MARGATE – The iconic neighborhood that gained fame and notoriety as a yellow property on Parker Brothers Monopoly board has weathered many storms over the years and is experiencing its latest rebirth as a historical neighborhood that should be preserved for future generations.
So say the people who live there and lovingly remodel their homes to modernize them, yet preserve their historic integrity. On July 12, residents were invited to Margate’s recently refurbished Old City Hall to hear about the history of Marven Gardens. The talk was arranged by the Margate Library and Historical Society Alliance, which recently opened its new museum in Old City Hall.
Sharon Goff of Circle Drive shared her collection of photographs of some of the homes that have been restored to their former glory. Spread out on a conference table were hand-painted postcards, blueprints and original floor plans, circa 1920s, that were used to promote the neighborhood to investors.
“I started collecting articles and postcards when I moved back here, plus I’m sort of a history buff,” she said.
Goff grew up in Margate, but moved away after college. She moved back to the area in 1977 following the referendum that approved casinos in Atlantic City. She returned to help her family run their office design business in Atlantic City, but knew instinctively that she wanted to live in Marven Gardens.
“I always thought it was such a charming area, so we came back home bought a house there,” she told those gathered in the meeting room, which was packed with mostly older folks interested in the neighborhood’s preservation.
The neighborhood was designed and built by Philadelphia developer Frank J. Pedrick. Although it is often misspelled with an “i” – even on the Monopoly board – Marven Gardens got its name for its location on the border of Margate and Ventnor. It is the only Monopoly board property that is not located in Atlantic City. It is bordered by Ventnor, Winchester, Fredericksburg and Brunswick avenues and its streets are East, West and Circle drives.
It was quite a spectacle, even back in the 1920s, and became well known for its gardens and fountains, which were located in the center island of the 121-home subdivision.
“Although the plot plan was simple, people still get lost driving around the oval,” Goff said.
Each house was built to the owners specifications, as long as they didn’t clash with their neighbor’s house, Goff said. Some were bungalows, two-story stucco houses, and some English Tudors, she said. One house still sports a blue terra cotta tiled roof, which was recently refurbished.
“What is so charming is that you can have the same design copied three times, but because they insisted on different building materials, you have a completely different look,” Goff said, showing two photos of the same design in stucco and brick.
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“All of us who love Marven Gardens hope they are never changed, torn down or modernized,” she said. “I am always impressed when people buy these homes in terrible condition and put love and effort into bringing them back. That makes me so happy,” she said.
Goff produced a 1925 bill of sale that showed it cost the developer $20 to plant flowers in all the gardens.
Marven Gardens became a tour bus destination for people wanting to see the shore’s Spanish and Hollywood-styled homes.
On an antiques store shopping trip to Smithville in 1981, Goff became excited when she found a hand-painted Marven Gardens postcard. When she turned it over, she saw that the postcard was sent in 1929 to her Aunt Esther in Bridgeton from her other aunt, Elizabeth. It remains a treasured addition to her collection, she said.
Marven Gardens suffered through the years as residents got older and the houses dilapidated, and has undergone several transformations thanks to caring homeowners who want to preserve history, Goff said.
“The focus in Margate had then become the Parkway area. Homeowners petitioned the government for new street lighting that offered a new bloom in the Gardens. The neighborhood was rejuvenated when streets were paved and widened to make room for traffic and street parking,” she said.
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Summers remain a challenge for parking in the neighborhood. Lot sizes are small, irregularly shaped, and neighbors have shared driveways, “but we respect each other’s space and make it work,” Goff said.
The area was added to the list of historic places on the National Historic Register in 1990, but only the gardens and streets are designated, she said. It’s up to the homeowners, buyers and the municipality to ensure the houses remain historic, she said.
The gardens also underwent changes over the years. At one point, the city planted sea grasses that were considered native and salt air tolerant, but were not in character with the historic garden designation.
“At one point residents John Donato and John Sewell went to Trenton to get the area replanted with hydrangeas and roses.”
“I planted all the tea roses in the area about 10 years ago,” resident Mark Lovett said.
Resident Bill Kautter, who attended a recent Planning Board meeting to advocate against approving a variance to allow a neighbor to build a third story, said about 80 percent of Marven Gardens property owners responded to a 2011 survey asking if they were interested in keeping building restrictions intact, adding additional restrictions or reducing restrictions and only 12 percent of respondents said they wanted fewer restrictions, he said.
“We were concerned the new houses would become cookie cutter and all looking alike,” he said. “The news out of that is that most residents enjoy the Gardens as it is, want to keep it as it is, or put in some additional restrictions.”
Goff said there should be a unified effort consisting of not only residents, but also city officials working to ensure Marven Gardens retains its historic integrity.
“Margate has a treasure. To live in Marven Gardens is a privilege,” she said. “I hope after we are gone Marven Gardens will still be there.”