Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum
Reader’s Forum
by Gordon Katz
August 2017

Boardwalk north from S. 1st St.

View of South 1st Street looking north taken from the Coast Guard tower located at S. 2nd Street. Circa 1965
Buildings on the East Side of Boardwalk

Q: The recent article in The Dispatch about the upcoming demise of the most easterly Dumser’s building was interesting and informative, but for me, it just brought about a lot of questions about the former businesses that were there, along with how that arrangement came about with the city of long ago.

The Dumser’s situation leads to questions about the pier building, Souvenir City and the other building (snack bar/restaurant) now found on the east side of the boardwalk. How long will they be there?

A: We think the best way to answer these questions is to provide brief histories of all of the structures presently situated on the east side of the boardwalk.

Before doing so, here’s the background on “the Dumser’s situation”. The building occupied by Dumser’s Dairyland at 601 South Atlantic Avenue opposite South Division Street is presently owned by Nathans Associates, a partnership of certain descendants of Nathan Rapoport, a Philadelphia amusements operator who built the first structure on that site in 1912. The land under the building is owned by the Town of Ocean City. Occupancy of the land is governed by an agreement that Mr. Rapoport executed with the town in 1966. According to the Dispatch article, published on August 11, “When the 1966 agreement expired last year, the Town of Ocean City asserted its ownership rights of the property and requested Nathans Associates vacate the premises. Nathans Associates then filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court asserting the Town of Ocean City had essentially abandoned its ownership of the parcel by allowing the structure on the site for over a century.” The court ruled against the partnership, and the town then issued an order for the partnership to either remove the building from the site or tear it down by December 31. The partners are preparing an appeal of the court’s ruling. Dumser’s only involvement in the dispute is as a lessee of Nathans Associates.

BACKGROUND

The Town of Ocean City owns all of the land east of the Boardwalk to the low water mark of the Atlantic Ocean except for two small parcels between South 1st Street and South Division Street that are owned by the Trimper family’s Windsor Resort, Inc. There are ten structures located on the east side of the Boardwalk at the present time. Six of those structures are municipal facilities, two are owned by Windsor Resort, Inc., which also owns the land beneath those buildings, one (the pier) is owned by the Synepuxent Pier and Improvement Company, and the last one is the Rapoport building discussed above.

MUNICIPAL FACILITIES

The seven municipal facilities include three public restrooms (comfort stations), the Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Lot,the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, the boardwalk tram station located at South Division Street, and the Ocean City Firefighters Memorial located at North Division Street.

Comfort stations

The first boardwalk comfort station was built in 1954 at the east end of Worcester Street. In response to complaints from boardwalk business owners about the number of boardwalk visitors using their restrooms, the town built a second station at Caroline Street in 1966 and a third station at 9th Street in 1967. All three have been rebuilt and expanded over the years. The new Worcester Street station built in 2002 also houses on Ocean City Police sub-station on the second floor. The station at 9th Street was rebuilt in 2007, and the Caroline Street station was transformed into the Ocean City Performing Arts Stage and Comfort Station in 2014.

Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Lot

Parking has been a problem in Ocean City during the summer months since the 1920s (and still is today). The Mayor and City Council decided in 1952 to utilize part of the ever-widening beach at the south end of town to build a parking lot. An article published in The News (Frederick) on June 11, 1952 shared the good news for vacationers this way:

"Ever looked longingly at the beach itself while driving around for a parking place at a seashore resort?

Well, Ocean City is going to let you do it.

Mayor Daniel E. Trimper announced today that a parking lot for 500 cars right on the beach will be opened next weekend. It’s 1,500 feet long and 60 feet wide, made of clay rolled over the sand."

The parking fee, collected by lot attendants, was 25 cents per day. The lot was an immediate success, prompting the town to widen it to 100 feet in 1953 and install parking meters. Naturally, the parking fee was raised as well. The rate was increased to 25 cents an hour, or for $1 you could park for up to 12 hours. The lot has been expanded further since 1953 to where it now can accommodate 1,200 cars and also serve as a venue for major events such as SpringFest and SunFest. The parking meters were removed in 2000 and replaced with a ticketing system. Each parking space contributes an average of $2,000 annually to the town budget.



The Inlet Parking Lot circa 1955

Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

The former U.S. Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard station building, which stood at Caroline Street on the Boardwalk for more than 80 years, was moved to its present location on the east side of the Boardwalk at South 2nd Street in December 1977. The town acted to save the historic structure from demolition after new owners acquired the lot on Caroline Street. The station building was refurbished inside and out in order to take on its new role as the town’s museum, preserving and displaying the history of the Life-Saving Service and the Ocean City area. The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum was formally dedicated on December 25, 1978.

Boardwalk tram station

The boardwalk tram station at South 1st Street was completed in 2004. The station includes a waiting area for passengers, a ticket office and a control center on the second floor.

Ocean City Firefighters Memorial
The Ocean City Firefighters Memorial is located at the foot of North Division Street. The 2,500 square foot site, featuring a six-foot tall statue of a firefighter, was dedicated on September 11, 2006.






WINDSOR RESORT BUILDINGS

The Trimper family erected two buildings on the east side of the Boardwalk between South 1st Street and South Division Street opposite their amusements around 1916. The buildings were reportedly used for storage at that time. Later on, various games and boardwalk treats were purveyed at those locations.

The present structures were both built in 1966. The building closest to South 1st Street (711 South Atlantic Avenue) has been the home of Souvenir City since the 1970s. The other building to the north of Souvenir City (709 South Atlantic Avenue) has had a number of occupants, including House of Pasta, Burger King, Davey Jones’ Locker, and most recently Kohr Bros.

There were no official protests about the two buildings until Nathan Rapoport requested approval in 1966 to build a new two-story structure on the site he had occupied at South Division Street since 1912. Rapoport’s request prompted Councilman Clifford Shuey to push the City Council to approve a franchise tax on all buildings that sat east of the Boardwalk. Rapoport signed an agreement with the town at that time but Windsor Resort, the company the Trimper family formed in 1936 to hold their amusement properties, declined to do so.

There the matter lay until 1983 when former Councilman George Feehley “sparked a heated debate” at a City Council meeting in July “concerning two parcels of boardwalk property developed by the council president [Granville Trimper, a grandson of Daniel Trimper].” The council demanded that Windsor Resort remove the two buildings. The company rebuffed the demand, which led to the town filing suit against the company in 1985. The court issued an opinion in August 1986 in favor of the town, but the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed that decision in June of 1987, giving Windsor Resort clear title to the land.

THE PIER (SYNEPUXENT PIER AND IMPROVEMENT COMPANY)

The pier building is the largest structure located east of the Boardwalk. The Ocean City Pier and Improvement Company, a group of Worcester County businessmen, built the first pier, which opened in the summer of 1907. That structure burned down on December 30, 1925 in a fire that also destroyed the Atlantic Hotel, the Seaside Hotel, Dolle’s Candyland and part of the Boardwalk. The loss was not insured. The company was unable or unwilling to finance the construction of a new building, and sold its franchise to two Baltimore investors in 1926. A new group of investors, headed by Salisbury attorney Clarence W. Whealton, Dr. Charles W. Purnell, owner of the Atlantic Hotel, Frank W. Truitt, cashier of The Bank of Ocean City, Ralph R. Dennis, Ocean City store owner, and Dr. Frank Townsend, organized The Synepuxent Pier and Improvement Company in 1927. The company obtained the franchise and built a new pier that opened in 1929. The franchise for use of the land beneath the pier was initially set to expire in 15 years, but the term was later changed to 50 years.




In 1955 a group of investors, headed by James A. Grazier of Whaleyville, approached the town with a proposal to build a new pier. The envisioned project, called “Pleasurama”, was a mammoth 3-story steel and aluminum building that was to stretch from Philadelphia Avenue eastward into the ocean. The plans included a 75-room hotel, indoor and outdoor restaurants, a 5,000-person capacity convention hall, a swimming pool and even a heliport, with a projected cost of $5 million ($45 million in today’s dollars). The group first requested approval to build its new pier at 18th Street, but the City Council turned that plan down. A second proposed site at 24th Street was also rejected. The group then entered into an option agreement with the Synepuxent Pier and Improvement Company to buy the existing pier, which would be replaced with “Pleasurama”. The effort collapsed in 1957 after the project failed to attract sufficient investor capital.

The Town of Ocean City had the option to buy the pier building when the initial franchise term expired in 1979, but the appraised value of $3.4 million was more than the town could afford. The town opted instead to renew the franchise with the Synepuxent Pier and Improvement Company in a controversial deal that gave the company another 50-year term to operate its pier on city-owned land. The new deal also increased the fees the company was required to pay. At the expiration of the current franchise on March 31, 2029, the town will take ownership of the pier building, with the company retaining ownership of the rides and other amusements located on the pier.

ENDNOTES

We would be remiss not to mention one other structure that no longer exists on the east side of the Boardwalk. Some readers will no doubt remember the bandstand on the beach at Somerset Street. The town built the first bandstand in 1927. Frank Sacca, the owner of the Adelphia Restaurant and Apartments on Baltimore Avenue at Dorchester Street and an accomplished musician, conducted the Ocean City Band in weekly concerts at the boardwalk venue. Sacca was instrumental, so to speak, in persuading the City Council to approve construction of a new bandstand and bandshell in 1950. The structure fell into disuse in the mid-1960s and was torn down in 1969.


The bandshell on the beach at Somerset Street, circa 1960

We should also mention one other proposed project east of the Boardwalk that never materialized. In 1964 the Mayor and City Council granted a franchise to the Shore Development Corporation to construct a convention hall on the east side of the inlet parking lot. The hall would have fronted 600 feet along the beach, nearly the length of two city blocks, with facilities to accommodate 2,500 persons. The plan fell through due to a lack of funding.

We welcome all questions about Ocean City and U.S. Life-Saving Service history, and we’ll try our best to provide answers. Please direct your inquiries to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).