Harlan’s History No. 66 “The Pebbles” – A Storied History

Proudly shown here is a post card image depicting a grand residence which was one of the earliest homes in Stone Harbor.  Built in 1909 by John Irwin, a Philadelphia politician, and located at 9400 First Avenue and 94th Street, this private single-family home was originally constructed to accommodate 24 persons.  This spacious home has hosted many important people including the New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson as well as area politicians, celebrities and even performers like the well-known Rockettes of New York’s Radio City Music Hall.  The photo above had to have been taken some time after the Stone Harbor boardwalk was constructed in 1916.  As I am sure you can determine, this scene is looking in a southward direction.  Barely visible on the left side of this image you just might be able to discern the new boardwalk in the distance.  In addition, the building known as the “Casino” is shown in the background on the right side of this view.  The “Casino” situated directly on the boardwalk at 97th Street would soon become a hotel and then later an iconic and long-standing apartment house. 

When the 9400 First Avenue property was sold in 1939, the new owner by the name of Carlton Richards re-purposed the house and turned it into a guest house.  The name affectionately given to this grand house soon became “The Pebbles” and that very name became associated with this particular property for many years to come.  The basis for this name may well be attributed to the fact that the new owner Richards removed the grass lawn and replaced the yard with a layer of small colored stones commonly referred to as pebbles.  Perhaps it was a practical consideration that led to the decision to replace the grass with pebbles for ease of maintenance as there would be no need for watering and lawn mowing.  Consequently, many Stone Harbor home owners over the years have found it difficult and costly to maintain real grass yards in the sandy soil and would resort to the placement of pebbles as a substitute.        

Before proceeding, you might be interested to know that back on May 5, 2021, Stone Harbor Museum (SHM) Historian Jim Talone unveiled his No. 49 Museum Minute video featuring “The Pebbles.”  That video along with many others prepared by Jim over recent years are readily available for viewing on the SHM website.  Jim does an excellent of job highlighting Stone Harbor history with emphasis on people, places and events.

Inserted here are a couple of very early photographs  that are derived from the SHM Archives.  The first of these images shown here in color appears to show the house to be in very good condition and may well have been sometime around 1912 or shortly thereafter.  This is a view taken of the northeast portion of the house.  

The second image which is in black and white was to our knowledge taken on the 14th of December in 1914 sometime after the severe storm of that year.  Interestingly, the crippling storm that devastated New Jersey in the year of 1914 was characterized as “the worst storm since 1888”.  This dramatic view shows the southeastern portion of the house with the rear entrance and stairs of the house to the left and the front staircase barely visible on the right.  Many of the windows appear to be boarded up.  Look closely at this particular image and you should be able see some obvious and dramatic structural damage around the foundation not to mention other significant parts of the house including the front and side wraparound porch and supporting columns that have virtually disappeared.  This imposing house clearly shows considerable need of repair and most assuredly this 5-year old house appears to have survived a very early test hurled at it by the forces of nature.  Being so close to the beach, one might not want to be so bold as to predict a very long future for this house.     

The imposing four-story Victorian style structure with traditional exterior shingle siding and in this case with two very large and prominently round turrets on the third floor were rather representative of the early 1900s style of luxurious houses built at the seashore.  This home was situated on an oversized beach block corner facing North.  Aside from the expansive wraparound front porch atop a grand and elevated stairway, there is a very large widow’s walk (a railed observation platform atop a coastal house) at the upper most level.  One fact that is really noteworthy is that remarkably this house has continued to withstand the test of time and has endured numerous very serious storms and even a few hurricanes during its life span not to mention just withstanding the constant weathering elements and forces over a period of 114 years.

These next two fascinating post cards each depict the prominent “Pebbles” guest house that can be seen just behind and to the right of the prominent water tower.  The first image was taken in the early 1920s and the second image was taken sometime in the early 1930s.  As you can see when comparing these two images, 96th Street has undergone a transformation judging from (1) the disappearance of both the Pennsylvania Railroad train along Second Avenue and (2) the Stone Harbor Terminal Railroad Co. trolley rail service along 96th Street linking Cape Main Court House on the mainland.  Additionally, there is some ongoing building development in evidence and of course the vehicles on the street are certainly different and reflect the time that each photo was taken.  Finally, you should also notice the word “STONE HARBOR” emblazoned vertically in bold white paint and facing west on the town’s water tower for all to see.

At one point “The Pebbles Guest House” became a very popular guest house that could accommodate as many as 16 guests with both private and some shared or common areas.  More recently the building was even listed with Airbnb.  At one time the building had a fire escape installed on the First Avenue side that was required by code which extended from the upper-most 4th floor to the ground level.  It even received the distinct status of being formally designated and registered as a Landmark and Historical Place.

Times Have Changed!

In conclusion, it is my understanding that today the entire structure at 9400 First Avenue and 94th Street has been fully updated and modernized by the current/fourth owner.  Most recently and during the past few years, the house has once again become a single-family residence, consisting of 8 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms and even includes an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub and other amenities.  Without doubt, the new rendition certainly is spectacular in so many aspects by today’s standards.  Perhaps this brief early historical sketch might well become a precursor to a subsequent and more updated account.