June 11, 1999
Memories from inside the 4th Street Life-Saving Station


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 survival.

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 roof.

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 seasons.

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 Avenue.

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 determining factor.

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.