By MADDY VITALE
A day after a fire swept through the arcade at Playland’s Castaway Cove in Ocean City, leaving just charred remains of the building that has stood at 10th Street and the Boardwalk since 1941, owners vow that it will be rebuilt and the amusement park will open in time for the 2021 summer season.
But the iconic replica of a pirate and pirate ship that was the signature entryway to the popular amusement park for years may be gone forever.
On Sunday, crowds of onlookers looked at the scorched remains of the ship and the front facade of Playland’s. Some shot video, while others snapped photos with their cellphones.
An Ocean City police officer kept people from crossing a barrier to get a closer look at the aftermath of the fire.
A fire marshal vehicle, fire engines and a couple of ambulances were parked between 10th and 11th Streets near the amusement park.
Brian Hartley, vice president of Playland’s Castaway Cove, said in an interview Sunday that they will rebuild the arcade. However, the front entryway will be different than the pirate motif that was part of Playland’s brand.
“I don’t know about the pirate or pirate ship. The issue is we would have to build it off of the frame, and I don’t know with the current height restrictions,” Hartley said of the city’s construction regulations. “Now might be a time to have ideas come to fruition that we have been thinking about for years. It would be a totally different concept.”
The 7:40 a.m. fire Saturday sent plumes of black smoke billowing toward the ocean. The fire raged. Ocean City firefighters, with the assistance of multiple fire agencies, got the blaze under control by about 11 a.m. There were no reported injuries and the investigation continues.
But as for the building holding the arcade and offices and the tenants’ shops, everything was destroyed, Hartley said. However, the outdoor rides and amusements were basically untouched by the flames.
“Pretty much the entire building is gone,” he said. “There is nothing to salvage.”
He noted that while many of the arcade games can be replaced, there was one in particular that could not.
“The shooting gallery had some handcrafted pieces that we just won’t get back. But a lot of the games can be replaced,” he said.
In addition to the arcade, Dairy Queen, operated by Playland’s Castaway Cove, and tenants Hamburger Construction Company and Brume Juice were destroyed in the same building.
The building has been there since 1941 and operated as Bingham’s Arcade from 1941 to 1959. In 1959, the Simpson family, the owners of Playland, purchased the building and continued the tradition of running it as an arcade, Hartley said.
“There was a lot of history in that building and that is why we wanted to keep it and maintain it for its historical value,” he said.
The building was disassembled from the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair and reassembled at 10th Street and the Boardwalk.
Playland’s Castaway Cove is a landmark amusement park, featuring 32 rides, according to its website oceancityfun.com. Its centerpiece attraction is the Gale Force roller-coaster, which soars 125 feet in the air over the Boardwalk.
Winds blew the flames and smoke toward the ocean and the businesses had the required structural firewalls between the properties, which helped to quell further damage.
“The good thing is for the most part is the rides were spared,” Hartley said. “There were some parts of rides stored inside the building for the winter. So some of the rides will not have some of the vehicles this summer, but we will work through that the best we can.”
Hartley hopes that the fire investigation gets underway so that he and Playland’s owner, Scott Simpson, and the staff can get back to work to prepare for summer 2021.
He and Simpson have no idea how the blaze started, he said.
“We were out of there on Friday. Typically we work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” he said. We have no idea how the fire started. We welcome the investigation and look forward to at least getting some answers.”
As for summer of 2021, Hartley said the team will be ready to offer rides and amusements to the visitors who make going to Playland’s Castaway Cove a family tradition each year.
And to the residents and visitors who have been going to the park for generations, he wanted to assure the public that Playland will remain open.
“We are not gone,” Hartley said. “We will do the best we can and open as quickly as we possibly can.”