When the movie crew for “Nights in Rodanthe” renovated the house called “Serendipity” for its big screen appearance, nasty storm clouds threatened.
Cameras rolled as a late-season nor’easter blew through last May, shooting vivid scenes of wind-whipped waves and rain lashing the house. The highway flooded and sand piled up on the property. The storm created such a mess that movie people had to be whisked off the island in a limousine.
But talk about serendipitous: the plot line of the film based on Nicholas Sparks’ tearjerker revolved around a storm and the house standing surviving yet another assault, just as it has for more than 20 years.
“They said that it was the perfect thing,” said Susan Gray, assistant property manager at Midgett Realty’s Rodanthe office. “They got footage of overwash. They were tickled about it.”
“Nights in Rodanthe,” starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, is scheduled to be released nationwide today .
It’s no wonder that rugged Serendipity caught the eye of Warner Bros. Picture’s location scout. Supported by pilings at the edge of the surf, the three-story house stands farther out in the ocean than any other on the beach. It has the authentic weathered look achieved by only the sturdiest Outer Banks cottages. It is situated on the southern border of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, providing a vista of wild, undeveloped beach. When he built Serendipity in 1988, developer Roger Meekins sunk the pilings more than 14 feet deep and poured concrete around them. It was the first house constructed in Mirlo Beach, a subdivision on the northern end of Rodanthe.
“This house is built so good, there’s no other house like it on the Outer Banks, said Murray “Frisco Mo” Clark, the house’s 79-year-old caretaker. “I’ve been in this house in 130 m.p.h. winds. It didn’t move at all. It just whistled.”
The spectacular beachfront setting belies of the fury of notorious Outer Banks weather along fastest-eroding beaches. During storms, the ocean often breeches the dune, if there is one, and rushes, river-like, under Serendipity toward the road. Ocean overwash there is blamed frequently for impassable road conditions – so much so that Dare County has set up a Web cam so drivers can monitor it.
Clark said that Serendipity’s undoing won’t be falling into the sea; it will be the unromantic problem of sanitation. The house has been condemned since March because the septic system was compromised by ocean overwash. A new one has been installed, but bad weather has delayed getting a permit.
“The septic is fine,” he said Wednesday as a coastal storm was winding up. “We’re just battling the storm right now. When the storm is over, we’ll continue with our efforts to get the house done.”
Between preparing the five-bedroom house for the rental season, in recent weeks Clark has become a tour guide for a steady stream of people who come to see Serendipity. A movie trailer shows the house in aerial shots that capture wide expanse of beach to its north.
“Oh, it’s been bananas,” he said. “I would say one hundred a day. Easily.”
Sara Cool from Gettysburg, Pa., wandered into the house’s crows nest last week while Clark was talking, three of her friends in tow.
“Now, I would wake up every morning and look out the windows,” she said as she admired the view from the top floor, “and I’d open the windows and that would be perfect!”
Her friend, Ashley Bunty, also from Gettysburg, nodded in agreement. “I wouldn’t even rent it out – I’d stay here all year.”
“Gotta win the Lotto,” Clark shot back, grinning.
Susan and Michael Creasy, Champion, Pa. business owners, fell head over heels for Serendipity in 2003 and bought it as a vacation house that they rent out for most of the year – except, of course, when it’s condemned.
The house, which was appraised in 2006 for $550,000, rents for $1,710 a week in the off-season and $3,785 in the summer. By chance Susan Creasy happened to be there by herself doing some work in late 2006 when, out of the blue, there was a knock on her door.
A man who identified himself as Bass Hampton said he was a location scout for Warner Bros. Pictures, Michael Creasy recounted. The studio was interested in using the house for exterior shots in “Nights in Rodanthe,” Hampton told his wife.
“I think Susan had already read the book. She called home and was telling me about it.
“I said, 'You didn’t let him in the house, did you? This guy isn’t from Warner Brothers!’ I said there’s no way.”
But Hampton was the real deal, and Serendipity made the cut. The house was dolled up and temporarily renamed The Inn at Rodanthe; all the movie’s interior shots were done in Wilmington, N.C. Shutters were painted blue and decks and a gazebo were added. Sand was plowed from under the house and off the driveway.
“We were kind of amused, too, because they got fake greenery,” Gray recalled. “They brought in all these plants for the front part of the driveway, and a cedar tree, I think. I guess it lived long enough for the scenes to be done.”
Unfortunately, the movie company’s permit did not allow the improvements to remain. So the house today looks the same as before, except for the Serendipity sign on the front, which apparently blew away in a storm about a month ago.
Creasy said that all they ended up getting for the house’s starring role was two months rent.
“The upgrades were fantastic,” he said. ''We told Warner Bros. we wanted to keep them. They said you can’t keep them. We were a little bit disappointed.”
Still, Creasy said the couple is thrilled that their house will be in the movie. “I have no regrets,” he said. “It’s going to be good for Serendipity – something positive, not negative. It’s going to be good for Hatteras Island.”
Catherine Kozak, (252) 441-1711,