SEA ISLE CITY — A massive crane lifted the second floor of a 106-year-old house back into place Tuesday on top of a first floor that is being rebuilt after suffering damage from 6 feet of water from Hurricane Sandy.
The bayfront home located near Dealy Field Recreation Complex is one of the oldest on the island, according to owner Charles Lisa, 62, of Woodbury. The house was completely knocked off its foundation and its first floor was damaged during the October hurricane. A patio that used to wrap around the front of the home was wiped out and the balcony on the second floor disappeared.
The Thursday after the storm, Lisa met with engineers and contractors, and the house “was barely standing up. And I was given an order to demolish or stabilize from the city,” he said.
Lisa was given 48 hours. But he knew tearing down the summer home his family has owned for about 40 years would not be an option.
A deep sentimental attachment prevented him from walking away from the historic property. The last seven summers of his late mother’s life, after his father retired at 55, were spent in this home, Lisa said. For his father, Sam, 91, of Glassboro, it holds the last memories of his wife, who died in 1989 from heart problems, Lisa said.
“We’ve got a lot of good memories here, and we’re going to have a lot more,” he said.
Local professionals were contacted and a plan was devised to save the undamaged top floor. The house was cut in half and the second floor was temporarily shifted aside while the first floor was demolished and rebuilt in its place. Following new FEMA flood maps at the time, the first floor was designed to be built 15 feet higher in the same spot where it originally stood.
“Charlie said he was getting the house cut and he’s already talked to someone and I was like ‘How can you do that?’” said Brenda Gervato, 63, of Vineland, who has been summer neighbors with Lisa for the past 17 years.
Emergency permits were required to get all the work done in a short timeframe, Lisa said. Many of the individuals who helped him were local professionals.
Jerry Davis, a local house mover, was instrumental in salvaging the second floor, Lisa said.
“Everyone was saying tear down the house but I said, ‘No, I can save it,’” Davis said. “I knew I could save it.”
He went to work separating the two floors and then manually slid the structure adjacent to the existing one, onto a temporary platform.
“It was dangerous because the first floor buckled and it was hard to work with the distortion on the first floor,” Davis said.
A crowd of more than 20 gathered across the street from the house to watch the work Tuesday. Former renters, neighbors and other residents were among the audience at 8 a.m. when utility crews were working. Some neighbors watched from balconies nearby.
A steel frame with cables was used to lift the top portion of the home. Holes were cut into the roof, where the cables were pulled through and fastened inside the structure. It was then slowly lifted into the air, off a temporary support platform, and shifted a few feet to the right, and several feet higher, before becoming aligned with the new first floor.
The whole process was complete by about noon. Lisa said he hopes to have the home completely ready in three weeks.
The new structure is in the same location, Lisa said, but this time it will be 15 feet above water. That’s based on preliminary FEMA maps released earlier this year. “We’re actually going to have an ocean view (from the second floor) so that’s going to be an advantage,” he said.
Lisa said he hasn’t checked to see if the newly revised FEMA flood maps, which were released Monday, affect his home, but at this point he doesn’t care anymore, he said.
The Sounds Avenue home sits next to piling that were once part of a home wiped out in the storm of 1962, Lisa said. “The state came in and wouldn’t allow them to rebuild. So I was pretty confident I was going to have problems,” he said of his situation after Sandy.
The new first floor, which will be rented out, is going to have a new design that lends itself to the unobstructed view of the bay, said Sam Lisa, who still considers the second floor home.
This includes “180 degrees of glass in the back, so it’s going to be beautiful,” Charles Lisa said. And his father’s second-floor apartment will remain as it was before.
“We’ve been able to do this without any (government) assistance. The government wouldn’t give us anything,” Lisa said. “The insurance company wouldn’t give us anything. They just came back and said there was $547 in wind damage out of $350,000.”
“My question for Charlie is ‘What’s the reason for doing that? Is it to preserve some history for the town?’” said Gervato’s son-in-law, Austin Caracciolo, 34. “It seems like it would be much easier to just throw that house out in the dumpster.”
“He bought the house in 1964 so his kids grew up in it, his wife was still alive when he lived in that house. I mean, he’s got an emotional attachment to it,” Gervato said of the senior Lisa. She watched the move with Caracciolo and her daughter, Angela, 31, of Hammonton.
“This house has stood through how many hurricanes? I mean you’ve got to think about how many hurricanes come through here, and it withstood all that. Now it’s perfect, it’ll start all over. It has another 100 years,” Gervato said.
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