RODANTHE, N.C. – Ben and Debbie Huss drove the long road through the Outer Banks toward the house made famous by the movie “Nights in Rodanthe.”
For that weekend in 2009 they would be like the movie’s stars, Richard Gere and Diane Lane, romancing to the sound of the Atlantic surf.
The couple passed by the four-story beachfront home without recognizing it. They stopped for directions and were shocked when they realized which house it was.
“That old raggedy house up the road?” Ben Huss asked.
The blue shutters and big porches added just for the 2008 movie were gone. Stormy waves had swept away the steps. The septic tank sat exposed on the sand. Breakers washed up under the piles supporting the house.
“It wasn’t a house on the ocean, it was a house in the ocean,” Huss, a 66-year-old bail bondsman, said from his Newton, N.C., home.
But for Huss, the meaning remained. The story of Gere’s character, Dr. Paul Flanner, had touched him deeply. In the film, Flanner reconnects with his son, falls in love and grows in compassion and empathy.
“It changed my life,” he said.
He had to save this house.
When Huss and his wife asked to see the interior, the realtor had to get a ladder for them to climb in. Huss spent nine months convincing his wife to buy it and talked a banker friend into giving him a loan.
The purchase, move and repairs cost him $750,000, but he figured it was a good investment. There must be people who loved the house as much as he did and would want to stay there.
He was right.
The Inn at Rodanthe has become one of the most famous houses on the Outer Banks. Weekly rentals are nearly booked full each year. Only the week of Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve is still available this year, for $2,495. Next year, the only week available is June 10 to June 17 for $5,495.
“It’s very popular,” said Bonnie Rowe, rental manager and Hatteras Island business development director for Sun Realty.
Back in January 2010, the house had to be moved from its vulnerable perch at the north end of Rodanthe, where every storm pounded the doorsteps.
Expert House Movers of Virginia Beach set the house on the back of truck trailer and eased it down the road at a walking pace. The new address is about a half-mile south and better protected by dunes on Beacon Road.
Up next were renovations.
The couple, with help from professionals, enlarged the decks and added the deep blue shutters as seen in the movie. Carefully watching film scenes over and over, pausing here and there, they decorated four rooms to match the set – Richard Gere’s blue bedroom, Diane Lane’s room with willow tree designs on the wallpaper, the kitchen and the sitting room. Antique furnishings decorate the rooms. The interior scenes in the movie were shot at a studio in Wilmington, N.C.
A friend gave them an antique organ similar to the one in the movie, and they bought an old oak desk for the kitchen. The entire house is furnished.
When the work was done, the couple spent nights in Rodanthe during Hurricane Irene.
“It rocked, it swayed, it creaked and the roof about came off, but we rode it out,” Huss said. “I knew I could tell my renters if they were caught in a hurricane they would be safe.”
Gere and Lane also endured a big storm in the house during the movie.
Huss has tried to contact the movie stars without any luck, he said. People who have stayed there write to him and his wife. They send T-shirts, license tags and clocks with pictures of the house on it, he said.
“The house was the star of the movie,” he said. “Along with Richard Gere and Diane Lane.”