By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The stately house at 26 59th Street features an old-fashioned wraparound porch that has likely been the setting for countless family get-togethers over the years.
The Colonial Revival-style house, painted a light green and trimmed in beige, was once owned by the sister of the visionary real estate developer who founded Sea Isle City in the late 1800s.
Despite its historic significance, one of Sea Isle’s oldest surviving homes would be demolished and replaced with a duplex if the project is given approval by the city’s zoning board at its April 3 meeting.
JCM Development LLC, which has an agreement to purchase the 133-year-old home, is seeking the board’s approval for a zoning variance to build the duplex on an undersized lot.
Discussions continue on whether another variance will be needed to build a duplex in place of a single-family home in that location, according to an attorney representing JCM Development.
The old two-story house on 59th Street dates to 1890, just eight years after the legendary Charles K. Landis founded Sea Isle as a seaside retreat inspired by the architecture and canals of Venice, Italy.
Abby Powell, a former president of the Sea Isle City Historical Society and Museum, said she researched the original deed for the house in 1890 and discovered that it was owned at that time by Matilda Landis, the sister of Charles K. Landis.
“I’ve been inside. It’s beautiful. They pretty much kept it to the original floor plan,” Powell said of how the most recent owners maintained the historic aspects of the house.
Records indicate the home’s current owner is Suzanne Farmer Clarke. Her husband, John Clarke, was an attorney and the owner of a title company. He died in 2019.
Documents filed with the zoning board show that the house is being sold by Suzanne Farmer Clarke to JCM Development pending approval of the plans for a new duplex. The proposed purchase price was not divulged.
A sign above the front door is inscribed with the words “Johnny’s Cottage,” an apparent reference to the late John Clarke. Next to the door is a historic plaque that notes the age of the home. “Circa 1890,” it says.
The 1890 house was among the old homes that were cataloged in a historic preservation study conducted by Sea Isle’s former Historic Preservation Commission in 1993.
The 34-page study remains a record of the Sea Isle Historical Museum. The musty report is filled with black-and-white photos and a brief description of the old homes of Sea Isle – including the 1890 house at 26 59th Street.
Daniel McCann, a Sea Isle attorney representing JCM Development, said the company’s owner, Jason McAnulty, originally considered the possibility of renovating the old house on 59th Street.
However, renovations would have been extensive considering the age and condition of the home, McCann noted.
The home’s location about a block from the beach at the ocean end of 59th Street makes it a prime piece of property.
McCann said the new duplex planned in place of the old house will be aesthetically pleasing to the neighborhood and will resemble a single-family home from the outside.
The duplex will also be a much safer structure for the neighborhood because it will meet the modern construction and flood-protection standards that old homes do not, he added.
“The benefits outweigh the loss of the existing structure,” McCann said in an interview Friday.
McCann grew up in Sea Isle and comes from a family of local builders and realtors. He is a former Sea Isle lifeguard and a one-time member of the city’s planning board.
Citing his local ties, McCann said it is sad when some of Sea Isle’s older homes are lost, but he believes the construction of attractive, new housing is crucial for keeping the town vital.
McCann pointed out that JCM Development has experience in developing and renovating homes in Sea Isle and does not build “cookie cutter” houses.