By Donald Wittkowski
The carpeting has congealed into thick, round clumps. Bits of broken glass cover the floor and make a sickening crunching sound under foot. Strips of scorched insulation hang down from a shattered ceiling.
Soot has soiled the furniture beyond repair. A German stein, Armani figurines and other family mementoes that were once proudly displayed on the fireplace mantle now lay in pieces.
And everywhere, there is the pungent smell of smoke.
This is the hellish scene in the living room of Ron Schlupp’s $3 million beachfront home at 91st Street and Pleasure Avenue in Sea Isle City.
An overnight fire on Nov. 24 that destroyed two adjacent duplexes spread to Schlupp’s house and left it severely damaged. At first, there was some hope that the house could be saved, but now comes word that it will have to be demolished.
“There was complete shock and emptiness,” the 82-year-old Schlupp said, describing how he felt when he saw his fire-ravaged home for the first time. “There was nothing but devastation.”
Accompanied by his sons and son-in-law, Schlupp was undertaking the grim task of trying to salvage whatever he could from the house over the weekend. Come Monday or Tuesday, a demolition crew is expected to tear down the three-story structure.
Schlupp and his family, including his wife of 61 years, Jackie, are heartbroken over the loss of their home. But already starting their recovery, Schlupp vows that his family will build a new house that will be bigger and better.
A new $4 million oceanview home will rise in the footprint of the destroyed house, he said. Construction is expected to begin by Christmas. Schlupp noted that his insurance will cover most of the cost.
Schlupp is hoping the new home will be finished in time for Fourth of July. Already, he is planning to invite the public – especially his neighbors who have helped him in the aftermath of the fire – to an open house celebration during the holiday.
“We’re going to have the biggest open house that Sea Isle City has ever seen,” he declared.
Although many treasured family keepsakes were destroyed in the blaze, Schlupp said he feels blessed that no one was injured. The home, a summer vacation retreat for Schlupp and his family, was unoccupied when the fire struck.
“Nobody was hurt. That’s the main thing,” Schlupp said. “We can rebuild. I have a very strong family. I also have good friends and neighbors in Sea Isle. People came out of the woodwork to help us.”
“You have to have faith,” he continued. “Our faith is keeping us going. We’re very blessed.”
Schlupp is the retired owner of Schlupp’s Maintenance Co., a Pennsylvania-based building maintenance and janitorial services firm. His full-time residence is in Churchville, Pa.
His Sea Isle home, which he has owned since 2000, served as the gathering point for summer vacations with his wife, four sons and 12 grandchildren.
Now boarded up, the house is a “total disaster,” Schlupp said. One side of the home was scorched by flames, turning it black. Inside, it appears as though a bomb exploded.
“If you look up, you can see right to the sky,” Schlupp said, pointing to a hole in the living room ceiling that goes all the way to the roof.
Next to Schlupp’s house is the rubble of the two neighboring duplexes that were destroyed. One duplex burned to the ground, while the charred remains of the other one was demolished after the fire. Both duplexes were unoccupied during the blaze.
Officials from the Cape May County Fire Marshal’s Office, the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and the Sea Isle Police Department are investigating the cause of the fire. Although the official cause has not yet been released, Schlupp said he was told there was a gas leak in the duplex directly next to his house.
The duplexes and Schlupp’s house occupied prime beachfront property along Pleasure Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets. It is not yet known what the duplex owners plan to do with their property.
Schlupp, though, has already lined up a builder to begin construction on his new home. His new place will include an elevator and have a different layout than the old house, he said.
“Our old house was beautiful. Our new house will be beautiful, too,” he said, smiling. “We had beautiful memories in our old house, but we will also make beautiful memories in our new place.”