WASHINGTON — Things change at the beach all the time. Usually, and most noticeably to tourists, it’ll be restaurants and bars that might change hands or management from one summer to the next. It happens a lot with restaurants in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Ocean City, Maryland.
The condos and beach houses there change hands all the time, too, with no shortage of real estate agents ready to help you find an investment property or summer getaway.
But then there’s real change, which takes places over the course of several decades.
You may not be able to imagine it, but there are people whose families make up the fabric of the Delmarva beaches who can remember when the several miles of hotels, condos and restaurant buffets were nothing but spacious sand dunes and wide-open beach.
Bunky Dolle can recall it well. His family has lived on the coast for more than a century, running boardwalk stands famous for saltwater taffy and other candies.
“Oh gosh, as a kid, it’s totally different,” said Dolle.
It all started to change in the 1970s when a development boom hit, “which of course brings more people in with all the condominiums and everything.”
But before that, there was just “nothing” in terms of development that extended past the area of about 33rd Street in Ocean City, give or take a few blocks, said Dolle.
“A few cottages (were) up there, and I remember when the Carousel (Hotel) was built (at 117th Street), I think it was around 1962, and that was way out of town. And that was really something to see.”
It’s a time Donald Fisher remembers, too. His grandfather brought the caramel corn that’s become a must-have for many families who visited the beach each year in the 1930s.
“You were riding on a beach road,” said Fisher, describing that hotel as “this one box that stuck up way up, and it was a long time between when you left Ocean City and where the Carousel is.”
“You know, everyone went to The Carousel just to see it,” said Dolle. “It was so far out of town and it was something new.”
“It’s just a unique picture,” said Fisher. “Basically you’re looking at sand dunes with a road going through it and then The Carousel off to the one side.”
“I remember my dad coming down to Ocean City in 1968, and he passed away that winter, but we’re riding down Coastal Highway and they were building The Highpoint (just south of The Caroousel now), and he pointed to The Highpoint and he said, ‘This coast is going to be full of buildings like that,’ and he was right.”
Of course one result of all this development is that “everything’s gotten more expensive,” says Fisher.
“When I grew up there were 900 people who lived here year-round,” he adds, while lamenting that things aren’t as close-knit around town now.
“It’s become a major city, in a sense,” says Fisher.
But don’t take that for a lamentation for a past that’s long ago and not coming back. Both Fisher and Dolle find lots to love about the way their quiet, little beach town turned into a thriving tourist spot.
“I like it because it’s diverse,” says Fisher. “There’s different kinds of people here. You see some things that you’ve never seen before; you get to try some food that you wouldn’t have tried before.”
But at the same time there’s still more than just an appreciation for the history. Both Dolle and Fisher recognize that tradition still matters a lot there.
“We still have the iconic places, like Thrashers, like the (100+ years old) merry-go-round down at Trimper’s,” said Dolle. “Still the things that hearken to old Ocean City, but will be the things people make memories of today.”
“We always wish for the past because it’s fun,” says Fisher. “But then we always look to the future because it’s progress.”
And it’s progress that Dolle says has made Ocean City “the place to be.”
“I think Ocean City has become a nicer resort than it was when I first started here some 50 years ago,” says Dolle. “The beaches here are just gorgeous, not that they weren’t then, but I think they’re even better now and our boardwalk is better.
“Our kids today will look back on it in 25-30 years and say ‘I remember when’,” said Dolle. “I think they’re all fond memories. Ocean City is just a great resort. I’ve been all up and down this coast and there’s nothing like Ocean City.”
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