OCEAN CITY — An iconic old building on the corner of Talbot Street and Baltimore Avenue got a brief stay of execution this week with demolition equipment on site poised to take it down, but it appears its demise is inevitable.
The century-plus old building on the northwest corner of Talbot Street and Baltimore Avenue has long been one of the best examples of early Ocean City seaside architecture, but its condition has steadily declined in recent years. Larry Payne, whose construction company has a long history of reclaiming historic, ornate old structures, bought the mixed-use residential and commercial building with its distinctive wrap-around enclosed porch, bump-outs and even a cupola of sorts overlooking the downtown streetscape. Payne’s intent was to restore the early 20th century building to its former glory, but years of neglect have forced Payne to consider tearing it down and starting from scratch.
After purchasing the property over a year ago, Payne and his crews began inspections and demolitions of some of the interior spaces and soon learned years of neglect and substandard renovation projects had essentially sealed the historic building’s fate. There is just too much structural damage to make it worth saving, according to Payne.
“Once we got in there and started the interior demolition work, we found there was very little, if anything, that was salvageable,” said Payne this week. “The previous owner or landlord had removed a lot of structural support walls and that work wasn’t done to code. Basically, the whole building started coming apart. We noticed the floors were rolling really bad and we learned the only thing holding up the second floor in some areas were nails.”
As a result, Payne said he pulled a demolition permit for the building about a week ago and demolition equipment has been on site all week. The original plan was to demolish the building last week, but Payne said he was approached by the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) and other downtown historians about a last-ditch effort to save it. As a result, the demolition was put on hold to allow time to explore if there was any way to save the building.
“I had two different engineers go through it and see if there was any way to save it,” he said. “What we found is we really couldn’t do it safely without the whole thing collapsing on my guys.”
Payne said some of the original structure could be saved, but it would take a considerable amount of money and effort to do so, and what was left likely wouldn’t resemble the historic building that has sat on that corner for over a century.
“It just didn’t make sense,” he said. “After everything was removed that needed to be removed, and its pretty extensive, there just wouldn’t be any historical value left for the city. We love everything about it, but it just doesn’t make sense to try to save it.”
As a result, the demolition permit is in place and the giant claw machine remains on site. Payne said demolition could begin late this week or next week, but vowed to make every effort to replace the historic structure. Given his druthers, along with a little cooperation from the city on permitting and code allowances, he intends to replace the building with attention to the details that make it special.
“If I do build something new on the site, I want to replicate what was there before,” he said. “That’s the plan going forward. I want to build something that mimics the existing architecture and all of the neat features that makes the building so attractive.”
Payne said he has already spent a considerable amount of money on the restoration efforts and acknowledged the OCDC had offered substantially more to attempt to save it, but with the extent of the damage and neglect over the years, it just didn’t make sense to throw good money after bad.
“They called and asked me if there was any way to save it and offered considerable money to help us do that,” he said. “I would love to take their money and if there was any way to save it, we would, but I just couldn’t take their money and tell them I could do something when I couldn’t deliver on what was promised.”
With demolition set to begin, Payne and his crew including engineers and architects are already preparing plans to replace the building with what has existed on the site for a over a century. He said it will likely require some give-and-take from the town to do so.
“The best thing I can do is agree to put something back that replicates what was there and captures that same spirit,” he said. “It really depends on what the city allows me to do and what they allow me to put back and grandfather some things.”
OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said this week it became evident a few weeks back that the historic building would likely have to come down.
“Several weeks ago, we received word that the owner, Larry Payne, was pursuing a demolition permit for this building,” he said. “We reached out to Mr. Payne about offering assistance to help save and restore the building, which we consider an iconic building in Ocean City. However, at this time he believes the structure is beyond the point of restoration. He did offer to look at his information again to consider the feasibility of restoring it versus demolition.”
Irwin said Payne’s intention from the beginning was to restore the historic building, but its demolition became inevitable when the extent of the structural damage was revealed.
“From my initial discussion with Mr. Payne many months ago, his intent from the beginning was to restore the building that he said he really liked on his many visits to Ocean City,” he said. “However, since then he completed interior demolition work to expose the full inside of the structure and realized the building was in poor condition.”
Irwin said the OCDC, an agency charged with preserving downtown history where possible, was disappointed in the end result, but realized the eventual demolition is now inevitable.
“From the OCDC perspective, we don’t enjoy seeing these older buildings removed, but recognize that some buildings are often beyond restoration,” he said. “This was a building that was neglected for many years. This building is not protected and not on the National Register of Historic Places. Without this protection, the final decision is that of the owner. I believe it was a very difficult decision for him.”