Saturday, March 22, 2008

Greetings from Asbury Park

If you are a Bruce Springsteen fan, you may recognize the title of this post.

Asbury Park is sort of a New Jersey icon. In it's hey day, it was a popular family resort, but fell in decline after rise of more popular shopping malls popped up and the race riots of the 1970's. My parents both remember visiting there as was THE happening place to go and it was closer to folks who lived in North Jersey than Atlantic City was.

The first time I had ever been to Asbury Park was for a Gay Pride festival about 15 years ago and my first impression was: Geez...what a dive! It looks like a bomb went off down here.

It definitely did not look like any of the mental pictures I had conjured up in my mind from the stories my parents told me.

It is trying very hard to make a come back. Right now, with the economy in the state it is in, if it can pull through this next year or may just have a chance. Years and years of decline, combined with sky high crime rates and a large number of illegal immigrants who have taken a strong hold over the area will be very hard to overcome unfortunately.

Still, if you happen to drive though the town a lot of progress has been made and I am one of those people who really hopes it makes it.

I went out a few weeks ago and took a few pictures, but to see the old town in it's glory I recommend this site: Side O' Lamb

This is what remains of the old Casino building. This is right on the boardwalk and was the gateway between Asbury Park and Ocean Grove. (sorry the picture is a bit crooked) On the right site this casino used to extend out onto a pier. That fell into disrepair and had to be torn down unfortunately, but here is a postcard to give you an idea of what is used to look like:

Beautiful wasn't it?

I like to try and imagine what it must have looked like in it's full glory, but it's hard since I have only seen it in such bad shape. Still there are some old hints of what a grand building it must have been though.

Inside the Casino there used to be the most beautiful Carousel house. The carcass of the building is still there but the carousel is long gone. It's wood carved animals sold off to auction. At one point the building was used as a skate board park, but now the whole inside has been gutted. I'm not sure of what the future plans for the builing are, but here is a shot of the inside now:

This is Tillie. His grinning smile is almost synonymous with Asbury Park. He was painted on the outside of the Palace Amusement park. It was one of the first things you used to see as you drove towards the boardwalk. Unfortunately, that building was demolished as part of the restoration, but his likeness is in various places around town. Here he is on the outside of the Wonder Bar a popular hot spot in the summer time.

The Stone Pony is the place for rock and roll legends of the Jersey Shore! Many up and coming rock bands played here as they were starting up the ladder to success. Big names like: Bruce Springsteen (of course), Bon Jovi, South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes! There are still some well recognized names that come to play here during the summer time.

I just looked at their upcoming schedule and wow...Eddie Money will be playing there on April 4th. Eeks...looks like the place is going down hill!

Interestingly enough, one the other side of Asbury Park is "God's Square Mile", a little town called Ocean Grove. Asbury Park was the town to go to play, and drink and whoop it up! Ocean Grove is the complete opposite!

Originally established as a religious camp meeting, Ocean Grove today is a very popular spot along this section of the Jersey shore. It's filled with picturesque Victorian homes, a small but thriving little down town area filled with quaint stores and coffee shops. It even has an old fashioned Apothecary Cafe were you can sit up on the stools and order an old fashioned ice ream float!

At the center of the town is the Great Auditorium:
Sunday services are still held there all summer long and also some really great concerts. I believe it holds up to 6,000 seats and there are times during the summer when this place is packed to the brim!

It is closed for the season, but I stole this picture off Wikipedia which gives you an idea what it looks like's just a gorgeous wooden structure with a beautiful pipe organ all along the back wall.

Surrounding the Great Auditorium are the tents! They actually call it Tent City! There are just over 100 tents and they are handed down from family to family. Very few are offered up for sale. They have a permanent wooden foundation and then in the late spring you can see the families coming back into town to put up the canvas top that will become their shelter for the summer time.

During this time of year...all you can see if the wooden base looking a bit abandoned and kind of lonely:

But in the summer time, they are really beautiful! They are landscaped and decorated. People move antique furniture in and have had plumbing and small kitchens installed. They are still used as a summer retreat!
Ocean Grove was one of several towns in New Jersey that what was known as "Blue Laws". These were designed to give you a day of worship and rest on Sunday - the Lords Day. All of the stores would close down for the day. Ocean Grove actually took this little law a step further and did not allow motor cars within the town on Sundays. People would actually have to drive their car and park it in a large lot across the street and then the gates of the town were closed at midnight on Saturday and not opened again on until midnight on Sunday.

Most town with Blue Laws have been overturned or people just really do not pay attention to them anymore. In Ocean Grove, you are not able to purchase alcohol within the town limits, but there are plenty of liquor stores and bars in the neighboring towns to take care of that! You are also not allowed to use the beach on Sunday until after service. They close off the entrances and take it very seriously!

Here is a picture of the Beersheba Well that stands just next to the Great Auditorium:

If you click on the image, you can see written up on the ceiling: "We have found water" Beersheba and then off to the other side it has Gen. XXVI, 32, 33. (you can all look that one up yourselves)

M and I lived in Ocean Grove for about 1 year. Actually I was a swinging bachelorette for about 2 months while I put her through hell trying to decide did I want her to move in or not? Yes one the next. Poor woman! Finally, she did obviously.

We lived on the third floor of the Kitch and Kaboodle. The smallest apartment in the world, but a lot of love inside! (sorry for the crooked picture again...I must not have had my V8 that morning.)

During that period of time, Ocean Grove was struggling a bit. Many of the older hotels were abandoned and in disrepair, there were a lot of Section 8 housing areas which were set up for low income families. There were also a lot of crazy people living there. Not scary crazy..more like Tuorette syndrome crazy, some folks with other mental handicaps too. They settled in when many of the "state homes" in the area closed down and because it was cheap for them to live. The town is pretty much a self contained with it's own little grocery store and hardware store so you didn't have to drive a car to live there. And, since it's only literally one square mile, if you did have to didn't have to walk far.

Ocean Grove has gone through a major revitalization and I just read that the property values have gone way up. You can thank the Gay's and Lesbians for that one folks! They lived there and bought up houses (you can't own the land in Ocean Grove, it's owned by the Camp Meeting Association), they cleaned the area up and opened up the once vacant stores. Once things started looking good again, well, then the yuppies started moving in.

Ocean Grove also got it's knickers in a twist a few years ago when a same sex couple applied to hold their Civil Union ceremony up on a pavilion on the boarwalk. The Camp Meeting Association denied them for religious reasons and the town found itself in the middle of a lawsuit. Kind of ironic that at one time the GLBT community and the Camp Meeting Association used to work side by side to turn the town around and make it a popular resort. Now that it's turning its back on some of the citizens who did a lot of hard work to get them there.

Still, it's is one of my most favorite places in NJ and I'll try to get more pictures once the weather gets nicer and the tents are up and the Great Auditorium opens it's doors again for the summer.

And if you are into flea markets...they have THE best! They are held 2 times a year in the lawn in front of the Great Auditorium - but you gotta get there early before all the good stuff goes!

This post is for me ol' mucker Dive from the Small Glass Planet who has taken us around his world, so here is a small slice of mine!


dive said...

Wowee, Shazza! What a fabulous post!
Asbury Park! Yaay!
Shit, that takes me back. I loved that album.
And THE Stone Pony! I've seen so many grainy black and white shots of bands in there.
The whole kinda slightly faded glory of the NJ resort towns is tremendously alluring. You obviously had a great time there and this is a wonderful postcard from Asbury Park, for which we should all be grateful.

the only daughter said...

Thanks for opening up a bit of your world. History and recollections are really fascinating, sometimes surreal, even.

Sharkb said...

Very well done!

Scout said...

I lived in Ridgewood for while, and the blue laws were pretty strict. It wasn't until one of the grocery stores decided to open on Sunday and pay the huge fines week after week that things started loosening up. Sundays were so dull in those days.

I was only in Asbury Park a bouple of times, and I thought it looked a little shady. I'm glad it's trying to come back. We never made it to Ocean Grove, though.