Remembering Ocean Beach, New Jersey

Growing up in northern New Jersey, I spent a week or two every summer at the Jersey shore community of Ocean Beach.  (I have written/posted about Ocean Beach and the surrounding area here and here and here and here). It was a working class shore community–the cottages were tiny and affordable.  We always planned our trip for the third week of August, just before school started.  My extended family would “go down” for the week and since we rented neighboring houses it was like a huge reunion filled with aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  In the morning we ate “buns” from the local bakery, played miniature golf, and drank a lot of Yoo Hoo.  We would spend the afternoon swimming in the Atlantic and playing in the sand.  At night we would go out to dinner, fly kites on the beach, or visit the Seaside Heights boardwalk.

Until a couple of years ago my family and I would spend a long Fall weekend (usually during my Fall Break) at Ocean Beach holed up in a 650-square foot ocean-front cottage.  For about $500 (split between me and my brother) my kids could explore a virtually empty beach (See picture above right).  We would take them out of school for a couple of days, telling their teachers that it was an “educational” trip focused on “marine science.” We would fly kites, eat pizza, go to the boardwalk, drink Yoo Hoo, search for shells, and, if the course was still open, play miniature golf. I will always have the memories of my daughters standing before the mighty Atlantic with strict orders from their mother not to get wet, and then watch them return to the house a few hours later drenched from head to toe with salt water and freezing from the late afternoon Autumn chill.

I have not been to Ocean Beach since Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey coast, but I was saddened to read this story about the ways Sandy has changed this seaside community forever.  Here is a taste:

The beak of the excavator ripped at Angela Serio’s house as if it were made of cardboard.

Within minutes, the oceanfront home she and her husband owned for the past five years in the Ocean Beach section of Toms River was reduced to a 15-foot-high pile of splinters. Four hours later, only an empty lot remained where the cottage had stood watch over the ocean for nearly half a century.

With each post-Sandy demolition, tight-knit communities like Ocean Beach are losing more than individual homes. With their neat rows of one-story bungalows on narrow sand roads tucked between developments of palatial homes, these towns are the last to embody the old-time Jersey Shore.

Leveling these decades-old homes is a bit like stripping the Jersey Shore of part of its neighborhood history.

The family of Angela Serio’s husband scrimped and saved for their tiny bit of Jersey Shore paradise and spent summers in this quaint community for more than four decades. Now their house is just one more victim of Hurricane Sandy. With about half of the 2,000 homes in the four Ocean Beach communities (Ocean Beach I, II and III and Ocean Beach Shores) expected to be razed, residents are wondering if Sandy was a shove into the 21st century for these enclaves.

The Levittown of the Jersey shore

“This is a throwback to what the Jersey Shore once was. People love it. People come down … rent the same house year after year … so they want it to remain the same. They don’t want it to change,” said John McDonough, whose grandfather built Ocean Beach between 1946 and 1967. “There’s no question five or six years from now this place won’t look the same.”

A pretty typical Ocean Beach cottage in the wake of Sandy

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