MARGATE — You can’t miss the Devlin house when you drive down Jerome Avenue. It’s that house. You know the one.
“This is what you call a house of tradition,” said Debbie Lou Devlin, standing amid the balloons, surfboards and colorful flowers designed to evoke summer at the shore. “I’m the one that does all the holidays. You know how one person in every family does it? You’re lookin’ at ’em.”
The Devlin home is a bellwether of the seasons, changing from month to month to reflect the celebrations happening within — massive hearts for Valentine’s Day, giant leprechauns for St. Patrick’s Day, huge eggs for Easter. And that’s just the first half of the year, before the red, white and blue of July, the orange and black of October and the light-bedecked extravaganza that is December.
One might think that August, with its lack of holidays, might be a dry spot on the calendar, but no — the lawn is covered with such summer icons as a Margate lifeguard stand (complete with a sunbathing Santa), exotic surfboards, a real Boardwalk rolling chair, and even an image of Lucy the Elephant with a Sinatra-esque fedora.
“That was from last year for Lucy’s birthday,” Devlin said. “‘Old Blue Eyes is Back.’ ... And who could be a better lifeguard than Santa Claus, right?”
There’s also a mini-lifesaving boat painted with the Margate City Beach Patrol logo — so seaworthy, in fact, that it almost got away.
“Last Saturday in the rain, our boat took sail down Jerome Avenue,” said Devlin of the Aug. 11 flooding. “My next-door neighbor, Lynn Murphy, rescued the boat, pulled it back and put it in the driveway. She said, ‘Deb, the boat sails!’”
That wasn’t the first time this year that the weather affected the house. The June 30 thunderstorms made a mess of her Fourth of July setup, even downing three of her trees — now replaced by new plantings.
“Within three days, we started to clean up,” she said. “I don’t know how many people stopped to say, ‘Thank God, I don’t know if you would continue doing this.’”
The holiday themes aren’t just a static display, either. The annual egg hunt has been going on for 27 years, she said, with the last one featuring 500 eggs over five lots.
“Halloween is very big here,” Devlin added. “We have a spooky house outside. And the annual Christmas party is mobbed. ... You don’t know how many people come and use this as (backgrounds for) their Christmas cards.”
So popular are the various events, she said, that a few people seem to be a bit confused.
“A nice couple pulls up in front of the house,” she recalled, “and they ask, ‘Where’s the ticket booth? We want to come in.’”
The Devlins have had a long and colorful history on Absecon Island, with Devlin’s late husband, Ed, having owned the Irene’s stores on the Atlantic City Boardwalk for 60 years. Known as “The Baron of the Boardwalk,” he was even honored with Edward A. Devlin Jr. Day by then-Mayor Jim Whelan in 2001.
As a surprise for her husband, Devlin commissioned artist Linda Wexler to paint an extravagantly detailed mural on their kitchen wall, featuring Atlantic City landmarks such as the Steeplechase and Steel piers, the Traymore Hotel, the White House Sub Shop and the Absecon Lighthouse.
The mural also includes likenesses of her and her husband as youths with their families, walking the boards in their Sunday finest.
“This was normal dress for Easter on the Boardwalk,” pointing to the portrait of her husband, his sister and their father.
Beneath an image of the 500 Club marquee, a visitor can glimpse what appears to be a stone-walled grotto through an open door. Inside is a collection of plaques honoring the Devlins, a ’50s-style jukebox, a karaoke machine and a “Boardwalk Empire” poster.
“This is the game room,” Devlin said. “It’s that kind of house, a house filled with people.”
Behind the full bar off to the left was hundreds of tiny liquor bottles, part of the family’s collection. As she stood in front of every kind of alcohol imaginable, she joked, “I don’t drink, so ...”
Then there are the dog biscuits available for whoever asks, the calendars featuring each month’s decorations, the prop with cutouts for heads that people can put their heads through and take pictures. And Devlin goes beyond just her home, serving on the Margate Beautification Committee and the Atlantic City Boardwalk Committee.
“I think people should give back,” she said. “If more people gave back, it would be a better world.”
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