Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Levittown of the Jersey Shore

I am blogging today from an ocean front cottage at the Jersey shore town of Ocean Beach. It is a bit cloudy and windy, but the temperature is in the 60s and the roar of the Atlantic is keeping me company.

I am guessing that most of my readers--even those who grew up vacationing at the Jersey shore--have never heard of Ocean Beach. It is a small beach community on the Barnegat Peninsula near Lavallette. (Lavallette is between Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights). My family has been coming here for half a century and I try to continue the tradition by spending a few days here each October during the college's fall break.

Ocean Beach was founded in the 1950s by two developers who wanted to provide affordable beach houses for working-class families. Many of the earlier purchasers were World War II veterans who wanted their piece of the American Dream. They could buy a cottage at Ocean Beach for about $2000. When the Garden State Parkway was completed in 1955 sales took off. Ocean Beach is a stark contrast, for example, to the Barnegat peninsula mansions of Bay Head (a favorite spot for the Princeton crowd) and Mantoloking (where I believe Elizabeth Taylor used to own a house, but I could be wrong).

If you strike up a conversation with a homeowner or renter here you will find that everyone has a story about this place. Everyone takes pride in connecting themselves--either through relatives or friends--to the post-war development of the community. I have always thought about writing a history of Ocean Beach. The opportunities for oral history are phenomenal.

If I ever did write that book, I would describe Ocean Beach as the Levittown of the Jersey shore. The houses were affordable, they were built on the same basic plan, they continue to be extremely close to one another, and they offered a post-war generation the opportunity to have a house at the beach.

OK--enough blogging. The sun is starting to come out!