Group looks to the future while saving history

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John Loeper, president of the board of directors for United States Life Saving Station 30, talks about the restoration that will take place at the former life saving station on Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue. The station was converted into a home in the 1940s, was sold in the 1990s to a developer who wanted to tear it down, and was eventually purchased by the city in 2010 to be restored.

OCEAN CITYUS Life Saving Station 30 at the corner of Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue has a storied history. Built in 1885 as part of the US Life Saving Service – the predecessor of the US Coast Guard – the building was expanded in the early 20th century and eventually transferred to the Coast Guard, explained John Loeper.

Which is why several volunteers have banded together to support the renovation of the historical building to its original design.

Loeper is president of the board of directors for US Life Saving Station 30. Explaining the history of the building, Loeper said that after 1915, USLSS 30 was used as a barracks for the Coast Guard until it was sold to an individual owner in the early 1940s. There were six private owners of the home, whom Loeper said are responsible for the quality of the structure as it stands today.

“Each of those owners has been a pretty good steward of history,” he said Thursday afternoon, Dec. 29, from his bed and breakfast, The Northwood Inn.

More than a decade ago, USLSS 30 left the hands of private homeowners and was bought by a developer, Pansini Custom Design, who wanted to subdivide the property in order to build three duplexes.

“A group came out in opposition to that,” Loeper said.

The group, who called themselves Save Our Station Coalition, formed to keep the life saving station from being demolished. Loeper said that there are provisions where the structure could have been moved and not demolished, but SOS wanted the station to remain in its original location.

In November 2005, voters were asked if they would support a $2.9 million bond referendum to purchase the property. Loeper said he was one of many that would not support the purchase, for the sheer price of it.

“It was just a ridiculous amount of money,” he said.

Ultimately, the referendum was defeated.

The property was priced much lower in 2010 and the city purchased it, bonding $958,500 to do so. It was at the time that the USLSS 30 board of directors was formed by Loeper and other volunteers to oversee the renovations and ultimate use of the structure, and pay the city back for the money it was putting into the purchase and renovations.

In December, City Council passed a resolution authorizing a professional services contract with Watson and Henry Associates for architectural and engineering services associated with the first phase of renovations to the life saving station.

Recently, USLSS 30 was granted non-profit status, allowing it to apply for grants. Loeper said it took just 40 days to complete that process, which he said is extremely fast and speaks to the viability of the project.

In that same tone, the New Jersey Historic Trust awarded the project its highest matching grant, $750,000, and the project has also received Green Acres funding.

“We’re moving forward, we’re not looking back,” Loeper said.

The US Life Saving Service has its roots in New Jersey, with a New Jersey Congressman who pushed for federal funding for the service in the mid-19th century.

Loeper said that at least 62 of the men of USLSS 30 have never been acknowledged for their efforts, which is a big reason he is so passionate about saving the station.

“It was pretty brutal,” he said of their job.

Loeper said that Kim Baker, formerly a member of SOS, researched the names of the members of the Station 30 and the group has been able to locate 25 of those men’s graves on the mainland. Loeper hopes to be able to honor the men the same way other members of the United States military are honored on Veterans and Memorial days.

“That’s a big part of what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re going to honor these guys.”

To bring more recognition to life saving stations, the national US Life Saving Service Heritage Association, Loeper said, is working to bring the same mystique to life saving stations as already exists with lighthouses.

“This is a section of history that has been long lost,” Loeper said.

This year, USLSS 30 was included in the annual Lighthouse Challenge in New Jersey, resulting in a fair amount of fundraising for the group. He said that more fundraising opportunities will be available in the future, beginning with live reenactments on the beach of life saving procedures, a flag raising ceremony and as well as tours and eventually a museum and gift shop.

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