first_imgThe tour trolley will make a stop at the Bayside Center. By Donald WittkowskiIt’s not hard to imagine tuxedoed gentlemen and ladies adorned in evening gowns dancing the night away during lavish parties in the early 1900s at this stately former home overlooking Ocean City’s bayfront.The three-story mansion at 520 Bay Ave. was a powerful symbol of the wealthy lifestyle enjoyed by the famous Diesel family. The Diesels, who invented the diesel engine, built the house as a summer retreat in 1916.Following a change in ownership over the years, the former Diesel estate was bought by Cape May County in 1995 and converted into the Ocean City Bayside Center. Ocean City operates the historic property as a combination museum, community center and nature center through a long-term lease with the county.As can be expected with anything more than 100 years old, the building requires some TLC from time to time. The next phase in its upkeep is a new roof and gutter work. A fire-suppression system and renovations to the first-floor bathroom are also planned.The city is scheduled to open public bids for the construction project on Sept. 6. Originally, bids were supposed to be opened on Aug. 21, but the city decided to give contractors more time after they asked questions about the bid requirements.Joseph Clark, the city’s purchasing manager, said the slight delay with the project is not a serious concern. Barring any other delays, City Council will award the contract on Sept. 13 and construction is expected to begin in the fall.Panoramic views of the water unfold from the outdoor decks of the Bayside Center.Previously, the city added central air-conditioning to the building and also refurbished the exterior, including the foundation, doors and windows, Clark said.The new roof and gutter work in the next phase of construction will provide even more protection for the building’s exterior, he explained.“This is tightening the envelop up,” Clark said.Despite its location perched right on the bay, the building survived Hurricane Sandy in 2012 without suffering major damage.“It’s actually in very good shape. It weathered superstorm Sandy very well. I think that’s a good testament to the great shape it’s in,” said Wendy Moyle, Ocean City’s recreation manager.Wendy Moyle, Ocean City’s recreation manager, says the century-old building withstood the blows from Hurricane Sandy and remains in great shape.Under the city’s operation, the building is becoming more functional and user-friendly as public space, Moyle noted.A large section of the building has been converted into a nature center, where children and adults can learn about the seashore’s wildlife and eco-system.Other parts of the building function as a museum, including a display on the history of the Ocean City Beach Patrol.The bayside boat docks and the green space that surrounds the building are used for recreation. Sailing lessons and bayside camps are offered during the summer as part of the recreation activities.The building is also rented out for parties, weddings and other special occasions. One of the property’s biggest attractions for holding special events is the panoramic view of the bay, Moyle said.Part of the Bayside Center serves as a museum about the history of the Ocean City Beach Patrol.Ocean City recognized the importance of acquiring the bayside property and converting it into public use when it became available in 1995. Using funds from the New Jersey Open Space program, Cape May County bought the property when it was known as the Wheaton estate.After being owned by the Diesel family, the house was bought in 1958 by the Wheaton family for a summer vacation haven. Like the Diesels, the Wheatons were also famous. They founded a glass manufacturing factory bearing their name as well as Wheaton Village in Millville, Cumberland County.Strolling through the former home during a tour last week, Moyle speculated that it probably served as the center of a lively social scene when it was owned by the well-to-do Diesels and Wheatons.“It sounds like a spot where a lot of social functions happened,” she said.Before it became the Bayside Center in 1995, the three-story building was a summer retreat for the wealthy Diesel and Wheaton families.last_img

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