South Jersey’s shore is lined with houses of all kinds, from quaint cottages to historic homes to near-identical McMansions. But there’s a unique few that particularly stand out.
n There’s the last home on Absecon Island, on the Longport point, with views of the water on three sides and, for good measure, the Blues Brothers forever dancing on a balcony.
n The octagonal house at the tip of Somers Point, just off the Garden State Parkway bridge, draws your attention so you may not notice the Arizona-style home next to it or the home with the castle turret alongside.
n In Cape May Point, a house covered with solar panels is designed as a seaward-looking clam.
n One home by the bay in Margate has walls at slight angles off of center, and visitors must cross a bridge over the driveway to knock on a door marked by a lightning bolt.
n Another Margate home is a large, open cube facing the ocean, seemingly ready to host a ’60s-style happening.
n And a house on the Boardwalk in Ventnor features so many amazing sculpted curves, rounded balconies and circular windows that it could be mistaken for an aquarium attraction at Epcot Center, or maybe a shooting location for an ’80s crime movie. The current owners don’t know its provenance — they’re the second owners.
What are the stories behind these curiosities?
At Longport’s tip sits the home of Marvin Ashner. Due to its location, Hurricane Sandy gave the neighborhood quite a beating — as the wooden boards across the front door and rear windows of the house attest.
“Everything washed out to sea or (ended up) by the front door,” said Ashner, who had to go down through the garage to answer the doorbell. But walk up to the second floor, and the potential risk of living so exposed to the sea is clear.
From his living room, and the wraparound balcony outside, Ashner can see blue water on three sides — the ocean, the inlet and the bay.
“Yeah, the view,” Ashner said. “I’ve been in this house 11 years. I moved in the year after it was constructed.”
It might be reassuring for area residents to know that the most prime location on Absecon Island belongs not to an out-of-towner, but a true native. Ashner’s father, Joseph, operated several hotels in Atlantic City, including the Astor Hotel and the Seaside Hotel, and once lived in the Inlet neighborhood in Atlantic City — the complete opposite end of the island, as it happens.
“A lot of people question me why I stay through the storms and everything,” Ashner said. “But I’ve been through enough storms. I lived at the Inlet during the ’44 storm, when Atlantic City lost a lot of Boardwalk. ... All the damage was confined to the first floor. The important thing is that nobody got hurt.”
As for the Blues Brothers? “I wanted to warm up the outside,” he said. “When I moved in here, there was nothing on any porches, so I added statues and flowers. It takes away some of the coldness of having a real modern house.”
Across the bay in Somers Point, one neighborhood is a trove of unique modern architecture. Anyone driving north on the parkway can see the distinctive octagonal house as they cross into Atlantic County — but like many of the unique homes, it’s less than 20 years old.
Anthony San Felice, who splits his time between Williamstown and Somers Point, started building it in 2001 on one of the largest coastal properties in the area, at 67 acres.
“They’re extremely efficient because of their design,” San Felice said of the unique homes, describing the “chimney effect” achieved by opening the third floor windows and funneling air through the home. “The house is without heat in winter and doesn’t drop below 50 degrees naturally, and, of course, solar panels help keep it completely off the grid. Basically, the house runs on batteries, for the sake of argument.”
There is a good view of the octagon house from the pool and patio behind the Spica home next door. It was designed in 1993 by a builder as his own home, Michelle Spica said, “But for some reason, he moved out of the area.” The Spicas purchased it and added a southwestern flair to the contemporary, flat-roofed home.
Yucca plants dot the patio, while a cactus stands guard at the front door, which itself is surrounded by a beautiful, custom-made glass window of swirling pastels. The outside, meanwhile, is decorated in local artwork by the late Ocean City artist Gary Gibbons.
“We try to keep all the angled lines,” Spica said of the interiors. “The corner moulding is all rounded, all cut to curve like an ocean flow.”
Their neighbor Bob Green, meanwhile, went medieval. A castle turret overlooks visitors to his home, the very last house in Atlantic County, but the inside is even more notable.
“I’m an engineer,” Green said, “and I had just designed a church. So I thought I should have something dramatic for this house, too.”
So he designed a cathedral room, with heavy timber trusses — “Douglas firs from Oregon,” Green said, “so there’s very few knots” — built in a “scissors” configuration to add strength. Draped throughout are Scottish flags such as the St. Andrew’s Cross and the Sinclair family tartan, evoking his heritage.
“If you listen carefully, you can’t hear the parkway,” he said, as the birds outside canceled out noise from the nearby highway. “It depends on which way the wind is blowing. Southwest wind blows the noise away ... unless there’s a Wildwood motorcycle event. Then they get really loud out there.”
The very end of land seems to bring out the creativity in house designs. Cape May Point, at the tip of Cape May County, features many classic homes in several well-known styles — and also the house of George Taliadouros, built in 2007, which includes a geothermal unit powered by numerous solar panels that dot the roof.
“It’s a greenhouse, basically,” Taliadouros said. “The water in the ground is an ambient temperature of 65 degrees, so you can warm it to 70 or use it to cool to 65. ... And it’s designed in such a way that the sun doesn’t warm the house in summer, but in the winter, when the sun is lower in the south, it gets lots of sun.”
As for the architecture, which includes a protruding, covered deck, he and the architect “thought it would be funny if it looked like a clam that is open and has a view of the sea.”
But do such distinctive homes make it difficult to sell? Mary Lou Ferry, of Farley and Ferry Realtors in Ventnor, said that was not the case.
“Clientele that can afford that type of architecture greatly appreciate it,” Ferry said. “I personally feel that diversity in architectural design makes a house so interesting and inviting. It’s true the majority of home buyers, especially secondary home buyers, are looking for architectural functionality, so they can just lock the door and leave until the following weekend. So they’re not looking for all the maintenance involved in some of the (unique) architecture — and some of them are really masterpieces.”
So the key, she said, “is maybe you have to just find the right fit. They’re beautiful houses, and for somebody who likes contemporary architecture, they’re going to love it.”
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