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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.
Updated Aug 23, 2007
The Stone Pony looks like any roadside bar in the United States but is unquestionably one of the world's most revered rock music venues. Originally constructed as a biker Beer garden with occasional live band performances, Mrs. Jay's was forced out of business over the issure of see-through blouses on the waitresses. With the downfall and racial riots soon to follow, the building lay empty until the Stone Pony opened in 1974. State of the art sound and light equipment brought many top flight bands here as well as many future stars to be including a young Jon Bon Jovi.
Asbury's downward spiral forced closure of the club at least twice in the 1990's. Re-opened in 2000, it was rebuilt as it originally appeared with top flight equipment and today attracts both touring rock bands of modest repute as well as local bands. The musical boundaries have widened considerably - a recent top flight appearance was the Tony Tryschka band, one of my favorite bluegrass bands.
Since 2000, the new management has become extremely active in the community. It has a small museum of old artifacts, and is involved in chairtable causes including world hunger, local food drives, and supporting young musical acts and musical education.
Updated Dec 10, 2007
Address: 913 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ
Phone: 732 502 0600
The 180 room Metropolitan Hotel is a classic example of the upscale ornate hotels located within two blocks of the boardwalk and beach. This Spanish style building with an attached motel unit was one of the last large facilities to close, finally, in 1989. The ornate style includes Doric columns and both external and internal porches, and a large central pavilion. Sold in 1987 for $2.25 million dollars, the more recent sale price by a bank after foreclosure was only $10,500 -- for a piece of prime real estate. The city of Asbury Park refused an offer several years ago to create a home for the welfare population and this remarkable building remains shuttered and boarded up, a sad reminder of former glories. Now owned by the city, its status as a landmark prevents destruction of the outer walls. The city has offered the building for sale for over 2 million dollars - understandably, there has been no interest.
2008 Update - the hulk of the Metropolitan is no more. Despite heritage status, the building has been levelled by the development company and remaining is yet another vacant lot with debris.
Updated Sep 1, 2008
Address: 309 Asbury Avenue, Asbury Park
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.
Updated Aug 22, 2007
Address: On the Ocean
Asbury's long white sandy beach will remain one of the main attractions for all time - clean, wide, and well-maintained. For the first time in years, lounges and umbrellas can be rented at the stairs down from the boardwalk. On shore breezes are delightful along the Jersey coastline and the beach used to be jammed with families and young people. Today the beach is as beautiful as ever, but the infrastructure has disintegrated. There are, sadly, no showers and no changing facilities or lockers. The few open restaurants and stores limit their bathroom facilities to paying customers. And for the entire mile-plus length, the only public bathrooms are in one trailer on the boardwalk. Not hooked up to the sewer system, it is basically a large port-a-john. Parking years ago was in fairly expensive lots 2 blocks off the beach. Today, one can park at meters on Ocean Avenue or for free perhaps half a block inland without any difficulty at all. The latest rebirth of Asbury will require a crowded beach and boardwalk but the lack of basic amenities cannot work in its favor. These images give an idea of how deserted the beach can be on a summer Saturday afternoon.
Updated Aug 25, 2007
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.
Updated Aug 23, 2007
This venerable bar and music venue on Ocean Avenue near the north end has featured over the years many well-known rock musicians. Originally famous for having "the mile-long bar" around the periphery, it achieved real fame after the demolition of Palace Amusements in 2004. The previously white building was painted pale green in the style of the amusement hall and an image of Asbury's iconic Tilly was painted literally overnight.
The face of Tillie on the Palace Amusement outer wall was the face of Asbury - a demonically smiling old-time face welcoming visitors to the rides and attractions in a bygone era, mine. The new owners of the Wonderbar will not volunteer that the image is not the original, but the true Tillie is in storage. The exterior of the building is a New Jersey Heritage site.
Like the Stone Pony, the Wonderbar serves a short greasy lunch menu with all the usual suspects. On selected nights, local and third rate travelling rock bands bring small audiences for the music and Miller Lite beer by the pitcher. In the past, some notable acts have appeared here and Bruce Springsteen was an occasional unannouced visitor, but the highlight of this year is a one night only visit on Labor Day weekend of Gary (US) Bonds, tickets $20.
Written Aug 24, 2007
Address: 5th And Ocean Avenue Asbury Park NJ 07712
Phone: 732 502 8886
The most famous of Asbury Park's hotels was the Berkeley Carteret, located just across Ocean Avenue from the Convention Center and Paramount Theatre and connected by a second story bridge. Originally built in the 1920's, it was designed as a luxury hotel to serve "all the best people" and it did. In my memory, it was the hotel - convention center combination that hosted many state wide conventions for Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Political Parties, given Asbury's midpoint location between north and south New Jersey. A large facility, it had decorous ballrooms and over 250 rooms. After the decay and race riots of the 1970's the hotel fell into disrepair and ruin. It has been rebought and resold and renovated many times. Over $20 million was sunk into the hotel in the mid-1980's and in 1989 the Paramount and the hotel hosted the premiere of Asbury Park native Danny DeVito's film "Throw Momma from the Train". Again in 2007, recently purchased for $34 million, it is undergoing yet another total renovation. Notice on the images the absent windows as the two north wings are gutted.
While built under totally separate ownerships, the Paramount and the Berkeley Carteret have very similar exteriors, quite harmonious. Red brick, with white, copper green, tan, and sky blue was the dominant color scheme for town.
Of interest, during WWII the hotel stayed alive by housing thousand of naval personnel from the British Navy.
This latest renovation, like so many earlier, depends on the revitalization of Asbury Park as a major shore destination. A risky investment, based on history.
Written Aug 24, 2007
Address: Ocean Avenue and 6th Street, Asbury Park, NJ
The over the top tower just south of the Casino is one of the tallest buildings on the boardwalk. It is currently totally shuttered and barricaded and gives no evidence as to its function. The strange architecture draws all sorts of guesses about its former life, but the rather mundane answer is - the boilers and heaters for the Casino were housed here. In order to keep open as long as possible the Casino, which was at least in part open to the elements, required a lot of heating.
Written Aug 24, 2007
Visiting beachside condominium sales offices is a very popular activity on the boardwalk. Not only are they airconditioned, but they have the only flush toilets open to the public without buying or eating something.
The heart of the current plan for Asbury's rebirth is developing an upscale residential community beyond the gay population. Three huge upscale condominium complexes are being built on the oceanfront and several of the deserted buildings in the business center are being gutted and refitted. Prices are $600000 US and up. These are going to be an very difficult sell for many reasons. One earlier builder walked out on a half constructed cement monstrosity at the north end bankrupt a few years ago ( the dirty hulk lies across Ocean Ave permanently destroying Springsteen's famous circuit.)
The buildings are all east west oriented - half the units will never see the direct rays of the sun and only a few will be ocean-front. Most overlook vacant trash-filled lots because all the old buildings have been demolished. There are zero amenities - not a convenience store much less a supermarket, bank, or gas station within a mile. The apartments are large and tony - they just aren't selling.
The most damaging part of all this - overbuilding. There are plans for over 2000 units on paper and less than 50 have been sold in two years of trying. Assorted images accompany.
Updated Aug 25, 2007
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