Only a year after its devastating 1927 Boardwalk fire, Ocean City began construction on a grand concert hall that was to become the epicenter of entertainment and cultural arts in the resort town.
The 1928 cornerstone plaque on the outside of the building indicates that it was originally christened the Municipal Pavilion, a rather bland name that clearly did not reflect the excitement going on inside.
Now known as the Music Pier, a far more illustrious title, the oceanfront venue is about to receive a $2.1 million facelift to ensure it will continue to host concerts, shows and beauty pageants for many more years to come.
“It’s one of the most iconic buildings of Ocean City. It is also one of the most recognizable buildings,” Mayor Jay Gillian said in an interview Friday.
The Music Pier is one of a number of municipal buildings, facilities, playgrounds and other public sites that will be upgraded as part of a $7.9 million bond ordinance approved Thursday night by City Council.
City spokesman Doug Bergen noted that it is important to maintain the Music Pier because, along with the Boardwalk and other local landmarks, it is part “of what defines Ocean City.”
Clad in stucco, the building features an eye-catching, Spanish-style design accented by soaring arched windows that peer out over the beach, ocean and Boardwalk.
Although the cornerstone plaque is stamped with the date 1928, the Music Pier actually opened in 1929, the same year as the stock market crash that plunged the nation into the Great Depression. During its 90-year lifetime, the Music Pier has outlasted the Depression and many other epic events in U.S. history.
However, its oceanside location at Moorlyn Terrace and the Boardwalk constantly exposes it to storms and the corrosive salt air. Most of the upgrades are designed to maintain the historic structure, Bergen noted.
Most urgently, the building needs a new roof and a new heating and air-conditioning system. The roof project will go out to bid this spring and will be completed in a way that does not interrupt the entertainment schedule.
“Whatever we do there, it is not going to disrupt the building’s functions,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said.
The heating and air-conditioning systems are in the design phase and will likely be finished this fall.
Improvements to the Music Pier’s sound system, stage lighting and bathrooms will also be done to create a more inviting experience for the tens of thousands of people who visit the building every year.
Bergen explained that the current sound system is outdated. In addition to improving the acoustics, the new sound system will eliminate the need to rent temporary equipment to accommodate some acts and to avoid the stacks of speakers that can obscure the stage and video screens, he said.
The sound improvements will follow $150,000 invested in the building two years ago for large video screens that give spectators a better view of performances. This was done with donations by the Friends of the Ocean City Pops, the fund-raising arm of the local orchestra that calls the Music Pier its home.
The orchestra’s performances are part of an array of entertainment and special events hosted by the Music Pier. Throughout the year, there are concerts, musicals, beauty pageants, food festivals, antiques fairs and other shows.
On New Year’s Eve, the Music Pier serves as the location for the headline act for the city’s First Night festivities, a family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration to ring in the New Year.
On Saturday, the Ocean City Sports Memorabilia Show featuring Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles and former Philadelphia Phillies slugger Matt Stairs will be held at the Music Pier.
“From this weekend’s Sports Memorabilia Show through First Night at the end of the year, it will be home to hundreds of shows and events,” Bergen said.
Inside, the hall seats between 900 and 1,000 people for most shows. The building’s open-sided loggia overlooking the ocean is also a home to special events such as Wacky Wednesday taffy-sculpting, the annual Green Fair and the newer Chili and Chowder Festival, Bergen said.
Mayor Gillian stressed that the Music Pier is such an important landmark for Ocean City that it must be protected and enhanced with a series of capital improvements.
“This is one of the projects that we must absolutely do,” he said.