For more than a century, the Clam Broth House has been nothing short of an icon in this waterfront city.
Marlon Brando was said to have dined there while filming "On the Waterfront." Frank Sinatra's mother was a regular. President Woodrow Wilson bade farewell to troops from the balcony as they shipped off to World War I, and he greeted them there when they came home.
But the restaurant is about to add a final, sorrowful chapter to its colorful history: the wrecking ball.
The Clam Broth House has been closed since May 2003, when cracks and bulges in the building's brick facade prompted city officials to condemn the property. A judge recently lifted an order blocking the building's demolition, and officials say it could be razed this month.
"It's one of those places that generations remember," Robert Foster, director of the Hoboken Historical Museum, . "I remember once talking to Pete Seeger, the folk singer, and he told me he used to take his wife there to get seafood."
In a mile-square city as packed with lore as it is with New York commuters, the Clam Broth House has been one of Hoboken's most beloved institutions since it opened in 1899, two blocks from the Hudson River waterfront.
Its hand-shaped neon sign perched above the corner of Newark and Hudson streets pointed the way for generations of seafood lovers. Its shifting clientele reflected Hoboken's evolution from a blue-collar shipping port to a high-rent bedroom community and parking-starved nightspot.
Though Hoboken's waterfront is now lined with luxury apartments, it had long been dominated by shipyards, and the Clam Broth House catered to the longshoremen chronicled in 1954 in "On the Waterfront."
Dolly Sinatra, a local celebrity as the mother of Hoboken's most famous son, was a regular at the Marlin Room, one of several lounges and dining rooms within the sprawling restaurant.
"Up until the 1970s, women weren't allowed to drink at the bar," recalled Fred Bado, 60, a Hoboken native and the city's community development director. "It was a big to-do during that feminist movement back then."
De De Rendaci fondly recalls working as a waitress there during the 1960s and '70s.
"Oh, my God, it was five dining rooms and lines all the way around the corner," said Rendaci, who now owns and tends bar at the Wilton House up Newark Street. "There was sawdust on the floor, and everybody would throw their clam shells on the floor. And then there was a big bucket of clam broth, like a coffee urn with a spigot, and everybody would have clam broth from the steamers that they made."
"People came from all over to the famous -- the world-famous -- Clam Broth House," she said.
But fame could not keep it from closing. Tenants living in apartments above the restaurant, which sits at the base of four 19th-century buildings, complained about buckling walls. The city eventually determined that the buildings would have to be demolished, but the restaurant's owners got a judge to temporarily block the demolition in March.
Michael Acciardi and Reinaldo Becerra, who own the Clam Broth House name and operation but not the property, sued the property owner, alleging that the owner allowed the buildings to deteriorate. Harold Cummins, an attorney for Acciardi and Becerra, said his clients have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the deterioration and condemnation that led to the restaurant's closing.
John J. Curley, representing property owners Arthur and Christina Peleaz, said Acciardi and Becerra damaged the property by improperly installing a concrete floor.
The suit is pending, even though the order blocking demolition has been lifted.
Curley said the site will be redeveloped, possibly with a new Clam Broth House with the original neon sign. Because the structure is within a historic district, any redevelopment must be consistent with its current scheme.
Cummins said the possibility of a new Clam Broth House is far from certain. Even if a new restaurant does open, many agreed it won't be the same.