Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum
Ocean City, Maryland - Then & Now Lot 50
by Gordon E. Katz
July 2014


Postcard view of the Avondale Hotel circa 1925, looking east from Baltimore Avenue. The Mount Vernon Hotel annex is visible on the east side of the hotel, along with a portion of Dr. Frank Townsend’s residence and pharmacy on the north side. Cindy Vollmerhausen collection.
“Avondale Hotel” and “Syl-Mar Shop”

The modest building that presently occupies lot 50, situated on the northeast corner of Talbot Street and Baltimore Avenue, reveals little about the site’s history. Baltimore businessman Edward R. E. Cobb drew the lot in 1875 at a meeting of the Atlantic Hotel Company’s stockholders, but like so many of his fellow investors, he made no effort to improve it. His heirs sold the vacant lot to the Ocean City Life-Saving Station keeper, Capt. Joshua J. Dunton, in 1893.
Capt. Dunton built a two-story cottage on the property by 1897, which he sold in 1905 for $1,250 to Annie Kate Soper, the wife of one of his surfmen, George F. Soper. Mrs. Soper gave the building the name “Avondale”, which was in use as early as 1906 in newspaper advertisements touting the facility’s “ocean view” and “modern improvements”. The claim of an ocean view is a bit dubious, because the three-story annex of the neighboring Mount Vernon Hotel, erected before 1897, blocked most of that view.
Following George’s transfer to another station, the Sopers sold the Avondale to George Givans in 1909 for $2,000. Givans was a railroad conductor and his wife Fannie took charge of the boarding house. A tragic incident in 1914, when a young girl, possibly the Givans’ granddaughter, fell to her death from a second floor window of the Avondale, prompted George and Fannie to unload the property. They swapped deeds with George and Susie Rounds, receiving two lots and a residence on the south side of Talbot Street near Philadelphia Avenue in exchange for the Avondale.
George and Susie Rounds contracted with local builder Charles S. Powell in 1919 to work with George, a house carpenter by trade, to both enlarge the Avondale by adding a third floor and north wing, as well as to convert the first floor into street level shops.
In 1925 George Rounds partnered with two other Baltimoreans to purchase the New Avalon Hotel property on the west side of Baltimore Avenue near N. 1st Street. George was able to buy out his partners in 1927 after he and Susie sold the Avondale Hotel that year to Rose Benjamin, the wife of Salisbury clothing store merchant Israel Benjamin.



The Berger family’s two businesses located in the building on lot 50 – the “Syl-Mar Shop” on the north, and “Ocean City 5&10” on the south. From an ad placed in The 1955 Guide, published by the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
The Benjamins struggled to run the Avondale profitably during the early years of the Great Depression, finding it difficult to engage an operator willing to take a chance on a summer resort hotel during tough economic times. They opted to tear down the hotel in 1935 and to replace it with a single story commercial building divided into two bays fronting on the east side of Baltimore Avenue. Oddly, two competing grocery store chains leased the adjoining bays from the late 1930s until shortly after the end of World War II. The American Stores Company (later Acme Markets) occupied the south bay on the corner of Talbot Street, with the Great American & Pacific Tea Company (“A&P”) taking the north bay.
Following the end of the war, the Benjamins found a new tenant for their property, a Baltimore tailor named Israel Berger. Berger had first set up shop in Ocean City in 1936, renting space in a building on the south side of Dorchester Street just west of Philadelphia Avenue. In 1946 he persuaded his two sons, Albert and Herbert, recently discharged from the service, to join him in Ocean City. The Bergers took over the space formerly leased by the American Stores Company, which had moved its store to Somerset Street, and opened a 5&10 store. A&P terminated its lease with Israel and Rose Benjamin shortly thereafter, and the Bergers moved into that space as well, opening a clothing store called the “Syl-Mar Shop”, named for Israel Berger’s two daughters, Sylvia and Martha.



The building on lot 50 as it appears today.
Photo credit: Sandy Hurley.
The Bergers’ 5&10 faced stiff competition from the more established Edwards 5&10 on the Boardwalk at North Division Street. By 1959 the Bergers had exited that business and expanded their Syl-Mar Shop operation. The former 5&10 store was turned into the “Men’s Wear” department and the north bay became the “Ladies Wear” department.
Al Berger purchased the commercial building and lot from the Benjamins’ estate in 1980 for $80,000. He and his wife sold it a decade later to the present owners, the Greenspan family’s Jelar Corporation, for $325,000.
In an interview published in 1981, Albert Berger shared a bit of his father’s insight into the ups and downs of doing business in Ocean City: “He told me that during good times you’d make enough money to live through the winter and save some money, in a fair year you could live through the winter, and that in a poor year you would still live.”