Asbury Park- Past, Present, and Future

I hear so much about Asbury Park, NJ.  Indeed, if you look on a map of the United States and look for New Jersey, you’ll often find Atlantic City and Asbury Park.  Maybe they’ll throw in Trenton because it’s the capital.

Past

From the mid-1800’s to around 1950, Asbury Park was the place to be.  A sea side resort where the rich and famous came to party and hang out.  There was plenty to do- shows, restaurants, hotels, amusements, rides, boardwalk, and of course, the ocean.  Something for everyone.

But in the 1960’s, Monmouth Mall opened up in Eatontown, a few miles north.  This new “shopping in one place” concept killed the little shops on the boardwalk, and walking blocks on a city street to find another store.  Then, the death knell… Great Adventure… it opened in the 1970’s right near an exit of the NJ Turnpike, about 40 miles west of Asbury Park.  Hundreds of the newest rides and attractions sucked the life out of the shore areas.  Asbury Park, already old and run down, fell into disrepair.  Maybe if it had been kept up, it would have survived.  But the much larger areas of Seaside, Atlantic City, and Wildwood all had bigger and more extensive boardwalks.  Asbury Park didn’t stand a chance.

Greed then kicked in.  Developers bought near ocean front property with big plans to revitalize Asbury Park.  It never happened.  Whether government got involved or became a hinderance, permits were never issued, bribes were demanded, buildings collapsed, and block after block turned into urban blight.  Crime skyrocketed and the police force dwindled.  No one came to the boardwalk, so all the shops closed up and boarded up.  Part of the Palace Amusements was dismantled and Tillie the Clown was removed (I believe to a museum).  The last sacred bit of Asbury Park, the famous carousel, was saved from demolition by being purchased and moved to one of the Carolinas, where it runs to this day (I’m told).  Asbury tinkered on being considered a ghetto.

Present

Then the plans began.  Revitalization, again.  This time, with new government, a new economy (remember, real estate was going up 10% in value every year!), they could start anew.  And start they did.  Most of the convention center was remodeled and reopened.  Now we have a few restaurants, shows, a bar or two… the boardwalk was refurbished and now people are actually walking on it!  With people comes opportunity for business.  A small water park for small children was opened, a few small restaurants and food stands, some clothing, and other typical beach stores have all opened.  The Stone Pony was saved by Bruce Springsteen and a few others.  The Paramount Theater has live shows, and The Wonder Bar is still there along with a few others.

So, I decided to take a drive to Asbury… we had been here a few weeks ago for the annual Zombie Walk- 4000+ people dress up as zombies around Halloween and walk the boardwalk.  Tons of people and a really fun time.  I looked around a bit and it intrigued me… there were signs of revitalization.

So with some construction going on, I thought I’d get a few photos of what is right now, before it is gone for good, or at least remodeled.  I did my own personal photo walk.  I waited until the afternoon to get a warmer glow to the light.  All of the following were shot with an 18-55mm or 55-200mm lens, ISO 200 or 400.

The Carousel House

Above is where the famous carousel once ran.  I do remember riding it in one of its last years of operation and grabbing for the golden ring… now, the building is being renovated, although slowly.  A few years ago it was all boarded up- the boards are now gone and you can peer inside to where the carousel once entertained countless thousands of people.

Inside the Carousel House

In back of the carousel house was the “Casino” – in its heyday it held a skating rink.  In the 1980’s or ’90’s, part of it collapsed, but has now been rebuilt.  Hopefully in the near future it will hold shops or something.

The Casino, Interior View

Between the Casino and carousel were amusements- games and such.  Now, it’s a construction site.  Peering through the construction wall, I found this…

Casino Construction

I can only hope those new swans and dragons are a sign of things to come.

Next to the Casino was an old steam power plant.  It provided steam and electricity to the boardwalk and some surrounding areas in the 1920’s.  It is boarded up and there is no access.  There was at least one attempt in the last few years to turn it into an art museum, but I believe those plans fell through.  What will become of this building?  No idea.  It looks like a cool place, but I can’t imagine a walk inside would be safe, although I’d love to get a peek.

Abandoned Steam Power Plant

Further down the boardwalk are some newer shops.  There’s also a kiddie water park across the street from The Stone Poney, which is, of course, open all year.  Stop in for a beer, catch a show, and the likes of Bruce Springsteen or John Bon Jovi may show up.

Water Park and Stone Poney

It’s also nice to see this…

Beach Chairs Stored for Winter

A beach chair rental shop, closed for the winter, but nevertheless, there.  Cool how the window reflected the beach… waiting for the warmer weather and all those beach chairs to come out of storage.

Current events are not lost on Asbury Park either.  While walking around looking for interesting angles to take pictures, I came across this scrawled on the wall of the power plant….

Graphitti, Asbury Park

I’m sure it’s a leftover from the Zombie Walk a few weeks before.  There were plenty of “Occupy” protesters at the Zombie Walk.  But it does illustrate that no matter its condition, Asbury Park is still a “hip” place to be, at least during an organized event.

Future

What does the future hold for Asbury Park?  I’m honestly not sure.  I do know it caters to a large gay/lesbian population and lots of “artsy” people.  I can’t imagine they’ll let it continue in its current condition for too much longer.  After all, those curtains just don’t match urban blight!

I guess it depends on how much greed is left in our current business/government environment.  Are there leins on properties?  Probably.  I can’t imagine that a developer would buy a million dollar piece of property if he would then have to pay another $10M in unpaid taxes.  If the local government is willing to work with developers on forgiving leins, reducing property taxes to a reasonable amount (at least short term), cleaning up their part (streets, parking lots), cracking down on crime, and not taking bribes, maybe, even with the current economy, Asbury Park has a shot.

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5 thoughts on “Asbury Park- Past, Present, and Future

  1. This was pretty good and I appreciate your enthusiasm for a city with so much history. Some of your facts are inaccurate, however. Asbury really didn’t fall into as deep a decline as it did until the late 80’s and it was also racial riots that led to the great and gradual demise it suffered. There’s lots of online sites and some books that you might enjoy, so check them out!

    • Hi Trish,

      Very true, although I’d put it a few years earlier… I graduated from high school in 1981 and some friends and I used to visit Asbury Park during the summers before going off to college. The urban decay that is there now was certainly visible then. While many of the businesses were still open, they were already in dire straights, and many had not been modernized or remodeled in any meaningful way at least since the 1960’s, probably also around the time of the race riots. But that’s just fiddling over facts. The bottom line, of course, is it is where it is and there are no more excuses. Asbury Park will make a come back if Asbury Park wants to come back.

      Of course, my intent was not to discuss the history of this city, but to show it photographically, past and present.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  2. Also the “Casino” did not have the carousel that you could grab the golden ring, that was “Palace Amusements”.

  3. I grew up there in the seventies and it was full of life.the casino and palace where still going.you could see any band that. You liked at the convention hall or the casino.they need to forget about the taxes that might be still owed and bring these buildings back to there glory for future generations.Sad about all the buildings that have already been torn down.the city still has a heartbeat.people just got to feel it and the past will guide them to what has to be done to this beautiful city of the past.

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