By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The old house dating to the early 1900s didn’t stand a chance against the modern demolition machinery that tore big chunks of wood, glass and metal from the structure.
Each blow inflicted by the steel claw of the giant excavator was accompanied by an awful crunching sound as the house was torn down bit by bit.
It didn’t take long for the two-story house to be obliterated. In just a few hours Monday, a home that had stood at the corner of 42nd Street and Pleasure Avenue in Sea Isle City for more than 100 years was gone – reduced to nothing more than a mountainous pile of rubble.
A new four-story building featuring a combination of commercial space and condominiums will take the place of what had become a dilapidated house damaged by flood waters from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Developer Bill McGinn, a local real estate agent, said he explored the possibility of restoring the house and transforming it into a mixed-use project, but it simply would have been too costly and difficult to elevate it above flood levels. The house was built around 1907, McGinn said.
Ultimately, McGinn and his business partner, Lou Feola, decided that a brand new project would blend in better with the character of the surrounding neighborhood. McGinn explained that the neighborhood has been transitioning to new multi-unit housing and commercial development in recent years to create “a nice, little commercial district.”
“It’s an exciting new beginning for that building,” McGinn said in an interview Monday.
McGinn’s development group, Wild Colonial Boys LLC, received approval in May from the city’s zoning board to build the project. Both McGinn and Feola are zoning board members, but recused themselves from voting.
Among other things, zoning variances were needed for the construction density, the number of stories and to build the project on an undersized lot. Without the height variance, the building would have been limited to three stories.
Construction on the project is expected to begin in about a month and be completed by next June, just in time for the start of the peak summer tourism season, McGinn said.
A commercial tenant will occupy the first floor. At this point, it is not known what type of business will be there. Three condominiums featuring ocean views from their outdoor decks will be on the top three floors of the building.
Responding to concerns about parking shortages in the neighborhood, the project will include two parking spaces for each condo, double the required amount, McGinn said.
The project represents the type of development that has become popular in Sea Isle ever since the city changed its zoning laws in 2008 to encourage mixed-use construction.
“It does what the city intended to do – to make that a nice, mixed-used area,” McGinn said. “It’s going to be a nice, little commercial district there.”
Opponents of the plan had argued during the May zoning board meeting that the mixed-used project would exacerbate the city’s parking problems, harm the neighborhood and represented too much development for a small piece of property. However, they failed to block it before the zoning board.
McGinn bought the deteriorated house at 18 42nd Street for $425,000 in 2018 from Agnes Rocchia, according to online property records. Rocchia, who died in 2020, and her late husband, Ralph, rented out the house for many years before it was sold.
“She was a wonderful woman. She was a super woman with wonderful stories,” McGinn said of Agnes Rocchia.
Before it was owned by the Rocchia family, the house served as Sea Isle’s post office decades ago, McGinn said. The Sea Isle City Historical Museum was closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday, so no other information about the home’s background was immediately available.
The house was certainly showing its age in recent years, including broken and missing windows, crumbling woodwork, faded paint and overgrown shrubbery. The first floor was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
In a bit of intrigue, McGinn said he was told by Agnes Rocchia when he bought the house that there was a safe inside. McGinn plans to talk to the demolition company to find out if the safe was recovered when the house was being torn down.
“She told me there was nothing in it,” McGinn said of Rocchia and the safe. “She thought it was a safe from the old post office.”
Although the safe wasn’t visible when the house was being demolished, other contents of the home were revealed when the excavator’s claw tore away the facade, including old paintings and pictures hanging on the walls.
Al Frattarola, a Sea Isle resident who, along with his wife, Paula, watched and took cellphone photos as the house was ripped apart, noticed the old pictures and began thinking of the home’s lengthy history.
“How many kids were born here? How many families lived here? When you look at the pictures hanging up, you think of the history and how many families actually lived here,” Frattarola said.