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A glamorous makeover for the Sea Mist

   

Editor’s Note: An inaccuracy has been brought to my attention. In my original article I quoted an earlier article which stated that the exterior of The Sea Mist was the work of “the subsequent nine owners.” That is not true. One man – Fred Morrison is responsible for “the look.” We have made that correction and apologize for the error. You might also want to take a look at the Letters to the Editor which follow.

Her petticoats are a little frayed and her bonnet is a bit askew, but never fear, by this time next year The Sea Mist will be back in fine form with a re-do that’s befitting her glamorous personality.

 “Everything is going back almost exactly they way it was,” said Barry Sharer, co-owner of Sea Mist LLC. Built in 1873 as part of a promotion to develop the east end of the island, The Sea Mist will be restored as everyone remembers her, complete with cupola and a red and white exterior.

 Sharer, who is the eleventh owner of the Sea Mist, said great pains were taken to look at old pictures of the house and restore The Sea Mist to her original likeness. Well, not exactly original. Most people don’t know this but, the ORIGINAL Sea Mist was not your standard Victorian. It was, for example, only two stories high. The mansard roof, which functions as another floor, and the cupola were all added in 1962 after the March nor’easter by building contractor/owner Fred Morrison.

According to Morrison’s daughter, Susan Morrison Teitelman, “My father was excited about the prospect of turning this once grand house into a business that would allow his family to spend the summers in Cape May.  By the following summer, The Sea Mist was open for business.”

Although the interior walls were changed by subsequent owners, Morrison, who died in 1999, is responsible for the look so many of us think of as being quintessential Cape May. The house is, in fact, the most photographed house in Cape May.

 That said, Sharer confirmed that the restorations will bring the house back to way it is pictured in so many posters, postcards and illustrations. The exterior, for example, will be red but a deeper red than currently on the house. He said when construction started two weeks ago, they found an undercoating of paint which is truer to the pictures they have. And about that color – Susan Morrison Teitelman has some insights on that as well. “My father was an avid Philadelphia Phillies fan–need I say more?  Locals always knew when the Phillies won because from the top of that cupola, the red and white Phillies flag would be flying the next day.  If they lost, no flag. Interesting at the time, the founding fathers were not too happy with the red and white building in that prestigious part of town.”
 
 In terms of the current re-do, Sharer said great pains have been taken to ensure that the quality of the workmanship is very high. Much of the previous carpentry work was done with inexpensive lumber. Additions, instead of being spliced to integrate the add-on to the main frame of the structure, were nailed onto the building.

 Reggie McMillan toured the Sea Mist some years ago and remembers walking up the stairs to the third floor or mansard roof (a sloping roof which holds another story of rooms) and seeing the ground through the floor boards. “When I got to the cupola,” he said, “I could feel the house shake in the wind. The wood was old and not really substantial. I’m very glad to see the old girl get a face lift. I hope I can take a tour of her again when she’s finished.”

 That is not the approach being taken for this current re-do, which is expected to be completed by spring of next year. Award winning “luxury home builder” Lou Marzilli is the designer and builder for Sea Mist Condominiums. Plans include eight units – all with an ocean view. Information on the condominiums states that “only the finest materials were used to renovate this one of a kind building.” Sharer confirmed that all materials used to reconstruct the first two stories, the mansard flood and cupola will be upgraded and of the highest quality and will be spliced to the interior framing to achieve an integrated whole.

 A 2002 article on The Sea Mist, which appeared in CapeMay.com reported the two-story summer house functioned as a private residence into the 1960s – “The subsequent nine owners built upwards and around and behind the building each adding his own harmonic chord.” – Up until two weeks ago, when construction workers took off the cupola and mansard and gutted the interior, the different stages of outside development were easily spotted through its four levels of porches and windows. Inside “the miracle on Beach Avenue” still stood one section of the original dove-tailed wooden exterior.

 One note, in 1873 when the Sea Mist was built, beachfront lots sold for as little as $1.00 – don’t look for those price points again, that’s why they’re called the “good ol’ days.”

Letters to the Editor:

Harmonic Chords
Recently I was directed to your web site to read an article by Susan
Tischler about the makeover of The Sea Mist. It was a very nice
article however, some of her facts need clarification.

My father, Fred Morrison bought the house at 927 Beach Drive in 1962 after the nor’easter that devastated much of the town. Being a
building contractor by trade, my father was excited about the prospect of turning this once grand house into a business that would allow his family to spend the summers in Cape May. By the following summer, The Sea Mist was open for business.

Susan quotes in her article, “The subsequent nine owners built upwards and around and behind the building each adding his own harmonic chord.” There was only one harmonic chord-my fathers. Interior walls were changed and moved around by some of the later owners, but only one man, the originator of “The Sea Mist”, did what you see on the exterior. It has always amused me when I read an article describing her “steam-boat architecture”-believe me when I say, my father never heard of steamboat architecture. He designed and built The Sea Mist according to Fred Morrison, and Fred Morrison only. My children, who also spent much of their childhood at The Sea Mist, felt that their “Pop-Pop” should get
the credit due him for creating the most photographed house in Cape May.

I also thought you might like to know why The Sea Mist is red and
white, unusual for that period of time. My father was an avid
Philadelphia Phillies fan–need I say more? Locals always knew when the Phillies won because from the top of that cupola, the red and white Phillies flag would be flying the next day. If they lost, no flag. Interesting at the time, the founding fathers were not too happy with the red and white building in that prestigious part of town.

Fortunately (or maybe not to some), in 1962 the Historical Society did not command the audience that it has today and my father chose to ignore their advice without retribution. I understand one of the
subsequent owners, 35 years later, tried to change the color and were reprimanded by same Historical Society.

My father died in 1999 but left us with Cape May memories that keep us returning year after year. I think it is wonderful that the old girl is getting the face-lift of which she is so in need. After so many
years, she deserves it

Thank you for allowing me to reminisce about some of the best years of
my life.

Sincerely,
Susan Morrison Teitelman

A Real Icon
By now you’ve probably received an email from at least one of my family members with regard to your Sea Mist article on capemay.com. My family has owned and lived in the house next door to the Sea Mist since 1965.

Only one person (not nine people) is responsible for the 1960s
structural additions (gazebo and side porches) to the Sea Mist. That
man is Fred Morrison, who owned the Sea Mist with his wife for many years. Fred and his family were and are dear friends of ours.

In typical bureaucratic fashion, the City of Cape May wouldn’t let Fred make a minor alteration to the original Sea Mist in the 60s. So, just to tick off the city government, Fred found a loophole and built the Sea Mist up and out with the gazebo (not a widow’s walk) and side apartments with porches, painted it red and white, and generally made it as garish as he possibly could by hand. (He and my father would have many good laughs about this over the years.) Fred even fell off his roof several times during this process (and survived). And Fred’s grandson and I would spend many summer days up in the creaking, swaying gazebo, even though both Fred and my father warned us that it wasn’t particularly conducive to playdates. Every summer, Fred would organize the greatest and biggest treasure hunt for all the neighborhood kids, with the massive treasure chest often being hidden somewhere on the Sea Mist premises.

Of course, the funny thing was that the city (and visitors to Cape May) completely bought Fred’s renovation joke. Boat tours in the waters across Beach Avenue would fabricate stories about 19th-century women pacing the “widow’s walk” waiting for their seafaring husbands to return. People would stop, look and point at the Sea Mist day and night as if it had been originally built that way. It became the most photographed building in Cape May…pictured on every t-shirt, postcard and box of taffy. It became an iconic image, an emblem.

But the real icon here is Fred Morrison. He was an amazing person. And my family and I certainly hope that the new Sea Mist owners honor his genius sense of humor and everything it created.

Best regards,
Christine Egan

Get Your Fact Straight
You should get your facts straight, ‘subsequent owners” did not add to the Sea Mist. It was one owner Fred Morrison who bought the building after the 1962 storm. He worked on the Sea Mist and turned it into the building it was before you started taking it apart. He was a good neighbor and friend. Our family bought 921 Beach Ave. in l965 and had many good times with the Morrison family.

Mary L. Egan