Southern Shores Historic Flat Top Tour: A celebration of charming cottages

Published 7:29 am Thursday, April 28, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It was 1985 when Steve Gudas first set eyes on the historic flat top house on Wax Myrtle Trail. He fell in love immediately.

“I love this house,” he said of the 1958 cottage with juniper-paneled walls, cozy kitchen and sprawling sun porch. “I want this house.”

He and his wife Sally Andrews Gudas kept in touch with the property owner for the next 14 years, sending Christmas cards and friendly reminders that if he ever wanted to sell, the Gudas’ wanted to be first in line.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

Finally, in 2009, their dream came true. Little did the Gudases know that their home purchase and their subsequent interest in flat top homes in Southern Shores would spark renewed community interest for hundreds of people to participate in the preservation of these unique little houses.

“These houses represent the way it used to be. It was a gentler, simpler time,” Steve said.

In the late 1940s, artist and developer Frank Stick purchased 2,600 acres of land in what is now Southern Shores for $30,000. He oversaw the building of homes in the style that he admired in Key West, Florida – simple cottages on a slab with paneled interior walls, propped up shutters and, of course, flat tar and gravel roofs.

“Frank Stick sourced all of the products locally. He made cement blocks using sand from the beach,” Steve said. The process was organic. It fit in with the environment. Though there were some two-story flat tops, the majority were modest cottages that allowed the cool ocean breezes to pass through.

“If your neighbor had one, you could still see the ocean, still enjoy the breezes. The houses didn’t come with all the bells and whistles. People were here to enjoy the beach,” Steve said. “I’m here for a week – I wouldn’t think of turning on the TV,” he added.

These iconic houses were popular with young families through the 1960s. While the beachfront properties came with a high price tag then just as they do today, homes further back from the beach like the one on Wax Myrtle Drive were modest enough to allow middle class families to purchase and enjoy.

Some estimate that at one point there may have been up to 300 flat tops sprinkled throughout Southern Shores. Others say 100. But the sad fact is that only 25 remain. Dozens have been torn down over the years to make room for larger homes.

In an effort to preserve Southern Shores’ architectural and cultural history, in 2013 a group of flat top homeowners led by Steve and Sally Gudas got together to offer tours of about a dozen of the remaining historic homes to benefit the Flat Top Preservation Fund of the Outer Banks Community Foundation. The fund goes to maintain the flat top at 13 Skyline Road, which was bequeathed in 2009 as a historic designation and serves as headquarters for the Outer Banks Community Foundation. The tour was offered in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019.

Ticket sales reached 450 for the 2019 tour. “It is exciting, knowing that there are others that really love them,” said Sally. “It’s amazing how many people have a lot of nostalgia for the 1950s and 60s. These homes give a glimpse of what life used to be like.”

It was the nostalgia that motived Trisha Farinholt to purchase the 1954 flat top “Sea Spray,” located at 69 Ocean Blvd almost 30 years ago. “When I came at age 12 for one week, back in 1965, my father had a vacation. We stayed at Rebel Hill Guest House. It was the only vacation we ever had – we didn’t take vacations. I always loved it.”

As an adult, she desired to offer the same experience for her boys. When she first saw Sea Spray she thought, “Someone just needs to buy that and love it.” And loved it she has.

She recalls the early years and the weekends of work spent weeding and pulling out cacti. She cleverly redesigned the kitchen using cabinets made from Frank Stick’s studio and adding a shelf because “you do not move 1950s pipes.”

As her sons have grown into adults, and the friends they invited to come along to the beach have gotten married, Farinholt has been able to offer Sea Spray as a honeymoon gift to the grown men who played there as children. When she and husband Sheldon Parker are not enjoying the home themselves, she rents it through an agency.

The home is larger than many flat tops because of an addition in the back. The inside is a visual delight of bold beachy colors and design, a playful assortment of salvaged art and creativity. Farinholt will tell you herself that she hasn’t made many décor changes to the home in the last several decades.

Though some guests complain that there’s no wireless, so many others plead, “don’t get it!” There are a group of guests that are returning for their 18th vacation to Sea Spray, and another group returning for their 15th annual stay. Memories have been made in this historic flat top and that is what the tour is trying to preserve.

The 2022 Southern Shores Historic Flat Top Tour will be Saturday, April 30 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for the entire tour are $10 per person, or two for $15, and can be purchased the day of the event at 156 Wax Myrtle Trail or at 13 Skyline Road. There will be 14 cottages on the tour, which are self-guided and include the interior and exterior of the home. Cash and check only are accepted and no advance sales will be offered.

The homes on the tour feature a variety of styles, sizes and décor. Four of the homes have been designated by the Town of Southern Shores as Southern Shores Historic Landmarks: 23 Porpoise Run (Sokol-Clements), 156 Wax Myrtle Trail (Clarke-Gudas), 170 Ocean Boulevard (Pink Perfection) and 218 Ocean Boulevard (Mackey).

The homes in this year’s flat top tour are: 218 Ocean Boulevard – Mackey Cottage; 176 A and 176 B Ocean Boulevard – the Price Cottages; 170 Ocean Boulevard – Pink Perfection (Edith Pipkin Cottage); 169 Ocean Boulevard – Atlantic Breezes; 157 Ocean Boulevard – Sea Breezes; 23 Porpoise Run – Sokol-Clements Cottage; 156 Wax Myrtle Trail – Clarke-Gudas Cottage; 159 Wax Myrtle Trail – Falconer Cottage; 113 Ocean Boulevard – Knight Cottage; 69 Ocean Boulevard – Sea Spray Cottage; 43 Ocean Boulevard – Powell-Harritt Cottage; 40 Skyline Road – Beach Box Flat Top (Mitchell); and 13 Skyline Road – Outer Banks Community Foundation.

For information and additional photos, visit the Facebook page for Southern Shores Historic Flat Top Cottages: