Upcoming Paint Job Is One of Many Layers of Old Coast Guard Building’s Preservation
Barnegat Light’s distinctive town hall is as historic as it looks in its stately presence on East Seventh Street. In the post-wartime generation of the 1940s and beyond, kids looked at it in awe as the place holding men of the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the only freezer in town, a treasure chest of ice cream, said Mayor Kirk Larson, who had heard stories from his late father.
This month a lift truck on the lawn and the stages of exterior paint removal are part of a contract to RWS Painting Enterprises that is expected to be done in September.
The town obtained the then-60-year-old building at no cost in 2001 as federal government surplus. Renovations and repairs both structural and cosmetic totaled about $1 million over the next several years before it opened as borough hall.
The current painting contract, at a cost of $42,600, includes remediation for lead paint removal in the old portion of the building, said Ed Wellington, chair of the department of public works. “The contractor estimated a four-week project depending on weather. We expect it to be completed in early September.”
“We’ve had a hard time trying to get all the old paint off; they’re doing a good job of that,” said Larson.
At the time it was built in 1939, the building replaced a 71-year-old lifesaving station, Station 117, on East Fifth Street, according to the book Barnegat Light in the Images of America series. The pictorial and narrative information was compiled by Reilly Platten Sharp for the Barnegat Light Historical Society and Museum.
The new style of station was not designed to include a boathouse onsite like its predecessors, so a stand-alone boathouse was built on the bay at West Seventh Street, where the current U.S. Coast Guard Station and grounds are situated on Bayview Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets.
At the turn of the current century, the defunct station building was offered by the federal government to government agencies, and the town was next in line after the county government. “They gave it to us,” Larson said. “It was up to be given away. The government didn’t want to take care of surplus properties, and they had no need for it.”
At one point before the borough acquired it, the building was proposed as living quarters for homeless veterans.
Its standing now as Barnegat Light Borough Hall came after much retrofitting and upgrading. Most recently, borough council had met in the west half of the small building on West 10th Street that houses the post office.
“The first hundred years we didn’t have a borough hall,” Larson said. “All the pictures you see were upstairs in the fire hall.”
At one borough meeting during the renovation, borough council thanked Council President Michael Spark, who is a building contractor, and now-deceased Councilman George Warr, an electrician, for their initial work on the building. They “took the bull by the horns,” as the mayor described. The need for extensive repair was discovered, so a general contractor was hired by the borough to supervise full-time specialties involving several contractors. (For the purposes of this update, The SandPaper won’t attempt to name all the businesses here.)
“We found out what we had to do, with asbestos removal” and other work and other remediation, the mayor said. “The asbestos cleanup was close to $75,000, and it needed a paint job, and there was a lot of rotten wood; it needed structural work on the inside, steel beams … it was an undertaking.”
Larson answered frankly and with amusement the question of whether many old items were found during the renovation. “We did find some old Playboys behind the shower.” It had apparently been an above-average work day for the crews who were tearing apart that section.
“Then we moved in, and everybody was all upset because it wasn’t next to the post office,” the mayor remembered when the building was done. “But people got used to it, and it’s a beautiful building.
“We didn’t want to see it go to hell, or somebody come in and tear it down. We followed a certain standard for the Coast Guard,” he said, and even now, “we have to file a report on what we’re doing, and what we did, and when we do something.”
The building that stood out in local memories, perhaps second only to Barnegat Lighthouse, is now the place where the governing body meets to decide the town’s future.
Larson recalled a story of the impression the Coast Guard building held on the kids his dad’s age.
“My father used to go over and kind of help out, and George Svelling. When they were young kids, it was the only place they had a freezer. So they used to go over there and get ice cream for washing the dishes for a buck.
“It was right after the war, and for all the young kids in town, I guess that was the place to be.”
— Maria Scandale