Ocean City Tabernacle Buys Moorlyn Theater
The interdenominational church will preserve the theater for movies, community events and services.
The Ocean City Tabernacle closed a deal on Friday to purchase the Moorlyn Theater.
Tabernacle President Richard Stanislaw said on Monday that the Tabernacle hopes maintain a schedule of services, movies, events and activities "as a service to the community and as a Christian ministry."
The four-screen theater on Moorlyn Terrace just off the Ocean City Boardwalk near the Ocean City Music Pier has been a part of the island landscape for 90 years but had been listed for sale for since January 2011. In the age of high-tech multiplex theaters, the Moorlyn and her aging sister a block away, the Strand, had seen declining attendance.
“The theaters have reached their peak,” Bruce Frank, president and CEO of Frank Entertainment, said last year. “They’ve seen flat growth or declining growth. Our focus is on the larger theater projects.”
Stanislaw said the Tabernacle will maintain one of the four theaters for select first-run movies. One will be designated for weeknight worship and other live events, particularly designed for Boardwalk patrons and workers. A theater will be converted to include a stage — possibly in partnership with local groups such as the Ocean City Theatre Company. Another will be focused on children's events activities.
He said the property will include Saturday-night contemporary worship for youth and other services for all.
The property will be available for potential use by other local churches and community organizations, Stanislaw said.
"We want to be good citizens," he said. "It's a natural extension of what we're already doing with the Tabernacle property."
The purchase was made possible by a donation from a single group benefactor, Stanislaw said, though he is not yet prepared to release the identity of the donor or discuss the purchase price.
"The gift was conditional upon the purchase," a news release from the Tabernacle states. "The Trustees of the Tabernacle Association voted to accept the gift at a special meeting August 10, 2012, following two years of discussion with donors. The Trustees expressed 'great appreciation' for this generous contribution and indicated their confidence that it will be used with good stewardship to serve the residents and visitors of Ocean City. No mortgage was necessary, but the Tabernacle will need to raise the funds to convert to digital movies and to add a stage for live programs."
The property was initially listed at $5.5 million in January 2011 but included five commercial and one residential units. The Tabernacle purchased only the portion that includes the theater screens and lobby, Stanislaw said. The other units front the Boardwalk and include other tenants.
Stanislaw said the Tabernacle is working toward an opening sometime in 2013.
Ocean City tax records listed the assessment of the combined Moorlyn properties at $1,552,300 in 2010 and taxed it at $11,378.36.
The building that became the Moorlyn theater was constructed in 1905 and contained a bowling alley, according to Ocean City historian Fred Miller. It was converted to a movie theater in 1922.
The Moorlyn’s first summer season ended with a salute to all the women in the second Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.
“Sixty of the most beautiful girls in the country, in exquisite gowns, smilingly greeting friends and public generally, the whole set off by the sumptuous appointments of the Moorlyn, one of the most attractively arranged theaters in the country,” the Sentinel Ledger wrote in its Sept. 9, 1922 editions.
After the Boardwalk was reconstructed and moved following a devastating 1927 fire, the Moorlyn itself was moved 355 feet closer to the rebuilt Boardwalk in 1929, according to Miller.
The Moorlyn served as a movie theater, vaudeville theater and dance hall at different times. The building included a grand staircase to a hall heated by a fireplace in one corner.
Stanislaw said work on the idea of the Tabernacle purchasing the property began more than two years ago when one of the Boardwalk’s most active merchants talked with Tabernacle Board Chair Todd Chamberlain and Stanislaw about the need to improve the appearance of the theater.
“Why doesn’t the Tabernacle buy it,” the merchant challenged.
"Wanting to maintain family entertainment on the Boardwalk and expand its ministry, the Tabernacle’s Board of Trustees did briefly considered purchasing the building, but, until this designated gift, did not have the funding," the news release states.
Stanislaw said “motion pictures are a major cultural influence and the Boardwalk needs to continue to have such recreation available.” But he said the Tabernacle “does not intend to include R rated films, but will provide varied options complementary to America's Greatest Family Resort.”
The venue will be called “Moorlyn Family Theatre” to emphasize the broad range of programs.