Sunday, August 16, 2015

Photos-of-the-Week #224 - Scenes From The Past, Asbury Park Palace Casino & Laingdon Hotel, Asbury Park & Ocean Grove, New Jersey, June 2014

Some things seem to pass the test of time like the Pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China and a city like Venice, Italy. The U.S. isn't near as old as these other examples, but there are still some places that have that certain historic aura. Parts of the Jersey Shore are like that. For readers who are not from New Jersey, the Jersey Shore is the name used for at least a century for  the entire 141 mile New Jersey Atlantic Coast. You may also hear the phrase "down the shore" commonly used by those who frequent this major eastern resort area. And, yes, there was a cable TV show titled "Jersey Shore." Three guesses what it was about.

The photo above is what remains of the historic Asbury Park Palace Casino. To the very right edge of the photo you can see just a small portion of what was known as the Carousel Building where an historic merry-go-round resided for decades from the time it was originally built. The structure, or what remains of it, except for the part of the complex that extended out onto the beach and has been demolished, is undergoing restoration.

Unfortunately, the merry-go-round was sold and is now located and still operational at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I'm not sure what the plans are for the restored structure at this time. Asbury Park was a very popular vacation resort destination from the latter 1800's until about the latter 1970's, probably about a century in all. The Garden State Parkway began construction in the late 1940's and was completed in the 1950's. It opened the door to the more southerly beach locations available to the northern New Jersey, southern New York State and New York City beachgoers. Asbury Park's popularity began to wane during the later 1960's and through the 1970's. By 1980 and 1990, Asbury Park almost became a ghost town and much of it went derelict.

This was all part of my youthful stomping grounds during the 1950's and 60's. I visited here fairly often with my parents and then on my own when I was old enough to drive and own a car. I recall exhibiting for my academic department at the college I was attending at the Asbury Park Convention & Exhibition Hall during the spring of 1965 at the New Jersey Education Association Convention. I especially remember it well because it was in an Asbury Park motel during that event that my friend and co-exhibitor and I learned how devastating a fifth of vodka and a quart of orange juice could be. I remember that hangover all too well.

The Palace Casino and Carousel Building were still major attractions at that time. Unfortunately, the traffic that used to go to Asbury Park in those days was being diverted to new destinations. The large, modern Monmouth Mall, the new Six Flags Theme Park in Jackson, New Jersey and the opening of gambling casinos in Atlantic City beginning in 1978, were killing Asbury Park. I visited Asbury Park in 1998 while escorting a friend from New Zealand around parts of the east coast. I hadn't been to Asbury Park in at least 25 or 30 years. I was shocked. Buildings were boarded up. Hotels and motels had been abandoned. Parking lots had weeds and wild flowers growing through the pavement. It seemed incredible to me that a place that had been so vibrant and alive had turned into nothing more than a decrepit relic and ghetto.

Hurricane Sandy threw another blow at Asbury Park in 2012. The city had endured any number of major hurricane and powerful nor'easter strikes throughout its history. But, it was almost unfair that this storm would hit Asbury Park in its crippled state just as it was attempting to rebuild. But, Mother Nature operates by her own set of rules. Fairness has nothing to do with it.

The restoration of the Palace Casino and the Carousel Building are coming along. The rest of Asbury Park was looking considerably better than my visit 16 years earlier. The architectural beauty of buildings like the old Palace Casino and Carousel Building are an important part of our legacy, creativity and industriousness of the American Spirit.

This second photo is taken from the beachfront in Ocean Grove, New Jersey looking north to Asbury Park. At the end of the street you can see the Palace Casino, Carousel Building and the old, now abandoned, Steam Plant structure that stands as a monument of a time past.

Here you see the Victorian designed wooden hotels and guesthouses that lined the beach front in Ocean Grove, a short walk to the boardwalk and amusements of Asbury Park. Prominent in the foreground is the Laingdon Hotel. This beautiful example of Victorian architecture was built around 1875 and, of course, has undergone restoration. It is still providing accommodations to Jersey Shore vacationers 140 years later. The other wooden hotels and guesthouses along the road offer a taste of history and elegance that just isn't the same in the new brick, metal and glass behemoths that have glutted so many of our vacation destinations.

Ocean Grove, New Jersey was originally the site of a Methodist camp meeting and retreat. All the land is still owned by the Methodist camp meeting association and rented to "homeowners" for 99 years. There is still a 5,500 seat meeting hall there and each summer since 1869 there is a tent city numbering about 114 units set up on the grounds of the meeting hall. The waiting list to rent a tent for the summer is more than ten years long. When I was a kid no cars or motorized vehicles were allowed to be driven on the roads of Ocean Grove on Sundays. That was finally overturned by a law suit in 1981. However, there are still a number of other "blue laws" on the books and no alcoholic beverages may be sold in the community.

While I've not stayed at any of the pictured hotels or guesthouses, I have stayed at the wooden del Coronado on Coronado Island in San Diego. It is a true experience to feel the ambiance of such historical properties. I enjoy finding and walking through these examples of a time long passed. There is still a wood frame hotel operating in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and another at Orkney Springs, Virginia currently operated as a retreat center by an Episcopal Diocese. I've visited both hotels.   

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