Ocean City, Maryland - Then & Now Lots 4,5,27 and 28
The "Casino Property" - Part One: 1875 - 1916
Figure 1: A portion of the two-story Atlantic Casino building can be seen on the right in this postcard view mailed in 1906. The staircase led to the upstairs bowling alleys and billiards parlor. The label that reads in part “South of Pier” was obviously added at a later date. The pier did not open until the summer of 1907.
(Cindy Vollmerhausen collection)
All four of these attractive lots had been drawn by an Atlantic Hotel Company stockholder at the special meeting held on August 31, 1875, but none were developed by their original owners. Perhaps these men had soured on Ocean City’s prospects due to the resort’s decline during the 1880s or had been drawn away by better opportunities elsewhere. By 1889 William R. Rayne and Francis Henry Purnell owned lots 5 and 27, and in 1890 these two opportunistic businessmen opened bath houses, gender-specific of course, and amusements, including billiards and ten-pin bowling, on this site. These were the first such free-standing establishments in Ocean City that were not connected with the handful of hotels then in existence.
Rayne and Purnell sold their operation in May 1895 for $10,000 to the Atlantic Casino Company, which had been incorporated by James Bates, the son of one of the original lot owners, George R. Gaither, William J. Warrington and Albert P. Warrington. The purchase price, quite substantial for that time, clearly reflected the town’s growth after the Sinepuxent Beach Company took over in 1890 and embarked on an aggressive program to bring the town back to life. Included in the sale were the land, the building, and “a lot of bathing suits, two pool tables, ten-pin alleys, balls and pins, and a lot of furniture, all of which were used in the building on the said premises during the summer season of 1894.” The company announced plans to add more amusements, such as “shooting galleries”.
Early the next year the Casino Company moved to further expand its operation by acquiring the corner lot 4, on which a larger, two-story facility was constructed. This was a boom time in Ocean City, as The Sun proclaimed on June 2:
During the spring many improvements have been in progress, and possibly this year will witness a greater advance in the growth and improvement of Maryland’s seaside resort than any other in its history … A contract for a casino and one for the iron pier … have been awarded, and a pavilion will be added to the Plimhimmon. It is expected that the iron pier will be completed, so it is said, by the Fourth of July, and the casino two weeks later. The ground floor of the casino is to contain bath-houses and booths, and the upper story bowling alleys, pool rooms.
The new casino on Worcester Street was completed as noted, but the “iron pier” was not. Following what must have been a successful 1896 summer season, the company added lot 28 on the north side of Worcester Street to its holdings, creating the four lot configuration that was dubbed the “Casino Property”.
Over the next couple of years, the Atlantic Casino Company’s business began to decline, due in part to the appearance of new competitors such as the Trimper family, who had opened their rival operation in 1893. In October of 1899 the company was forced into bankruptcy by its lender. A public auction of the Casino Property held on December 19, 1900 failed to attract an adequate bid, but on January 2, 1901 the bankruptcy trustee was able to arrange a private sale to Katherine Malone from Washington DC. She agreed to purchase the property for $7,400. We don’t know much about Miss Malone, other than she was a single woman with ready access to cash and with the financial capacity to borrow money in her own name. At the time she acquired the Casino Property, Malone already owned a house on the northwest corner of the Boardwalk and 6th Street that she had purchased in 1897 for $2,500 and also two lots on Baltimore Avenue at N. 1st Street.
Late in the evening of April 11, 1901, a fire of suspicious origin broke out in an unoccupied section of Gilbert Cropper’s hotel and bath houses (the “Hotel de Cropper” property), located on the northwest corner of the Boardwalk and South Division Street. The blaze spread quickly and “within 15 minutes all the front of the block between Worcester and South Division Streets was in flames.” For a while, much of downtown Ocean City was threatened with destruction, including the Atlantic Casino, which was “ablaze several times”. The conflagration was finally brought under control “only through the hardest work of men and women of the town.” Ocean City did not have an organized fire department at that time.
The casino building took another hit in 1903 when a powerful storm rocked the resort during the overnight hours of September 15 and 16. “Every building in the city shook and trembled as if it would be blown from the foundations, and about every building suffered to some extent … The Atlantic Casino’s upper porch was torn away, as was also a part of the roof of the new casino building …”
Figure 2: Postcard view of the “Casino Theatre”, circa 1916. “Mead’s Café”, the “new European restaurant” opened in 1916, occupied the center bay. The theatre entrance is on the left, and the fashion stores are on the right. (Courtesy of George and Sue Hurley)
Mary Dean operated the Atlantic Casino through the 1911 season, after which she sold it to Salisbury businessman Joseph Tibbett for $4,000. After a couple of seasons, Tibbett sold out to Philadelphian Jacob Perskie in late 1913.
Perskie recognized that the buildings needed a facelift, and in 1916 he rolled out a handsome new structure on the northwest corner of the Boardwalk and Worcester Street (see Figure 2). He even gave it a new name: the “Casino Theatre”.
The Sun lauded Perskie’s efforts in this account from June 25:
The old Casino Building has been converted into a handsome structure, the front being of concrete artistically decorated. The building contains a new moving-picture parlor, where only the highest class pictures are being shown. This makes three movie parlors for the resort, one being on the pier and the other near the new park [referring to “Luna Park”, the new name for the Trimpers’ Windsor Resort on the southern end of the boardwalk]. In the Casino there is a new European restaurant, a fashion shop for the ladies and a haberdashery for men. The building forms a great improvement to the boardwalk.
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