirement as lieutenant colonel in 2012 and who currently runs her own private investigation firm, has succeeded in making her property a cozy Jersey Shore respite for others as well, particularly large families. Though once a bed and breakfast with single rooms for rent like the majority of guest accommodations in Ocean Grove, Sirois capitalized on a niche market several years ago and began renting her house to large groups only by the week or weekend for family reunions, getaways, wedding parties and other gatherings.
“It was physically and emotionally draining to run it as a B&B,” she shared. “Now, there’s one lease made out to one tenant and that tenant can bring up to 25 people who enjoy spending time together and cooking for themselves – part of the area’s original Methodist theology, which emphasized communal living and sharing,” she said. “It’s like renting a whole house in a beautiful quaint setting two blocks from the beach.” Offering 14 rooms that each sleep one or two people, two airy porches, a laundry room, living room, two kitchens, and a large dining area, the fully-restored, three-story structure is located “in the town’s most historic district, across the street from the Great Auditorium, and offers an authentic Ocean Grove Victorian guest house feel, even down to the sink present in every bedroom,” Sirois said. “When people come in, they’re in wonder and awe at all of the amenities and furnishings, many of which were my grandmother’s, and often say that they feel like they’ve walked into grandma’s house, but it’s super-clean and easy,” with rates including 20 beach badges, chairs and towels for added convenience, she said. “Guests’ expectations have changed greatly since my grandmother’s time,” Sirois acknowledged of the expansive bedrooms, opulent bathrooms and in-room fireplaces that modern vacationers often demand when booking accommodations today, a stark contrast to the more vintage look and feel of her property. “But I know not to mess with what works – Central Avenue House works beautifully for large families and this model works for me.”
Relaxed and Warm
“My stays at Central Avenue House were some of the best experiences ever,” raved Brooklyn resident Jeneba Charkey, 58, an insurance broker, interfaith minister and photographer who stayed there repeatedly over the years when it was a B&B and who continues to stop by and say hello during her annual vacations to Ocean Grove. “Jennifer has a delightful team working for her and has created an incredibly relaxed and warm atmosphere that really becomes your home. She’s vigilant about keeping the place immaculate and is always available if you need her. It’s everything you could want in a wonderful vacation with friends or family in a beautiful beach community with great dignity.”
Sirois concedes that ownership of a Jersey Shore hotel can be challenging. “My livelihood is predicated on strangers’ ability to pay for a vacation, and weather is always an issue, although most bookings are now done online in January and February for the summer, which offers a lot more security,” she said.
In addition, she said, while there are some bookings in the spring and fall, “the heart of the season is definitely the 12-week summer. Many B&B owners want to make their properties year-round attractions, but the fact is that people don’t want oceanfront Jersey Shore accommodations in the winter, so you really have to capitalize on the summer season.”
Happily, she said, “we were at 100 percent capacity last summer,” and is optimistic for a repeat experience this year.
“We’re really unique in that we represent multigenerational owners serving multigenerational families,” she said. “People who stay here will experience the authentic graciousness of Ocean Grove – the old-fashioned, small-town charm and happy feeling of sitting on the front porch and everyone saying hello.” While her grown son Justin has no current plans to take over the hotel when she retires down the road, Sirois is excited for the opportunity to remain its loyal proprietor and proud steward for a long time to come. “We’ve provided a service to the community for generations and service is what our family and Central Avenue House are all about,” she concluded. “We’re all the things that make for the fabric of a vibrant community.”
(Photo: FRANK GALIPO/CORRESPONDENT)
Jennifer Sirois displays a photo of her great-uncle and grandmother, who were born in room number 7 of the Central Avenue House, the Ocean Grove hotel she owns. (Photo: FRANK GALIPO/CORRESPONDENT)
Keys for rooms hang in the 145-year-old Central Avenue House in Ocean Grove. (Photo: FRANK GALIPO/CORRESPONDENT
Jennifer Sirois displays photos of herself (second from left) and her ancestors in one of the rooms of her Ocean Grove hotel, the Central Avenue House, which has been in her family for over a century. (Photo: FRANK GALIPO/CORRESPONDENT)