By Gretchen F. Coyle
In 1951 Floyd Cranmer built my family a rather ugly modern house for the time on Beach Avenue in Beach Haven. Each bedroom had a breeze from three directions and a push through between the kitchen and dining area. I loved Beach Haven from our first summer.
As an adopted, only child, I had the most wonderful freedom. My mother played bridge with her friends on the Essex Avenue beach in Beach Haven using magnetic cards that would not blow away or went to cocktail parties while I participated in the Skippers and Skipperettes Program at the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club, swam in the ocean with friends, and sailed my sneakbox wherever I wanted.
Perhaps most fun was wandering around the town on my Raleigh three-speed English bike. I became curious about the bowling alley: it had been the Fitler Rope Factory during World War II. The local incinerator usually had good finds left around it. What was that dead fish smell coming on a Southwest wind? The Fish Factory. My snooping became a lifelong habit of trash picking. Anything old or unexplained stimulated my interest in history, resulting in a career as an author and freelance magazine writer.
The schooner Lucy Evelyn, which had been transformed from a working sailing ship to a gift shop was owned by Betty and Nat Ewer who lived across the street from us. The Ewer’s hosted pirate parties for local kids aboard the Lucy Evelyn, admittance was by wooden ladders up to the deck where Cokes, ginger ale, and pretzels were served. There was a playhouse on the property built by Nat himself for his children. Eighty decades later the Nathaniel T. Ewer playhouse sits on our bay front property, having been played in by generations of kids. A treasure moved twenty-five years ago.
Who knew Ostendorf’s Garage in Beach Haven could make money for a young girl who scrounged the empty place procuring old Coke bottles? Formally known as the Beach Haven Garage by its sign, it was mostly deserted in the 1950s except for occasional storage of freight items; but the door was open, and I could ride my bike around inside. I would climb over leftover junk from car maintenance and trash, finding old Coke bottles. I turned them in at the grocery store on Bay Avenue for a penny or two.
The Coke bottles I found were confusing. Some were light green and worth a penny; others, a smoky green, either older or had been bounced around in the 1944 hurricane, looked like beach glass. These were worth two cents. I wonder what they would be worth today. And what other treasures might I have missed that should now be in one of the three Beach Haven museums?
Ostendorf’s Garage was started in 1912, the finished building coinciding with the opening of the 1914 Causeway. It was built by Philadelphian, Frederick Ostendorf, a popular restaurateur known for serving rich German food. He was the largest stockholder in the garage project. A foresighted, dapper man, he knew wealthy and influential men were already visiting the Island and would need someplace to store their automobiles besides sandy streets.
There was a tidal creek that flowed from Liberty Thorofare almost directly to the back door of Ostendorf’s Garage. Doug Galloway III told me that children used to sail their sneakboxes up and down there; and ultimately stored their boats at the garage when the cars had departed for the winter. Frederick Ostendorf bought the Coral Street house “Near Sea” in 1910. He and his wife lived there mostly year-round until he died in 1939.
By the 1950s, Ostendorf’s Garage and “Near Sea” were both in awful condition. To a child, they were spooky, dark, broken-windowed relics. The garage was so large it echoed. Cars were hoisted to the second floor so mechanics could work underneath them; the first level was mainly used for storage. A layer of sand covered the concrete floor. Leftover rusted tools and equipment could have been mine for the taking. It was stifling and full of greenheads on hot days; cool when it was cloudy and windy.
I never got rich turning in Coke bottles but found enough for ice cream at the Ship Ahoy or a souvenir at Koseff’s. Beach Haven in the 1950s was pure enjoyment, kids were free to do whatever they wanted without worry. I had a 10 p.m. curfew which seemed fair enough. Ostendorf’s Garage had failed financially by the time I explored it and was torn down in 1964. “Near Sea” was first restored by the Macy family and remains a pride of the Beach Haven Historic District today.