The Oldest Hotel on Old Orchard Beach Gets a Colorful Update

Built around 1895, the Ocean House Hotel reopens this month with a splashy new interior.

Interior of the Ocean House Hotel in Old Orchard Beach, Maine
By Aurelia C. Scott
Photos courtesy of Emily Murray
From our May 2024 issue

In August 1907, the Boston and Maine Railroad offered discounted tickets of $2 apiece for trips from North Station to what is now Old Orchard Beach. The town’s fine oceanfront hotels, decorated with towers, turrets, and wraparound porches, were packed, as were its rooming houses and campgrounds. Men in suits and beribboned hats and women in long skirts and puffed sleeves, peeking out from beneath parasols, strolled in the streets and on the sand. That was until the evening of August 15, when a fire reportedly started in the staff quarters connected to the four-story Hotel Alberta. According to a newspaper account, “several ‘street corner Johnnies’ who practiced the fine art of girl watching” recounted peering through a staff-room window and seeing a woman knock over an oil lamp, her curtains going up in flames. (The spilled oil was apparently ignited by a curling iron.) The blaze consumed 17 hotels, 60 cottages, and 100 feet of the famed wooden pier in the town then known simply as Old Orchard. Among the few lodging establishments left standing was the Ocean House Hotel. 

Other waterfront hotels that survived the Great Old Orchard Fire were demolished in the ensuing decades, but the Ocean House remained. Today, it’s the oldest hotel on Old Orchard Beach. Built around 1895, it boasted tennis and croquet courts, ping-pong tables, and a barbershop. In 1961, it was purchased by Alfred Paul and his wife, Emelda, who’d vacationed there as a child visiting from New Brunswick. After Alfred died, Emelda ran the hotel, and an adjacent motel the couple built in 1969, until her death, in 2004. Family members tried to keep the place going, but it fell into disrepair. By the time Hampden-based hoteliers Carla and Danny Lafayette bought the establishment, in 2019, it sported peeling lead paint, a leaking roof and windows, water-damaged wood flooring, and dated mechanical systems and décor. “Some people thought we should tear it down,” Carla says. “But Danny and I love history, including Old Orchard Beach’s history. We want to be part of restoring the town’s fabric.”

This month, the Lafayettes are reopening the Ocean House after a two-year renovation led by Portland builder Woodhull along with Falmouth interior designer Katy Gannon-Janelle, who remembers being introduced to the then-91-year-old former owner Emelda Paul by local friends in 1983. “She was wrinkled and sparkly, with a huge smile and strong French accent,” Gannon-Janelle says. “And now here I am, helping to continue her legacy.” 

While the construction crew rehabbed the interior and added a Queen Anne–inspired porch on the street-facing facade, Gannon-Janelle focused on streamlining the furnishings, which ran the gamut from Victorian to mid-century modern, and implementing a punchy complementary palette of blues, greens, pinks, and oranges on walls, patterned rugs, and upholstery, and contemporary floral wallpaper and curtains. “I call it dopamine decorating,” Gannon-Janelle says. “This is a beachy carnival town, so I aimed for summer-cottage fun.”

ocean house
Old Orchard Beach’s newly restored, circa 1895 Ocean House Hotel is a monument to a bygone era, when Victorian cottages and train tracks lined West Grand Avenue, just beyond the property’s watchful cats.

Nineteenth-century Thonet bentwood chairs Gannon-Janelle unearthed in the hotel’s attic provide seating in the downstairs parlor, Emelda’s, named for the former owner and rendered in a moody teal. In the lobby, where snowy board-and-batten paneling juxtaposes with a gardeny wallpaper border, are Victorian- and Edwardian-style sofas and chairs from New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. And on an enclosed porch, heirloom white wicker furniture from a Kennebunk Beach home provide breezy counterpoints to upholstered antiques. “All the furnishings have stories and memories,” Gannon-Janelle says. “We hope they add to the memories made here over the years and to the memories that will be made in the years to come.” 

71 West Grand Ave., Old Orchard Beach. From $229 per night.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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