Some pictures might be worth a thousand words, but the man depicted in this one inspired an entire town.
When visitors to the new Lavallette municipal building on Grand Central Avenue make their way into the building for the first time, it’s hard to miss the large portrait of a uniformed man commanding a wooden ship, sword by his side.
The man in the painting is U. S. Navy Admiral Elie A. F. LaVallette, one of the first rear admirals in the Navy when congress created the rank in 1862. Born May 3, 1790 in Alexandria, Virginia, LaVallette died Nov. 18, 1862 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. In 1830, LaVallette anglicized his name to “Lavallette,” which is carried on today in the town named in his honor.
The painting that adorns the wall inside the municipal building was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1938, said borough Councilwoman Joanne Filippone, under the Works Progress Administration, a depression-era government agency that found public employment opportunities for unemployed workers. The portrait is still, technically, owned by the Navy, but “on loan forever” to Lavallette, said Filippone.
Under the photo is a model of the USS LaVallette, one of two Navy destroyers named in the rear admiral’s honor.
The naming of the town for Lavallette was a son’s act in memory of his father. After the Cranberry Inlet closed up near the border of Ortley Beach and Seaside Heights, rail access to the island spurred development. One of the developers in the Barnegat Land Improvement Company, which purchased the land on which Lavallette now occupies from Michael W. Ortley, was the admiral’s son, Albert T. Lavallette, who named the new town in honor of his father.
Over the years, the painting had begun to show signs of age. When it was decided to build the new municipal building after Superstorm Sandy, the borough’s Memorabilia Committee decided to refurbish the painting and give it a prominent place inside the new lobby. The work, which cost about $900, was paid for through a donation from the West Point Island Civic Association, said Filippone.
The portrait, she said, was cleaned, revarnished and reframed.