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Retrospective: The Cranford Hotel

As with all Mr. Local History retrospectives, we often update the post when we learn stories and are sent photos from our community. We will continue to grow this piece as information becomes available. If you have a comment or photo, feel free to post at the bottom of this page or drop us a note.

Mr. Local History Project

If you’ve ever been to Cranford, New Jersey, there are two places you have to go to: the Cranford Canoe Club as it epitomizes what is known as the “Venice of New Jersey” BUT a close second is the Cranford Hotel. Situated just south of the town trestle below the railroad tracks, the Cranford Hotel has been an institution in Cranford going back to 1893. Still here today, let’s take a look at Cranford’s most historic family run business.

The Cranford Hotel on the corner of 1 South Union Street in Cranford, New Jersey has been a landmark establishment going back to 1893.

The Cranford Hotel, as seen today, bears a strong resemblance to its earliest days. Built in 1893 by the Hess family, it’s convenience to the railroad tracks made it a popular stop for businessmen. Replacing an earlier version of the Cranford Hotel is said to have been built in 1882, which had burned down, John and Martin Hess chose the location nearly adjacent to the train tracks to insure it becoming a popular stop for businessmen returning home from a long day of work.

The Cranford Hotel c.1920s. As you can see, the tracks were level with the establishments until 1930 when the tracks were raised.

The hotel fronted directly on the railroad tracks until the grade crossing was eliminated in 1930. The railroad tracks were just outside the front door, at grade level in the days before the entire line was elevated to eliminate conflicts with road traffic.

Central Jersey Railroad c.1911. The hotel would have been alongside South Avenue where Walnut Ave. crosses the tracks.

The Hess Hotel

Martin and John Hess along with John’s wife Freda Rosendale were founders of the Hess Hotel. In addition to sleeping rooms, the hotel included a bar and a produce store on the ground floor. Upstairs is a charming restaurant, with a view of downtown Cranford.  Downstairs is the speakeasy looking pub area, with a bar and table seating, complete with a working fireplace.  The cozy fireplace dining area was originally a bowling alley, and the dartboard on the wall near the entrance was once the site of a grill that served quick meals.

In 1901, many don’t know this but in addition to the Hess’s Cranford Hotel there was another hotel called the Central Hotel nearby on Walnut and South Avenue owned by J. Ehrhardt.
Patrons enjoying a beverage c.1896 at the Cranford Hotel.
Source: Cranford Historical Society

On April 6, 1946, the Hess Hotel was sold from the estate of Martin & John  Hess (Executor Gertrude N. Volker) as Martin’s son Oscar has a successful plumbing business just next door to the hotel. The Hess family sold the hotel to Frank DiTullio Sr.. Frank Sr purchased the establishment with his brother Billy and a third partner for $2759.32 – paying $60/month until the balance was paid off. Frank DiTullio Sr, continued to run the hotel until he passed in 1963 when Frank Jr. took over the operations. The Cranford Hotel remained in use as a commuter bar and restaurant and yes a hotel until the early 70s.

Cranford’s Frank DiTullio and his family. L-R Kirstin, Frank Jr.., Karin, Frank III. and Kim were the force behind the Cranford Hotel after Frank Sr. passed down the family business to his son Frank Jr.. Sadly, Frank Jr. passed in 2018. Frank III continues today. Source: Cranford Hotel

Frank DiTullio Jr., graduated from the US Coast Guard, worked the Hotel’s lower bar, while also being a teacher at Walnut Avenue School. After leaving his teaching position in 1969, he ran the the hotel operation in Cranford until 1986 when Kim took over. Frank Jr. then continued the day to day operations at his Point Pleasant restaurant called the Off Shore until the day he passed in 2018.

The upstairs bar at the Cranford Hotel.

Cranford Hotel – Iconic Art and Images

Collect a piece of Cranford history. The Cranford Canoe Club wooden keepsake.
Honor Cranford’s 150th anniversary. Collect a piece of Cranford history. The Cranford Canoe Club wooden keepsake and others are available now. Online ONLY.

The “Hotel” Part

The Cranford Hotel was actually a hotel on the 2nd and 3rd floors until the 1970s. Many of the people staying there were long-term borders, some living at the Hotel for years. Hotel residents might have been working in the area and essentially just needed a place to sleep before they moved onto another job someplace else. They kept cards on each of the guests bundled together with a rubber band, with a note saying they were in arrears. Somebody owes the Hotel $150 for ten weeks of boarding!

Both the second and third floors have about five rooms apiece, plus a shared bathroom holding a toilet, sink and shower stall. The building hasn’t taken in overnight guests since the early 1970s. When the pandemic hit in 2019, the hotel renovations began and now the upper floors are fully transformed as functioning office space.

The Cellar Bar is my favorite bar in the area. Still the same as it was 50 years ago.
The cozy cellar gathering area with the famed fireplace.

Keep Making History

The pandemic won’t stop Cranford and it won’t stop the Hotel! While there have been challenges regarding capacity, the township moves into 2021 not only honoring the 150th anniversary of Cranford, but honoring local businesses that refuse to bow down to this pandemic. Everyone at the Cranford Hotel is doing everything they can to keep the bar and restaurant open. Whether it’s curbside pickup, limited capacity dining, or something else, count on the Hotel to be around.

How can you write a piece without diggin in. The burger has long been a favorite at the Hotel. Whether you’re upstairs or downstairs, it’s comfort food at its best. For over 40 years, the taylor ham and that awesome cheddar spread on a toasted kaiser roll was one of my all time favorites there.
  • Cellar Main Room – capacity of 24 seated guests, 4 round tables
  • Cellar Fireplace Room – capacity of 24 seated guests, flexible seating
  • Cellar Banquette Room – capacity of 25 seated guests, long rectangular tables
  • Cellar Tavern – capacity of 65 seated guests, flexible seating
  • Porch – capacity of 30 seated guests; long rectangular tables only
  • 2nd Floor – Office space
  • 3rd Floor – Office space
The CHS Class of 1977 at their 2017 reunion at the Hotel. Thanks Marianne Barton Jennings

What About the Pandemic

The owners haven’t stopped improving the building since mandates shut down for customers. According to Frank DiTullio they haven’t skipped a beat and have used the time to keep everyone working, both with takeout, as well as building improvements.

We have spent the last year totally renovating the former hotel space that hadn’t been utilized since the 70s. Now we have two tenants on the upper floors with fully modernized office space. We also brought back a previously buried original staircase to the 2nd and third floors and also restored our 100 year old oak floors.

Frank DiTullio III, Cranford Hotel Partner
The COVID 19 pandemic has been a challenge, but the Cranford Hotel continues to anchor Cranford. While Cranford turns 150 in 2021, the Hotel keeps on truckin!

Dave Carracino managing partner/chef his wife, Cindy Carracino and Frank DiTullio III currently own and operate the Cranford Hotel. What many don’t know is that Dave is a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) chef and has been operating the hotel since 2011. Frank graduated from CHS in 1983 and returned in 1988 to jointly run the Hotel with his sister Kim who co-managed until about 2010, when Frank struck a deal with Dave and Cindy Carracino. Cindy is Frank’s wife’s sister, and Dave is his brother in law. And Kim still operates the Off Shore down in Pt. Pleasant, New Jersey.

As we close, bet you didn’t know that the Cranford Hotel is the oldest family operated business in Cranford.
Now that’s a legacy everyone hopes to see continue.

Happy Birthday Cranford! The Mr. Local History Project honors Cranford’s birthday on
March 14, 1871 (the actual date) but Cranford will celebrate all year long. See their Facebook Page

Additional Information:

Historic Eligibility

The Cranford Historic Preservation Commissions realizes the historic value of the Cranford Hotel. The three-story Italianate style commercial building constructed 1893 is eligible under Criterion C as an intact and well preserved 19th Century Italianate commercial building in downtown Cranford. The Cranford Hotel will also be further documented and evaluated as a surviving railroad hotel at Phase 2 as a part of a comprehensive inventory of the Central Railroad of New Jersey Historic District as well. All it will take is some endorsements and some personal effort.

England’s Sister ‘Cranford Hotel’

Did you know the Cranford Hotel in Cranford had a sister hotel in England?
We introduce you to the OTHER Cranford Hotel.

Cranford’s sister “Cranford Hotel” on Littleham Cross-Exmouth-Devon-England ( southwest of London) but not the Cranford near Heathrow Airport. Image c.1958.
Sadly, we think the hotel is gone, replaced by a local post office.

SURVEY: What are Cranford’s Most Historic Icons

Additional Cranford Stories from the Mr. Local History Project

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2 thoughts on “Retrospective: The Cranford Hotel”

  1. What was the name of the corner bar on Centennial ave.? It is now the Cranford uniform shop.

  2. Nancy Kantner Phillips

    Just downloaded the old pictures of the Cranford hotel.
    My paternal grandfather,Fred Kantner, was the owner of the upholstery shop pictured. The one picture you can see my father and him standing in the doorway!!
    What nice pictures to have as part of my family’s history.

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