Scene (and Seen) on Sixth Avenue



The Other Day. Just off West 8th Street.

On Display: The River album.

Asbury Park: An Appreciation of the Gritty

Casino, Asbury ParkThere are some places that are clearly magical. Washington Square Park is one of them. Asbury Park, along the Jersey shore, is another. I spent summers during my college years at the clubs there seeing bands when Bruce Springsteen (bursting at the seams of fame) would jump on stage at the Stone Pony or The Fast Lane. Asbury at that time was run down but nonetheless full of charm.

Recently, Asbury Park has been privy to its own “renovation,” and like New York City’s redesign of Washington Square Park, there’s this drive by the powers-that-be to erase the old. Any signs of grit or bohemia – bulldozed over. The major difference with Asbury is that it has the ocean – which is magnificent – and the town is so large that it’s difficult for any one entity to erase everything magical about it.

I walked around Asbury yesterday. There’s this apparent tendency by developers to want every inch of space to be allotted to high end restaurants, galleries and stores, as if it’s attempting to be Soho or “NoLiTa” — instead of letting it be what it is. There are closed storefronts that once housed hair salons and electronics stores and video stores. One of the local weeklies, the Tri-City News, has article after article stating, that, with the economic downturn, rents are down and new creative businesses can come back to Asbury and Red Bank. !

Why does it take an economic downturn for the creative to blossom? Is the only value to landlords and developers (and people like Mayor Bloomberg) money and real estate – and the accumulation of both?

Spring 2008

Spring 2008

Nobody's Bar - Now Gone

Nobody's Bar - Now Gone

Asbury Park will always have a magical spirit, no matter what they do to it. There was a time when it was seedy and charming and, if just left to its own devices, it would have rebounded in a harmonious, organic way.

But instead, with the corrupt government’s blessing, “investors” came in, including, inexplicably, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson and Henry Vaccaro, and began constructing a building that blocked the famous driving strip along Ocean Avenue. They soon declared bankruptcy and left this monstrosity, like a shipwreck protruding from the sea, there. in the middle. of everything. For years.

The town went careening downhill from there. Now, they are taking a new stab at “revitalization.” New “developers” appeared earlier in this decade. Instead of proposing a few tweaks here and there, their plan was to reconstruct miles and miles, take property via eminent domain, to bring Asbury Park ‘back.’ The city government, again, went for it.

The "Casino" - this section now demolished

The "Casino" - this section now demolished

There are similarities between the saga of Asbury Park and Washington Square Park. Both places had ups and downs. Heydays and not-so-great days. But both were at a place where they just needed the city to come in and do a little bit of repairing, grease the mechanisms a bit. Instead, they swoop in with their charts and graphs and maps and attempt to wipe the slate clean.

There’s seemingly this driving force behind it: a need to make everything somewhat whitewashed and devoid of its history. To make these magnificent places homogenized and stripped of the very qualities that make them so special. To make it all the same. The strip mallification and corporatization of every inch of space. No one is more of a proponent of that, via his policies and endless development of New York City, than Mayor Bloomberg.

How do you legislate appreciation of the gritty?

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*Updated and revised version of entry originally published July 2nd, 2008*

Asbury Park: An appreciation of “the gritty.” Madam Marie, Boardwalk psychic immortalized by Bruce Springsteen lyric, dies

Madam Marie\'s boardwalk Asbury ParkCasino, Asbury ParkAsbury Park is not a park and it’s not in New York City. But like Washington Square Park it’s a place that matters. It has history and charm and spirit. Well, at least, it did until the Asbury Park government sold it down the river – several times.

It will always have a magical spirit, no matter what they do to it. There was a time when it was seedy and charming and, if just left to its own devices, it would have rebounded in a harmonious way. But instead, “investors” came in, including, inexplicably, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson and Henry Vaccaro, and began constructing a building that blocked the famous driving strip along the Ocean. They declared bankruptcy and left this monstrosity, like a shipwreck protruding from the sea. There. in the middle. of everything. For years. The town went careening downhill from there. But then. It happened. There were signs of life. Again, it could have just transpired on its own. But “developers” appeared (earlier in this decade) and instead of proposing a few tweaks here and there, they wanted to reconstruct miles and miles, take property via eminent domain, bring Asbury Park ‘back.’ The city government, again, went for it.

Mark Moran, writer from a magazine, book and web site appropriately called Weird NJ, summed up the previous incarnation of Asbury Park well:

The Asbury Park that I knew and loved in my younger days was not the wholesome family fun resort of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Asbury Park of my fond memories [early ’80’s] was a seedy, run-down seaside town, languishing in the afterglow of its earlier heyday, when it was the jewel in the crown of the Jersey Shore. …

What was left in the wake of the retreating nuclear families and day-trippers, was an odd assortment of misfit characters. They were the kinds of people who were not necessarily welcomed with open arms in other resort towns, but who felt comfortable here. Bikers, hippies, gays, rockers, and religious cultists had all adopted Asbury Park as their new summer home. This eclectic melange of personalities gave the town a vital counter-cultural flavor. There was also a thriving (and now legendary) nightlife, where local rock bands could share the stage at places like the Stone Pony or the Fast Lane with internationally renowned acts. Fans from all over would travel for miles just to hang out in the local clubs hoping to catch a glimpse of Bruce Springsteen (not an uncommon occurrence at the time).

In addition to its colorful cast, what really made Asbury Park appealing in its waning days was the same things that drew people there generations before. The beach, boardwalk and buildings there were still among the most beautiful on the entire Jersey Shore (albeit deteriorating rapidly).

There are similarities between the saga of Asbury Park and Washington Square Park. Both places had ups and downs. Heydays and not-so-great days. But both were at a place where they just needed the city to come in and do a little bit of repairing, grease the mechanisms a bit. Instead, they swoop in with their charts and graphs and maps and attempt to wipe the slate clean. There’s seemingly this driving force behind it: a need to make everything somewhat whitewashed and devoid of its history. To make these magnificent places homogenized and stripped of the very qualities that make them so special. To make it all the same. The strip mallification and corporatization of every inch of space. No one is more of a proponent of that, via his policies and endless development of our city, than Mayor Bloomberg.

How do you legislate appreciation of the gritty? It would be really wonderful is if those in “power” could appreciate the mixing it up of real artistry with glamour, of the not-so-pretty and the people on the edge and realize that those are all vital contributions to what make a place matter.

What would Madam Marie say?

Madam Marie, Asbury Park boardwalk psychic, survived it all. She was 93 and died on Friday, immortalized in Bruce Springsteen‘s 1973 song, “4th of July, Asbury Park(Sandy),” with the line “Did you hear the cops finally busted Madam Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do?”