County: Monmouth County
The Sandlass House, located at the entrance to the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, is the only surviving building of a once extensive resort complex built as part of Sandy Hook’s Golden Age. Built in 1893, the House was part of the Highland Beach excursion resort which served as a community hub from 1888-1961. The resort, founded by William Sandlass and The Highland Beach Improvement Company, opened its doors during the emergence of increased leisure time for the middle class and served over 125,000 visitors a season at the turn of the century.
The State of New Jersey owns the house with an agreement that allows the National Park Service to manage the property. The house is now under imminent threat of roof collapse due to lack of repairs and maintenance.
The efforts to preserve the building started in 2010 when the Park Ranger and his family were still living in the house. After 22 years, he had plans to retire in 2012. A dialogue began with NPS about a future lease to preserve the house and to provide an adaptive use for visitors to Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook. The Park Ranger retired in June 2012 when he moved out before SuperStorm Sandy. At this time, due to costs, NPS staff chose not to bring it up to rental code status for leasing purposes. Following SuperStorm Sandy and the damage to all the buildings and infrastructure at Sandy Hook, the conversation with NPS staff took a back seat. An advocacy group worked closely with the local Historical Society of Highlands, the Sandy Hook NPS Chief of Cultural Resources, the NPS Unit Coordinator and the NPS Historian to document the historical evidence for significance.
In 2016, a group of community members committed to the preservation of Sandlass House and its historic resort legacy, founded a non-profit called the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum (JCHM). They again approached NPS and U.S. Representative Pallone to stay any demolition plans due to the status of the house being moved to the Ruins Bin in the NPS General Management Plan. NPS staff responded by deferring a future demolition at that time. NPS has reservations about sustainability, safety and traffic issues during the high season in the park. Effort to give the house further protection through an individual nomination on the historic register was sent to SHPO. The 2016 offer to put a cultural museum in the building has not been advanced by NPS representatives. Currently, a new leasing program is starting on Officers Row to preserve the buildings at Sandy Hook for future Airbnb’s, apartments, a snack bar and entertainment venues. The Ft. Hancock Advisory Committee (FACA) has been reviewing leasing options, alternatives and impacts since 2013. The committee meets on a regular basis quarterly. Currently, Sandy Hook leasing is a success and has a few properties operating as Airbnb’s, a Snack Bar, a Bungalow and a Mule Barn Bar (in process). Several other leasing agreements are under consideration. In 2016, a Change.org petition to stay a future Sandlass House demolition and preserve the house was forwarded to the NPS Superintendent at Sandy Hook with over 1,200 signatures.
In 2021, a petition was delivered to the National Park Service with 1,800 signatures that requested the historical significance of the house to New Jersey transportation history be recognized, and the Sandlass House be put into the new Sandy Hook NPS leasing program as an Airbnb.
Preservation New Jersey supports these actions which would allow an interested entrepreneur to evaluate the house, make a roof repair, and renovate the building.
Susan Sandlass Gardiner