In the mood for a random summer retro road trip, we visited Asbury Park NJ few weeks ago, simply because it is there – and Retro Roadhusband and I had never been there. Our walk along the boardwalk can be seen as a sort of flip-book of the history of this once grand vacation destination, with a different story being highlighted depending on what end of the boards you decide to start from.
If you start from the northern end of the mile and a quarter boardwalk you’ll see the historic Paramount Theatre and Convention Hall with a grand arcade connecting the two. (Arcade in the classic sense, not the pinball sense!)
Designed by the architects who also designed New York City’s Grand Central Station, you can see this majestic space had fallen on hard times at one point, but is getting back upon its feet. There are shows at the Paramount – which was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and events at Boardwalk hall (like Roller Derby!)
But unlike the boardwalk days of yore, with popcorn and amusement rides, the resurgence of Asbury Park is aiming a bit higher this time around – though nostalgia still sells at the pop-up shops outside the swanky bars that flank the hall.
The Berkeley Hotel across the way has been done up boutique style and when you get onto the boardwalk proper even the futuristic looking former Howard Johnson’s restaurant has been reopened as a Supper Club and Grille.
An hour away from New York City by train or bus, Asbury Park had its heyday from the late 1800s up until the 1960s when the suburbs, TV, highways and shopping malls pulled people away from the shore spot and left it to decline, as so many places did back then. It’s on a cautious upswing now, with even the once blighted downtown showing signs of life.
The beach has always been a draw here and you can still plant your umbrella out on the white sands - though like with most New Jersey beaches, there’s a charge to do so.
But there’s no charge to walk down the boardwalk, and get a snack, or buy a souvenir in one of the upscale shops that now line the boards (like these Taylor Pork Roll t-shirts I know will appeal to some Retro Roadmap Readers!)
But as you continue your walk southwards one thing you’ll realize is that the you don’t see any amusements or rides (with the exception of the Silberball Museum to be covered in another post.)
While Asbury had its share of that classic seaside fun during its popular years, the historic Casino and Palace amusement centers that delighted children for decades have been long closed – or demolished entirely.
The distinctive copper roundhouse that once enclosed the carousel is empty.
The one remaining bit of this fun spot is actually a reproduction – of the famous Tillie face that once graced the Palace Amusement Center (and is now in storage, or demolished, or damaged – whatever it is it’s just sad) . It has been repainted on the walls of the Wonderbar.
According to comments on this photo on Flickr, the reason Tillie was repainted here was because of a car commercial. Interesting!
We had hoped to get to Asbury Lanes – the vintage bowling alley that now does rock and roll, but they weren’t open when we were there, but I wanted to make sure they got mentioned here because they seem (har har) right up our alley.
I did not know a thing about Asbury Park before we went there, but in reading about it now, I see that it encompases so many of the hardships that many of the Retro Roadmap worthy places we love go through all the time. While I’m glad to see they’re saving what they can, it’s such a shame that so much was needlessly demolished.
Within that small mile and a quarter there are grand places and gone places. Places that used to be here, and different places replacing them. So we went into the Wonderbar and raised a pint to them all – and listened to Bruce, of course.
Asbury Park Boardwalk
1500 Ocean Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ 07712
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