The Commander Hotel - Maryland’s Smartest Holiday Address
The Assistant to the Storekeeper
During the summers of 1959 and 1960 I was employed by Mr. and Mrs. John B. Lynch, owners of The Commander Hotel located at 14th Street and the Boardwalk. The work I did for them during those two summers has provided me with wonderful memories of "Old Ocean City". The job I had was Assistant to the Storekeeper for the Commander kitchen. The Storekeeper was William H. Parker, a retired Coast Guardsman known to all as "Bud". Bud was a tough old bird that ran a tight ship. Together we were responsible for supplying the kitchen staff with everything needed to provide meals for the hotel dining room.
Thomas D. Wimbrow
I would like to tell you that during those years, The Commander advertised itself as "Maryland's Smartest Holiday Address" and indeed it was. The Commander exemplified the best of everything that could be offered by a resort Modified American Plan Hotel. To confirm this I share some of my memories of what Mr. and Mrs. Lynch did to see that guests were treated to the best.
Bud Parker and I worked seven days a week with no time off from Memorial Day thru Labor Day. This did not seem unusual since everyone, including the owners, did the same. My day started early since Bud did not drive and lived in West Ocean City. I got up from my bunk in the attic of the hotel at 5:00 A.M. each morning, shaved and dressed, and then took the hotel truck to pick up Bud.
- The dining room was very upscale. One did not enter unless properly dressed which included coats and ties for the gentlemen and dresses, hose, and heels for the ladies. "Sugar" the long-time Maitre'd dressed in a tuxedo with a fresh rose in his lapel, even for breakfast.
- The dining room employed waiters and guests had the same waiter and the same table for their entire stay at the hotel. Repeat guests often requested and got the same waiter and table year-after-year.
- Mr. Lynch bought a special limited production assortment of preserves and jellies each year from an old New England firm that traded under the name of Johnson-Appleby. These delicacies included such unusual items as Wild Beach Plum Preserves and Damsom Preserves. One female employee in uniform did nothing but circulate through the dining room during meals providing guests with jellies and preserves. She was known as "The Jelly Girl".
- All baked goods served were made from scratch on the premises by a tiny African-American lady named Lillian Keyes. During the off-season Lillian worked for the Baltimore Stieff family of silver fame. Everything Lillian baked was perfect including yeast rolls, macaroons, pies, cakes, and, on Sunday mornings, Rum Buns. Another uniformed employee circulated through the dining room each meal with these delicacies
- Homemade Watermelon Rind Preserves were occasionally available from the Jelly Girl. Since watermelon was regularly served in the dining room, Mr. Lynch saw to it that all rinds were saved and refrigerated. Once every other week he personally spent an afternoon in the kitchen making these delicious preserves.
- A regular item on the Evening menu was Country Ham. Mr. Lynch had an arrangement with a farmer from Berlin who came daily to the hotel and took all the wet garbage from the kitchen. At his farm he had a special cooking kettle where the garbage was boiled to make it sanitary to use as feed for hogs. The hogs raised by this method were butchered during the winter with the cured hams accruing to the hotel and the rest of the animal going to the farmer for his efforts.
- Prime Rib and Steak were often on the menu and only the best beef was purchased for use. Regularly the hotel received shipments of prime rib from an old Philadelphia firm, The Cross Meat Packing Co. In that era Cross still shipped their beef in wooden barrels with dry ice surrounding each rib.
- All seafood was purchased live locally and prepared on premises. The one exception was lobster. Lobsters arrived from Maine in barrels and were cleaned for steaming by the storekeeper and his assistant.
As soon as we arrived at the hotel we saw to it that the chef and cooks had everything needed for breakfast from the cold and dry storage rooms in the basement. After a quick breakfast in the staff dining room off the kitchen, we returned to the basement for a full morning of cleaning, unloading trucks, and attending to food prep for the evening meal. This included shucking clams and corn, cleaning lobsters, and boning Smithfield hams after having been cooked by the kitchen.
At noon we supplied needed items to the Beach Lounge cook staff where light fare was served at mid-day to those coming from the beach. Lunch was fitted in our schedule where duties permitted. From 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. we usually rested in the cool of one of the storerooms where Bud had a lawn chair and I lounged on cases of canned goods. Once in a while I had to take Bud home so he could mow his lawn, which also meant I had to return before 4:00 P.M. to pick him up!
At 4:00 P.M. preparation for the evening meal began with more trips to the kitchen with food items beginning first with salad fixings and fruits. During the evening meal from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. we stood by to assist the kitchen in any way we could. If we ran out of something during the evening meal I was often dispatched next door to the Beach Plaza to borrow what was needed. Around 5:00 P.M. we usually paused to eat our dinner.
Between 8:00 and 9:00 P.M. we returned unused food from the kitchen to storage as the kitchen staff shut down for the day. I then used the hotel truck to take Bud home.
At this point I had some personal time to enjoy with my friends, most of who worked and lived at the lower end of the Boardwalk. After showering and changing clothes I walked the 14 blocks down the boards, since I did not yet own a vehicle, to hook up with friends for a few hours of Ocean City pleasures. Around midnight I walked back to the hotel, climbed to the attic to get a few hours of much needed sleep so I could get up at 5:00 A.M. the next morning and do it all over again. I marvel at my stamina as I look back on these two summers. I couldn't begin to do it now but I'm so glad I did it then. I often give thanks for those wonderful Ocean City years.
I could continue with other vivid memories but I trust the ones shared will serve to verify that the Lynchs truly strived to give their guests reason to believe they were staying at "Maryland's Smartest Holiday Address". The resort life embodied in the American Plan Boardwalk Hotel is now a thing of the past, done in by changing values and different patterns of vacationing in 21st century America. In many ways I regret the loss of the lifestyle embodied in The Commander. I never worked harder than I did those two summers, but the impression left by the experience is a permanent part of me.