The Sandlass House, reimagined as a museum, above, and as seen in July, 2015, below. (Rendering by Anderson Campanella Archictects. Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
[See update below]
A group of preservationists trying to save the last remnants of a long-forgotten Sandy Hook beach resort from the wrecking ball.
Dubbed the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum at Sandlass House, the group has begun circulating a petition calling on the National Park Service, which owns the house as part of Gateway National Recreation Area, not to knock it down, and allow them to turn it into a museum.
The nonprofit group hopes to save the historic but rotting William Sandlass House, nestled alongside the Shrewsbury River beside an on-ramp to the Captain Joe Azzolina Route 36 Bridge.
Once preserved and restored, the circa-1888 house would be turned into a museum and cultural center that celebrates its history as the first, and only remaining, structure left of the Highland Beach resort, which closed in 1962, supporters said.
“Highland Beach is part of our shared cultural history, a place so many people loved.” group member Rick Gefken said in a prepared statement. “Just as importantly, the resort influenced the development of our beloved Jersey Shore, bringing visitors who would later decide to move to Monmouth County to work and live. We want everyone to see and understand its absolutely central role in this.”
The resort was the subject of a Fair Haven man’s nostalgic 2015 documentary, which unearthed for modern viewers the site’s little-known past as home to “rollercoasters, restaurants, clubs and even a movie theater” that drew huge crowds.
In it, filmmaker Chris Benner makes the case that the resort was the birthplace of the Jersey Shore as a summer destination, given its proximity to the large, sweltering populations of urban areas to the north.
In addition to calling on the National Park Service to halt demolition plans, which were put into motion after Hurricane Sandy damaged the house in late 2012, the petition seeks to persuade federal legislators, including Congressman Frank Pallone and Senator Cory Booker, to take up the cause.
A National Park Service spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
[UPDATE: Following the publication of this post, National Park Service spokeswoman Daphne Yun told redbankgreen in a statement that “there is not a plan in place for immediate demolition of the house” and that the service “is willing to work with [preservationists] on its relocation.”
More from the statement:
The current location of the Sandlass house is not a sustainable area. This location is susceptible to future damage from storm events and climate change. Furthermore, there is no safe entrance into the house in its present location, nor safe parking for the house.
This history of the Sandlass house is not related to the national significance of the Fort Hancock Historic Landmark district. The Fort Hancock area was nominated because of the dual importance of the key fortification guarding the approaches to the New York harbor and the Sandy Hook Proving Ground’s key role in the development of weapons employed by the United States.
The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Organization (SHPO) has determined that the Sandlass house is not historic. The family has submitted a new National Registry nomination and the NJ SHPO is looking into if Sandlass himself has local significance and if so, whether the remaining building has the integrity to the time that Sandlass occupied the state.
Gateway recently went through a six year process to develop a new General Management Plan. Through this process, which included input from many stakeholders, it was determined that no further NPS resources should go toward the Sandlass House due to its lack of resiliency, lack of national significance, and safety concerns.]
Susan Sandlass Gardiner, a Maryland woman who spent her first 19 years in the house as a granddaughter of the resort’s founder, William Sandlass Jr., has been spearheading the preservation effort, which envisions the site as a stop on the Henry Hudson Trail along the Sandy Hook Bayshore, she said.
The structure, Gardiner told redbankgreen last year, “represents the birth of tourism at the northern Jersey Shore,” as it was the first resort encountered by hordes of visitors arriving by ferry and train from points north at the turn of the 20th century.
Highland Beach would sometimes get 15,000 visitors in a day, and later, as a beach club, boasted cabanas for 300 families, she said.
According to Gardiner, the house once stood in the middle of what’s now the tollway entrance to the park. The Sandlasses lost the property to eminent domain in 1962, when the Army leased the south end of Fort Hancock to the state of New Jersey on the condition that it be used as a park.