Act III Episode 12 - Grace Kelly Returns to Her Roots
The arrival in Ocean City of Princess Grace of Monaco was met, as usual, with no fanfare, as she routinely returned to her childhood stomping grounds every Labor Day weekend since she married Prince Ranier in 1956.
As usual, her sister Lizanne Kelly Levine and her husband Donald picked her and the two kids up at the airport in Philly. As they drove across the Walt Whitman bridge she looked out the window as they passed Jack’s Twin Bar in Glocester Ciry, where she used to visit her old boyfriend Dick Boccelli playing drums with Bill Haley and the Comets before they were famous.
And when they got to the fork in the road, Don driving asked if he should take the Black Horse Pike or the new, year old Atlantic City Expressway – and Grace chose the Pike, so they could stop for hot dogs and ice cream at that roadside stand their father always stopped at on the way to the Shore.
As Don Levine veered to the right he looked over at the entrance to the Expressway and took notice of the shiny new sign that read: “Motorcycles Prohibited” – with a black silhouette of a man on a motorcycle in a circle and a slash across it.
They had to wait for the drawbridge to Ocean City to open and close so some of them got out of the car and went to the railing and waved at the people on the boat going through below, and Don Levine at the wheel shaking his head and thinking how they could have lowered their rigging a few feet and went under the bridge with no problem but just had to open the bridge because they had the right of way and could do it so they did, and set this huge Labor Day weekend traffic jam in motion, one that backed up to the Somers Point circle and then all the way to Route 9, that would take an hour to get untangled. But tempers didn’t flare, and everyone just breathed in the salt air, took advantage of the view from the bridge and listened to the radio.
Once they were moving again, Levine drove down 9th Street to Central and made a right at the Chatterbox and as they passed Grace looked down 11th Street to see the Flanders, and for a moment tried to imagine what it was like in August 1929, the year she was born, when her father bought this lot and built this house, the only house south of 14th Street, that when it was first built stood out like a lighthouse on this dune of sugar sand.
This house of brick with the small fence big enough to keep the dogs in, this house with the parapet roof from where you could see the stars, this grand, great house where so many kids had so much fun for some many seasons. And another one was coming to an end and as usual, would go out with much fanfare.
When Levine stopped the car on 27th street, Grace sat in the car for a moment to look at the house – the graceful Spanish Revival lines and red tile terracotta roof, and thought, if only for a moment, of Vivian Smith, the young architect who designed it, and how interesting a person he must have been, as he also did some other significant buildings in town – the Music Pier, the Chatterbox, the Flanders, the Copper Kettle Fudge building and boardwalk arcade – all done in the Spanish Revival style, while other building that also bear his signature – Ocean City High School, Ocean City Hall, Ventnor City Hall and some classic Atlantic City boardwalk hotels are all of different styles and totally unique in their own way, as was the beach house built by her father – John B. Kelly, Sr.
John B., as he was called by friends and foe alike, was an Irish bricklayer who started a one man “KELLY FOR BRICKWORK” company that eventually built almost every skyscraper in Philly that is shorter than the Billy Penn’s hat, as there was once a law that prevented the construction of anything higher than Billy’s hat, and Kelly built most of them, as well as other major landmarks such as 30th Street Station, which makes you stop and say “Wow” when you walk in for the first time, and the Atlantic City Race Track.
John B. built his house on the barren south dunes because all of the other major Philadelphia Main Line society millionaires had homes in the North End Gardens section of Ocean City or in Margate and Longport, so just as he built his Philly Home in East Falls rather than on the Main Line, he bought an inexpensive lot in a part of town nobody else really wanted to live. He had riparian rights to the water’s edge and while the house was at one time on the beach, when they put Central Avenue in he owned the beach lot on the other side of the street and eventually built a big two story brick house there too, so by 1965, with the two houses, it was sort of like the Kennedys, the Kelly Compound, except there was no security and anybody could come and go and generally did, brothers, sisters, cousins and cousins friends – all part of the Kelly Clan.
Since her father passed away, her mother Margaret Kelly had assumed the mantle of leadership of the household and after paying her respects to her mother, sitting in the shade reading a book, she said hello to her brother, lifting weights in the garage, and gathered up her two kids and a few other straggling cousins and walked across the street and down the beach to the boardwalk.
It is quite a hike but an exciting one, knowing what was in store – a box of fudge from Copper Kettle, slice of pizza from the front counter of Mack & Mancos and a walk down the boardwalk to the rides – Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and carnival candies, just like, and fitting in with all of the other Shoebees and tourists.
Switching into routine, Grace Kelly let the kids run free while she unpacked her sparse baggage, as while in town she would visit and buy some new dresses from her tailor – Mr. Talese, and get t-shirts for all of her maids, butlers, drivers, chefs and Swiss Army security.
Her kids knew the routine now, and looked forward to riding their skate boards and bicycles, having lunch and banana split at the Chatterbox, “where mom used to work,” the kids moan whenever the Chatterbox is mentioned.
And so it was with much dismay when Katie, the Mayor’s daughter arrived for work as a waitress at the Chatterbox and discovered that Grace Kelly was there with her two kids but were gone.
“But,” someone remarked, that’s her sister Lizanne still sitting in that booth eating ice cream.” and Kate looked over and recognized Chris Matthews, the Philly college kid and Chatterbox cook sitting in a chair and talking to some women in a booth.
"That's your station, so you better get over there and wait on the royality," another waitress said, and so Kate went over and introduced herself.