Saving the Lifesaving Station
Can volunteers preserve a New Jersey landmark?
By Eric Wills | From Preservation | March/April 2010
When developers purchased the lifesaving station in Ocean City, N.J., more than a decade ago, intending to raze the historic structure and build condos, Charlie London decided to fight back.
For London, the station, with its distinctive red gabled roof, stood as a striking example of Ocean City's historic character, a survivor in a sea of teardowns.
Completed in 1886, the station for nearly a half century housed the U.S. Lifesaving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, whose watchmen used the cupola to scan the Atlantic for ships in danger. In the 1940s, the structure was transformed into a private residence.
Inspired to save it, London joined other area residents to form a coalition that brought a lawsuit challenging the developers' plans.
Now, after a 12-year battle, a series of court rulings related to the local preservation ordinance, and tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses, London and the coalition finally have reason to be optimistic. Developers Roger Parkin and Ralph Pansini have agreed to list the house for a below-market price of $887,500. A preservation-minded buyer must purchase it by May 14 or Parkin and Pansini can apply for a permit and proceed with demolition.
"Given the circumstances, this was the best possible outcome for the property," says London. The coalition will aggressively market the house to find suitable buyers (see fourthstreetlifesavingstation.org). "As far as we know, this is the last remaining station of its type in New Jersey," London says. "And now we've given it a chance to be saved."
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.