For some at Shore, Sandy may be the end

Justin Thompson, 9, looked over wreckage last month outside the summer home the Bratek family inherited from grandparents in Brigantine.
Justin Thompson, 9, looked over wreckage last month outside the summer home the Bratek family inherited from grandparents in Brigantine. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)

Homes had no flood insurance and are too costly.

Posted: December 13, 2012

BRIGANTINE, N.J. - The small yellow cottage has always been more than a house to Bob Bratek and his family. It was their slice of oceanfront heaven, a repository of family memories built in the '60s by three generations of Brateks.

It was made of "hearts and souls and emotions and memories," Bratek said, recalling how he would ride there as a teenager in the family station wagon, its freight of free siding and donated wood causing the back to practically scrape the road.

Sandy battered the Brateks' home and others passed down in families that scrimped to buy Jersey Shore getaways. Now many who see themselves as stewards of an heirloom are grappling with whether it is possible to rebuild.

For some, Sandy washed away any chance of another generation going down the Shore to anything but a rented condo or motel.

Many of the passed-down bungalows did not have flood insurance because they didn't have mortgages, or they didn't have enough insurance. Even before the storm, working-class families struggled to maintain the places and to pay high property taxes.

Anthony Cappuccio, owner of Boardwalk Design & Development in Margate, said he had heard a variation on the same story over and over: "I got the house from my mother. We don't even pay the taxes. And we don't even know if we have insurance."

Bratek's father and aunt, who own the Brigantine house and are on fixed incomes, canceled flood insurance years ago. It was too expensive.

The Brateks put the house on the market prior to Sandy because they could no longer afford the nearly $13,000 tax bill. The for-sale sign is in the grass, blown down by Sandy. The house was on the market for $599,900.

"It has so many memories," Bratek said, counting them off: his grandparents dancing polkas on Sunday mornings, his friends pitching tents outside, his two children being conceived there.

The family would put out a bucket and guests would pitch in for electricity, food, and maintenance.

Sandy flooded the house with seven feet of water in October. The deck and dock are destroyed. Bratek is in construction, but he can't summon the emotion to fully assess the damage and see whether rebuilding is realistic.

As with many legacy homes, there are many voices, which complicates decision-making. Bratek's father has three children, and his aunt five, all of whom will decide its fate.

About 60 miles to the north, in Ocean County, Geri Girard and her family also are coping with a swirl of emotions. Their family's Shore home in the Camp Osborn section of Brick burned to the ground when the storm sparked a gas fire.

Girard would do anything to keep the house - it's why she has lived in New Jersey her whole life - but does not believe insurance will cover the entire cost.

"We're grieving," Girard said. "We probably know in the back of our mind we won't be able to rebuild."

Her grandfather, a plumber, built a home there in the 1940s. When his son married in 1967, the family bought a three-bedroom down the street. It still wasn't big enough for all the children, cousins, and friends.

"There were 12 people living in it with one bathroom," said Ted Sahn, Girard's father.

The bungalows in Camp Osborn are - were - cheek-to-jowl, close enough to turn neighbors into family. Those who summered there could see homes worth millions, but rarely envied them.

"You can't measure the pleasure from it," Sahn said, his voice thick with emotion.

Carol Damiano Casale has five family members whose Camp Osborn homes burned. Her father bought a house there for $3,000 in the 1940s. When she married, he paid $10,000 for a slightly larger one next door where she and her girls summer.

"My grandchildren were being raised there," she said.

Abandoning the town, she said, would be like leaving family. Casale, whose primary home is in Belleville, is worried about whether she can afford to rebuild, but she is determined.

"As my older daughter told me," Casale said, " 'We'll rebuild and bring hand-me-downs like my grandmother and grandfather did.' "

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