10 April 2021

The Hotel Asbestos (1919 - 1929)

Hear the phrase "asbestos hotel" in 2021 and you might be inclined to shout, "Yikes!" But to Hillsborough Township, New Jersey residents of the 1920s, those words provoked an entirely different reaction. 

The Hotel Asbestos in the 1940s

It was in 1917 that the Johns-Manville corporation - who had relocated their asbestos manufacturing plant from Brooklyn, New York to the northeast corner of Hillsborough in 1912 - decided to build a hotel near the site of their factory complex. At that time the only other hostelries in town were the Weston Hotel (the converted Captain Davey mansion) which had a small number of guest rooms and the Neshanic Hotel which had even fewer.

The rear of the Hotel Asbestos, under construction in 1917.

The excavation work and foundation were completed between October and December 1917 at a site on the east side of Main Street - still called Millstone Road in those days - right at the intersection of Brooks Boulevard and conveniently near the Lehigh Valley Railroad station. Construction continued throughout 1918. The $75,000 hotel - $1.7 million today - included seventy guest rooms with private baths, two dining rooms, a large lobby, a ballroom/auditorium which could accommodate 500 people for dinner (350 couples for dancing!) a barbershop, a club room, recreation rooms, and the Manville Post Office. The grand opening of the two-story brick building formally named The Hotel Asbestos, took place on February 1, 1919.

19 June 1919 Courier News

The guest rooms were primarily reserved for the use of Johns-Manville traveling employees and those visiting the factory on business. The first-floor ballroom and dining rooms, however, were occupied by all manner of charitable and civic organizations - from the local political parties to the Elks to the nurses of the Somerset Hospital - to hold their annual dinners, fundraisers, conventions, and the like. 

The Vincent Lopez Orchestra circa 1924

An invitation to one of these events might include dancing to the Dixieland clarinet of the Louis Nelson DeLisle Band or the proto-Big Band stylings of the Vincent Lopez Orchestra and dinner provided by the award-winning chefs. Another popular entertainment was motion pictures. Silent movies were shown in the ballroom and the public was often welcomed at no charge.

26 November 1926 Home News

The Hotel Asbestos was a "big-city" hotel in nearly every way except that private events were severely discouraged. While the big local organizations had the inside track on booking their banquets, it was nearly impossible to reserve the Hotel Asbestos for a wedding reception or anniversary party. Consequently, the hotel constantly operated at a loss. This changed in 1927 when new management changed the policy and actively encouraged public use of the hotel.

The hotel closed in 1929, reportedly for renovations. It was soon learned that all of the first-floor rooms were converted to Johns-Manville office space and the Post Office was relocated to Washington Avenue. The Hotel Asbestos never reopened to the public and the building was razed in the late 1990s a few years after the plant was closed.

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