A summer’s day in 1966: The death of Block Island’s Queen

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 4:30pm

As Great Britain pays tribute to the life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, I thought it would be fitting to mark the death of Block Island’s Queen in 1966, the Ocean View Hotel. She was located above the cliffs overlooking Old Harbor. In her prime she entertained guests that included U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. Past her prime, at least in terms of paint and outward appearance, her tales inside the bar are nothing short of legendary. For example, in the 1950s, on a particularly busy Fourth of July, when a beer cost 75 cents and a mixed drink cost $1.25, the patrons purchased over $10,000 worth.
The most interesting story of the Ocean View I heard was from Dan Millea. The last evening the Ocean View bar was open happened to be Millea’s last night on Block Island. For on the next morning, July 6, 1966, this 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 4th Division was headed to the jungles of Vietnam. Millea would return to Block Island after serving in Vietnam, marry his wife Rosemary on the site of where the Ocean View once stood, after
which they would raise four daughters and run two island businesses.
His tale went something like this: The night before his departure, the 22-year-old Millea drank at the massive bar inside the Ocean View. Millea’s personal history with the Ocean View started as a teenage employee in the mid1950s. The next morning Daniel Millea awoke in a spare room at the Ocean View and headed to New York City for his flight to San Francisco. After his transcontinental flight Millea walked inside the San Francisco airport and experienced something that must have felt like a dream. On the cover of this California newspaper was Block Island’s Ocean View Hotel aflame, the very building he had awakened in that morning. The headline fatefully read, “The Queen of the Ocean is Dead.” The New Haven Register, on the fire, wrote, “The Queen is dead. Block Island’s Ocean View hotel died as she had lived - spectacularly...”
A special thanks to Suzanne Wagner for the donation to the Historical Society of an incredible collection of photographs taken of the fire of the Ocean View. With the financial assistance of the Annenberg Foundation this collection of twenty-eight photographs has been digitized and added to our collection. If you have any pictures or stories you would like to share of the Ocean View, or any other aspect of Block Island history, please let us know.