By Tim Kelly
If you are strolling Asbury Avenue at today’s Block Party, take some time to notice one of Ocean City’s hidden treasures.
At the Northeast corner of 8th and Asbury stands what might be the town’s most historic building you’ve never heard of.
Maybe you’ve noticed the iconic “Bourse” sign atop the building and wondered what it meant. Or perhaps you have browsed or shopped at Interiors by Joann, the retail tenant on the ground floor, and never looked up.
Whatever is the case, there is no disputing Ocean City’s Bourse Building is an underappreciated historical and architectural gem.
“I’ve noticed that building before,” said Ocean City resident Katherine Landberg, “but I never knew (about its significance.”)
“Bourse” is a French term meaning “place of exchange” according to Wikipedia’s entry about Philadelphia’s much larger Bourse. That one is located adjacent to Independence Mall at 5th Street between Market and Chestnut.
It was home to a stock exchange and a grain and commodities exchange. Today it thrives as a mixed-use structure containing retail, a food court, and offices.
The entry goes on to say Philly’s Bourse, which opened in 1895, is the first one in the United States.
But that might not be quite true.
At the Ocean City Bourse, the “place of exchange” included a pharmacy, law and real estate offices, and a luncheonette. Not exactly on the same level as Philly’s Bourse, but the completion date of the building, 1895, is exactly the same. So, depending on the month it was completed, Ocean City might have a claim to the “first” Bourse status.
Joseph G. Champion, one of the first building contractors, architects and builders in Ocean City, designed and oversaw construction of the Ocean City Bourse.
Champion, who was born in Morristown in North Jersey and educated in Cape May County, is better known as one of the longest-serving Mayors in Ocean City history. He was Mayor from 1901 through 1907 and again from 1915 through 31, an overall tenure of a quarter century.
During Champion’s time as Mayor, Ocean City’s Boardwalk was almost completely destroyed in a devastating fire. More than $4 million in real estate, an astronomical sum at that time, was lost in the blaze. But a new Boardwalk, built under Champion’s direction, was erected about 50 yards closer to the ocean in just a few months at a cost of just over $225,000.
Later in his term as Mayor, said to be 1930, the ornate corner façade of what had originally been Maddock’s Pharmacy was torn down and replaced by a façade in the same shape as today’s Interiors by Joann.
In its place was Ocean City’s first national chain business, G.C. Murphy’s 5 and 10 cent store.
Champion was architect and builder for dozens of single family homes in Ocean City from early in the 20th century until the early 30s.
Fittingly, one of the current tenants of the building is an architectural firm, Christina Amey, Architect LLC. Others include Psychotherapist Karen Leonard and the law offices of Allen H. Vernon Jr.
So take a moment today, or the next time you are shopping on Asbury and glance upward when you are at the intersection of 8th street. You’ll be looking not just at a commercial building, but at a slice of Ocean City history.