Ocean City: A Hidden Treasure in a Busy Vacation Town

Ocean City, New Jersey is known throughout the country as a popular area for family beach vacations. Having its reputation as a summer destination for families, the town attracts over one million visitors each summer.

However, just a few blocks down from the ninth street bridge, one would be surprised to find what residents call a secluded and hidden oasis. Directly off the main road, Bay Avenue, awaits the only separate island in town, West 17th Street.

In 1930, only a few families moved to West 17th Street due to the overwhelming desire to live on the beachside. Yet, nearly a century later, it remains with close to five times the amount of homes.

Resident of 58 years and current homeowner on West 17th Street, Robert Juliana said he always felt like the street was undiscovered. 

“I know people who have come to Ocean City their entire lives and they don’t even know that this street and these lagoons on both sides of the street are here,” Juliana said. 

Although, buying property on the bay was not necessarily desirable for most people in the mid-1900s. In fact, resident of 47 years and current homeowner Frank Lavalla said the block was mainly occupied by fishermen. 

“Living on the bay was not a prestigious location,” Lavalla said. “When we moved here everyone was like, ‘Why are you moving to the bay?’ No one wants to live on the bay, it’s stinky back there, low tide and everything.”

According to a photograph taken of the island in 1940, there were only 24 homes on West 17th Street. Today, 81 years later, there are close to 115 properties. Original homeowner of 43 years, Susan Natow said the majority of the street is new construction. 

“My house and two other houses are the only original houses on the street,” Natow said. “Every other house is new or rebuilt.”

While the times have changed leaving very few original homes, the desire to live on the bay has raised the average cost of a property by 2,500%. 

“I think this house was about $40,000 in 1974 and you figure it’s about a million dollars now,” Lavalla said. “So, in 47 years, it appreciated a lot but comparatively back then it was just a little more than an ordinary house.”

Over the years many things have changed but it’s the bay-life and family oriented experience that will last a lifetime. According to Juliana, many homes have been passed down to second and third generations, like his own, keeping it in the family for years to come. 

“I grew up on this street from the time that I was a very young child,” Juliana said. “I had a lot of friends on the street and what’s exciting now is that I’ve been able to spend 60 years at the same place for almost every summer of my life. And now my children are able to enjoy the same experience I was able to enjoy as a child and it’s been quite remarkable.”

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com.

Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.

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