When I lived there, there were three other movie houses on the boardwalk. They were all pretty much big old barns, harkening back to the days before tv, when filling a thousand plus seats a couple of times a night wasn't all that difficult for a hot title - everyone went to the movies then. In the 1970's, the economics of running such places tended towards futility. Aside from the Strand, there was also the Moorlyn, the Village, and the Surf.
|The Surf as it is today, with a small marquee to list its shops.|
If my memory about the Surf being twinned is correct, then it must have been owned by the Frank family as part of their Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey circuit of theaters. The Franks get the dubious credit for creating the first twinned cinema and the multiplex.
And I definitely remember that the Franks and the Shrivers did not get along.
The other three venues were all owned by the Shriver family. Shrivers Salt Water Taffy, as well as their fudge, and the factory store are a longtime mainstay of the boardwalk. In fact, it was the first buisness on the boardwalk. It is also the home of the best salt water taffy I've ever had to this day. If you drive across the main bridge to the island and continue directly to the Boardwalk, on your right will be the Strand and on your left is Shrivers. The family sold off the taffy business in 1959, but kept the theaters, several other businesses, and a good deal of prime real estate.
|The Ocean City Boardwalk in 1964|
The last of the Shrivers was Mrs. Helen Shriver Schilling. She, more than anyone else, was responsible for maintaining much of the older more genteel character of Ocean City and the boardwalk. But Ocean City fell into the hands of people who changed zoning regulations that allowed high rises in, and etc. They destroyed Ocean City, and turned it into an atmosphere redolent of cheap honky-tonks. In 1989, Mrs. Schilling sold the theaters. Her one proviso was that they not be sold to the Frank family, but to someone who would preserve them. They sold for over three million dollars. The buyer did not show up at the closing It later turned out that the Franks had bought the theaters through subterfuge. When they trashed the Strand, it was one of the Frank family who personally ripped down the silk main curtain with the image of Poseidon, tore it to shreds, and threw it into a dumpster behind the theater.
Somewhere along the way the Moorlyn was turned into a twin. In my day, it had a glorious neon marquee, which was preserved even after the initial conversion.
Saddest of all is the fate of the Village Theater. The Village started out as Doughty's pier, sticking out into the ocean. It had a bowling alley, and was home to vaudeville and silent movies. Over the years, the ocean retreated. In 1927, much of that portion of the Boardwalk was destroyed in a terrible fire - but the pier survived. The new boardwalk was built where the ocean had been, and the entrance to the pier was changed to what had been the building's rear. For the remodeling work the theater, now situated alongside a boardwalk off-ramp, had sound equipment installed. An ingenious facade covered the awkward fit of the pier and its new circumstances, designed to resemble the buildings of an old fishing village.
The Village interior made geart use of wood. It was the smallest of the Shriver's Ocean City theaters, but it was a prestige house. It operated continuously until the sale to the Frank family in 1989. In June of 1990, it burned to the ground.
When Mrs. Schilling died, she left the town land she owned on the ocean side of the boardwalk, with a proviso that it never be built upon. The town is now trying to change that. She also left several lots near the boardwalk that are used for visitor parking, and did it in a way that the town hasn't been able to build there yet. And, she had set up her her estate in such a way that executors were instructed to offer the long time tenants of her boardwalk store front buildings a chance to buy their spaces as a co-op. All but one did. They were thus preserved and saved from the garish primary colors cheap plastic world that the boardwalk became; a gentle reminder of a time when people cared about their community, when life was about more than a quick buck.