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Off The Path - Garden State: The House Where Sinatra Still Sings

Paul Smith’s house on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.
Davis Dunavin
WSHU Public Radio
Paul Smith’s house on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.

It’s not unusual to hear music on a boardwalk in New Jersey on a nice summer day. But there’s one house where the music has played all day, every summer, for 20 years. And it’s always the same performer coming from the speakers: Frank Sinatra.

It’s a sunny Saturday morning on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach on the northern coast of New Jersey. I walk past an arcade and an aquarium — and I hear the strains of “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra coming from a little wooden house covered in big glass windows with a spacious front porch.

Susan Stinneford meets me at the door.

“We’re right on the boardwalk and the beach is right there,” she says. “The views are spectacular. They’re unobscured. You could see the boats, the barges, all the fishing boats going out.”

This was Susan’s father’s home. He was Paul Smith — once chairman of marketing and distribution at Sony Music. He wanted a retirement home that looked out on the ocean. So he asked his son-in-law, Susan’s husband, to build it in the '80s.

Patrick Stinneford had help from Susan’s brother. They finished Paul Smith’s house — and a few summers later, Paul Smith decided to hang a couple PA speakers on the porch outside the house and play some Sinatra records for passersby.

“Most people liked Sinatra music,” Patrick says. “I think he said maybe two complaints, out of the whole time that he was playing music, that people wanted to hear something else.”

Susan and Patrick inherited the house after Paul died in 2002. They don’t live here, but they take care of the place — and they keep the music going through the summer.

But there’s something pretty special inside the house, too — in the basement: memorabilia from Paul Smith’s years as a record producer.

It’s covered in photos and artwork. There’s a few paintings of Paul — done by Tony Bennett. There’s a platinum record for the soundtrack from the movie Titanic. There are pictures of Paul with rock stars and celebrities — Walter Cronkite, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel. But one celebrity is notably missing.

“He never did meet Frank Sinatra,” she says. “He almost did in a bar … I think it was in the city. But he never did physically meet him. Just loved his music.”

So why in the world did Paul choose Sinatra — and only Sinatra? You’d think his daughter Susan would have the answer. But...

“I don’t know why he chose Sinatra … I really don’t,” she says. “Other than he always said that he was just such a great music player.”

Maybe it was just the idea of having someone. Someone classic, timeless — yet forever linked with New Jersey. Someone who put a smile on the face of everyone who passed by on the boardwalk.

“They’d stop and they would dance,” she says. “Young kids, old couples. He loved people noticing the house.”

Susan says this summer may well be the last summer of Sinatra. The house has seen long stretches of uncharacteristic silence — enough to lead a New Jersey News12 reporter to investigate last month.

“We’re almost ready to sell,” Susan says, confirming what a Smith grandson told News12. “The time has come, I think, to sell the house.”

I ask her what she’d like the ultimate legacy of the Sinatra house to be.

“Welcoming,” she says. “Just a happy spirit.”

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.