- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: July 2008

Dividing a City: The Washington Street Mall

Those of us who already saw great potential for a new reality show called Cape May: The Soap Opera have to admit, the Washington Street Mall (hitherto known as The Mall) seemed destined to become an even more popular spin-off. The Mall first opened as a separate pedestrian area back in 1971, maturing and changing slightly apart from the rest of the island, seeming to become a city-within-a-city. It has its own culture, its own speed, and its own separate army of uniformed candy sirens handing out fudge. From its very beginnings, The Mall divided people in this city. It may have, in fact, been the catalyst for major changes that shaped the island. Certainly it was the centerpiece in a long line of civic projects to shape the future of this town.

Former mayor Bruce Minnex

Former mayor Bruce Minnex

Former mayor Frank Gauvry

Former mayor Frank Gauvry

The entire county began to change just after the rather inauspicious (according to former Mayor Bruce Minnix) ribbon-cutting he says he presided over as the new mayor back in 1972. Former Mayor Frank Gauvry insists he presided over the actual ribbon-cutting in June of 1971 – and we’re already off to a great start. Just to set the record straight – the dedication of the Washington Street Mall took place on June 24, 1971.

Ahh, the ’70s. When we pick eras to feel nostalgic for, let’s all remember that the 70s were among the uglier and more depressing parts of our history. In Cape May alone the water pollution was at its all-time high; buildings neglected since the ’40s and ’50s were reaching a critical breaking point; and the unemployment rate was higher than in the rest of the U.S. (up to 28.6 % of the county’s population was unemployed in the winter of 1976 – the national average was 7.3%).

There was a remarkably volatile election on the island – Minnix challenging the incumbent Gauvry. And we haven’t even mentioned polyester leisure suits yet. Is it any wonder people began to lookback in time for beauty and charm?

For Cape May as we know it, the time was a watershed. People of this city began to complain, and then to fight, and finally to work together. The Washington Street Mall project was a revolution of sorts – no matter whose version you’re hearing. In March of 1966, City Planner John Needles, City Manager David Teel, and Mayor Frank Gauvry met in Washington, D.C. with officials from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to raise federal money to rebuild Cape May. “It was not a very attractive commercial area,” says Frank Gauvry today. “The buildings along Washington Street were in desperate need of repair. So, we looked for ways to change.”

Their first order of business was to build a “Victorian Village Shopping Mall” that would use authentic Victorian buildings to recreate the town as it had been during its boom-times in the late 1800s. This would attract tourists and create a sweet little boost to both taxes and jobs at a time when both were needed. The restoration efforts would also be a huge step toward the eventual listing of the entire city of Cape May on the National Registry of Historic Places. Think of all the revenue to come through this place since we won that honor, and you might understand the passion that accompanies any change in this town.

“Everybody was against the Mall,” says Gauvry. “They almost ran me out of town. But as soon as it was successful, everyone wanted in. I think it had a great deal to do with revitalizing the commercial aspects of the city.”

Public housing on Lafayette Street was the other side of that coin. The city ended up destroying much of a historically important (and thriving) African-American community when they tore down the buildings along Lafayette to create low-income HUD housing as part of the agreement. And thus began the first swell of controversy towards Urban Planning.

“Our first project was the low-income housing,” says Frank Gauvry. “There were blocks of uninhabitable houses – and people were living in them. We tore all those down, it was all part of the whole idea of revitalizing. Our second project was the Acme shopping area, aka Victorian Village, now called Washington Commons. It had been a railway station, a gas station and a coal yard. Then we rebuilt Convention Hall – it was [done] entirely [with] city workforce, [and] cost about $250,000. Then Village Green, then The Mall, and then Victorian Towers. Look at all we did in just eight years,” he adds. Gauvry served as mayor from 1964 to 1972. “It was just the three of us running the City! There’s too many cooks in the kitchen today; it hinders growth.”

The sound of wrecking balls throughout the City set more people into action – to stop it. Bruce Minnix, Gregory Ogden, Ray Schultz, and many others began forming a group that would later become the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC.) Their purpose was to stop the razing of the old buildings – one in particular: the Physick Estate.

Everything wrong, and everything right, about the city’s efforts at self-preservation began to swirl around two locations: The Mall, and the then-derelict Physick Estate. You just can’t mention one without the other; both were needed, both had ardent supporters, both had a role to play. If it hadn’t been for the city’s refusal to allow the sale of the Physick Estate to MAC to save the building, Bruce Minnix would never have been mayor. Minnix, Jerry Inderweiss (who was later elected mayor as well) and John Daly were picked by a group of concerned citizens to run against Gauvry and his council.

“We had become very involved in saving the Physick Estate,” said Minnix recently.  “The city had the grant money to buy it, but wasn’t moving. They were just going to let it be torn down. My wife said ‘Everyone knows you can’t win, but you’ve got a big mouth – do the best you can.’ ”

Minnix ran a campaign based on beating the good ole boy system, the top-down government, and the destruction of old architecture city-wide. He won the most votes out of the three, and became mayor in 1972.

“My first official act, the only business on the day we were sworn in, was to acquire the grant to buy the Physick Estate,” says Minnix. Restoration of that landmark began immediately. “My last act, after four years of great fun, was to accept the designation of [National] Historic Landmark.”

In between those two events, a little business of a new pedestrian mall came to Bruce’s attention. “The Mall was almost done by then – 95%. But they’d run out of money for it! They gave money to people to write a song for the town, all thesethings… and then ran out of money for trees. Go figure. So we drove up to Middle Township, got some cedar trees from their high school – we had permission – and planted them.  We didn’t have any money.”

A mixture of great ideas and poor planning shouldn’t surprise. Any city of any size that now boasts of a “revitalized downtown shopping district” or a “Main Street” paid for with federal funds is a direct descendent of the Washington Street Mall. At the time, however, the only thing the City of Cape May agreed on was their hatred of the mall.

“The only friend I had, the only person who thought it would work,” says Gauvry now, “Was Vince Casale, at Casale’s Shoes. I was very unpopular.” Gauvry hints that when the money started rolling in, certain people immediately pretended to be more involved with The Mall planning than they actually were.

Key people shaped the look of the town, the amenities they included, even what the city’s populace did for fun. And if it just so happened to be profitable, or at the very least commercially feasible, were they seen as anti-conservation?

Meanwhile, families started fixing up their summer shacks, turning them into beach palaces – and then divvying them up into duplexes and, later, condos. A distinctive service industry was born with the creation of a B&B industry, not to mention the niche marketing to that core group of Victoriana enthusiasts whose interest quickly spread to everything from buying antiques to enjoying vintage American plays performed after decades of being forgotten. Everything we offer in this town, right up to the new wineries, comes from the attitude that the finer things last.

But did they forget to look ahead?

Who’s New 2008, Part II

Every June, does a feature article called, Who’s New, Who’s Moved and Who’s Gone but fancy this – this year we haveWho’s Moving, Changing, oh let’s just call it, Who’s Morphing, Part II.

Most of the changes are on Lafayette Street or nearby and involve some neat, little known history. If you recall, Cape May City Council wanted rid of a house at the corner of Broad and Elmira streets in order to widen Elmira for two-way traffic. Problem though, it dates back to the 1860s and was deemed of historic significance. In April council decided to keep and not demolish the house, provided someone wanted to buy it. That someone stepped up to the plate. Shirley Phinney and Ron Long, owners of Elaine’s Victorian Inn on Lafayette Street, bought the house from the city for $100. City Council approved the sale and the last two weeks in May were spent moving the house. Phinney and Long brought in a team of experts (S.J. Hauck, Inc.) to move the house, which required taking it apart in five sections. Had the 19th century house been moved in one piece, the move would have resulted in a historic tree on the grounds of Elaine’s Dinner Theatrebeing torn down. “We moved it without tearing out any of our [historic] trees,” said Ron. “The movers had three inches to spare between the trees and the space where the house needed to be placed.”

Ron said they were able to move the house in such a way that it will be restored in its entirety. “We were able to preserve the original flooring and the framing. We paid $100 for it,” he said, “But it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore it. Everything will be the same except we will put cedar shakes on instead of aluminum siding,” which is keeping with the period. As it turns out the new addition, which will be used for Shirley’s father, Mark Phinney’s, private residence, is of the same time period as Elaine’s Dinner Theater and Inn.

The two-story, six room house has a colorful past. According to Ron, it was once a speakeasy. When the movers were taking the house apart, Ron found fake walls and pipes behind it that were used for the stills.

“I was told that the original door [with the window that opened and you said, ‘Joe sent me.’] was still in the house until just a few months ago.

Ron and the Phinney family are doing the restoration themselves and hope it will be finished and ready to move in before Christmas.

Right down the road from Elaine’s and just around the corner from the Broad Street Speakeasy was the home of The Village Bike Shop on Lafayette and Elmira streets. It is still home for the bike shop, but come fall, owner Dennis Flynn will have a proper place to sell and rent his. He and his partner at the Lafayette Street site, Bob Gilbert, are constructing a two-store retail space. The second building will be available for rent.

And speaking of a past, Flynn and Gilbert bought the property back in 1990. At the time it was the site of Pete’s Tavern, which the two demolished in 1992. Pete’s Tavern was owned by a Cape May Point couple. After the death of the wife’s husband, she sold the liquor license to The Washington Inn.

Hey Look at this! Along with a new landscape at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, the car got a new ticket booth. Or was it the ticket sellers who got a new booth? Well, either way, it looks adorable.In terms of small changes which took place since last month, a new store next to Heather’s Hair Salon opened call Americana, selling, you guessed it, all things American.And make sure to take note of the new look at 22 Jackson Street. Spiffy new colors for a spiffy new season.


Prunus maritime

I remember a gnarled old beach plum in my mother-in-law’s back ally in Ocean City. That was a long time ago and the tree was taken out by new owners years later. This 95-year-old little lady told us of picking beach plums inOcean City when she was a child and later picking them as a young mother in Strathmore New Jersey she also told me of jars of jellies and jams she made with her grandmother and cousins.Years back this set the stage for my husband and I to plant some beach plum plants along the southwest side of our garden fence. Now we battle the birds for our share of this fruit to make lots of jars of tangy jam. Last year we gave out jars of it as favors at mom Kiefer’s September birthday party. We cooked the plums in a big pot and then stirred it through our colander that is in my big spaghetti pot. We worked on this fragrant project well into the night. The jewel-like jars were a hit and well worth the work, but the jelly was a just reward. We are already watching this year’s fruit and plan to cover it with nets.

We planted our beach plum, prunsis maritime, in sandy well-drained soil in full sun. They are mixed in with some Rosa rugosa, herbs, currents, black berries and raspberry all along our garden fence. The only trouble we ever have is birds. Since we love birds and feed them year round we never complain about sharing our beach plums. In fact there is a blue bird family nestin in a box on one of the fence post that is nestled in this fence row of plants.

Although beach plums plants are often misshaped and more like a shrub than a tree they add some seashore charm to any well-drained garden. Nothing is prettier in early spring when they are covered with heaps of white blooms. They are quite a sight where they carpet the dunes in Delaware on the way to Ocean City, Maryland and other shore resorts in that area.

After the flowers fade and blow away in the breeze, leaves emerge and, along with small green berries, cover the plant. There is nothing unusual or showy about the plant at this stage. One day you notice that the green berries are a bit bigger than a large blue berry and they are beginning to have tinges of plum color. Soon you will notice birds darting into the bushes to snag a berry or two or three. Covering the shrubs with nets helps prevent this if you need lots of beach plums. For years we just shared with the birds, after all, how many jars of beach plum jam can we use and give for gifts? We bought nets this year.

The plants are rather small and often crooked and certainly not a big seller in our nursery. They are pretty in spring when in bloom, but after that hardly anyone ever notices or asks for a beach plum. Once a few people from Ohio stopped on their way to Cape May to buy a few plants for an Herb Society of America garden. Yes, beach plums are considered by some to be herbs.

I have friends in Cape May who told me that there is a beach plum association so I looked it up on the Internet and found that the Cape May County Beach Plum Association is located in Cape May Court House and can be reached by calling 609-412-3123 or visiting their website at

People are very interested in native plants and this plant sure fits the bill.Prunus maritime, or beach plum was once found growing naturally in the sandy soils all along our coast as well as inland a bit. Since it thrives in environments with salt and drought it can grow where many other plants will not make it. It can be planted near dunes to help hold sand.

According to the Beach Plum Association website, the first recorded mention of the beach plum was by explorer Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, who noted them growing in southern New York State. He called them “damson trees.” Later they say that Henry Hudson reported seeing an abundance of “blue plums” along the river named for him.

Even now beach plum is valuable in stabilization and restoration of coastal areas. It is well adapted to dry sites with moderately fertile, slightly acidic, loamy and sandy soils. In New England, many areas, even in Cape Cod, are trying to restore original beach plum dunes and planting more beach plum. I remember seeing it on dunes when visiting more than 30 years ago, but I read that now it is being protected and planted. People are actually growing it and using the fruits for jams and other products to sell to the tourist as they once did along our coasts more than 100 years ago. This native shrub is also very important in feeding coastal wildlife.

I think that plants like bayberry, blueberry, bearberry, raspberry, and other easy to grow shrubs that will tolerate and even thrive in shore conditions are the best to plant. They require little or no care once established. They attract and fed song birds and you will have a handful of fruit a day if you plant enough plants. So, go native now and plant some beach plums or other native fruits.

Visit Lorraine at

Fourth of July Barbeque

July 4th is a time to celebrate throwing the British out. Most people think it had to do with taxes and rights and silly stuff like that, but foodies know that in a land of bountiful food we couldn’t be ruled by a people who make and eat bland, tasteless dishes.

It is also time dissolve the bands that connect you to the kitchen and enjoy outdoor pursuits of happiness such as grilling. The fun part of grilling is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. The keystone components of grilling are preparation and patience. Grill temperature is important. Even if you use gas, you must let the cooking surface get hot or the food will stick to it. Once the surface is hot, season it with oil to prevent items from sticking to the grill. Having everything nearby before you start grilling is important since grilling is a quick cooking method.

With recent events in the Midwest the price of pork and beef are going to skyrocket. When in the course of grilling events the tyranny of pork prices forces one to break with tradition and grill seafood.

Local seafood will be the least expensive and tastiest. Pacific Salmon is short supply and the cost prohibitive. One of my favorite Jersey fish to cook on the grill is striped bass, but in order to enjoy it you must catch it yourself or know someonewho fishes due to New Jersey’s prohibition on commercial striped bass fishing. Striped Bass is a rich meaty fish that has a natural sweetness to it that lends itself to numerous cooking variations. One method I enjoy using with fish is a variation on the French classic cooking technique “en papillote” which is steaming in a parchment paper pouch. Since grilling paper is a task fraught with peril, aluminum foil works best.

It is necessary to oil the foil first so you’re not picking foil out of your teeth. Striped Bass works well with Asian flavors such as red curry, coconut milk and lemongrass. Make sure the foil packet is closed tight so the fish will remain moist.

Scallops are also great on the grill, but can be a little tricky. High heat and a light marinade are key. Here the purpose of the marinade is to add flavor and provide a little fat in the form of oil to prevent sticking. Be careful. Too much oil and your scallops will end up being little charcoal briquettes. Citrus works well with scallops. I like a combination of orange and lime juice and a short marinating time of 15-30 minutes. Otherwise, you end up with ceviche.

Another Jersey favorite is bluefish. Okay, people love it or hate it. Bluefish is strong flavored, but a short 20-minute soak in milk will mellow the flavor. Bluefish is a thicker fleshed fish so use a medium heat to cook with. To offset the strong flavor serve with fresh grilled vegetables with good olive oil and lots of fresh lemon and thyme.

This July, declare your independence from high pork and beef prices. Be a sunshine patriot and cook Red Curry Striped Bass, Juicy White Citrus Marinated Scallops and Grilled Bluefish. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Red Curry Striped Bass

  • 1 Striped bass
  • 1 Cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tablespoons red curry
  • 1 Stalk lemon grass, split
  • 1 Teaspoon ginger
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 Scallions, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 Large piece foil
  • 1 Lime, juiced

Clean bass. Mix all ingredients in bowl. Place bass on oiled foil. Pour over sauce/marinade. Wrap fish tightly in foil. Grill 15-20 minutes. Serve with steamed rice.

Citrus Marinated Scallops with Chipotle Cream

  • 1 Pound scallops
  • 2 Tablespoon garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons cilantro
  • 2 Oranges, quartered and juiced
  • 4 Limes, quartered and juiced
  • 2 Teaspoons lemon pepper
  • ¼ Cup chopped green onions
  • 2 Jalapeños, seeded and chopped

Clean abductor muscle off scallop. Mix all ingredients. Pour over scallops. Grill 3-4 minutes each side over medium high heat. Serve with chipotle cream.

Chipotle Cream

  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 Teaspoon cilantro
  • 1 Teaspoon chopped chipotle
  • ¼ Cup orange juice
  • 1 Cup heavy cream

In saucepan, melt butter. Sweat garlic. Add chipotles. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add orange juice. Reduce by half. Add cream. Reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with scallops.

Bluefish with Grilled Vegetables

  • 1 Pound bluefish fillet
  • 2 Cups milk
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 Onion, sliced
  • 2 Lemons, sliced (One juiced, one mixed with ¼ cup melted butter)

Soak bluefish 20 minutes. Drain. Pat dry. Season. Grill 8-10 minutes per side. Brush with melted butter and lemon juice.

Grilled Vegetables

  • 1 Eggplant, peeled, cut in half moons
  • 1 Zucchini, cut in half moons
  • 1 Yellow squash, cut in half moons
  • 1 Red onion, sliced
  • 1 Red pepper, cut in squares

Toss veggies with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons chopped thyme, ¼ cup olive oil and the juice of one lemon. Grill 3-5 minutes per side. Toss back in saved marinade. Serve with grilled bluefish.