The Ocean City boardwalk is an architectural icon for many who frequent the Ocean City area. In the summer months you can hear kids screaming in excitement from the rides and families laughing and discussing the many places to find food: "Do you want pizza from Tony’s, or a cheese-filled pretzel from The Wrapper?" What child can resist the ice cream and candy shops located almost every two blocks of Ocean City’s boardwalk? I know I still can’t, and I’m an adult! While the summer boardwalk scene is filled with the sounds of excitement and thrill-seeking, the winter is much different. Instead of the sound of wild screams and laughter, you can actually hear the sound of the waves crashing on shore, and you can still smell the aroma of Thrashers French fries. But you don’t have to wait in a line that stretches the Ocean City inlet. But this year, something is different about the boardwalk.
As I take my morning run on the boardwalk each day, I notice construction on the north end as well as the south end. "What is this construction for?" you might ask. It is actually the reconstruction of the boardwalk, a project undertaken by the city to reinstate the structural safety of the boards. Upon speaking with City Engineer, Terry McGean, he explains that, “the decision to reconstruct the boardwalk sparked while doing deck repair. We noticed that many of the boards were rotting underneath and needed to be replaced.” The winter is as good a time as any for repairs due to the decrease in visitors and Ocean City population throughout the winter months.
Now, deciding on what materials to use for the new boardwalk is very interesting. There was actually an online poll taken. I remember voting on Facebook to contribute my opinion on what materials should be used, and discussing with my fellow peers on what they thought should be done. As well as the online poll, there was an economic analysis of the project; to be sure that this is the right thing, budget-wise. Looking at the boardwalk now, one might wonder when this project will be completed and if construction will continue through the summer.
McGean says that there are two phases to this project. “The first phase is 27th street down to 15th street and the Inlet to Somerset Street, and that should be completed by May of 2012. The second phase will be Somerset Street to 15th street which is expected to start the first week of October of 2012 and be completed by May of 2013.” It’s intriguing to think of what the boardwalk may look like when the project is completed. As far back as I can remember, being a local kid, the boardwalk has always looked the same. But I’m sure that many people were astonished by what the boardwalk looked like when it was reconstructed many years ago.
Above: The Ocean City boardwalk circa 1902. Photo courtesy of Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, The Anne E. Englar Collection.
Above: The Ocean City boardwalk 2011.
The Ocean City boardwalk did not always look the way it does now. In fact, in the early 1900’s it was used as a convenient pathway for hotel guests. At high tide, the boardwalk was rolled up and stored on hotel porches. I can’t even imagine doing such a thing! Many people did not travel any further north of 15th Street until the mid 1950’s because they believed that Ocean City ended where the boardwalk ended on 15th Street. The permanent promenade that so many of us are familiar with was constructed in 1962 after a damaging storm in March of that same year.
For many young locals, such as myself, and for numerous tourists, the boardwalk is a sort of “hangout.” I remember having my mother drop me off some nights with twenty dollars in my pocket. I would meet my friends at Trimpers, where we would ride the rollercoaster till we got sick and would eat pretzels and sip on soda until we felt well enough again to brave the rollercoaster just one more time. When I recently asked my mother, Janet Guiton, a frequent visitor to Ocean City through the 60’s and 70’s, and now local, what the boardwalk was once like, she said, “It was a barefoot experience. Not a sandal or flip-flop in sight!” Many frequently came to the boardwalk to “hangout” just as I did growing up. Even now as I walk the boardwalk in the summer I see young kids roaming Trimpers rides and laughing on the benches, and I reminisce about growing up so fortunate to have the Ocean City boardwalk experience.
So how will this reconstruction affect those that visit Ocean City? I spoke with Communications Manager for Ocean City, Donna Abbott, and asked her what she thinks the reconstruction will do for the city as well as tourism. She says, “ It can only be a positive thing. The Ocean City boardwalk is one of the town’s top attracti
ons, and it needs to be spruced up. Hopefully it will bring in more people to see what we’ve done.” When all construction is completed, the boardwalk is sure to look brand new.
Though the boards that carry so many footprints of the past will be replaced, the memories that have been made, and will continually be made on that famous Ocean City boardwalk, will be remembered forever.