Friday, Feb 19–Historic Boardwalk Structure Getting Makeover

OCEAN CITY – With homage paid to the past and an eye on the future, a historic old structure on the Boardwalk, a summer home for the same family for over six decades, is in the midst of a substantial renovation and reconstruction, providing a glimpse of what once was and what could still be in the downtown area.

While much of the downtown in the resort has been erased and rebuilt in recent decades, there are still a few reminders of a much different Ocean City landscape. One example is the Marino Cottage, a three-story-plus, single-family home on the Boardwalk in the area of 15th Street currently undergoing a major reconstruction effort.

Built in 1931 and owned by the same family since around 1947, the cedar-shingled cottage has withstood the test of time and more than a few ferocious storms over the years, including the famous 1933 and 1962 storms, to provide decades of enjoyment for the family that owns it and countless residents and visitors who have admired it from the Boardwalk over the decades. In its early years, the Marino Cottage was an outpost of sorts, one of the last structures along a recently completed permanent Boardwalk in a town that ended not far from its current 15th Street location.

Of course, much has changed over the years and Ocean City now sprawls about 10 miles to the north, but the Marino Cottage remains where it was first built nearly 80 years ago and will continue to be so, thanks to the elderly woman who owns it and her family. Faced with a decision to sell the property, tear down the old beach house and replace it with something more modern or simply restore the historic structure, the family chose the latter about two years ago, although the project has become something quite different than what was intended when it began.

What began as a renovation and restoration became a major reconstruction project when builders began probing the foundation of the house and discovered it was perched perilously on ancient pilings. A decision was made to raise the existing structure, completely rebuild the foundation and gently lower the home back onto its new base.

“We’ve been working on this for about two-and-a-half years and its gone from a fairly simplistic renovation to something much more challenging,” said Joe Bartell of Kitchen Scapes, a private builder and renovation company handling much of the construction. “We discovered the foundation was beyond repair and that changed everything.”

Bartell explained the building was raised and the old foundation was torn out. A new foundation, made of manufactured steel piles, called helical piles, were augured into the soft ground down to about 35 feet. The old house was then lowered onto its new foundation and the existing footprint of the building lined up with the new pilings within about half an inch all around. The new foundation includes 40 to 50 of the new pilings.

Essentially, the top two floors of the old house plus an attic area are part of the original structure, while everything else from the ground up has been rebuilt. While Kitchen Scapes is handling much of the major construction, another local company, Traditional Design Services (TDS) in Berlin, handled much of the architectural redesign of the historic summer home.

TDS architect Joe Hill said this week close attention has been paid to the historic elements of the residence while some modern amenities have been added such as energy-efficient windows, for example. There is also a plan in the works to include energy-producing wind turbines on the structure when the work is completed.

“This has become a really neat project,” Hill said this week. “When it’s done, we’re hoping it looks pretty close to what it did 80 years ago. We’ve tried to pay special attention to preserve the old design, to protect what’s there and put back what should have been.”

Hill said preserving a piece of Ocean City history has made the project even more rewarding.

“So many of these great old houses in Ocean City have been torn down over the years and replaced with new buildings far less charming,” he said. “A lot of things have been torn down and replaced inappropriately, but this has been a chance to get one back.”

The Marino family has been instrumental in the redesign process from the beginning and knows the historic significance of their summer home for the 70-plus years they have owned it. Family member Mario VillaSanta said this week the home might be one of just a handful left in the downtown area from that era.

“At the time, that particular house was one of the last structures on what was then the end of the first permanent Boardwalk,” he said. “Ocean City only went up to about 15th Street in those days and this house was near the end of it. There really wasn’t too much along the beach from the Inlet to 15th Street in those days. There weren’t the side-by-side buildings you see today for as far as the eye can see.”

VillaSanta explained the house was originally built in 1931 for a gentleman named Edward Passano, who had earlier founded publishing giant Waverly Press. Passano started as a salesman for the small printing press in Baltimore in 1897 and when the business was destroyed in a 1904 fire, he borrowed money to salvage the company and eventually grew it to become the publishing giant it is today. He had the cottage on 15th Street built in 1931 and sold it to VillaSanta’s grandfather, Dr. Frank Marino, in 1947. It has been in the family ever since.

VillaSanta explained the reason for the renovation was threefold: to bring it up to modern standards; to get it out of the flood zone; and, finally, to ensure it is structurally sound for years to come.

“When it’s done, it will look to the average person nearly identical to what is once was,” he said. “Joe Bartell’s mission is to make it last another 70 years.”