SEA ISLE CITY — The nonprofit group trying to save the 125-year-old Ludlam Beach Lighthouse is running out of time: Demolition is scheduled for the fall.
Now known as 3414 Landis Ave., the lighthouse has been a no-frills, six-unit summer rental for decades. Even those days of obscurity are numbered. On Sept. 13, the electricity will be turned off, the cable unplugged. The squat, nondescript building will never again see another summer tenant. By next year, it will be gone. To prevent that, the Friends of the Ludlam Beach Lighthouse are considering nearly anything to save the building, including potentially finding a place for it in another municipality.
"It really belongs on Ludlam Beach," said the nonprofit group's founder, Bob Uhrmann, 61, sitting at the kitchen table at 3414 Landis Ave. in Sea Isle City. "But as long as it stays out of a landfill, I don't care where it goes."
The nonprofit group is far short of funding to move the structure.
Sea Isle City considered allocating $100,000 for the Ludlam Beach Lighthouse but scrapped plans earlier this year amid budget cuts and concerns that city ownership and further repairs could exceed $1 million.
Uhrmann, a middle school history teacher who lives in Upper Township, started the drive five years ago to save "The Forgotten Lighthouse" after he heard owner Charles Adams planned to rebuild.
Adams, 60, a retired plumbing instructor in Philadelphia, has owned the building since 1993 and continues to rent units weekly. Since 2006, Adams has said he would donate the building to be moved. Uhrmann does not fault Adams for wanting new construction.
Adams sent a letter to Uhrmann and city officials in July informing them he plans to turn off the utilities on Sept. 13.
"Any part of the building remaining after September 20, 2010, will be demolished and trucked to a landfill," he wrote.
The city's Zoning Board approved new construction in May to erect three homes on the large lot, city Construction Official Neil Bryne said. The property still needs a demolition permit, a certification that mainly ensures all utilities have been shut off, he said.
"It doesn't look good at this point," said City Councilman Michael McHale, who supported the idea of using city funding for the lighthouse.
Sea Isle City has offered the site of a former landfill on Fifth Street for the lighthouse group to place the building.
But Uhrmann said without the city backing the funding, the chances of saving the building have diminished.
Uhrmann said moving the building and putting in the piling will cost $50,000. His group has about $14,000, he said. Without city ownership to help secure grants, finding funding is difficult, he said.
"I've been doing this for over five years, and I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel here," Uhrmann said.
Meanwhile, Uhrmann is looking for people, organizations or even towns that might want a former lighthouse and would be willing to move and help restore it.
"We've gotten some interest from some people, but nothing concrete," he said.
'The Forgotten Lighthouse'
The postcard image of a beaming lighthouse on the shoreline exists in the imagination at 3414 Landis Ave., a stop on the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge last year.
The only clue of its past is a sign in a first-floor window saying so. Inside are thick baseboards and heavy oak windows.
The Ludlam Beach Lighthouse has no tower and it has no light. It has been a residence since the 1920s. Built in 1885, it is among the oldest buildings in the city.
Phil Bur III, a lighthouse buff with a summer home in Sea Isle City, first saw Sea Isle City's lighthouse on a map of New Jersey lighthouses. Like many, Bur had never heard of it.
"There was a steel tower with a light on top was all anyone could remember, and that was built in 1924. Nobody even remembered the old original lighthouse," he said.
The steel tower replaced the Ludlam Beach Lighthouse and remained in Sea Isle City until the 1960s.
In the 1990s, Bur began researching archives of the lighthouse, its locations and its keepers.
City founder Charles Landis swayed the federal government to build it after providing a list of shipwrecks off Sea Isle City's coast, said Bur, who wrote a history of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse was taken out of service in 1924 and stripped of its Fresnel lens. The lighthouse's revolving oil lamp was replaced with a 40-foot steel tower with a flashing gas light.
"The old Sea Isle City lighthouse, which for 44 years guided mariners along the coast, will be abandoned and the building, one of the first on the island, will be dismantled and sold to the highest bidder for the material it contains," read a 1924 article in the Seven Mile Beach Reporter.
The building was moved from the beach to 31st Street and Landis Avenue and made into a residence. It was moved again in the 1940s to its present location.
Christine Everly, 33, of Warminster, Pa., is the owner's daughter. She spent 17 summers at the shore home in Sea Isle City. Her three young children know the history, too.
"It was neat. It always gave us something to talk about when we went out. Even my kids know, 'We live in a lighthouse.'"
Everly said repairs at the building grew more expensive each year.
"It's not the prettiest of places, but it can be pretty once it's back to the original," she said.
Hugh McCauley, a preservation architect involved in Sea Isle City and with the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse restoration in North Wildwood, said the lighthouse has enough of the original documentations, plans, photographs and drawings to bring it to its former glory.
"I think the building deserves a chance," he said.
To the north and south of Sea Isle City are encouragements to Uhrmann and the Friends of the Ludlam Beach Lighthouse.
In North Wildwood, the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse was restored and opened in the 1980s after being used for storage for nearly 20 years.
In Ocean City in March, Ocean City approved a $958,000 bond to buy the Ocean City Lifesaving Station at Fourth Street. After a decade of debate and lawsuits, Ocean City purchased the property shortly before it could have been demolished.
In Sea Isle City, Uhrmann still sees hope for 3414 Landis Ave., although it might not be in the city where it was built.
"All we need is a little divine intervention and we're set to go."
Contact Brian Ianieri:
To learn about the lighthouse
For more information on the Ludlam Beach Lighthouse, e-mail Bob Uhrmann at firstname.lastname@example.org