A Shore retreat for four generations

Jack Callahan in front of his Wildwood Crest home (right), and a photo of the home taken about 1920. ( Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer )

Jack Callahan doesn't have air-conditioning. He doesn't want it, either, even as he sits on the front porch of his house on a hot, humid summer day in long pants and a button-up shirt.

"We've never had air-conditioning as long as I've lived here," Callahan says. "At night, we get a beautiful breeze from the ocean or the bay."

He's used to it, and it's hard to see why not. He's lived in this house in Wildwood Crest for 60 years. But it's a far cry from the small beach cottage he bought right after he married.

Today, it's a 2,200-square-foot, two-story beach retreat that is the weekend gathering spot for the Callahan clan, whose members live in the Philadelphia suburbs on both sides of the Delaware and who, on this particular summer day, took up every available space and room in the house.

And that was before adding in grandson Shane Whipkey's club lacrosse team, still asleep upstairs before playing a tournament on the beach.

"I have 10 to 15 people down every weekend," says Callahan, who lives at the Shore year-round with his son Tim.

The house, built in 1910, was one of the first on the Crest. It was a small bungalow perfect for Callahan, now 86, and his bride, Elizabeth.

"She was working at the Acme as a checker, and I was buying food," he says of how they met in Germantown.

Elizabeth was from Wildwood Crest, so when they married, they honeymooned there and stayed. His wife passed away in 2004.

"When we first moved here, a train ran down the street, and the ocean was only two blocks away," he says. The neighboring property was a custard stand, then a Wawa, and is now a private home.

The couple had four children, which led to six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Most of them come down every weekend.

No one can quite remember how many renovations they've done on the house because there have been so many. A large addition was put on in 1964 to make room for the children. A front porch was built. The siding went from diamond asbestos to square asbestos, and is now vinyl. The downstairs kitchen was moved three times.

One of the former kitchen spaces is now a sunroom at the front of the house. An upstairs addition with a kitchen was built, and then the stove was removed when Callahan realized too much space was being occupied by things that weren't being used.

Two of Callahan's children passed away as a result of the Vietnam War, one in combat and the other from injuries sustained during the war. He keeps a memorial in one corner of the downstairs living room.

The Beschen-Callahan Memorial Lifeguard Races, held in Wildwood Crest for 42 years and considered the oldest continuous lifeguard races in the country, are held in their honor. Shane Whipkey is on the Wildwood Crest squad.

Jack still works - he's owned Callahan Roofing since 1956 - and his office in the home's basement looks as if it could belong to any twenty- or thirtysomething.

Standing out from the papers, filing cabinets, and phones (land line and cell) is a new iMac. He knows how to e-mail and upload videos to YouTube. It's crucial to keeping up with his children and grandchildren, he says.

His favorite spaces are outside the house, though.

What was once just a backyard, where youngsters played in space shaded by a tarp, is now "Jack's Shack." The playing still happens, but now there's an annual family talent show, complete with a DJ (grandson Patrick Whipkey of Bellmawr).

Before the talent show, Catholic Mass is said in the backyard. On those special occasions, the house makes room for 20-plus.

An outdoor covered porch functions as another gathering area.

"We eat here every night," Callahan says, especially in the summer, with a table long enough for all his visitors and an outdoor refrigerator stocked with ice-cold beer.

Callahan is sitting at that outdoor table, with his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren interjecting and adding stories and memories about the house, when the lacrosse team finally wakes up and comes downstairs.

The players stop at the beer fridge or give Callahan a firm pat on the back. He asks them whether they met any pretty girls the night before.

"The young kids make my life," he says.

There are still a few to-do projects for the house, Callahan says, including new carpet that's being installed on the first floor, and a dozen or so smaller items.

But the list does not include central air-conditioning.

Callahan says he'll never move.

"I'm going to be laid out in that front room."

Is your house a Haven?

Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.com.

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