The Moorlyn Theatre opened as a boardwalk bowling alley between 8th and 9th streets called Moore's Bowling Casino, owned by Ocean City Casino Co. As best as I can tell, it was built no later than 1905 when the new boardwalk was completed.
The second floor included a large dance hall, with a stage for the band. Vacationers could spend an evening out, dancing, with the ocean breeze drifting through the large windows of the Ocean City Casino Club.
Upstairs there were six small apartments. Empty since the 1940's and covered in dust, they still had items like soap bars, curtains, and paper towels in 1989.
In the winter of 1921-1922 (according to surviving blueprints) 1,509 new seats were installed in the building, now owned by the Moorlyn Theater Company. The interior floor was angled for use as an auditorium, and a large stage with fly space was added. At the same time a Moller organ was installed in the Moorlyn. The theatre presented vaudeville acts and "photoplays" or silent movies. The organ provided accompaniment to the films.
The fire in 1927 destroyed most of the boardwalk, but spared the Moorlyn Theatre. When the boardwalk was rebuilt, much closer to the ocean, the Moorlyn stood for at least a year in it's original location with temporary ramps for customers to enter, before being dragged 360 feet to the new boardwalk.
On August 27, 1928 the Ocean City Casino Company purchased the additional land created by moving the boardwalk for $618.75. The same day, the city purchased the land under the new Music Pier for $1,856.25 -- if I am reading the riparian maps correctly. (But I am no lawyer and I'm not sure how that works. Do you buy the beach property from the state?)
I had always thought that the Moorlyn stayed behind the boardwalk for a couple of years, judging by the giant sign they erected on top of the building, facing forward, to the distant new boardwalk. That type of sign would be useless if you were on the boardwalk. And there is also the fact that the neighboring building on the new boardwalk had a large Shore Fast Line advertisement painted on the side that the Moorlyn would eventually cover.
During the time the Moorlyn sat back away from the boardwalk (Oct, 1927 - ?) they gave it a new paint job, accenting the intricate trim, and erected the large roof sign.
But looking at the box office receipts for the Moorlyn, I see that the July 3, 1929 statement says "opening day" and they are using a new roll of tickets for the movie "On With The Show" from Warner Brothers. (The first full-length sound motion picture produced entirely in color.) I have nothing before that date for 1929. The only reason I can think of for them opening so late in the season is because construction delayed their opening. Perhaps it was 1929 that they moved, meaning that they sat behind the boardwalk for only one season. I'm still looking for clues on this one.
(Update: This picture was taken in 1929, between July 8th and 10th. That is when "The Girl in the Glass Cage" played at the Strand. But also visible in the picture is the Moorlyn. So it most certainly moved in 1929, before July.)
In 1936 the interior was altered to give it more of an Art Deco look.
In 1941 deep-well cold water air conditioning was installed. The new fan and duct work cut directly through the empty dance hall and apartments upstairs, making them forever unusable.
In 1941 the theater had 1,558 seats. And by 1950 the number had grown to 1,750 after one of many renovations.
In 1956-57 The interior was completely redone. The auditorium floor was replaced and all new seats were installed. The auditorium walls were angled in a stepped pattern for better acoustics and the tall stage, no longer used for live shows, was removed. It was probably at this time that the distinctive exterior of the theatre was covered over with simple asbestos siding, and much of the ornamental trim removed or covered. The large windows in the upstairs ballroom, overlooking the ocean, were covered over with siding. A new marquee exterior was added that lasted for another 30 years. The basic structure and shape of the marquee and entrance lights dated back to around 1929, but is gone today.
The 1956 blueprints show the general layout of the lobby which was unchanged until the theatre was twinned around 1970. I have no images of the auditorium from the 50's and 60's, but using a picture from after the theater was divided, I tried to create an image of what it would look like as a single auditorium.
The theatre was maintained as a twin theatre until it was sold in 1989.
In 2002 or 2003 the front half of the building was demolished, including the old Casino Club upstairs. The auditoriums were retained. But when they tore the siding off the outside walls, you could finally see the windows that lined the walls of the original bowling alley from 80 years before.
Also exposed was the Shore Fast Line advertisement on the adjacent structure. That sign had been painted while the Moorlyn was still in it's original location (from the old boardwalk). The sign was covered when the Moorlyn was moved forward in 1929.
The front half of the theater was rebuilt and it still operates today, although, like the Strand, there is no boardwalk entrance. The theatre entrance is now on the side of the building.