Lately, there has been much to do in the press and social media about Ventnor suddenly becoming the “bougie” place at the Jersey Shore. Bougie as in upscale, upper-crust, and exclusive? Well, Ventnor may or may not be transforming into the chic place to be, but the St. Leonard’s tract, an incorporated sub-division of Ventnor, has epitomized exclusiveness for the last 100 years – continuously with the style and grace of a fine silk ascot.
Spanning from the beach to the bay and from Surrey to Cambridge Avenues (streets named after English dukes), these fine homes exemplify Ventnor’s rich history, architecture, and appeal. Most of the St. Leonard’s tract homes are large residences built in French Provincial, Spanish Colonial, and Queen Anne styles. The neighborhood, complete with tree-lined streets and immaculately kept gardens, has been attracting residents for over a century.
Rich in History
Although the first homes in St Leonard’s tract were built in the early 1900s, an Association with deed restrictions was established in 1921 - the oldest continuously operating homeowners’ association in the United States. To ensure that the look and feel of the properties stayed true, the Association dictated strict rules and bylaws including specifications of the house and garage, prohibited uses including multi-family dwellings (excluding servants’ quarters), and commercial use like slaughterhouse, piggery, and sanatorium.
Although some of the bylaws may seem dated in 2022, the adherence to the rules, then and now, has kept St. Leonard’s tract a coveted place to live. Bill Sill, resident, and current St. Leonard’s Tract Association President understands how the times and needs of residents have changed over the years.
However, he also sees that the years have not altered how committed the St. Leonard’s tract community remains. Sill explains, “Television, cell phones, computers, ATMs, and Zoom were decades away, women had only been granted the right to vote a year earlier, the average life expectancy was just 60 years, and the average income was only $3,600! Thankfully, what has remained constant is our residents’ love affair with the Tract, a desire to better the Tract, and the fact that our residents enjoy and preserve our tight-knit sense of community.”
Since flappers danced the Charleston at crème de la crème parties in the 1920s, stately St. Leonard’s tract manors have been home to some very notable people from the Wannamaker department store family to casino mogul, Steve Wynn. Rumor has it that Marla Maples lived in Wynn’s grand home on South Cornwall Avenue during her divorce from Donald Trump. Oh, if those walls could only talk.
From politicians to Hollywood starlets, St. Leonard’s tract has hosted many notable names. To drop a few, let’s start with Irving Berlin and Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s and 40s. Other prominent people include politicians like Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. On a local level, Paul “Skinny” D’Amato (of 500 Club fame) often entertained his Rat Pack pals from his Suffolk Avenue home – including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. on many occasions.
Teresa Katz, a current St. Leonard’s tract resident, loves her neighborhood and its history. Her home, built on one of the lots from the John Wanamaker estate, gives Katz a unique sense of “…peacefulness and elegancy.” In addition, the fame and history of her neighboring homes add to the total ambiance and her appreciation of living in St. Leonard’s tract. On one side of her home, stands the famed Ireland house – once owned by the well-known coffee family. On the other side, another slice of history and note. According to Katz, “My neighbor’s house was once used as a brothel and speakeasy in the 1920s, and many years later, hosted the late Whitney Houston.”
Treasures to Discover
Beth and Eric Neiderman immediately fell in love with their St. Leonard’s tract home - over 100 years old, with original woodwork, a deep hearth/fireplace, and an original wrap-around porch with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, the beach block house offered a bit of colorful lineage – previously owned by the family of reputed Mafia boss, Angelo Bruno, in the 1960s and 1970s.
Eric, Vice President of the St. Leonard’s Association, has become involved in the historic preservation group and the action committee. Neiderman explains, “I joined the board to get to know my neighbors, improve the community and the city of Ventnor, and help preserve the unique character of our neighborhood.”
Renovating the grand ol’ house has become part of the family’s DNA.
Beth explains, “We purchased the house with the intention of restoring it. It has become a hobby and a passion for us. We like that our home maintains the historic character of the neighborhood.” During renovations, the Neidermans continue to find “treasures” including a glass milk bottle from the 1970s, a Beatles album, and an original claw-foot bathtub under the porch.