Shack Talk


August 15, 2012


From the splintering timbers of The Shack, a very fine little video has arisen.

The 10-minute documentary, found at, is skillfully shot and narrated by Sean Gallagher, an LBI aficionado.

Begun as a memorial to his artist grandfather – who’s most famed painting was a watercolor of the Shack -- the video quickly drifts into one of the more definitive narrations of where The Shack now stands, so to speak.

In the introduction, Sean says of the Shack, “It has become a sort of welcome sign letting people know they’ve finally made it to the beach. The problem is the Shack has seen far better days … Now, it’s just exciting every summer to see if the Shack made it through another year. And, much to the delight of tourists, it keeps on standing.”

To its credit, the shortumentary includes exclusive footage of the current property owner, Porter Wagoner. Wait. Make that Chet Atkins. (Just kidding Chet.)

Chet, with a touch of Hollywood in his look and demeanor, offers his read on the famous landmark – and it truly is both famed and a landmark, possible second to only Barney on LBI. Chet quickly found this out after purchasing the land the Shack sits atop.

“I had not idea about the Shack. Everyone tells us it’s a landmark; they get a sigh of relief that they’re at the shore when they see the shack,” he says, adding, “We’ve gotten enough public outcry asking if we’re going to restore the Shack.”

The video also features Jimmy Yuhas, the “obsessive” man behind the last-gasp effort to keep the Shack’s walls relatively upright, sometimes via controversial means, like covering the building with flags and banners.

Jimmy also forwards his personal ties to area of The shack -- where his brother Frank died. “When it started actually collapsing, it became personal. It meant I was losing what was left of my brother. I tried to turn this negative thing into something positive.”

Jimmy also uses his onscreen time to promote his ongoing campaign to get at least something done to the Shack – quickly. “You could push the walls up… Throw four piling in there. Then you could have years and years to discuss it.”

For Chet, holding firmly to the straight and narrow legal track is essential. He is currently in the midst of acquiring permits from the feds, NJDEP and Stafford Township. “We’re trying to do it the right way, the legal way.”

Chet also offers words that Jimmy – and, likely the Shack -- want to hear “We’re confident we’re going to restore this.”

Jay Mann

August 21, 2011

It’s pretty obvious you can no longer tell the Shack from shinola. The new drapery on the outside of the famed landmark is part of an ongoing effort to somehow breath life back into essentially an architectural corpse.

I’m getting a goodly load of calls and emails regarding the latest “sign,” and it’s humanesque begging for help. I can tell you right now there is no “earth shaking” news regarding the Shack’s future. “Earth shaking” may be a bad choice of words to use when even mentioning the Shack.

I do want to clear up some tenacious misconceptions regarding that property.

Title to the Shack is currently about as clear as it has ever been, which is not saying a lot since the ownership of that small parcel has been confusion wrapped inside puzzlement with a glaze of perplexity over top.

The notion that the property’s title conceivably dates back to King James II is a bit much, though when property entitlement is lost in time, it can (in the rarest of cases) actually revert back to archaic tenures, meaning the land might still be owned by Philip Carteret or, more fairly, the Leni Lenape.

The person closest to the current ownership podium is Chet Atkins (no relation), owner of a prosperous billboard company.

Truth be told, the billboard near the Shack is the only thing most folks had been interested in for decades. The former property owner, the late Wes Bell, was also a billboard proprietor. Bell felt he had clear claim based on (I kid you not) the lady who sold it to him promised she owned the land. Yes, there were some documents, which I read. They, too, were pretty much the gal claiming the land in written form.

It should be mentioned that one group that wanted just the land – and surely not the billboard or the Shack -- was the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, which, in 1992, was given the adjacent 134-acre portion of Bonnet Island, atop which the Shack resides. The refuge currently owns the entire portion of Bonnet Island south of Rte 72 – with the exception of you-know-what. At first making claims to the Shack, it seems the legal eagles with the Refuge system also saw the insane quagmire surrounding clear ownership of the Shack. The Refuge did a “good riddance” thing and concentrated on securing its remaining Bonnet Island acreage for the wildlife.  

Interestingly, when Wes passed, a real estate savvy investor in Tuckerton acquired the land after paying off a Stafford Township tax lien. Yes, any of us could have bought it for something of a pittance – then, the utter expense of a title search.

Atkins then purchased the parcel from the new lien holder.

Again, much of the parcel’s passing from hand-to-hand had been done with little if any emphasis on exacting ownership paperwork. In the case of Stafford Township, it had the land on the tax maps and as long as someone was paying taxes on it, the devil himself could hold title.

Back to now. As recently as last winter, Atkins hinted he had something specific in mind for the Shack. It’s possible/likely he still does. Many Shackophiles believe Atkins is amenable to somehow saving the landmark, possibly using what little is left to form the base for a regeneration. However, absolutely no such formal commitment was ever made by Atkins – and I have chatted with him on the subject. What’s more, once clear title is gained, he can just as quickly build a private home there, should he chose to do so.

For many years, grassroots efforts have been to save the Shack. Township and county historical groups have shown interest in preserving it. Along with donations already collected, commitments of manpower, materials and larger grants have been promised --once the final go-ahead has been given by Atkins. No such go-ahead seems close at hand.

BY THE BY: The majority of the signage and seasonal adorning of the Shack has been carried out by Jim Yuhas, whose brother, Frank, died near the property when it was last occupied by renters in the mid-1970s.

Frank died of a drug overdose administered by Ron DiMenna, founder of the Ron-Jon Surf Shop. DiMenna was later convicted of a series of drug-related offenses, including an implication in the Frank Yuhas death. In 1994, then-Governor Jim Florio pardoned DiMenna, apparently for technical reasons. At the time, DiMenna was living in Australia – and seeking to stay there (with his new surf shop). That nation was unwilling to let him remain due to his felony convictions in NJ. The pardon could have led to his staying Down Under.

There are those who believe the U.S. was more than willing to let DiMenna remain an Aussie, thus the pardon. That, of course, is conjecture. And DiMenna didn’t remain expatriated, as was evidenced by his much-publicized DUI bust in Florida last December.

At this time, I have no suggestions on how to hurry – or even spur on – a Shack revival effort. My guess is fall time will see some salvation surges.  

Lest we forget: In the mid-1980s, a group called the Bonnet Island Development Corporation had bought the Bonnet Island land south of Rte 72. During a jaw-dropping meeting, corporation heads approached the Stafford Township Planning Board with a detailed blueprint for developing 800 townhouses and a huge marina -- with plans to enhance the marina with a restaurant and a waterfront shopping mall. I sat with folks from that group, so I’m as close to the horse’s mouth as you can get. I was told semi-off-the-record, that they also had a waterfront amusement park in mind.

I want to note these were very nice polite folks. They just didn’t have a keen sense of what the Southern Ocean County mentality was all about.

Can you just imagine 800 townhouses, a massive shopping area and a glitzy amusement park at the east base of the Big Bridge?

To its credit, Stafford Township foiled the North Jersey-ish effort by essentially exerting its right – and the right of all towns! – to reduce the allowable coverage on that property. In retaliation, the corporation sued the township – and lost.

Many folks don’t realize that the Bonnet Island Development Corporation was invited to bring forth a plan for a more modest house-per-acre development. Through the grace of God, that build-out couldn’t meet the profit potential the corporation envisioned for its $2.5 million investment in the property. It declared bankruptcy and quickly approached the organization Trust for Public Land about it buying the land for $2.75 million. The selling price represented the corporation’s purchase price plus accrued fees and expenses.

TPL is the legal go-between needed to purchase land for the likes of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the Forsythe Refuge. 

Through the efforts of powerful NJ politicos, namely Senators Frank Launteberg and Bill Bradley, along with Congressman Jim Saxton, federal funding was found – those being the days when federal bucks flowed freely. The buy was made and we will forever see greenery on the south part of Bonnet Island. 

Jay Mann


March 12, 2011

The Causeway Shack is now in the oddest of places No, it hasn't changed positions, geographically speaking. It has seemingly begun making some legal zigs and zags. In fact, you might have noticed, while motoring by while doing the posted 55 mph (yeah, right), that there's now a letter-sized sheet of paper attached to the lower northwest corner of the famed landmark. It is a legal notice, upon which one can sorta see just what a weird-ass legal position the decrepit-plus place has assumed.

The wording on the cellophane-covered paperwork is dripping with legalese – helped along by rainwater that has leaked in near the top. Even without a legal dictionary in hand, it's pretty plain that a technical "complaint" has been filed as a means to essentially warn anyone who thinks they have any claim whatsoever to the structure to contact the attorney, so-named on the document. It doesn't say it but there's one of those "Or forever hold your peace" feelings by notice's end.

There is also a long and highly eclectic list of individuals named upon the document. I recognized a few as locals. Others are names known best to themselves. I can only assume these are the names of virtually anyone the attorney of the current possible/likely owner (C Akins) has found even remotely associated with any legal or even quasi-legal paperwork regarding ownership of the property, dating back to, well, whatever date is atop any old document someone can produce.

This publicly-presented document is yet again another small indication of the utterly mysterious proprietary history of this tiny piece of Bonnet Island. Interestingly, Stafford Township tax maps have the parcel listed under a block and lot number. However, among a myriad of mysteries is to whom the lot first belonged. I hear it was one of those olden ways of handling things. Some folks wanted to put a shack up for gunning and a hand shake and wink from the then mayor was all that was needed to seal the deal. In fact, it might not even be that old school. If someone wanted to slowly wade through old documents right around the time the Shack was first built, dollars to doughnuts there's some mention of an OK given by someone.

Truth be told, the real bugaboo is who, if anyone, can totally (and legally) prove they own or owned it? That alone tells me there is some great confusion over the existing paperwork being the stuff of binding property sales.

By the by, the late Wes Bell had no doubt he fully owned that parcel of land – and the related Shack. On a number of occasions, he told me so -- and even showed me very significant-looking deeds, enhanced with strong anecdotal evidence he offered about the gal who kinda surely owned it, then sold it to Wes. When I asked if the paperwork he had was legal he got very irate – then asked me to define "legal."

Right now it's very much wait and see. Odds are pretty unlikely that someone will come out of the woodwork – and if you've seen that Shack woodwork I'd be more terrified than intrigued if someone came out of it. I'm guessing the current legal call for claimants is the last loophole before Mr. Atkins finally has legally recognized ownership. Once that is accomplished, there are actually many directions he can then go. While he has told a slew of folks he will save the Shack, he also mentioned (jokingly?) he might build himself a place there. Whatever, he's currently skiing out West and doesn't expect this required owner search to be done for a few more months.

Jay Mann