OCEAN CITY — Almost as if on cue, the sun burst through an otherwise dreary Friday morning just in time for the dedication of the reconstructed Ocean City Fishing Pier, symbolizing the recovery from Hurricane Sandy last fall and an unusually harsh and long winter and providing hope for a successful summer season.
While Ocean City did not experience the level of destruction seen in neighboring beach communities to the north, the resort did suffer significant damage during Super Storm Sandy. The most enduring symbol of that destruction was the iconic Ocean City Fishing Pier, which saw much of its seaward end washed away during the storm in October under the pressure a hurricane-force winds and double-digit wave heights.
When the storm passed and the hearty souls that braved the storm re-emerged, they discovered much of the eastern end of the pier had been washed away and only sheared-off pilings could be seen jutting out of the still raging surf. The damage to the pier, which has been a fixture on the Ocean City landscape for over a century, became a symbol of the destruction, and its restoration and reconstruction, finished this week just ahead of Friday’s dedication ceremony, symbolizes the spirit of rebirth and resiliency on the eve of another summer season.
“Eight months ago, Super Storm Sandy hit Ocean City, and while we were very fortunate not to experience the destruction felt by some of our neighbors, we still experienced very significant damage,” said Mayor Rick Meehan on Friday. “We spent the last eight months working on those issues and the last piece of the puzzle was reconstructing this pier.”
Meehan said many residents and visitors to the resort have an emotional attachment to the pier and its place in Ocean City history.
“People across the country watched as a very angry ocean washed away the pilings under this pier,” he said. “In the days after the storm, the number one question people asked me was ‘are you going to rebuild the pier?’ This is, without question, the most beautiful view of Ocean City and it is very important to our residents and visitors.”
The town of Ocean City owns the pier, but its franchise rights belong to Charles “Buddy” Jenkins, who is also the owner of Jolly Roger Amusements and Thrasher’s French Fries, among other properties. In the days after the storm, as questions swirled about the future of the iconic structure, Jenkins vowed to restore the pier to its previous condition and the last eight months were spent painstakingly pushing the end of the pier eastward foot by difficult foot. Meehan on Friday praised Jenkins and his crew for delivering on his promise.
“Mr. Jenkins said the pier will be rebuilt by Memorial Day if not sooner,” he said. “He stood by his word and here we are today.”
Reconstructing the seaward end of the pier presented numerous challenges, not the least of which was an unusually harsh and long winter and spring in terms of weather and the demand on building materials for similar projects up and down the east coast following the storm.
“I can never recall a worse winter and spring than we experienced this year,” said Jenkins. “We were plagued with high tides, low tides, high winds and heavy rains. We lost eight or nine days because of strong northeast winds. On top of that, the devastation up and down the coast caused a ripple effect on supplies and materials.”
Jenkins said the reconstruction of the pier symbolized the greater resiliency of the resort.
“The biggest thing was the ability to adjust and adapt,” he said. “This current Mayor and Council and past Mayors and Councils have always shown the ability to adjust and adapt. We’re always going to have bumps in the road, but every time that happens, this community has rebounded and recovered and come back better than before the bump in the road.”
Jenkins also said the dedication of his crew to finish the project under often difficult conditions was a microcosm of sorts for Ocean City’s ability to rebound and reinvent itself.
“What a wonderful tribute to our working family community,” he said. “The business community is walking side by side with the government and the result has been better hotels, better restaurants, better amusement and better amenities. This is the finest family resort anywhere on the east coast.”
The pier was first completed in 1907 and was considered a big achievement for the developing resort. It had been three years in the making and was developed by a group of local investors who organized the Ocean City Pier and Improvement Company. The company’s president was William Taylor, so the structure was often referred to as Taylor’s Ocean Pier in its early days.
Since it was first built, the pier has been battered and wrecked by storms, fire and even ice. Throughout the years, it has always been rebuilt or restored although its length and overall structure has been altered over the years. In December 1925, a huge fire destroyed the pier and three blocks of the downtown area.
In June 1929, the new Sinepuxent Pier and Improvement Company was organized with Salisbury lawyer Clarence Whealton as its president and the company obtained a new franchise from the town of Ocean City to complete a new 700-foot ocean fishing pier on the site of the old one destroyed by the 1925 fire. At the base of the pier was constructed the famous Pier Ballroom, the same building that exists today although it has undergone some changes over the decades.
In 1959, a new pier company took over the franchise and attempted to build amusement concessions across the beach. However, the plan was voted down in a special referendum vote by city residents after months of controversy. The pier then slipped into years of decline after the controversial referendum vote.
In 1975, Jenkins opened a renovated pier complete with souvenir shops and amusements with the blessing of the Ocean City Council with a project that cost an estimated $1.5 million. Jenkins, who still holds the franchise rights, has long since added amusement rides with his Jolly Roger’s park including the iconic giant Ferris wheel.
In February 1979, a prolonged bitterly cold winter actually froze the ocean and huge chunks of ice crushed around 140 feet from the seaward end of the historic pier. Jenkins contended rebuilding the pier to its original length would provide little benefit to fishermen and the Ocean City Mayor and Council agreed to let it be repaired with its shortened length.