In a 1996 article, the New York Times called The Sea Mist “the architectural equivalent of a Sousa march.” Fitting if one takes into consideration composition, transition and above all, an era. Built as part of the 1873 Cape May Beach Land Company’s marketing promotion, lots along the beachfront were sold for as little as $1.00 in effort to settle the area. Not far down Beach Avenue, John Philip Sousa was playing his “Congress Hall March” in front of summer guests — visitors enjoying cool sea breezes at the height of a hot summer. Families who might consider owning a summer house as an indispensable retreat.
The Sea Mist today looms large on the Cape May beachfront. Whether viewed from land or sea, this red and white “steamboat-style” building with its unique widow’s walk is one of Cape May’s most photographed houses. Originally two stories tall, and used as a summer house, its subsequent nine owners built upwards and around and behind the building each adding his own “harmonic chord.” One can see the different stages of outside development through its porches and windows and inside still stand one section of the original dove-tailed wooden exterior.
A summer house well into the 1960s, subsequent owners turned the building into efficiencies and apartments delighting guests with ocean front views and summer breezes. Current and tenth owner Fernando Tamilio continues this tradition each year improving and upgrading the building’s efficiencies and apartments and have now turned it into a year-round facility promoting the off-season as well as the summer.
They call the building “the Miracle on Beach Avenue.”
Fernando and his family spent 30 years in the home improvement business in North Jersey and at least 20 vacationing along the coast. When The Sea Mist came up for sale, Fernando jumped at it combining his former experience and what he calls his “credible feel for people.” He told CapeMay.com that he’s “having a ball” with the old house and hopes to make The Sea Mist “family-friendly”.
“We’ve been improving each and every accommodation with private baths, fully-stocked kitchens and cable television just like your own home,” he said. All but two units offers an ocean view. The Sea Mist also provides beach showers, grilling facilities, a bike rack and that ever-so-important personal parking space. “Park your car and your done for the week” Fernando’s brochure boasts. With its convenient location to the boardwalk and downtown, it’s not such a bad idea.
Inside The Sea Mist is an eclectic array of memorabilia — from stuffed animals to nautical items, historic and new photographs, and objects like Christmas trees hung upside down, a Victorian tradition. Fernando calls this “bright, cheerful, festive Victorian charm.”
The Sea Mist is decorated year-round for Christmas with lights and angels and trees. Said Fernando, “The town and Sea Mist are even more spectacular at Christmas time. We offer a Christmas special hoping families can take advantage of off-season events, tours and shopping.”
Another special plan of Fernando’s is to join Cape May’s ghost tour. For yes, according to Fernando, the building is haunted. “You either believe or you don’t,” he said, “but from what I’ve experienced here, I believe.”
Slamming doors, locked doors, sightings, footsteps — he’s experienced them all. The building is 129 years-old after all, one must expect that not all who have graced the floors have checked out.
Fernando says the best place to feel Victorian times is the six-story high widow’s walk. “Wonder what it was like when a lady went to the widow’s walk to see if she could catch a glimpse of her husband returning from sea, not knowing if indeed he would return.” He adds one must feel the wind wreaking havoc, and worried women wandering back inside, some to courageously live out their days alone.
Truly a Cape May landmark, The Sea Mist reminds one of the Cape May of yore. The old-time ambience, the smell of the ocean air mingling with bed linens, children happily — albeit tiredly — returning from a day at the beach.
In Fernando’s two years of owning the building, hundreds of families have book return visits. Upon leaving, Fernando wishes them health, happiness and prosperity. Said Fernando, “They come to escape their concerns and breathe in a little sea mist.”