Sandy shatters “The Shack”

Chet Atkins, owner of Premium Outdoor Media with the iconic shack on the causeway to Long Beach Island. Simply called "The Shack," the isolated, ramshackle structure off the causeway bridge into Long Beach Island has long been a beloved landmark. (Staff File Photo)
Chet Atkins, owner of Premium Outdoor Media with the iconic shack on the causeway to Long Beach Island. Simply called "The Shack," the isolated, ramshackle structure off the causeway bridge into Long Beach Island has long been a beloved landmark. (Staff File Photo)
Posted: November 01, 2012

In Hurricane Sandy's hellacious rampage across the New Jersey shore, she destroyed homes, businesses, lives and dreams.

And among the ravages, certainly not the most grave, but surely among the most weirdly beloved, was The Shack.

"It's gone," said Chet Atkins, who owns the land where the revered, collapsing pile of sunbleached cedar and pine planks stood defiantly for decades. "I saw it with my own eyes. There are some pilings sticking out, but it's gone."

The small building had survived nearly 80 years on its sandy ground. As shore towns developed, it became the local beachbum greeting vacationers off eastbound Route 72 on the causeway to Long Beach Island.

In the 1920s it served as home to the duck hunting members of the Happy Days Hunting Club. By the 1960s, the humble structure had been abandoned and became a party shack. As the years passed, it had turned into a less and less protective shelter for squatters.

Those who revered it, painted it, draped it with American flags, and lobbied - unsuccessfully - for its restoration. One of its most loyal protectors was Jim Yuhas, whose brother, Frank, died in the shack in 1987.

Last summer, Jim Gallagher, the grandson of an artist who had lovingly painted the shack in its better days, produced a documentary about the structure. Gallagher interviewed Yuhas, who said that losing the shack, "meant I was losing what was left of my brother." So Yuhas would prop up the collapsing walls with wooden beams and duct tape flag poles to its side, hoisting the stars and stripes above the surrounding marshland.

Recently, he dressed it in a banner that read "Please Help Me! What Are You Waiting For!"

Atkins said he tried to raise money to rebuild the shack and hoped to turn it into a private club. But because it sat on environmentally fragile land, the construction required permission from numerous agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

He created a non-profit to raise money for the project, but received only one donation, he said.

"I'm returning the check this week."

The Shack survived a relentless barrage of blizzards and hurricanes in its lifetime, but like Tom Hanks in Castaway, it had grown haggard and skeletal.

On the morning of Oct. 30 the Harvey Cedars Police Department issued the formal death notice: "The shack was gone as of 7 a.m."


Contact Melissa Dribben at mdribben@phillynews.com

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