During the first twenty or so years of my life, I took a lot for granted, and never really considered the fact that many of the things I liked would eventually disappear. We all know that eventually many of our relatives and friends will pass on, but we generally pay scant attention to the temporary state of so many other things.
At least for now, the house I grew up in still stands within view of Sunset Lake in Wildwood Crest. The house across the street from ours is still across the street, but it’s not the same street, and it no longer sits at water’s edge. A newer house occupies that particular piece of ground.
The old neighborhood now looks like the new neighborhood, and whether or not newer is better depends on a person’s point of view. Our street had considerable character with the older, more diverse, homes on a street lined with sycamores for shade. The street now looks hot and greedy, where condos have nudged out many of the “real” homes.
I don’t remember my last root beer milkshake made by Jimmy Batts, but I would have paid more attention had I known it would be my last. The same goes for whenever I bought my last vanilla malt at Teitelman’s long-gone custard stand. I’ll always remember both gentleman’s friendly manners toward their customers.
Seacrest Bakery made incredible cheese pies with various fillings – “ my favorites were pineapple and blueberry – “ but nothing beat entering through the screen door in the alley at midnight and buying some glazed doughnuts while still hot and dripping! How the times have changed! We used to watch one of the bakers making lemon-filled buns, applying the filling with a cone fashioned from newspaper.
The best subs in the world (these are all my own opinions, of course), came from J&H Cold Cuts. I happened to be standing in there on one Sunday in November 1963, waiting for a cheese steak and watching the black and white TV up in the corner when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot. It’s a given that because I was buying a cheese steak at J&H, Luigi’s was obviously closed for the winter. We never knew when or if Luigi’s would close for the season, or how the interior would be arranged the next time we went in.
I think I actually remember my last pizza steak from Grasso’s Four G’s in Rio Grande, only because I remember my last visit. I’ve eaten many pizza steaks from many places since, but none has ever come close to the ones from the Four G’s.
For quite a few years, I considered Joe Mauti’s pizza the best in the world. He had a place on the boards across from the old, old Convention Hall, and he advertised it as the place where the wrestler’s ate. “Professional” wrestling used to be big at Convention Hall back then. A permanent sign on the wall inside the store also advertised “Free Spaghetti Tomorrow.” I’m not sure whether or not the place actually sold spaghetti.
After Joe Mauti closed up in 1964, a Dutchman from Boyertown, Pennsylvania took over the place. Apparently, Ralph Mutter’s experience with pizza consisted of selling soft pretzels out of a truck in Boyertown. When he opened on the boards in ’65, I rated his pizza as possibly the worst I had ever eaten, butÂ he definitely knew his pretzels! Funny things happen, though, and sometime in early July of that year, a guy we used to call Father Anthony came strolling down the walk looking for a job. He had Joe Mauti’s recipe in his head, and the rest is history. I think I bought my last slice sometime around ’80 or ’81.
Gone for about 36 years now, Shaffer’s was the place where most Wildwoodians bought their hot dogs. Each dog was split and grilled beneath an iron press, as were the buns. After new owners took over, they tossed away years of memories and great food for a game stand. Most places on the boards sold Burk’s frankfurters. When did they disappear?
And who could forget the Taylor Pork Roll store on the boards? Nothing like a sandwich featuring a flame-kissed pork roll!
Ice cream waffles used to be hot (and cold) at the stand by the old “Mystery Castle,” a long-gone walk-through funhouse. Crowds stood four or five deep along the length of the stand waiting for a slice of ice cream sandwiched between two freshly-baked waffles, topped with powdered sugar. Messy? Yes, but well worth the effort! The waffles usually won the battle with the ice cream, so it was wise to lean forward while eating one.
Yeah, yeah, yeah – “ the Jackrabbit, the old merry-go-rounds with the music machines, Hunt’s Pier and Hunt’s theaters are long gone, along with the Casino Arcade. The potato chips warmed by a light bulb disappeared from in front of the bumper cars decades ago, as did the bumper cars themselves. At least all of those things survived much longer than the Scooter Boats, and if you remember them, you’re really dating yourself!
And now the motels of the “Doo-Wop” era are disappearing as quickly as 78-RPM records departed the scene. This started shortly after it was discovered that more doo-wop era structures were situated in the Wildwoods than anyplace else in the world, and were subsequently classified as “historic” buildings. Go figure.
So, whether your passion leans toward Curly’s Fries, Laura’s Fudge, Sam’s Pizza, or some other source of food or entertainment, enjoy them while you can! Not a single one of them is likely to last forever, but at least they’ll hang around longer than your average sandcastle.