Tuesday morning, around 10.30, I filled my gas tank at the WaWa out on 100, punched in Asbury Park, New Jersey into a borrowed Garmin*, and pointed my car east on I-78. I’ve spent little time in Jersey, with the exception of a vacation here and a bus trip to NYC there, my life generally has been spent ignoring the eastern neighbor of Pennsylvania.
My interest in Asbury Park, admittedly, was sparked by my intense love of Bruce Springsteen. His first 4 albums invoke imagery of a gritty seaside town and it’s former glory as a place of summer play. Around the time I fell in love with The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, I read Fourth of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land by Daniel Wolfe. Fourth of July is a detailed look at the strange, strained history of Asbury Park. Founded by James A. Bradley (our headless statue below) in 1871, it was originally billed as a place for the moral to come and be rejuvenated by the healing waters of the Atlantic, as well as to worship in the Methodist tradition.
The history of Asbury Park is outlined and colored by the religion’s strong hold on the city’s progress, intense racial divide and by Springsteen’s lyrics. I thought about this as I rolled through the town’s wide flat streets and gazed across lots of raised buildings along the famed Kingsley Street, the town’s main drag that runs parallel to the boardwalk and to the Atlantic.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I decided to make the trip. I knew that a lot of the iconic buildings had been knocked over or left to decay. I didn’t really expect new businesses going in along the boardwalk or the open spaces or the strangeness of the old seaside hotels being used as places of residency. New condos stuck out among dilapidated two-story hotels and the flat space the defined the beachfront.
The boardwalk is anchored on one side by the iconic decayed facade of the Casino, which is currently undergoing construction. At the other end, is the newly revived Paramount theater, it’s gorgeous detailing brightly re-painted. Most of the old buildings along the boardwalk have been re-faced or raised in favor of new development. I was surprised to see the incredible amount of empty lots and open spaces, waiting for developers to come in and revive Asbury Park to it’s pre-car glory.
I parked close to The Stone Pony and spent the day dragging my sandaled feet along the boardwalk. I ended up at the Ocean Grove Pier, looking up and down the Jersey coast. It was a comfortable day and the sun was high and bright above me for the two hours I poked around. By the time I was finished with photographing the boardwalk, I had acquired a nasty sunburn. I took to driving around the town and debating taking a swim in the Atlantic for five bucks. My skin, in protest, throbbed, even with the air conditioning blasting. I decided to head home, despite wanting an ice cream and a dip in the ocean and more photographs. The drive home to PA was uneventful and I made notes of the names of places in New Jersey I should explore while I’m living at home.
* I generally avoid using GPS-thingies but I wasn’t up for getting seriously and painfully lost in New Jersey. The cliche of “What exit are you from?” is accurate; the interstate system is windy, difficult to navigate and enormous.