By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
It may be time to play a funeral dirge – not for a person, but for a piano.
An ornate, antique piano that sits inside an old Sea Isle City home awaiting demolition may face the same ignominious fate as the house.
Dating to the 19th century, the grand piano will be lost forever unless someone rescues it at the last minute from the wreckers.
“It would be a sin to let that beauty get torn down along with the house,” said Abby Powell, president of the Sea Isle City Historical Society & Museum.
The museum doesn’t have enough room for the large piano, but Powell has been using social media and contacting other museums in a frantic effort to try to find a new home for the instrument.
In the meantime, the piano is part of a mishmash of abandoned furniture and other odds and ends sitting inside a century-old house at 223 85th Street.
A demolition permit has been approved for the house, according to an official with Sea Isle’s zoning and planning office. It could be torn down as soon as Wednesday, although it is not clear exactly when the demolition crew will arrive.
The piano and the rest of the contents inside the home will be demolished, too.
Known as a square grand piano, the instrument was manufactured sometime in the 19th century by Weser Bros. of New York. Weser Bros. was known for making high-end pianos.
The old piano is badly in need of restoration. Jeri Musselman, a homeowner on 85th Street, said a member of the family that owns the old house told her he tried to give the piano away but found no takers.
“I think it would be awful to get it crunched up in the house,” said Musselman, who took photos of the piano.
The old house itself is a notable piece of Sea Isle history. Built either in the late 1800s, or early 1900s, the sprawling Dutch Colonial once served as a summer estate for the Cronecker family, the famous Sea Isle hoteliers.
The Cronecker family rose to prominence first by operating the old Tivoli Hotel. In 1890, the family purchased the storied Bellevue Hotel and renamed it Cronecker’s Bellevue Hotel.
The Bellevue stood at the corner of 40th Street and Landis Avenue, but was demolished in the 1960s to make way for what is now the LaCosta Lounge, according to Sea Isle Historical Museum records. The Croneckers were a force in the hotel business for 70 years.
Their summer home at 223 85th Street reflected their wealth. When the Croneckers lived there, the house included an indoor swimming pool that was later converted to living space in the basement.
The old house is included in a binder book of locally significant homes compiled by the Historical Museum. The museum’s description of the house notes that it dates to 1905 and was once the summer retreat of the Cronecker family.
Online real estate records, though, indicate the house was built in 1889. The caption for an old black-and-white photo in the museum’s records of the Cronecker family says the house dates to 1895.
SeaIsleNews.com first reported on Oct. 24 that the house would be demolished. Although the now-dilapidated house’s fate is sealed, Musselman had hoped that someone would step in to save the piano.
“Oh, gosh, it seems like a sin to crush it,” she said.
Sea Isle tax records show the old house is owned by 92-year-old Marie Regina Thomas of Philadelphia. Contacted by phone in October, Thomas said she has transferred the deed to her children, who could not be reached for comment.
Architectural touches on the weather-beaten façade give a hint of the house’s original splendor. Among them is elaborate wood shingle siding that has a variety of patterns. The dwelling is topped by a distinctive cross-gambrel roof, according to museum records.
To prepare the house for demolition, crews have already removed the towering cedar trees and a waist-high decorative wall that were formerly in front of the structure. Also removed was the front staircase, which would make it more difficult now for someone to get the piano out of the house.
Adrienne Scharnikow, a local preservationist, reached out to some piano specialists to see if they could help her find someone to take the instrument. At last word, she had no luck.
“This is a grand old piece of U.S. history,” she said of the piano.
She researched the instrument and discovered that 19th century square grand pianos can be worth as much as $31,000 to $55,000 if they are restored to original condition. Even ones in poor condition are valued between $1,000 and $2,500.
Scharnikow is in the process of restoring her family’s old shore home, a Victorian dating to 1890. The house was one of Avalon’s oldest remaining homes.
The Avalon house was slated to be torn down by different owners, but Scharnikow worked out a deal with the demolition company to buy back the home for $1, have it placed in storage in Egg Harbor Township and then have it moved to Cape May for restoration. The move cost her $180,000.
Before the old Sea Isle house is demolished, Scharnikow wanted to see if she could recover some old pieces from the home to incorporate into her own house. That’s when she learned of the old piano and began her efforts to try to find someone to save it.
“There’s no way we can let these things be demolished,” she said of its historic significance.