I knew Uppie from practically the day I was born and have several pictures from a photoshoot on her lawn when I was 4 1/2 months old - me with my parents, me with Uppie's cat - all with her famous house in the background, blurred but visible. I suspect Uppie counted my mom and dad as being among a few hundred of her closest friends. More than once I heard the story of her comment when she first saw me as a baby: “Lots of head above the ears - just like her father.” I don’t give her much credit for phrenology; but for finding a way to admire a baby and flatter the baby's father at the same time, she definitely deserved the Dale Carnegie award for knowing how to win friends and influence new parents.
I remember Uppie as a tiny, wizened old lady though at the time she she was probably about the same age as I am now. Living with her in the bungalow were her willowy daughter Virginia - also a real estate agent - and Virginia’s husband, the mysterious and splendidly mustachioed Alphonse Tonietti, who might have been a writer or journalist, I'm not sure. A formidable trio.
But wait! Wasn’t Uppie’s house, built in around 1913, supposed to be the oldest house in Shark River Hills? Surely Zillow had gotten the date of the Stodola home wrong.
When I visited Shark River Hills this past August, however, I had a chance to chat with the current owner of the house, who confirmed that yes, indeed, the house had been built in 1908 - that was the date shown on the deed. When I observed that the date seemed too early by several years, he told me that the daughter of the previous owner, the one who had bought the home from my parents, had told him the house was originally built not as a residence but as a retreat for Roman Catholic priests, on land purchased by the sister of one of the priests. In fact, he said, the house featured two small prayer rooms, one in the basement, the other a second floor enclosure barely larger than a closet that my father had used as his ham shack!
So far my efforts to track down the previous owner’s daughter or to find any corroboration of the house’s supposed history as a Catholic retreat have failed. If anyone reading this blog can provide me with information about the history of my childhood home I would be very grateful.
As usual, Mary Jane had it just right, even if there’s no precise demographic term for an old-timey summer resort proceeding peaceably along its journey toward year-round development when it suddenly finds itself host to an Army base and under pressure to make itself user-friendly for a large infusion of military and associated civilian personnel. My father was part of that Camp Evans infusion, and so it happened that this oddly unique moment in the history of Shark River Hills formed the backdrop for my childhood.
The “great hurricane of 1944” demolished the old boardwalk, and no one bothered to rebuild it. The era of Shark River Hills as a summer resort had come to an end.