Madison Beach Hotel has come a long way
By Rita Papazian
Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Editor's note: this appeared in the ShoreLine Times in September of 2009, before the Madison Beach Hotel was demolished to make way for the new hotel.

MADISON - Henry C. “Ric” Duques remembers the experience he and his wife Dawn enjoyed when they and his brother Alan and his wife visited a small, family-owned hotel in Norway 10 years ago, during one of the Duques’ many world travels.

“We were just awestruck by how warm and friendly everyone was,” said Duques, describing their stay at the hotel that had been in the owners’ family for a hundred years.

Duques has not forgotten that hotel, a memory brought to mind during a recent telephone conversation from Sarasota, Fla. where he has a home. That memory lingers as Duques, owner of the Madison Beach Hotel, prepares the town’s “Victorian lady,” long a stately figure on the Connecticut shore, for a demolition and rebuilding leading to the hotel’s re-emergence in the second decade of the 21st century a brand new structure, still reflecting the “New England Cottage” architecture that has attracted guests for many years.

Duques, who retired in 2002 as chairman and CEO of First Data, a global technology leader in information commerce, is no stranger to Madison. His maternal grandfather Clinton Theis was the town’s postmaster in the 30s, when the current post office was built. His mother Grace and her sister Marge, ages 90 and 99 respectively, still live in town, where they all grew up. Grace’s twin sister Dee lives nearby in Clinton.

His parents met in the Madison post office, a serendipitous moment, Duques notes because his father at the time was mailing a letter back to a girlfriend in Paris, France, his father’s native country. Duques says that at the time his parents met, the town had a large French community.

Duques grew up in Washington, D.C. where his father was employed with the Berlitz school of languages.

He said owning the hotel – which he bought for a little less than $10 million from Kathleen and Roben Bagdasarian, who formerly shared ownership of the hotel with Kathleen’s parents, Betty and Henry Cooney, Sr., – is a “a very emotional purchase” for him.

The hotel owner recalls many years visiting his grandfather Augustan Duques, who divided his time between New York and Madison, where he owned a home on Flower House Avenue. His grandfather was a classical clarinetist who played with Arturo Toscanini when he directed the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He also taught Benny Goodman, Duques said.

Growing up, Duques would visit his grandfather each summer and recalled walking passed the hotel as he headed for the beach. As a young man during the 50s he played golf with “Butch” Cooney, the son of Henry Cooney, Sr. He said the previous hotel owners approached him through a mutual friend with the possibility of buying the hotel, that is a few doors from where he and his wife own a home on Parker Lane.

“Wow! This is a perfect setting and location on the water. Let’s make it a small family-owned hotel,” said Duques, learning of the hotel’s availability. It is Duques’s goal to make the Madison Beach Hotel the finest family-owned hotel around. He sees the hotel site “as a poor man’s Hamptons, but every bit as nice.” In fact, he says, he doesn’t believe the Hamptons have a “nice, small family hotel.”

As the Madison Beach Hotel continues to be a family-owned enterprise and not part of a national hotel chain, its charm and attraction as a small family-owned hotel is sustained with the continued employment of its general manager, Ken Martino, who has been at the helm of the hotel since January 2007 and its events manager, Beth Cooney, daughter of Duques’ golfing pal, Butch Cooney, and granddaughter of the former owners in the hotel’s long history.

Fortysomething Beth Cooney who has worked at the hotel since she was 11-year-old is very excited about the opportunity to continue in her role as events manager with the new hotel.

“We’re very, very excited. It’s rare to have someone come in with capital and give you a whole new building with endless opportunities,” said Cooney, one of six grandchildren of the former owners and the only one interested in working in the hotel business.

In her role as events manager Cooney will be responsible for a variety of events ranging from showers and weddings to clambakes and corporate conferences.

“Just to have a spanking new hotel is such a luxury in this business and this market. I am someone who grew up in this business. This is a gift. We hope to be a five-star boutique resort,” Cooney said.

As with Duques, General Manager Martino echoes sentiments praising the hotel’s appealing location along the New England corridor between New York and Boston as an alternative vacation or weekend getaway for those seeking an ambience similar to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod or the Hamptons. The special draw has been the hotel’s two restaurants, catering to the formal and informal culinary needs of both its hotel guests and the general public. Martino has extensive experience in the hospitality industry, including a variety of managerial positions with prominent restaurants including the Tribeca Grill and Nobu in Manhattan to the Rubican in San Francisco.

Initially, upon purchasing the hotel, Duques had thought to renovate the facility, but a closer inspection proved that idea not to be viable given the hotel’s condition and need to make it handicapped accessible. Therefore, he decided to demolish the hotel which dates back to the early 1800s.

Duques hired the New York architectural firm. Glen & Company to create a design plan in keeping with the hotel’s architectural design and structure similar to its existing footprint. It was very important that the hotel’s presence in its residential neighborhood complement, not visually intrude.

Glen Corben said his company’s selection as the architectural firm for the project “is a career changing project.” His firm’s resume includes two other hotel projects; the Wyndham New York Chelsea on W. 26th Street and the Flatotel Hotel on W52nd St. in Manhattan. Glen &Company was also the architectural firm for a number of restaurants, including Manhattan’s Del Posto, owned by Mario Batali, Lydia Bastianich and her son Joseph and Conte’s Market & Grill in Westport, where Martino formerly was co-owner with Dean Conte. He also designed Geno Auriemma’s Fast Break at Mohegan Sun Casino.

Corben said the Madison Beach Hotel project is very different that other clients because it is owed by one couple.

“It’s deeply personal for the clients. You’re telling their story and you want to listen and understand what kind of legacy they want to have. This is very much a collaborative effort,” said Corben, emphasizing that he has to keep a balance between designing a hotel for “the family,” yet keeping in mind the hotel’s history. Throughout the process in designing the hotel, he keeps in mind that he is “making someone’s dreams a reality.

“This is a fantastic piece of property,” Corben said. The new design echoes the current hotel in a variety of ways, including a gray cedar shingle exterior that will weather over time. He described the exterior lines reminiscent of a wedding-cake. The hotel’s height with its multiple peaks and gables narrows the closer it gets to the ground to reduce its visual impact on the neighborhood, especially along West Wharf Road. Each of the four sides are brought down to a more manageable scale, he said.

The hotel is designed with a grand Porte Cochere on the north side for guests to enter. The number of guest rooms will be reduced from 35 to 31 representing the standard guest rooms, mini suites and full suites accommodating two queen-sized beds and separate seating area with a small efficiency kitchen and with many rooms and suites designed with more floor space than the current rooms. The new floor plan will include guest rooms accessing from interior hallways, unlike the current outdoor walkways that line the levels. All rooms will have private baths and decks. One full suite designed on the fourth floor in the hotel’s tower facing east will be reserved for the Duques family.

For those old enough to understand the reference, Ric Duques said he will become “the Howard Hughes of Madison.” This is a reference to the reclusive late actor.

The new hotel with have a formal and an informal restaurant and banquet area for special events. However, unlike the current arrangement, the new hotel will have a small formal dining room upstairs seating 40 patrons with an adjacent banquet room to accommodate 160 people. Downstairs will house a casual restaurant for 120 patrons.

The hotel, will include fireplaces, an elevator and be handicapped accessible. It will also include a boutique, a spa and fitness center.

For Corben, being the architect on this new seaside hotel in a small New England town is not “just about drawing lines on a piece of paper, but being in the role of storyteller and making a story happen.”

Representing a third generation family involved in the Madison Beach Hotel, Events Manager Cooney described the Victorian Lady as “a warm hug” on the shoreline. “We really project that warm New England feeling…My roots run very, very deep here,” Cooney said.

The Madison Beach Hotel is turning another page in the annuals of Madison’s history. The current hotel will close its doors Sept. 26. It will prepare for its demolition that will begin Oct. 2 and continue for approximately two weeks. Coady Contracting of Madison and the Gaul Brothers of New Jersey are both general contractors on the project. Construction is expected to take a year with a targeted opening date sometime in the fall of 2010. The hotel owners are conducting a tag sale of the hotel furnishings on Tuesday, Sept. 29 beginning at noon.