June 11, 1999
Memories from inside the 4th Street Life-Saving
By TOM WILLIAMS
It has been an interesting experience the last year or so to see photos
of my former home plastered all over town while bureaucrats debate its
That's right. For about 10 years, my family lived in what is generally
referred to as the "Fourth Street Lifesaving Station". Back when we
lived there it was called "Coast Guard Manor", with the written
permission, I might add, of the U.S. Coast Guard.
My parents divorced when I was about 10 and my mother, my sister
(Intermediate School math teacher Ginny Megargee) and I moved to Ocean
City. We lived with my cousin, Jean Campbell, on Fifth Street for a
while. But, eventually, my grandparents purchased the property at
Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue. We lived there and they had a
perfect vacation home.
The building has been greatly remodeled since my mother sold it to
Clint Campbell in the early 60s. When we lived there, it still had a
lot of the flavor of its past.
There was a large foyer just inside the front door that was the center
of everything in the house. To the right was an archway that led to the
living room, which had windows on the south and east walls and a
fireplace in the northwest corner.
Off that foyer to the left was a small room that had served as the
officers' dining room. It was my bedroom.
An archway to the gigantic kitchen was also to the left. Straight ahead,
there was a doorway that opened onto a steep stairway, leading to the
second floor. There was a private room, a private bath and an
efficiency apartment on the second floor. That efficiency had served
the life saving crews as a dormitory.
Off the foyer to the right, between the living room and the stairway,
was the entrance to a large room. It was where small boats had been
stored. It was also where my mother and sister were stored, giving them
a huge bedroom.
In the back of the house, through the kitchen, there was another
private room with bath. It was where my grandparents stayed when they
were in town and where the commander slept in the lifesaving days.
Through the private bath that attached to that room was a one-bedroom
apartment with its own entrance from the east side of the building.
There was a detached garage in the back where the horses that dragged
the boats across the sand were once housed.
Though I have not been back in the building since we last lived there,
my mother and sister returned for a visit early in the 1990s. Until the
day she died in 1998, my mother wished she had never gone back. It was
just not the same, she said.
Of course, if you've seen photos of the historic building (is there
anyone who hasn't?) you've noticed the large, sloping red roof. It was
just like that when we lived there, a great spot to toss a ball out of
sight and then be forced to react quickly when it came rolling off the
But the tower that is now on the roof was not there. The original had
been damaged in a storm and a new one built by Campbell.
There is also a stone marker in the southwest corner of the property.
My mother tried to have it removed but the effort failed because it was
buried so deep. We subsequently discovered that it could not be removed.
In fact, it was not technically even a part of the property. This stone
marked the highest point in Ocean City, from which all property lines
were determined. We got a dramatic example of it being the town's
highest point when Ocean City was under water in 1962. The ocean and
the bay met right at Fourth and Atlantic but neither ventured past the
white fence that enclosed our property. A number of people who had
flooding problems stayed with us during the storm.
As the name Coast Guard Manor would suggest, my mother rented the two
apartments and upstairs room. We were frequently visited by Jay Sigel,
the son of a close family friend, who is now one of the top golfers on
the Senior Tour.
Another guest - almost definitely the tallest one we had - was 6-foot-5
Lennie Rosenbluth, who was recently named one of the five top
basketball players this century at the University of North Carolina. He
played from 1955-57, leading the Tar Heels to the 1957 NCAA title, and
is still the UNC career scoring leader with a 26.9 average over three
One of my favorite memories was faking him into the air on the
makeshift basketball court in front of the garage, and hitting a
12-foot jumper. Of course, there were a dozen or so similar attempts
that were swatted away and have appropriately been forgotten.
Naturally, there are special memories in a place where you spent the
best part of a decade, including most of your teen years. Not all of
them were good. My grandmother died suddenly of a heart attack while
sitting in the living room watching a quiz show on television called
"Play Your Hunch", hosted by Merv Griffin.
My grandfather also passed away while we were living in the house, but
it was much less sudden. He had been hospitalized at the time and had
been ill for a while.
On the afternoon of November 22, 1963 I was home with John Wilson, a
friend and baseball teammate. John's son, Jim, had a great career at
Mainland and was 8-3 as a sophomore pitcher at Rutgers this season,
making the second team, All-Big East.
Anyway, we were watching television - "Hawaiian Eye" or something like
that. I was in the kitchen getting some sodas when he called out. "Tom,
you'd better get in here", he said.
Any casual student of history knows what had happened. And my family
watched all of the events of the Kennedy assassination evolve over the
next few weeks from the living room of that house.
We were in this house when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run, when
Kennedy faced down Kruschev over Cuba and when both Elvis and the
Beatles appeared with Ed Sullivan. Guys like Jerry Fadden, Renny Gans, Bob
Townsend, Joel Moyer, Joe DeFranco, Richard Lovely, Les Oliphant and Jake Williams
shared many of those memories.
There was a time when the house settled too much, causing the living
room floor to dip a couple of inches below the base of the fireplace.
So we had to have the house raised. When it was, most of the plaster
fell off the upstairs walls, exposing magazines and newspapers, most
from 1917, that had been used as insulation.
My mother donated most of them, along with a brass sign that said,
"When this bell rings, go on deck", to the library.
We lived a block from the beach and boardwalk, a block from the
football field and basketball courts, a block from the high school
(which was outgrowing its gymnasium even then) and only a few blocks
from the baseball fields.
There was Wes' Novelty Store on Atlantic Avenue at Park Place, where we
bought newspapers, ice cream and soda. McHenry's Stationery Store
("It's a stationery store," the late Bob Weems used to say in the radio
commercials, "it isn't going anywhere.") was across the street. And Rod
Bosbyshell's Boxwood Restaurant was a half a block south on Atlantic
They are all gone now - along with places like Pop's Sub Shop on Asbury
Avenue, Johnson's Ice Cream on the boardwalk, the Hotel Biscayne on
Ocean Avenue and Watson's Restaurant on Ninth Street.
Things have changed in Ocean City, mostly for the better. Thanks in
large part to the Gillian administration, you don't have to jump the
fence at what is now Carey Stadium to play a little touch football or
basketball on a Sunday, all the while ducking for cover when a police
car cruised past. Those blue laws were a pain in the neck!
We still have the same bridges at Ninth Street and into Longport. We
still have never adequately replaced the Sixth Street Convention Hall
that burned down in the late 1950s. And there are the improvements
needed at the high school. Hopefully, a few of these problems will be
solved early in the next century.
Improvements are important and progress is great. But it is also
critical that communities preserve their history. Some of Ocean City's
has been destroyed by flood or hurricane, the kind of natural disasters
that cannot be controlled.
You can't do much about businesses failing or classic theatres, like
the Strand, being chopped up into multi-plex viewing rooms. The bottom
line is, ultimately, what makes our Capitalist society succeed.
Jernee Manor is gone from the south end of town. Hogate's and Chris'
restaurants no longer welcome visitors. A virtually unused park has
replaced the classic Wesley Avenue school building.
There are a number of people working hard to preserve the Fourth Street
Lifesaving Station on the site where it stood in 1910, the last time it
was used to save lives. Hopefully, the bottom line will not be the
It is a building that is an important part of this town's history.
After all, Ginni Megargee once slept there.
Be sure to read The Sandpaper in the Ocean City
area and The Beachcomber in the Wildwood area throughout the summer
months for similar features.