This is the second in a three-part series examining the life of Rev. Carl McIntire.
CAPE MAY – A tall man with wavy hair, booming voice, and persuasive personality, Rev. Carl McIntire sought to apply the Bible to every area of life and American culture.
Faith Matters is examining McIntire’s life and legacy in three parts: personal (https://bit.ly/3j0ozt9), financial, and political. Friends, former employees, and relatives are adding their voices, completing the sketch of this complex figure.
From the pulpit to the hospitality industry, in the mid-20th century, McIntire’s vision is ongoing and felt in Cape May today.
“He was a good bridge,” said Curtis Bashaw, CEO of Cape Resorts and McIntire’sgrandson. Bashaw, whose financial ventures span from Cape May to Sag Harbor, New York, grew up in the hospitality business and is an eyewitness of the city’s ongoing renaissance. Not even COVID-19 can keep Bashaw down, and he attributes his “daring-do” attitude to McIntire.
According to Bashaw, McIntire came at a pivotal time to Cape May. After a devastating nor’easter, in 1962, McIntire organized volunteers from his church, in Collingswood, to help clean up. One beachfront hotel, The Admiral, suffered extensive damage, leaving its owners in a dire predicament.
McIntire made an offer to purchase the hotel. After removing loads of seagull feathers and storm debris, McIntire purchased the stately hotel for $360,000, in 1963.
Purchasing the hotel marked a turning point in McIntire’s ministry and for Cape May. He was well-known for his dynamic preaching, radio broadcast called “Twentieth-Century Reformation Hour,” and publication titled “Christian Beacon Press.”
According to his friend and former employee, Dr. Brad Gsell, McIntire sought to enrich people’s lives in and outside of the pulpit. He envisioned a place where people could enjoy Bible conferences, music, and programs in a wholesome environment.
Renamed the Christian Admiral, the hotel provided the environment McIntire sought. An alternative from the rock-and-roll culture, the Admiral offered seaside grandeur and traditional American charm. Marble columns, a Tiffany-style glass dome in the lobby, and a mosaic floor were restored by McIntire and friends.
How Did McIntire Impact Cape May?
“He taught us to give,” Bashaw said, in an Oct. 2 phone interview, “to live in freedom with one another.”
McIntire gave to the community, providing staff positions for locals and local craftsmen. The Admiral’s ballroom was converted into a conference and lecture room. An auditorium was added to the east wing.
Already in his mid-50s, McIntire’s energy was poured into developing a summer Christian community. Congress Hall was soon acquired, along with the Star Villa, the Windsor Hotel (lost to a fire), and the Virginia Hotel.
Housing for staff and other employees also developed.
The Christian Beacon Press functioned, in Cape May, fondly remembered by Gsell.
“I learned editorial skills,” Gsell said Oct. 1. He remains “so thankful for that education.” Gsell also worked alongside McIntire on his radio broadcast.
“He was a bit of a showman,” Bashaw said, reflecting on his grandfather’s programs. Through skillful use of advertisement and faithful donations, McIntire’s vision flourished through the 1970s.
Life in the McIntire Empire
What was life like for McIntire’s employees? Were student-age employees “stacked” in dormitories, packed into shoddy rooms, and living under stringent rules, as some claim?
Gsell shared his experience in the busy Christian Admiral, from 1976-1981.
“I had a private room in the Christian Admiral all six years, as did a number of other male employees,” Gsell wrote, in an email Oct. 14. “It is possible that some were two to a room.”
According to Gsell, the rooms came equipped with a bed, dresser, chair, and a sink. Bathroom facilities were shared with the adjoining room. Although not decorated, Gsell said employees could “fix-up” a room, as they saw fit. Oceanfront views were the focal point in Gsell’s perspective.
“We were given three meals a day - not fancy, but fresh and adequate. Usually, at least two of the meals each day were hot,” Gsell said. Employees were given a $4 discount in the George Washington Dining Room atop the hotel.
“I usually went once a summer to get a lobster tail meal,” Gsell reflected.
Rules for male and female employees included Biblical moral conduct, attend one service per day, observe an 11 p.m. curfew, abstain from alcohol and smoking, no vulgar language, and wear “decent clothing.” Gsell said he owned a car and visited local attractions in Wildwood and Ocean City on his days off. Swimming pools and recreational opportunities were available to employees, as well as guests.
“We would sometimes sit in the rockers on the Admiral's front porch, talking with guests as the sea breezes came in, with the steady sound of the breakers,” Gsell said.
According to Gsell, female employees stayed in the Pilgrim Place and Liberty Lodge, now Angel by the Sea. “House mothers” kept order and were nearby in case of emergencies.
“I still have contact with dozens of former employees,” Gsell said, “and any deprivation or bad conditions is not something I ever hear talked about, as we still reminisce about our many wonderful experiences in Cape May.”
Hard work and full effort were expected of employees, according to Gsell.
Protests and Backlash
Not everyone, in Cape May, was on board with McIntire’s activities. He spoke out adamantly against liberalism in churches and politics.
“He was fearless,” Bashaw explained. “He was convinced that the fundamentalist church was the path forward.”
Fundamentalism historically stood against modernism, i.e., bringing Protestants and Roman Catholics together, reconciling the Bible with modern culture. McIntire believed in a literal interpretation of Scripture and that Jesus Christ is the only source of salvation.
According to local history, some residents questioned McIntire’s outspokenness, and the city also claimed he owed $723,000 in back taxes, in 1977. In response, McIntire and supporters marched from the steps of the Christian Admiral to Congress Hall, protesting the allegations.
“We have a hostile chief of police,” McIntire later said, in an interview.
City officials said the properties, gift shop, restaurants, and hotel rooms fell under commercial tax laws, while McIntire contended they were tax-exempt.
“We want our civil rights,” McIntire said.
Bashaw said his grandfather loved America, tradition, and advocated for limited government.
Decline and Resurrection
By the 1980s, McIntire’s financial empire was beginning to crumble. The Christian Beacon Press was $3.5 million in debt, according to records – the result of municipal charges and a $2.4 million mortgage. The Christian Admiral suffered, as well, a graceful ghost of a bygone era, and the McIntire organization filed for bankruptcy, in 1990.
Bashaw, venturing into the hospitality industry, bought Congress Hall, in 1995, and the Virginia Hotel, in 1989, preserving and reinventing the businesses.
“Congress Hall could have been torn down,” Bashaw said.
Yet, he could not save the Christian Admiral and Congress Hall. After opening its doors for the last time, the Admiral was demolished, in November 1995. Parts of the hotel went to a new life in private homes and other businesses/hotels across the nation.
Bashaw rose through the ranks, working “every job imaginable” under his grandfather, and now manages his financial ventures in the city he calls home. He carries on McIntire’s ideal of gracious living and programs “in a more secular manner.”
“The McIntires did not sit back, enjoying the privilege of their position to which they certainly would have been entitled, although they were often involved with his radio broadcast, writing, preaching, and the ministry’s other aspects,” Gsell said.
Vision for Cape May County
Bashaw told the Herald of multi-generational employees who work for Cape Resorts. Some came as children, with their parents and grandparents, and returned, as staff members. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, Bashaw is pleased with people’s loyalty to the “brand.”
Guests returned after Congress Hall and the other hotels were closed for 77 days, from March until June; 419 employees also returned, armed with personal protective equipment, and learning new procedures to keep them and others safe.
Bashaw describes the pandemic as a “crazy and rich time.” His vision for Cape May, and the county, includes teaching young people how to start their own business, remaining in the area, or returning after college. Bashaw believes by working together and investing in local communities, Cape May County can grow and flourish post-COVID-19.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.