The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum will soon expand its reach with a new building, the old Bank of Ocean City, on Dorchester Street and South Baltimore Avenue. The addition of the building signifies the revitalization of the downtown area and the preservation of local history for decades to come.
When the Bank of Ocean City closed its downtown branch in December 2019, there were no doubts in the minds of bank staff as to their hopes for the fate of the property. They emphasized that the lot should be donated to the town and used only by the museum. A year later, planning is underway, and the museum team is very grateful for the acquisition of the valuable new location.
“The building has been there since 1910, and it’s not going to become a parking lot. That’s a very positive thing,” said Nancy Howard, Ocean City Museum Society President. “We will now have two properties that are somewhat close, and this presents more of an opportunity to see everything we have to offer. We are thrilled and truly beholden to the Bank of Ocean City.”
Ocean City History
While the building might be new to employees and visitors of the Life-Saving Station Museum, it is certainly not new to the town. Construction on the building took place in 1910 and 1911, more than a century ago. The property initially served as a grocery store operated by Berlin native Charlie McGregor, according to an archive composed by Gordon E. Katz.
McGregor’s store did not last but more than a few years, and he eventually sold the building to a group of three men, which included then-Ocean City Mayor William B. S. Powell. After several hurdles and court battles, the Bank of Ocean City finally opened in 1916, satisfying the needs of the growing population. Ocean City residents no longer had to travel to Berlin to make deposits and withdrawals. At the time of its opening, the bank set its capital at just $20,000 – imagine that!
L. D. Lynch, one of the men who initially bought the property, eventually took over the bank’s operations and led the small institution through the Great Depression. The bank did not make notable changes until 1947, when the building received substantial upgrades, including exterior elements that remain today.
One defining feature, the large bank vault, will remain in the refurbished building. Also, the property is home to even more history, beyond its typical use as a bank. Rumors suggest that Mayor Harry Kelley, who served from 1970 to 1985, was born at the bank in 1919. Another story indicates that in the early 1910s, some of the girls who eventually worked for Thrasher’s lived on the second floor in boardinghouse rooms. These historical tidbits will all find their way into the new building.
Restoration & Presentation
Though the Life-Saving Station Museum maintains thousands of artifacts, many think of the new building as an important historical antiquity. Museum Curator Christine Okerblom is excited to start adding even greater historical value to the old bank. “We are rescuing a historic site just like we rescue artifacts. It’s exciting to think that the building will be revitalized,” she said. “We are continuing our mission at another location and expanding our reach, and we’ve chosen to do that at a building that is in need of restoration. Preserving a building is so important for the downtown area.”
The Museum Society has not yet developed a design or layout for the interior, but with much more square footage, many wonder what new items the museum will show off that it does not already feature at its Boardwalk location. However, there is certainly no shortage of museum inventory.
“What meets the eye isn’t all we have in our collection,” noted Okerblom. The museum has an off-site facility, where thousands of artifacts are currently stored. The team hopes to incorporate many of these pieces into brand new exhibits and display them permanently.
Planning is already underway to renovate the outside of the bank building and the subsequent interior changes. While the makeover is exciting, it comes with hefty price tags of $200,000 for the outside and $400,000 for the inside. The Ocean City FY 2021/2022 budget includes the exterior renovations, while the 2023 budget covers the interior renovations.
The Museum Society is now waiting on word regarding an application for a state grant to support exterior construction. If possible, they hope to begin work within a matter of weeks and have the exterior restored to its former glory by the summer. Completion of the interior is not expected until sometime in 2023, though the process may move a bit faster.
Partners to the museum in the new project include the Downtown Association and the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC). However, in the future, these groups may not be their only partners. Nancy Howard noted that interest is high, and everyone wants to get in on this great opportunity.
Enhancing Your Vacation
Although it is hard to ever get bored in Ocean City, this new museum branch will surely keep people occupied and offer a unique educational experience for residents and tourists of all ages year-round. The new location will also open up the opportunity for even more extensive programming in the summer.
“When you come to Ocean City, you have so many places to get food and entertainment, but if you’re looking for something that’s educational during your vacation and gets your kids engaged, the new museum is the place for you,” said Okerblom. “I hope that we can expand programming and can reach a lot of new people.”
Museum staff encourages the public to stay tuned for more details about the new location and to be on the lookout for information surrounding Boardwalk programming for summer 2021.
For more information, visit ocmuseum.org.
To read more about the history of the Bank of Ocean City building, click here.