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Updated 02/21/2006


Soon after the 1927 fire, the Showboat Theatre was built at 12th Street on the Boardwalk. Advertised as Ocean City's only Fireproof Theatre, it was constructed out of continuous concrete (using beach sand, I'm told). The Showboat was a large theatre with 2,000 wooden seats and a full stage. The stage had very tall fly space for raising scenery, footlights, a dimmer panel, and rows of sandbags and ropes. The projection room included a powerful carbon arc spotlight that still worked when I was a projectionist there in 1978.

The theater hosted vaudeville acts and talking movies.

Originally the theatre was owned by the Ocean City Amusement Company and Hunt's theatre chain (based in Wildwood). It opened on June 29, 1929.  I don't know what picture was playing, but they sold 2,834 tickets for the day.  The prices were 40 and 60.  The following Monday the film was The Flying Fool, which ran together with five vaudeville acts between shows.

I noticed on the boxoffice statements that soon after opening (September 16, 1929) the theatre had to refund ticket receipts due to a "break in the 'talkie outfit'."  I believe that back then the sound was on disc (phonograph disc for you youngsters), and there was a battery array that provided clean power for the sound system.  Somewhere I have the RCA book from Doughty's Theatre on how to install and operate sound.  I'll have to dig it up.

Some time later the building was purchased by the Frank Theatres in Atlantic County. The local Ocean City theatre chain (Shriver's) leased the theatre for many years despite the deteriorating condition of the building. When I worked there in the late 1970's, the building was already in bad shape. The first 100 seats were permanently roped off due to standing pools of water. Wall treatments had fallen off of large sections of the wall due to water damage from the open holes in the roof.

The theatre never had air conditioning or heat like the others, but had large fans in the roof. Each year we would dig out dead pigeons from the fan rooms and marquee before opening for the summer season. But the building was interesting to explore.

The electric room had large exposed knife switches for the neon, the fans, and the projection booth. A narrow spiral stairway let to the projection booth and film vault.

By 1939 the theater's name had been changed to the SURF.  I'm told that the SHOWBOAT sign blew down in a storm and it was cheaper to spell SURF and so the name changed. Who knows?

In 1977, the projection room included two Simplex E-7 heads, transferred from the STRAND. The original heads were Simplex Super's.

Around 1979 the Shriver company ceased operation at the Surf. Another operator tried movies for a year but did not succeed. Today the building is an enclosed mall for T-Shirts and souvenirs.

July 29, 1929

I can tell the date because this title played only one day, according to the boxoffice receipts.

Full house

A full house in the early days of the theater

A full house


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