Progress Made But More To Be Done After Seaside Boardwalk Fire

Photo by Bob Vosseller

SEASIDE HEIGHTS – Recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy which paralyzed communities along the norther Barrier Island were far from complete when the boardwalk of Seaside Park and Seaside Heights would be hit by another daunting blow.

  On Sept. 12, 2013, a fire whose cause would quickly be found to be linked to the flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy nearly a year prior, had corroded wiring beneath the boardwalk igniting a nightmare for firefighters.

  The blaze began at 2:20 p.m. It quickly spread from the southern end of the boardwalk of Seaside Heights eating away 1,000 feet of the two boroughs boardwalk.

  Firefighters had the added problem of contending with 30 mile per hour wind gusts as they struggled to extinguish the inferno. Their efforts at curtailing the fire included tearing up two portions of recently replaced boardwalk to halt the fire from spreading northward.

  In less than a week the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office had determined that the cause of the fire was the corrosion of electrical wiring under Kohr’s Frozen Custard and Biscayne Candies. The wiring was believed to have been installed in the 1970s.

  Long time boardwalk businesses such as Maruca’s Tomato Pies, often synonymous with boardwalk pizza in Ocean County, founded nearly seven decades ago, had to relocate several blocks north and currently shares space with JR’s Bar and Grill. Other familiar locations such as The Saw Mill and The Beachcomber Bar & Grill rebuilt their facilities along with Kohr’s which relocated its stand.

  Other landmark businesses weren’t as fortunate. The historic Carousal Arcade which offered up vintage coin operated games to play and the Funtown Amusement Pier, located on the southern end of the boardwalk in Seaside Park and extended over 300 feet out over the ocean was destroyed.

  Funtown was known for its many popular children’s rides and could be seen for miles thanks to the iconic, 225-foot tall Tower of Fear ride.  The park offered around 30 rides and attractions for all ages including a go-kart track, small bumper cars, carousel, mini-helicopters and two kiddie roller coasters.

  Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz said, “the fire hurt business and the tourist trade. The majority of what was lost was in Seaside Park.”

  Vaz added that the damage the borough saw was repaired and that other areas of the borough’s boardwalk are “currently being reconsidered for development such as a pool club, restaurant and and we hope there is validity to this.”

  While the Funtown Amuesment Pier is gone “there has been some redevelopment in Seaside Park with some stores but it is not what it once was,” Vaz said.

   William Major, the owner of the Funtown Amusement Pier is painfully aware of what it once was. His attorney Steven R. Leone, Toms River said his client has the necessary permits to rebuilt the park but is looking at the economics of the restoration.

Photo by Bob Vosseller

The Seaside Park master plan was changed after the fire which set a limit on ride heights restricting them to 100 feet. That now eliminates all 200-300-foot rides which Major has stated has have made the restoration a less economically viable project.

  Leone said that Major “operates a private beach which is BYOB and has food and canopy tents. He had a great season using the beach. This was his second season and next year he is hoping to ether expand or have some pier improvements. This is an interim use. He is looking at what he can put on the pier. That is the issue.”

Seaside Park Mayor Robert J. Matthies said that Major and DJ D’Onofrio, who owns the Sawmill Cafe and numerous lots north of the restaurant on the boardwalk, “are still focusing on putting some type of restaurants or attractions up there and the town is happy to work with them.”

  Matthies said that beach replenishment issues were still a priority in the beach area by Funtown Amusements following the fire. He said that no major proposals have come before the planning board recently.