It was 1946 when Fred Pearl and his partner Edward Patnaude purchased a tract of land, then desolate and brush-filled, just north of Lavallette NJ. Two laundry deliverymen who over the next 20 years turned this tract into a vacation paradise named “Ocean Beach." Their vision was to build affordable beach houses for working-class families. They began by building basic one- and two-bedroom cottages that started at $2,095 and were merely four walls and a roof with no paneling or insulation.
Sales were transacted casually; Pearl worked out of what he called his “mobile” office — which was the trunk of his car. Each business day, he set up a wooden sign along the highway that read, “Houses for Sale.” At that time, all that was required to secure your cottage was a $10 deposit and a handshake. The first sale contract was signed on July 20, 1946.
This project is study of a unique place in the American landscape that appeals to my vernacular taste and sense of style and order.
The cottages at Ocean Beach (NJ), some might say, are nothing more than oversized trailers. They are laid out in a symmetrical grid in three units, with the democratic and institutional sounding names Unit I, II, III, that total over 2,000 cottages. The streets, still made up of sand in Unit III, adds to the sparse and strong sense of place.
Photographing there in the off season allows me to de-contextualize the cottages from their vacation purpose. From a formal perspective, color, form and spatial relationships are studied. Here color helps to create individuality among uniformity in the architectural landscape. I have temporarily “borrowed” select cottage interiors to conceptually create fragmented self portraits using found or personal items. This allows me to explore the project subtexts of time, memory, and identity.
The interiors have hardly any decorations creating an abstract time stamp and few clues as to who the owners are. The bedrooms are utilitarian in nature and minimal in size to where they straddle the line between intimate and claustrophobic.
As a photographer I am interested in the cottages still showing signs of a bygone era when wood paneling, vibrant colors, and kitsch decorations were the order of the day. I always felt it was a race against time to visually preserve the cottages. That was based on the rapid pace of cottages being renovated and modernized to attract more potential vacationers on the competitive rental market.
Unfortunately, Ocean Beach was one of the hardest hit when Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the eastern seaboard. It is still not possible to visit the area but based on reports it appears that all the ocean facing cottages are destroyed and hundreds of others, too. Even though these cottages are not year round homes there are victims here.
Many homeowners did not have flood insurance and FEMA does not cover secondary dwellings. So those owners have lots what they thought was a sounds investment and steady rental income year after year. Selling a lot will be difficult too as it’s not likely that banks will issue mortgages here in the foreseeable future. That means owners would have to sell at a steep discount for cash if they cannot raise the funds to rebuild.
The project is schedueled for publishing by Kehrer in the fall of 2013. However, the work will continue through the various stages of the re-construction of Ocean Beach at least through 2014.