"Jersey Shore's Tarnished Jewel (With 2008 Update)" Top 5 Page for this destination Asbury Park by nicolaitan

Asbury Park Travel Guide: 41 reviews and 109 photos

The Glory Years

In the prime of my younger years in the early 1960's there was Asbury Park and then there was the rest of the world. Living just one block from the north end of the mile long boardwalk, countless days and nights were spent on the crowded boards, the magnificent beach, and in the oceanside bars. The bumper cars and tunnel of love at Palace Amusements, the skeeball games and carousel at the casino, the shows at the Paramount. I recall Joan Baez in the earliest 60's, solo with only her guitar, fleshing out her show with folkie versions of doowop songs after releasing her first album. Riding the circuit. Custards at Kohl's. The memories of a bygone era.

The History

As late as the 1860's, the future Asbury was just a forest fronting a beach. James Bradley, a New York businessman vacationing at the Methodist retreat of nearby Ocean Grove, recognized the potential for a non-religious ocean resort and bought the ocean front property. He named his new town Asbury Park after Francis Asbury, the founder of Methodism in the United States.
Over the years, Asbury became a premier vacation resort with its beautiful beach, numerous posh hotels, and fine restaurants. The boards were lined with arcades, amusement rides, food stands, fortune tellers, and theatres. His original vision, even before one building was constructed, included wide streets and open spaces around the three lakes in the town. Asbury had the second electric trolley system in the US and an advanced for the time sanitary system.
But bad times were to come - as shopping malls and theme parks developed, Asbury began a long decline becoming by the 1980's a drug-infested crime-ridden slum. The boardwalk fell into disrepair, the stalls lining the boardwalk were closed, shuttered, and eventually many were demolished.
Over the last 10 or so years, attempts at rejuvenation and revival have come and gone. Famously, as one mayor stood at one end of the lake proclaiming a new Asbury, the police were dredging the remains of a murder victim from the other end.
Beginning in the late 90's and accelerating, a new influx of residents is trying to change Asbury again. What the city refers euphemistically to as the art community and what real people would simply refer to as the gay population were drawn here by extremely low housing costs, the beach, and the deco environment of the ruined beachfront. A new wave of money is now trying to again change the past. Several new luxurious condominiums have been or will be constructed with prices in excess of $600,000 on the beachfront and in the downtown shopping area. The hulk of the once famous Berkeley Carteret hotel facing the ocean across Ocean Avenue was bought by developers for a pittance - $34 million - and is now gutted and being reconstructed for much more. Trendy restaurants have opened along the downtown shopping area, and a few stalls have actually opened on the boardwalk along with one or two small restaurants. The Convention Center and Paramount Theatre present occasional third rate touring bands. But Asbury has a long way to go regain even a semblance of its former glory.

Where have my memories gone?

How bright is the future for Asbury? The circuit is no more as Kingsley and Ocean Avenue have been returned to two-way status and a large cement building disrupts the oval at the north end of town. It doesn't really matter because there is no traffic. Despite designation as an Historic Landmark, the Palace Amusement building was demolished by developers in 2004, the lot now rubbish filled and vacant. The casino and the carousel are in decrepit shape with broken windows and rust. Excepting the Carteret, the luxurious hotels have been demolished or are boarded hulks. Some restaurants are doing well, but many of the trendy restaurants like the Red Fusion sushi bar have come - and gone bankrupt. The luxurious condominiums are selling poorly. The boardwalk and the beach remain nearly deserted. The concert hightlight of the year is Lynyrd Skynyrd - one night only. The trendy bar overlooking the beach from the convention center draws photographers, myself included, but not customers. The "art community" has brought a few upscale stores including some antique and design outlets, but are hardly a draw. Asbury has hope as well as a lot of financial backing and investment, but the future remains cloudly.

But one facet of Asbury Park has not changed - a great beach and a long boardwalk ideal for strolling and jogging. These remain the best hope for revival for the town in my memories.

2008 UPDATE - A lot has happened in Asbury Park in the space of one year. A multimillion dollar real estate development company has bought the rights to develop the two blocks closest to the ocean, promising the city to invest 100 million dollars over three years. Changes are already evident - dilapidated buildings along the boardwalk now contain hurriedly opened stores. Often without signs, most without more than bare walls and old cracked cement floors, these privately owned fast food joints, gift shops, and souvenir stores are being opened so fast that signs are needed telling the construction crews what goes to where. Several vacant lots have been paved for carparks and parking meters have been installed on the blocks closest to the beach. Many older buildings - including supposedly protected heritage sites like the Metropolitan Hotel - have been levelled with the property awaiting development.
But the results are already visible. The beaches are more crowded, the stores and restaurants have actual customers. Joggers and bike riders on the boardwalk are being joined by day trippers who are actually paying to use the beach. The casino, site of the famous merry-go-round, is being cleaned out from 20 years of accumulated debris. Will it all succeed? Only time will tell.

Images of this latest attempt at reincarnating Asbury begin with things to do tip 11.

  • Intro Updated Sep 10, 2008
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Reviews (21)

Comments (17)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Feb 22, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    Me again, coming back to have a look at your 2008 updates. Has there been any progress since then?

  • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
    Nov 4, 2012 at 12:25 AM

    Ashbury Park. I watch the live coverage of Sandy arriving there at CNN. It has a connection with Bruce Springsteen. PJ

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Apr 12, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    All the historic buidlings have such character and all have a wonderful story. Lovely bloom Lew. The boardwalk, beach, and casino's look fun. I am glad hope has been restored to the community. Nice page Lew!

  • Kuznetsov_Sergey's Profile Photo
    Aug 13, 2010 at 2:48 AM

    What an interesting place to visit! Thank you Lew for sharing!

  • KiKitC's Profile Photo
    Sep 28, 2009 at 3:13 AM

    Probably the best write up I've seen of Asbury. Bravo. My mother grew up there, on Langford St and my grandfather taught at Asbury High School. It's interesrting to see the changes occuring here.

  • icunme's Profile Photo
    Aug 26, 2009 at 1:38 PM

    Hope this major revitalization makes it - shame on Bruce! Grazie for great photos and detail. <(•¿•)>

  • Herwig1961's Profile Photo
    Dec 15, 2008 at 5:05 PM

    This must have been a amazing place at is primetime!Very informative and interesting to read about.Thank you!

  • travelmad478's Profile Photo
    Jul 10, 2008 at 10:27 AM

    Excellent (if depressing ) page on Asbury--my home town. I was just there in April and things are sort of progressing, at a snail's pace. The boardwalk is still great, the Stone Pony still there, but everything I knew as a kid is gone...

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Jun 9, 2008 at 3:22 AM

    Hi Lew!Had been waiting in baited anticipation to see anything of Bruce! and finally....!Have enjoyed your interesting tips - and the mouth watering Bistro Ole - sounds well worth a journey in its direction!

  • Apr 27, 2008 at 11:11 AM

    Excellent page with a lot of information!


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