The Beachcomber

Surf City ‘Fun House’ Roths’ Retirement Retreat

By VICTORIA FORD | Jul 14, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

For Rick and Gloria Roth, the beach house on 18th Street in Surf City is a blessing – but that’s beside the point. They take the concept of “outdoor living” to another level, with a kitschy, yet practical and tidy, sensibility they demonstrate in every inch of space available to them.

The backyard is where friends and neighbors gather at all times of day to enjoy a beer or sangria and a snack, tell stories, share laughs and make memories. The yard has a dining patio, bar/ lounge area, and seating to accommodate dozens of guests, including chairs around a fire pit and assorted tables.

“We entertain all the time,” Gloria said. After dark, a warm glow can be seen from the street when it’s all lit up.

Though both are too modest to call themselves artists, the Roths are the creative team responsible for the handcrafted furniture, the handpainted signs, the cute and funny accents, the artfully displayed souvenirs, the pretty landscaping and thoughtfully arranged décor.

They never had a plan for the layout and furnishings; it was all very one-thing-led-to-another. But the overall look is not haphazard.

“We’re lucky to have a double lot,” Gloria said, the better for hosting dinner parties of 50 or more. They had some “ugly” trees they took down and turned the remaining trunk stumps into Tiki totems – “At night they look evil,” with illuminated eyes, Rick said – or, in the case of one triple-trunk stump, a sturdy table.

Gloria is the plant manager and gardener, Rick said. She estimates it takes her about an hour and a half to water and dead-head all the potted plants. She has great success with tomatoes along the east side of the house. Their Dachshund-Yorkie mix, Gidget, is the welcoming committee, Gloria said.

Rick built the bars and tables, with tops of poured resin encasing beach sand, trinkets and treasures; he contributed the beer barrel with the house address on it, an old boat mooring, and the beach patrol chair he built for the ever-watchful lifeguard, “Sandy.”

Rick’s parents bought the house in 1968. Before that, they had rented every summer, always on 18th Street, for rates of $600 or $650 for the season. He and Gloria got it eight or nine years ago, after Rick’s parents had died, but the decorating started around 2004.

Rick and Gloria’s other life is in Hamilton, in Mercer County, where they owned the historic Bromley Inn until about five years ago when they sold it. They had always lived upstairs, so after they sold the Inn, they bought their first house. Gloria had been an ancient civilizations teacher at Richard C. Crockett Middle School. Rick said it took him all of “five or 10 minutes to adjust” to retirement. The beach house is truly their happy place. At this point in her life, Gloria said, “I try not to worry so much anymore.”

Nowadays Gloria spends a lot of her time helping their 31-year-old daughter, Alexandria, with her brand new boutique of home and lifestyle goods, Little Bungalow, at 17th Street and the Boulevard in Surf City. Their 35-year-old son, Frederick, and his wife, Ivy, live out in Mercer County.

Ten years ago, the Roths’ house won an award from the borough of Surf City, earning the title of “Fun House.” A guided tour around the back of the “Fun House” reveals an outdoor cooking area with a grill and ample workspace; with Rick’s steamer pot, they make a lot of seafood. One summer, they ate so much lobster that Rick got tired of it.

Nothing if not resourceful, the Roths are in the habit of snagging curb finds (“Rich people throw stuff away that I need,” Rick said), and friends also bring them items to add to the scenery. Along the property line in the back, a “Gilligan’s Island” theme started when their neighbor Sal Russomanno delivered a children’s plastic playhouse (now the Howells’ hut), and when their old trash can corral had outlived its usefulness, they turned it on its end, gave it a door, and it became Gilligan’s cabin. The professor is a wise-looking tribal mask mounted in some overgrowth. The Roths said the yard requires surprisingly little maintenance, aside from periodic freshen-ups and when items need repainting.

“We don’t throw anything away,” Rick said.

Russomanno has a theory that “nothing leaves the Island.” People just recycle each other’s discarded items.

On decorating, he said: That’s what you’re here for. He bought his house down the street in 1983 but recently tore it down and built a towering, three-story dream house. His backyard has a homemade bar, custom built from the hull of a boat; a collection of 24 surfboards standing along the perimeter; and all the makings of a Beer Meister/barbecue/hot tub kind of night. In the ’80s, he recalled, there was an “animal house” on every corner, which is why the taxpayers association was formed.

Continuing the tour, Gloria pointed out, “Here’s our fire pit, our tomatoes.” From branches everywhere hang birdhouses, wind chimes and other whimsical ornaments. On the roof of the outdoor shower is a mountain of flip flops, donated (signed and dated) by friends on the block at the end of each summer.

Her favorite part of the setup is the central deck that connects the house to the garage/workshop. It’s where they have the main dining table, tucked away and protected by a large umbrella that almost spans the distance. “It’s like our own little world,” she said.

Friends know not to come to the front door – instead they come around to the back. Any time is a good time to sit down and have a drink; Gloria will put out snacks, maybe something she has just baked. “We love having company,” she said.

In the patio dining area is an old Bic promotional surfboard that was hanging in the Bromley Inn for years and was re-presented to Gloria as a birthday gift in 2013 – on it is a custom, handpainted scene depicting the whole family at the beach, a work of art by friend and adjacent neighbor Cathleen Engelsen.

“We’re all crazy on this street,” according to Russomanno, whom Rick called “the neighborhood handyman.”

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