OCEAN CITY — An historic downtown landmark, the oldest church in Ocean City and one of the oldest buildings in the resort, was approved this week for a significant expansion.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission approved a site plan for a significant addition to the St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Baltimore Avenue and Talbot Street. St. Mary’s Star of the Sea, which dates back to 1877 and nearly the beginning of the resort itself, was approved for a 900-square-foot L-shaped expansion to the south of the existing main body of the historic church.
The proposed expansion includes 900 square-feet of indoor space that will include meeting areas, a changing room for brides, restrooms and other amenities. The expansion also includes an outdoor meditation garden with a fountain to provide a quiet place of reflection in the often-bustling downtown area. Also included a parking area for the clergy that serves the parish.
Zoning Administrator Frank Hall provided the planning commission with some renderings and blue prints of the proposed expansion and essentially called it a slam dunk. Hall said the Ocean City Development Corporation had given its blessing, so to speak, on the proposed expansion.
“This is one of those projects with which I think the pictures speak a thousand words,” he said. “The OCDC worked with the applicant to come up with a nice architectural design that mimics the old church. It’s really a well though-out design.”
The OCDC worked closely with church officials on the design of the proposed expansion. OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin told the planning commission the agency was firmly in favor of approving the expansion.
“The OCDC’s design committee reviewed the site plan and fully supports this addition to the St. Mary’s Star of the Sea church,” he said. “The design committee believes this is a well-developed site plan that will complement the existing church, which happens to be the oldest building in Ocean City. This new project will also support the revitalization efforts in downtown Ocean City.”
The St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church on Talbot Street dates back nearly as long as Ocean City itself, which was founded in 1874. In 1877, visiting clergy recognized the need for a Catholic ministry in the fledgling seaside town and a small cottage on Wicomico Street and the present-day Boardwalk, now the site of Dolle’s Candy and the Cork Bar. The original building was used as a ministry for visiting Catholics. In 1878, the Bishop of Wilmington arranged to purchase three lots for $100 each at Baltimore Ave. and Talbot Street and work on the new church began later that year.
In 1907, the church was expanded again with the steeple erected and the bell installed. St. Mary’s Star of the Sea became a mission church for the new St. Francis de Sales Parish in Salisbury. In 1927, the parish sold one of the original lots on Dorchester Street to the Ocean City Fire Company for just $10 and a new fire station was built on the site and remains in use today.
As the resort grew, so did the need for more and more space for the visiting Catholic population. In 1939, St. Mary’s Star of the Sea expanded again, doubling its capacity. In 1949, the diocese purchased the property at 17th and 18th streets, which would become home to the Holy Savior Parish. A centennial celebration for St. Mary’s Star of the Sea was held in 1977, marking the founding of the first Catholic church in Ocean City.