OCEAN CITY — After two fires in the span of a little over a month this winter, the old Melvin’s Steakhouse and most recently de Lazy Lizard Brew Pub building was torn down on Wednesday.
On Feb. 10, a major fire occurred at the historic building on the corner of 1st Street and Philadelphia Avenue, injuring four, including two Ocean City firefighters, and displacing 13 residents who lived in the apartments on the upper levels. A little more than a month later, a second, smaller fire was reported at the vacant building.
Early Wednesday, crews began demolishing the old building with a pair of bulldozers that clawed away at the historic building. A couple of hours later, all that remained of the structure was a huge pile of wood, glass, concrete and other materials on the site that held memories for so many locals and visitors to the resort over the years.
“It’s a pretty sad day,” said property owner Bill Gibbs, owner of the Dough Roller restaurants. “I’ve experienced a few demolitions over the years in the downtown area and they’re always kind of sad. I had to tear down the old Breakers Hotel where I practically grew up and worked as a child as a beach boy. The old Purnell Hotel where I worked as a child was also torn down.”
Gibbs, born and raised on 3rd Street, said one of his earliest recollections as a child was walking to Melvin’s Steakhouse with his family for dinner.
“I was going there when I was barely old enough to remember,” he said. “Everybody who lived downtown walked to dinner at places like Melvin’s and the Angler. Nowadays, people drive everywhere and parking is always an issue.”
While de Lazy Lizard Brew Pub occupied the structure in recent years, the historic building for decades was home to Melvin’s Steakhouse. According to property records, the primary structure was built in 1930 and Melvin’s Steakhouse opened on the site in 1946. For a brief time between Melvin’s and de Lazy Lizard Brew Pub, the building was home to Dayton’s Chicken, which had been displaced by a major Boardwalk fire in 2008.
In between, Gibbs and his longtime employee Keith Melvin tried to keep the historic restaurant running, but found the location difficult and the business gave way to economic issues.
“I tried with Keith to keep it going for seven years,” he said. “It was a good restaurant with good food, but there was just not enough business to keep it going. It’s a sad situation, but it was always a tough corner. It goes back to the early ‘40s and there was a lot of history there, but it just didn’t stay strong. It wasn’t really supported. It’s sad, but times move on.”
After the two fires, Gibbs was left with little choice but to demolish the old building. Because of the time of year with the season approaching, Gibbs said the site will become a parking lot for the nearby bayfront Lazy Lizard restaurant. Gibbs said he has a strong relationship with Steve Carullo, co-owner of Dead Freddies who purchased de Lazy Lizard this winter. Gibbs sold Carullo the old Castaway’s restaurant and bar to Carullo a few years back and it became Dead Freddies.
“It’s going to be a parking lot for the time being to help my friend Steve,” he said. “Once we get through the summer, we’ll regroup and see what we want to do with the property in the long run.”
Gibbs said he still counts his blessings the two fires this winter were not worse.
“That was a very unfortunate fire,” he said. “I thank God every day nobody was more seriously hurt or worse. For a guy like me who was born and raised on 3rd Street, it’s sad to see another historic building get torn down, but the times move on.”
Around 9:50 a.m. on Feb. 10, Ocean City Communications received a call on a reported fire at de Lazy Lizard Brew Pub. Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) personnel responded and found fire coming from the building’s interior. First arriving units were advised people were trapped in the building, resulting in two immediate rescues. Thick smoke drifting from the blaze on a south wind clogged the downtown area and could be seen for miles along the approach to the resort from West Ocean City. Fire Department personnel battled the fire, which escalated to a third alarm, for over two hours.
Fire crews and equipment blocked much of the downtown area from around 2nd Street south during the fire and access to the downtown area and the Route 50 bridge was blocked for hours. Complicating the traffic issue somewhat was the continuing work on St. Louis Ave. although access to the Route 50 Bridge would not have been open even if St. Louis Ave. was accessible because of the location of the building fire. The cause of the fire was unknown but believed to be electrical in nature.
Around 5 a.m. on March 18, the OCFD was again dispatched to the same building for a reported structure fire that was limited to a small area in a second floor room.