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Asbury Park: No Dusty Arcades... No Carnival Life on the Water1

November 7, 2013

Last week, i found myself once again in Asbury Park, New Jersey, staring at an almost empty beach and boardwalk. I stood in the sand thinking that this little piece of urban decay never really seems to change. It appears that even after Hurricane Sandy, it has been restored to all its full neglected, dilapidated glory. The empty lots and crumbling buildings look just as they did almost 35 years ago.

Asbury Park 2013
In the summer of 1979, I arrived one evening, Nikon over my shoulder, fully committed to shooting a whole roll of color film - damn the expense!

Asbury Park 1979

Looking back, I wish it had been the digital age, because most of the pictures I took were only in my mind. For even though the ferris wheel was still standing and the carousel was still spinning, it was obvious the area was collapsing. Litter strewn lots, where once large resort hotels stood bordered the west side of the boardwalk. The race riots of the summer of 1970 had started a slope of decay from which this seaside town has never recovered.

Everyone seemed so old and alone.

After a while, clouds gathered, the few bathers left the beach... it started to rain.

Asbury ParkI cannot imagine a sadder place than the boardwalk between the old convention center and the slowly-slipping-into-the-ocean casino. Vacant lots mixed with decrepit games of chance - eyeless, mildewing, plush stuffed animals sagging from their walls.

Starting in the 90s, I have returned to photograph and draw every few years.

The pictures in this slide show were taken over the course of almost thirty-five years. I have tagged a few dates...

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The convention hall, where once the Rolling Stones and the Doors performed, has continued to be empty. One welcoming addition is a new outdoor bar, The Beach Bar, on the south terrace overlooking the beach.

The carousel house was  boarded up, then opened and cleaned out. A few concerts were held but now it is empty and mostly sheathed in plexiglass. The animals were sold off at a Sotheby’s Auction in 1990, and the carousel mechanism sits in storage in Biloxi,, Mississippi... waiting for that town to recover from Katrina.

Horses: Mono-print

Horses: Mono-print
(click to enlarge)

One year I saw a pair of the old carousel horses on display at the Convention Center.

Now, 35 years later, the town is still so desperately wrecked that I cannot even tell if Sandy did any damage or not. (Pepsico rebuilt the boardwalk) The Stone Pony withstood the winds as did Madam Marie’s. The iconic, former Howard Johnson’s took a hit, but was back in business as a bistro with a couple eating outside when Bernie and I strolled by.

Real estate signs still promise Luxury High Rise Condos, Coming Soon. Over the years, I have read that the town is being revitalized, new money has come... and true, I have seen a couple of new ugly mid-rises and some town houses. The huge price tags seem to deny the reality of their setting.  Slowly, old homes and buildings continue to fall to the wrecking ball, creating more bottle, can and plastic bag strewn patches of land.

Mertopus Mural in old Casino

Wonder Bar: Watercolor, ink and collage

Wonder Bar: Watercolor, ink and collage (click to enlarge)

The yellow earth movers have been here forever. Under cover of darkness, they slip from one messy empty lot, where they pile up dirt and trash to  another where more dirt is pushed around and PROGRESS is declared.

Amidst the empty kiosks, there are a couple of new upscale restaurants on the boardwalk, overlooking the ocean... maybe they will last until more upscale people come back to the beach.

The music scene does provide some energy to the old town, but the kids outside the Stone Pony don’t look like potential patrons for these expensive venues.

Wedding photography is quite popular here. I saw no fewer than four couples, the bride in white, being photographed on the rock jetties that protect the beach. I’m not so sure about wedding photography with the bride and groom on the rocks.

1 Bruce Springsteen: 4TH OF JULY, ASBURY PARK (SANDY)

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