By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
A stroll along the tree-lined streets of Ocean City’s Historic District reveals a collection of alluring homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Among them are Folk Victorian, Queen Anne, Dutch Colonial Revival, Italianate and Second Empire houses reflecting the architectural styles popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras that bookended Ocean City’s founding by a group of Methodist ministers in 1879 as a religious seaside resort.
In the past 30 years, more than 100 homes in the Historic District have been designated with plaques that note the year they were built. Now, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission is planning to recognize other homes with similar plaques as an expression of appreciation to their owners.
“We ask those people to hold their houses to a higher standard. They do deserve some reward,” said Ken Cooper, who serves as vice chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission.
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the commission from presenting the plaques. However, there are tentative plans for one or two members of the commission to meet with some of the homeowners for a socially distanced awards ceremony, Cooper noted.
“Most people are really honored to receive them,” he said in an interview Saturday.
Cooper estimated that 100 to 135 homes have received plaques since the Historic District was created by Ocean City in 1991. He wasn’t immediately sure how many plaques will be handed out in the next round.
Cooper explained that some homeowners invest a considerable amount of time and money to preserve and refurbish their historic houses – all while adhering to rules governing the district.
“I really believe that people in the Historic District deserve some recognition for following all of the regulations,” he said.
Among the historic homes that will receive the plaques are three remaining “Tabernacle cottages” grouped together on Fifth Street between Central and Wesley avenues, Cooper said.
They were among 33 cottages built in the late 1800s by the Reverends Ezra B. Lake, S. Wesley Lake and James E. Lake, the brothers who founded Ocean City along with the Rev. William H. Burrell. The cottages were clustered together near the original Ocean City Tabernacle, the religious center of town in those days.
In the 1980s, a trend began for developers to demolish older homes and replace them with duplexes. In 1988, Ocean City added a Historic Preservation Plan to its master plan. Three years later, the city designated the Ocean City Residential Historic District, according to the Historic Preservation Plan.
Overall, the Historic District roughly stretches from Third to Eighth streets and includes Wesley, Ocean, and Central avenues within those borders.
The Historic Preservation Commission, as a general rule, must approve demolition, new construction or rehabilitation projects within the district. Its mission is to protect and preserve the city’s historically significant housing stock.
Last September, the commission denied a property owner’s request for permission to tear down a 118-year-old house at 615 Wesley Avenue to make room for a new duplex.
The home’s original history dating to 1902 isn’t immediately clear, but over the years it has variously served as the Genevieve Guest House and the Koo-Koo’s Nest bed and breakfast, according to online real estate records.
Lately, it has been listed for sale at $999,000. The house includes five bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms within 5,250 square feet of space.
The house has been classified as a “key building” in the Historic District, the highest ranking for historically significant structures.
Ideally, the Historic Preservation Commission would like to see someone buy the house and restore it.