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Permit for Corner Cupboard demolition caps record year in Rehoboth

December 29, 2017

A demolition crew is scheduled to move onto Rehoboth's Park Avenue next week to take down one of the last vestiges of a 20th century resort icon. The structure at 52 Park Ave. was long a part of the Corner Cupboard complex which provided rooms and meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner - to summer visitors for 75 years.

Between the 52 Park Ave. structure and the adjacent 50 Park Ave. structure removed some years ago, the Corner Cupboard included 18 guest rooms. Owners of the nonconforming commercial operation, in the residential section of Rehoboth Beach known as The Pines, closed the business in 2010.

If this process goes the way of dozens of other demolitions in Rehoboth Beach over the past few years, the structure will make way for a valuable building lot to host a new home.

The permit to demolish the traditional architecture came in mid-December and was the last permit to be granted in 2017. It certainly was not the first. In fact, 2017 is likely the year with the greatest number of demolitions in Rehoboth Beach history. The 26 permits approved by the city in 2017 far outnumber total permits in previous years. In 2015 there were 15 permits and, as coincidence would have it, the number for 2016 was 16.

The properties where demolitions are taking place – many of them in the first two blocks of the city off the Boardwalk – have become far more valuable than the structures on them. The structures being demolished typically date back to the first half of the 20th century. Many were built for seasonal use, often without insulation, and their construction included dated architecture and building materials.

The Rehoboth Beach Museum has a policy in place to photograph structures that are being demolished as part of the city's historic record. But while city documents encourage preservation of older structures, there are no regulations or incentives in place to make such preservation happen.

The Corner Cupboard story

Alice Gundry first opened the Corner Cupboard in 1935. Park Avenue, just one parallel street off Columbia, was in the midst of the earliest part of the town being developed. The street, like all the original streets, was dirt – mostly sand – when Gundry opened offering room and board. When Leslie Inkster, a distant relative of Gundry, closed the business in 2010, Park Avenue remained Rehoboth Beach's last dirt streets. Seven years later, as 2017 comes to a close, Park is still one of the city's only dirt streets.

Between Gundry and Inkster, Els Gundry Hooper operated the Corner Cupboard. She dubbed it The Inn That Was In Before Inns Were In. Her opening parties as well as her Sunday brunches on a spacious screened porch were emblematic of old Rehoboth style and grace.

Els had a fond appreciation for live music. The tall pines that shaded and cooled her porch often swayed to the smooth jazz piano of Scotty or Jeff Irwin accompanied by Phil Miller on standup bass. The music made diners linger over plates filled with classic Eastern Shore cuisine including kippered herring, crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, kidney stew and chicken gravy over waffles.

Hooper tried to get a liquor license for her establishment, but the nonconforming zoning status of her properties and neighborhood opposition stymied those efforts.

Inkster tried to keep the Corner Cupboard afloat following Hooper's death, but Rehoboth's changing scene worked against her. Next week's scheduled demolition will bring final closure to that chapter of the resort's history.

The first demolition permit granted in 2017 was for a century-old structure that for a period of time had also been a rooming house. That structure at 14 Brooklyn Ave., at the opposite end of town, was replaced by an attractive new home showing elements of early 20th century architecture. See photographs of the former structure and its replacement in the Barefootin' column on capegazette.com.

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