Comments from jlaymon

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jlaymon commented about Strand Theatre on Sep 6, 2007 at 2:44 pm

I wish I had seen this discussion earlier.

I was an operator and occasional manager of the Strand Theatre for many years before the three boardwalk theaters were sold to the Frank Company in 1989. When the previous owner, Helen Shriver Schilling, decided she would sell the properties, she insisted that they not be sold to her long-time competitor. But unfortunately, the sale was handled by someone without fully briefing her, and the Frank Company used a front company called ASF Industries to make the purchase. At that time, the OC Historic Commission asked me to come brief them and testify at two planning board meetings.

The Historic Commission tried very hard to prevent the drastic and ugly alterations, but they didn’t have the authority to demand it. The planning board was not interested in historic preservation at the time, and even if they had been, they could not prevent the alterations since the buildings would still be theaters. They could dictate parking spaces, entrances and exits, but not style. Nonetheless, the new owners promised to keep the exterior the same, to use the boxoffice, and to build only 4 auditoriums consistent with the machine age art deco style.

Unfortunately, they removed all the glass block, converted the lobby into retail space, closed the round boxoffice, covered the hundreds of incandescent light circles under the marquee, and built 5 auditoriums instead of 4. The entrance is now on the side of the building where an emergency exit once was.

Since that time I’ve created the boardwalk theater history site at and have been honored to speak at the museum a couple of times. But looking back at it all now, I of course think it is a shame that the theaters were sacrificed for money, but it would be almost impossible today to support the value of that real estate at 9th and boardwalk without multiple films running. Before the sale, the theaters were profitable because they carried no debt. They were inherited decades before from Mrs. Schilling’s father, William Shriver. To buy them in 1989 meant you had to make enough profit to cover the mortgage.

In 1989 I had a partner and a local bank lined up to help me with purchasing the theaters with the intent of keeping them the way the Shriver family had wanted. And based on the income of single screens (the Moorlyn was a twin) the properties could have supported a purchase value of $1.5 M. Yet, the buyers actually paid $6.5 M. You can’t sell enough tickets to support that with only four screens. So they carved them up. I don’t know how they ever made enough to cover that debt. Perhaps the Village fire helped reduce that burden, and perhaps the Hoyt management deal helped bring them back into the black.

And I can say from experience running those boardwalk theaters that people don’t really come to the boardwalk to watch a movie. They can do that at home. They will watch a movie if they have nothing else to do, or if it is raining. The Strand had 1,450 very comfy seats, but even as a flagship theatre it would have been very difficult to fill them, and with that kind of mortgage, you need to fill them.

This has been that company’s strategy for many years. Get maximum profit out of a theatre, do no maintenance, and sell the land when it crumbles. The Margate Twin (built in 1938) and the Somers Point 4 (converted in 1981) theatres are both examples, and are both gone now.

So it is a damn shame that the Strand did not survive in its previous configuration. It had been painstakingly cared for since 1938 and was still in very good shape in 1989. but the owner was too old to worry about it anymore. Still I am glad that I worked there. For two years now there has been a night dedicated at the OC museum to the history of the boardwalk theaters, and it is always fun to hear the stories that long-time residents tell.

Check out and

Jim Laymon

jlaymon commented about Village Theatre on Jan 21, 2006 at 7:46 pm

Web site updated with more pictures…

jlaymon commented about Gateway Playhouse on May 30, 2005 at 10:51 am

The Point 4 was originally a bowling alley that I patronized as a kid. Around 1983 the Frank family purchased it and converted it to 5 auditoriums, although only 4 were used. The 5th was left as a garage. The Franks already had plenty of screens in the area and with the Gateway theatre no longer showing movies, there was no other theatre in Somers Point. However, the Franks had been trying to obtain the boardwalk theatres in Ocean City for years, and this gave them a chance to compete for films in the same area, in some cases, preventing Ocean City from running good pictures. The Point 4 did take business from Ocean City. As a manager of the Point 4 I remember customers calling from O.C. to get directions to the Somers Point theatre.

The theatre used older Century heads and platter systems — one platter system for each pair of screens. Remote controls were in the lobby and I had installed indicator lights in the boxoffice to let the cashier know when the movies started. The auditoriums were rather simple, with no movable masking and no proscenium curtains.

I was often disappointed however that the equipment was often in need of repair, there were no spare parts, the sound leaked from each auditorium, and the lenses were in poor shape.

But in the end the theatre accomplished its mission. The Ocean City boardwalk theatres, long owned by the Shriver family, were sold to the Frank company (just like the Wildwood theatres) in 1989.

jlaymon commented about Strand Theatre on May 29, 2005 at 2:18 pm

A lot of distinctive features were lost on the conversion in 1989. In particular, I used to love the 5 rings of incandescent lights under the circular marquee. They created a lot of light, so much that you could feel the heat from them when standing underneath. I didn’t like having to remove them all for the winter each year.
Inside, the auditorium had a very cool art deco look, with wide striped bands running down the walls, curving in to the columns on each side of the stage. I was always amazed at how even after 50 years it still looked fresh, and was well maintained. I’ve sen it a few times since the conversion and was very disappointed.

jlaymon commented about Village Theatre on May 29, 2005 at 1:59 pm

I should have been more clear in the original text. “Paper company” does in fact mean that the three theater properties were sold to a company that concealed the actual owners. The former owner, Helen Shriver Schilling, did not wish to sell the properties to the local competetors, with whom she had an unfriendly history. But the sale went through anyway without her understanding who was behind the deal.

The building was very interesting, however, in that you could see places where the place had been changed many times over the years. A hidden deck behind the South Seas shop was at one time a pier overlooking the ocean.