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Ocean City U.S. Life Saving Station 30 opens after restoration

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US LIFE SAVING STATION 30 (3).JPG

Restoration began in 2010 on U.S. Life Saving Station 30 in Ocean City. More than 200 people have visited the structure since it opened to the public on Memorial Day.

OCEAN CITY — More than a century after it first opened, John Loeper hopes visitors to U.S. Life Saving Station 30, which re-opened Memorial Day after nearly a decade of restoration, feel like they are thrust back in time.

“Somebody had to do it,” Loeper said of heading up the massive project, which included historical research, collection of artifacts and tons of time and attention.

On an 85-degree July Fourth afternoon, Loeper sat on a wooden chair inside U.S. Life Saving Station 30 waiting for visitors, his bristly white beard covering the first several buttons on his shirt, despite the heat. He said about 20 had trickled in throughout the morning, but expected most everyone was at the beach by mid-day.

There is no air conditioning inside the historically accurate structure, depicting life at the start of the 20th century before the U.S. Coast Guard came to be, so Loeper kept the windows and doors open to let in the sea breeze. His cheeks were slightly flushed, and his white hair parted to one side as he pointed out each item and told the story of where it came from and how it would have been used by the surfmen stationed there.

From the red linoleum floor to the sunny yellow walls to the undated burlap potato sack in the kitchen, the interior is restored to as close a replica of the early 1900s as could be attained through old photographs and written accounts.

Loeper spoke slow and stern — giving a smirk at times, knowing he shared a piece of history this reporter had not known before — as he carefully made his way through the museum.

“A lot of this was treasure hunting,” Loeper said.

The rehabilitation project began in 2010, when a private owner tried to sell the property to a developer and the city intervened after public outcry.

Last week, City Council approved a resolution authorizing the city to go out to bid for the third phase of the project, funded by Hurricane Sandy restoration funds, various matching grants, donations and city money.

First Ward Councilman Mike DeVlieger said he is excited to see the building open.

“Historically, it’s a gem,” DeVlieger said. “It’s largely due to the credit of John Loeper. He has some great volunteers working with him, but it’s his passion that’s really driven this thing.”

DeVlieger said the Life Saving Station is precious to Ocean City’s culture as well as that of the Coast Guard, which has a training center in Cape May.

“It’s come a long way,” he said.

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Loeper said the third phase of the project, held over from 2017, will include installation of new sidewalks, landscaping and a fence, as well as a 57-foot flag pole bearing the 42-star American flag and pennant for the Life Saving Service.

Since the first day the doors opened to the public, more than 200 people have visited the station. Loeper said he hasn’t advertised yet because he wants to get “the public’s feelings,” which he said are largely positive.

“Everybody comes in and goes, ‘Wow, it feels like the guys just left,’” he said.

In 1901, the building that now sits at the corner of Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue was on the beach, but several storms through the years expanded the shoreline and created new streets to the east.

The 74-year-old bed-and-breakfast proprietor said that when the city first bought the building, he was not part of the group formed to fight the private sale. But Loeper knew enough about the history of the U.S. Life Saving Service that he spoke about it at a city meeting. Then another. And eventually, Loeper became tasked with the job of leading the nonprofit that oversaw the renovations to the building.

Over the last eight years, Loeper has had some moments of self-doubt over the project, recalling one a month ago when a man who serves as an adviser for the federal Parks Service came to see the station. He was relieved after the man, who stayed in town for five hours that day, told him that the Ocean City station could be one of the “nicest in the country.”

Over the last eight years, Loeper has had some moments of self-doubt over the project, recalling one a month ago when a man who serves as an adviser for the federal Parks Service came to see the station. He was relieved after the man, who stayed in town for five hours that day, told him the Ocean City station could be one of the “nicest in the country.”

“When he walked out, he gave us the medical box for the station, which is a huge win,” Loeper said.

The building has strong ties to the local community and several ancestors of well-known families worked at the station, including two Godfreys of funeral home fame and politician James Chadwick, whose picture sits inside a white corner hutch in the dining room.

In a room off the back of the property with large barn doors is a large open space where soon a life-saving boat will be placed — it is under construction by a contractor in North Carolina.

To the left is a life-saving vessel designed by Douglass Ottinger, who also helped establish the U.S. Life Saving Service in New Jersey. Loeper casually mentions Ottinger is a distant relative of his, several great-grandmothers back, while discussing the muddied history of the vessel’s invention.

Loeper said he is passionate about preserving the history of the Life Saving Service, which he said many people are unaware of.

“If it isn’t captured in this generation, no one would ever know about it,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. After seven years at The Current and Gazette newspapers, I joined The Press in 2015. I currently cover education.

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