OCEAN CITY — While it merely represents an online community’s will, a petition submitted to the Mayor and Council this week containing over 10,000 signatures urged the elected officials to reverse their position on a nostalgic century-plus old Boardwalk building.
On Tuesday, petition organizer Vicki Magin presented to the Mayor and Council the hard copy of the change.org petition urging the elected officials to keep the building on the east side of the Boardwalk near South Division Street that has been home to the iconic Dumser’s Dairyland business for 40 years. While the petition is essentially a straw poll with no legal bearing on the issue, it was a powerful message for the Mayor and Council at 10,000 signatures plus and growing.
Earlier this year, a Worcester County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the Town of Ocean City in a land ownership dispute with the heirs of the building on the east side of the Boardwalk at South Division Street. The ownership of the land in which the historic building sits was called into question last year after a 50-year agreement reached in 1966 between the heirs of the original owner, Nathan Rapoport, and the Town of Ocean City expired.
As a result, the Rapoport heirs, known as Nathan Associates, are enjoined from any use of the property after Oct. 31 and the plaintiffs are required to remove or demolish the existing structure by Dec. 31. Caught in the middle of the land ownership dispute is Dumser’s, which has leased the building from the Rapoport heirs for decades.
The Rapoport heirs last week filed an appeal in Annapolis of the Worcester County Circuit Court decision as expected and the appeal process could take months, leaving in question of the fate of the building and its occupants until the appeal runs its course. In the meantime, public sentiment continues to gain momentum for saving the nostalgic building, one of a few on the east side of the Boardwalk. Magin told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday the stated goals of the petition are that the Town of Ocean City not require Nathans Associates or Dumser’s to vacate the property on Oct. 31 and the town not order that the Nathan’s building be removed or demolished. The petition also suggests Rapoport heirs are the rightful owners of the property.
One of the stated goals is “that the town of Ocean City concedes that Nathans is the owner of the land on which its building sits by virtue of its continuous possession thereof for 105 years, just as the Maryland appellate courts have already decided that Windsor Resorts Inc. owns its property just to the south of the Nathans property.”
Magin told the Mayor and Council the petition, conducted online through the change.org website and branded on a Facebook page dedicated to saving the building, was still gaining momentum.
“As we speak, the number of signatures and the public support continues to grow,” she said. “Over 10,000 people have clearly expressed their feelings. They want this piece of Ocean City iconic history to stand and operate as it is.”
Magin said she started the petition as a means to let the elected officials know the general public’s displeasure with the building’s pending demolition. She said she had no vested interest in the outcome and was not a paid representative of the Rapoport heirs or Dumser’s but merely a private citizen who, like thousands of others who signed the petition, had an emotional connection to the historic building.
“I am a small link in the chain of public support to save this property for the family that has owned it for 105 years and for the tenant that has occupied it for 40 years,” she said. “These signatures represent support from all over the United States. One of the common threads in the public outcry is the actions of Ocean City and the court. They have all been to Ocean City at one time or another to work or play here. This is where they have chosen to bring their families and spend their hard-earned vacation dollars, many of them for multiple generations.”
Magin referenced a prior Maryland appeals court decision decades ago on essentially the same issue related to two buildings owned by Windsor Resort Inc., or the Trimper family, on the east side of the Boardwalk. In 1987, the Ocean City Mayor and Council brought action seeking to have Windsor Resort, Inc., or Trimper’s Rides, remove two buildings on the east side of the south end of the Boardwalk. One of the buildings is currently leased to Kohr Brothers, and has seen different tenants over the years including a Burger King for several years. The other has been home to Souvenir City for decades.
Essentially, the city contended the buildings represented an encroachment on or partial obstructions to the strip of easternmost land delineated as Atlantic Avenue, more commonly known as the Boardwalk. The Worcester County Circuit Court agreed and ordered Windsor to remove the buildings, but Windsor appealed. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled the circuit court decision was erroneous and ruled in favor of Windsor and the buildings remain in place today.
“Why is the Rapoport property any different than the Trimper property located on the same side of the Boardwalk approximately 160 feet away?” she said. “The appellate court in Annapolis ruled years ago that the Trimpers owned that property.”
While Magin pointed out the petition was signed by individuals from all over the country who have made Ocean City their family vacation destination, a large number of signatures were from local residents.
“Many Ocean City locals have put their support and their signatures behind this effort,” she said. “They are looking at this official body that they have elected to listen to their voices, to understand their concerns and follow their wishes that this unwarranted action be withdrawn.”
Another local resident and Dumser’s family member implored the Mayor and Council to reverse their position on the Rapoport building. Bernie Cook told the Mayor and Council she was one of three children of Mrs. Dumser’s and provided a brief history of the historic building. Cook said she grew up playing the games and other amusements Nathan Rapoport housed in the building before it was leased to her family and became the famed ice cream parlor.
“In the summer of 1972, I opened my mother’s store, the same store the city now wants to tear down or take over,” she said. “Our first summer there started the tradition of customers coming from miles away to get ice cream. We never closed before midnight even in hurricane weather because mother didn’t want to disappoint our loyal customers.”
Cook said despite its close proximity to the ocean at high tide at a time when the Inlet parking lot did not yet exist, the building was one of the most solid in the resort after Rapoport rebuilt it following the 1966 agreement. She related stories of sleeping in a loft upstairs to the sound of pumps keeping water away from the building. She said the building was so waterproof that the Dumser’s family allowed competitors to store their ice cream cones there during storms or other high tide events.
“Ocean City business people were like a family and we supported each other all the time,” she said. “What’s happened to that family support? Let’s keep it alive and don’t destroy our history.”
For their part, the Mayor and Council listened attentively to the discussion but were generally mum on the issue. Councilman Wayne Hartman said the elected officials were somewhat guarded in what they could say while the appeal was pending, but praised Magin and Cook for their zeal.
“I just want to thank you for your passion about Ocean City and the work that was done,” he said. “I would love to comment on a lot of what she said, but with this being an open legal matter, it’s really not something I should do, but I really appreciate your passion for Ocean City.”