Thursday, February 16, 2012

Setting the record straight on the sale of the Ocean City Theaters

Over on the Ocean City Days blog, Bill Kelly has got some history wrong...

Ocean City theaters - the Strand and the Moorlyn, were wonderful theaters in their time - luxurious seats, big screens, and - at the Strand - a stage that could be used for other purposes, and was – for many years. The Moorlyn had a dance hall on the second floor which was popular during the 20s and 30s. The Strand had one of the first air conditioners installed in any building. Ocean water was pumped into copper piping above the theater and air was then blown over it. This system actually worked up until the time the theaters were sold.

My clients, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schilling owned them, and were fiercely proud of them. They lent an air of culture and sophistication to their beloved boardwalk. Remember that this was a time when Men wore jackets in the evening when strolling on the boardwalk and men without a shirt on could be arrested.

Nearly all the other theaters in the southern
New Jersey area were controlled by members of the Frank family. I don’t know what happened but the Schillings held a deep dislike for the Franks. Everyone including the Franks knew this.

The Schillings and their tenant, Arthur Oeschlager, successfully operated the theatres for many years and were able to keep them in their original size and grandeur.

After her husband and Arthur passed away, Mrs. Schilling struggled to find a new tenant.

Ultimately she rented the theaters for a fraction of the rent that she could have received had she converted the theaters to other uses. Sadly, running those theaters only during the summer gave the new tenant no clout with the distributors and he was relegated to second run and B movies. He struggled for several years but was finally forced to pack it in. He couldn't even pay his last years rent.

Mrs. Schilling was no longer up to wrestling with a problem of this magnitude and authorized her right hand, Florence Mathews, and me to find a buyer. Instead of listing the properties we simply let it be known that the properties were for sale... Offers poured in from people and companies we had never heard of! The bidding reached $3 MILLION DOLLARS! Mrs. Mathews took this offer to Mrs. Schilling with the warning that the Franks might be the buyer. Mrs. Mathews advised me that Mrs. Schilling replied “for $3 million dollars I would sell those old theatres to the devil.” I think she thought she was.

Everyone involved in the deal had been sworn to secrecy. Neither the realtor, Mike Monahan nor Title Company of
Jersey’s Mike Dowling, would confirm that the Franks were the buyer. The closing was conducted without the buyer present. The buyer had already completed a mortgage closing at a different branch so that money was available
upon completion of the sale.

When I delivered the check to Mrs. Schilling she covered her mouth, laughed, and said “oh my, look at all those zeros. The Franks hadn’t won. Mrs. Schilling, the little old lady in the tennis shoes, had.

Afterwards we learned that a great many of the ever escalating offers were from the Franks! They apparently were bidding through straw parties against themselves.

A highlight of my professional career!

Some time later, Mrs. Shilling died.

She had given me directions to follow as I settled her estate. While she had no love for the City she did love her Boardwalk. Both she and Charley believed that their parking lots provided its life’s blood.  Many Boardwalk owners had used the parking adjacent to their boardwalk properties to expand the Boardwalk use or to establish a new one. She
didn’t want either to happen to her parking lots.

After her death I asked the city to subdivide her properties separating the boardwalk stores from the parking lots. There was great concern by members of the Planning Board - I remember Mayor Gillian saying that if the parking lots were sold with the stores it wouldn’t be long before they become the sites of new condominiums. He said he would rather trust the Schilling estate to preserve them. That carried the day and the parking lots became separate properties.

I offered them to the City at their appraised value and although another bidder attempted to outbid the city, the city ultimately prevailed. The city not only saved the boardwalk but made a good investment at the same time. I give credit to former mayor Knight and solicitor Gerry Corcoran for this accomplishment.

Mrs. Shilling's second concern was her tenants. Almost all of them had rented her stores for many years and were more like family than business associates. They paid more attention to her than her family, being there for her birthdays and Christmas. By converting the store sites to be legally 'condominiums' I was able to offer the stores at their appraised value to everyone who had been operating businesses in them.

All but one purchased their store and I hope continue to enjoy success.

Shriver Building was purchased by her good friends, Hank and Ginny Glazier, who have taken her place as the Boardwalk's leading advocate.

Have you ever wondered why there is a plaque commemorating Robert K Bell at the
Longport Bridge toll plaza? During the depression Mr. Bell helped prepare legislation that allowed the county to create a Bridge Commission with authority to build bridges financed by bonds which would be paid back with tolls. The Cape May County Bridge Commission was created and under Mr. Bell’s guidance, it proceeded to build Ocean Drive connecting Atlantic City to Cape May. Mr. Bell served as attorney to the commission from it’s creation until shortly before his death in 1985.

People forget the good we do. As Shakespeare wrote: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Mr. Bell’s plaque on the Longport bridge needs some restoration, last I saw it.

 The last of Mrs. Shillings property at 18th St.– the last undeveloped lots west of the boardwalk .– are now up for sale. The hospitals and the Tabernacle (her beneficiaries) can use the money, and I'm sure she
would approve.

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  1. An entertaining look at a piece of behind the scenes history. You should write a book on Ocean City!

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