Journey through the Past: Bartram Avenue, Atlantic City

One glance was all it took: This was the house.

There will be many posts related to the three-day trip that Dale, Robin and I took to Atlantic City and Margate to revisit past haunts.  I have ghost memories of this house; we spent summers there (two? three?) up through 1964, the summer I turned five and Dale four (the summer of 1965 we didn’t go down the shore because Robin would be born in June).  I remember the cement back yard and a tricycle I would ride in circles.  I remember a big porch in the front where we used to sit.  And I remember all sorts of family, not just the four of us (mom, dad, Dale and me), but my grandparents, Mom Mom Liz and Pop Pop Harry who lived with us.  And I’m sure we were constantly visited by all sorts of other relatives (who wouldn’t jump at the chance of visiting family who is renting the top of a big house in Atlantic City?)

And renters we were.  Like many owners of shore properties, the owner of the house on Bartram Avenue paid a lot of their yearly mortgage by renting their house out in July and August.  In our case, the owners had crafted an apartment in the basement in which they lived, and we had full run of the main two floors.  The toys we played on were not our toys, but the toys belonging to the children whose house we rented.  In the picture above you can see a small blue door with a mailbox signaling a basement apartment.  Dale remembered that little door, the entryway to their basement world.  Didn’t remember the apartment (did we ever go in there? Probably not), but she remembered the door.

Bartam Avenue is in Atlantic City, but it’s not where the action is (or was).  It’s the residential side, drive six blocks further and you’re in Ventnor.  We had spent the day on the boardwalk in the heart of A.C., and driven down Atlantic Avenue, past the circle, then continued on Ventnor Avenue (the names themselves reminding me that I’m on home turf).  Robin was driving, and we started to slow to read every cross street: Trenton, Harrisburg, Raleigh, Columbia).  We came a street without a sign and I knew.  I knew by the baby blue house on the corner (in my mind the color has not changed).  I knew by the fact that there was a store that took up the ground floor, its entrance on Ventnor Ave (what kind of store was there 49 years ago? A bakery?) And I knew the first house past this store on Bartram was our house.

I look at this house and I feel the years disappear. You can see the rear of the corner store as well as the residence above it to the left.  

We park between Ventnor and Atlantic Ave and the three of us walk up to the house.  I am so sure, Dale not as much, but as we stand in front of it, the certainty seems to come back to her too, especially the aforementioned door.  Here the three of us are, in September 2012, paying homage to a house in which two of us spent a few summers.  Robin can only listen; there was no “Robin” yet when we lived here.

A family of four, soon to be of five.

Looking at the above snapshot, taken in 1964, there’s so much I see now.  Look at the railing that we are leaning against, then look again at the railing in the photo taken last week, 48 years later: it’s the same railing.  In a world in which the old is quickly demolished and/or remodeled, it is the exact same! I look at the photo taken last week, and can see the four of us there posing for the picture (who took the picture?) When we walked on Bartram last week, we remarked how old the street felt; some houses have been updated, but nothing drastic.  The middle-class street – to us – felt dipped in amber in a way.  Not that much changed.  I love this family portrait because we were there then, and the same railing today signifies that the past truly exists. (The blue car – might be a Chevy ? – parked on the street… our old blue Chevy).

Mom Mom Ruth hugging her grandkids

It’s 1964 and we’re heading toward the beach.  One quick snap before we go.  It’s a three block walk, so we all have flip flops on our feet.  Mom Mom Ruth and Pop Pop Henry probably were visiting for the weekend.  She would have been maybe 41 or 42 in this shot.  You look down the street, and it is the same street, the same sense 48 years later.  The cars have changed, but sense of the street seems to have stayed the same.  Folks are gone, and we’re much, much older, but we are here.

Having fun in the backyard.

We can see the alleyway to the backyard on the side of the house, but we can’t go down there.  It’s not our house.  After a few minutes gazing, photographing and talking, we walk up Bartram to the bay.  Neither Dale or Robin thinks there’s a bay, but there’s a bay, only a block away.  The island is narrow at points, and where Bartram is it’s only about three and a half blocks wide.  It’s a beautiful day and we hang by the wooden retaining wall, looking out over the water, marshlands, and all that’s been “newly” built in the past 48 years.  After about ten minutes, we walk back down Bartram and stop again in front of our house.  Our house.  A house we rented almost half a century ago is still “our house.”  A man stops us.  “Do you want to buy it?”  It turns out he is the current owner, having purchased the house in 2001, the height of the market, for $500,000.  He is struggling to keep up with mortgage payments – nearly four grand a month.  He’s working two jobs and has five kids, the oldest on a full scholarship to Yale.  We talk for a few minutes, tell him our history with the house.  He noticed us lingering and taking pictures and was hoping we were there for more investment purposes, not this journey through the past. He may have been disappointed but we weren’t.

Signage by the bay



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