Convention Center and Paramount Theatre
These two impressive buildings are the cultural centerpiece of the Asbury Park boardwalk, connected by the boardwalk itself running between them. They were constructed in the 1920's from archictectural plans by Warren and Wetmore, best known as the architects for New York City's Grand Central Station, the Chelsea Piers, and numerous hotels and railroad stations. The convention center overlies the beach with capacity of 3600. The Paramount showcases musical acts and the performing arts and is renowned for its acoustics. The exterior of the theatre is highlighted by the decorative ornamentation featuring mythical sea creatures and the extensive arched ground level.
The opening show featured the Marx Brothers and Ginger Rogers, July 1930. For decades, interrupted by the WWII, premier acts were drawn to these venues. In the 1960's, the convention center was the premier showcase in central New Jersey and featured visits by The Who, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and the Rolling Stones, as well as less famous artists (at that time) like the Joan Baez whose concert we attended.
Because these two buildings have been in continuous use, they are in better shape than most of the boardwalk attractions. Of course, they no longer attract top-grade performers. The highlight of the 2007 season will be one night with the remnants of Lynyrd Skynryd. On a recent weekend, a reunion tour of the Byrne Brothers, an Irish sing along group was the feature. The boardwalk between the buildings was filled with tables covered with green table cloths and signs featuring $4 beer pitchers. The conclusions are yours to draw, but the buildings themselves are a remarkable reflection of the past, including mine. Both buildings are included in the national register of historic places.
Casino refers to a gathering place or place of entertainment and in the glory years of Asbury this remarkable building fit the description perfectly. There has actually never been gambling in Asbury. The original Casino from the early 1900's was replaced by this Warren and Wetmore plan in 1929 after a major fire and housed some of Asbury's greatest attractions. The famed Carousel 87 was a great merry-go-round, the prancing hand-painted wooden (and later fibreglass) horses carrying laughing children including my own. Strange images surrounded on the glass windows of the roundhouse like bizarre Medusa figures. The fun house, the Mad-O-Rama dark ride, the Skeeball arcade. It was here, in Kevin Smith's famous movie Dogma that God as an old man went to play skeeball and was mugged on the adjacent boardwalk. The Casino was also used in Robert DeNiro's movie City by the Sea as a stand-in for a fallen Long Beach NY which is not. There was even an ice-skating rink, along with the usual t-shirt and fast food stands, a mirror maze and a fun house barrel.
The boardwalk through the Casino has been re-opened in the last few years allowing access to Ocean Grove but the Casino remains totally fenced and barricaded both outside and inside. The damaged roof and busted windows are unfixed as the building decays through planned neglect. The exterior, especially around the carousel, however, remains a Deco masterpiece and a symbol of the Jersey Shore.
The mile-long boardwalk between the North End and Ocean Grove has been reconstructed with re-opening of the long closed segment through the Casino at the south end. Grass no longer grows through the cracks and the wood segments are no longer rotted. Previously lined end to end with food stands including the famous Kohl's custard, games of chance with wheels of fortune, and arcades with pinball machines and skeeball, the modern boardwalk
is mostly lined by shuttered decrepit stalls and empty spaces. But some changes for the better have occured.
Howard Johnson's circular restaurant has been re-opened under new manangement and some of the older stands have also re-opened with souvenier stores and fast-food places. On selected weekends, vendors offer from their tents art work mostly reminiscent of the past. Walkers and joggers fill the boards in the morning hours, but during peak hours the magnificent boards are half-deserted. Even the mediocre miniature golf course is again available.
The included images are of the boards, with images of the old shuttered stands and the vast and empty spaces fronting the ocean waiting for the rebirth of Asbury.
take a long lonely walk on the boardwalk
I can remember days when you had to shove your way through the crowds on the Asbury Park boardwalk on a summer weekend afteroon.
Now you are lucky to see anyone within 100 feet of you.
Summers are still hot; New Jersey is still muggy; so where are the crowds???.
maybe we could have a VTers convention in Asbury Park and liven things up a little.
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