By MADDY VITALE
Three businessmen bought the long-shuttered, iconic Moorlyn Theatre in Ocean City.
They will not build condos on the prime piece of real estate at Moorlyn Terrace and the Boardwalk. They will not open a gym or restaurant – like ideas of the past for resurrecting the property.
Instead, they have another idea. They will reopen the theater after some renovations to return it to what it was for so many years, a theater, giving it some modern amenities such as comfortable, roomy seating and a top-quality ventilation system, while keeping with some vintage touches, from lighting to signage.
The theater sat vacant for about six years, while there were changes in ownership.
Brett DeNafo and his two partners, Clint Bunting and Scot Kaufman purchased the landmark theater on Wednesday from Sam Balducci, who heads Charlie Edgewater Park LLC, for $1.25 million, according to DeNafo in an interview Thursday.
“We will try to get Moorlyn open in the summer,” DeNafo said. “The Moorlyn would just be movies. No restaurant. It would just be a good old-fashioned movie theater, giving people something fun to do on a rainy day.”
The partners also own Ventnor Square Theatre built in the mid-1920s, Harbor Square Theatre, which was built in the early 1940s and Tilton Square Theatre, built in the mid-60s.
They are experienced in renovating old theaters and restoring and preserving much of the old buildings while still adding modern touches, DeNafo noted.
They have big plans for Moorlyn Terrace Theatre.
“We’re going to make it a nice theatre. If any town deserves a movie theatre it is Ocean City,” DeNafo said. “I think people will be excited the theatre will be saved.”
After receiving permitting for the work from the city, the plan is to put in a new roof and revamp the theatre.
“We will put in new drapes, new movie screens, a whole new concession and it will be a luxury theater. We are going to bring some old Moorlyn Theatre back too. We found some old picture lights,” DeNafo said.
He continued, “We also want to put in a marquee sign like the original one that was on the building. The structure of the building is in good shape. The pilings are good. We love keeping anything we can keep original, we will fix.”
DeNafo said that Balducci sold the property to him and his partners when he couldn’t get approvals to open a gym at the location.
It was the third time DeNafo and his partners tried to purchase the property.
“They say the third time is a charm,” he said with a laugh. “We just like historic properties and this has been around since about 1900 so we are excited to be able to reopen it as a theater.”
City officials were pleased to hear of the sale and mentioned it during the City Council meeting Thursday night.
“It looks like we’re getting a movie theater back in town. That’s a great Christmas gift,” said Councilman Terry Crowley Jr.
According to a description on a commercial real estate site, “Moorlyn Theatre started its operations in 1901 and was later replaced as a 760-seat theatre. As one of the most iconic businesses in Ocean City … this property is being sold as is.”
The Moorlyn is one of the oldest businesses in Ocean City and was one of the first attractions on the Boardwalk. It began operations in 1901 as Moore’s Bowling Casino, housing a bowling alley and later a roller-skating rink, according to the Ocean City Historical Society.
In 1921, a 200-seat theater replaced the roller rink. The following year the property was renamed the Moorlyn Theatre and was showing movies ever since aside from interruptions with ownership changes.
When the Tabernacle owned it, the plan was to use the building to recapture the days when the ministry had a presence on the Boardwalk.
The Tabernacle had renamed the Moorlyn Theatre as the Moorlyn Family Theatre and developed a programming mix of live stage performances, first-run films and classic movies from the theatre’s glory days. Concerts, stage plays, magic and comedy shows were among the live entertainment.
After those attempts failed, they felt it was time to sell the theatre and waited for the right buyer, a Tabernacle trustee said in the 2019 article with OCNJDaily.com.
The Tabernacle, which had owned the iconic property since 2012, put it up for sale in March 2018 for an asking price of $1.1 million. Sey West Realty Partners LLC of Ocean City, purchased the property in 2019 for $800,000 from the Ocean City Tabernacle and sold it in June. The buyer was Charlie Edgewater Park LLC for $999,999. LLC, owns gyms in South Jersey and Philadelphia.
In an announcement on social media Thursday, DeNafo and his partners said of the purchase of the Moorlyn Theatre:
“…The Moorlyn has long been a dream project for us due to its incredibly rich history in serving Ocean City and surrounding community with entertainment since the early 1900’s. The building has survived hurricanes, super storms, neglect, and even a 200 foot move to the east after the “Great Boardwalk Fire of 1927. We have a lot of work ahead of us but we can promise you this: Ocean City will soon enjoy a Better Way to See a Movie.”