drakkar91.com presents... Asbury Park "Then & Now"

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ASBURY PARK, NEW JERSEY

Gay Asbury Park

As mentioned from the earliest days of this site (started around 1997-1998), the gay community has been a key factor in the redevelopment of Asbury Park.

Throughout Asbury's darkest days, bars like Down The Street served the GLBT community.  Down the Street operated from the 1980's until 1999 when Paradise opened.  Currently, the old club site is partially vacant and partially occupied by a bar named Anybody's.  A section of the bar, referred to as "the play pen" is the back section of the original Down The Street.  The bar is nothing like the old Down the Street however, and this writer for one, found the bar to be a bit scary, even with friendly staff dressed in tux shirts.  I visited during NJ Pride on Sunday July 6th, while most revelers were cramming into Paradise just a few steps away.  Just a handful of regulars were slung over the bar.  Another bar in Asbury Park, I believe named the Phoenix, operated as well during the late 1980's, and featured a dance floor.

When talk of redevelopment stirred again in the late 1990's, Ocean Grove resident and remixer, Shep Pettibone acquired the empty decaying Empress Motel.  In 1999, he opened Club Paradise, a huge dance club, and one of the best in the Northeast, possibly the best in New Jersey.  A risk indeed, as the most significant events towards redevelopment only occurred in 2002 and 2003.  Talk of opening for dining and lodging within a year or two never surfaced, but this summer (August 2004), renovations to parts of the hotel section will be complete, and rooms will again be available for rent (from about $129 and up).  No indications of meal service yet.

Other then Paradise and the Empress, blocks surrounding the business remain desolate, and vacant.  But the club is a key factor in the redevelopment, and is the first signs of real life a stones throw from the boardwalk and beach.  Party goers pack the place on weekends, even more so in warmer months.  Several blocks north, the Berkeley Carteret remains to be one of the most stable businesses in Asbury Park, having survived the past 2 decades.

A similar development in an area called "Wilton Manors" in Ft. Lauderdale Florida tells a similar story.  A run-down, poor neighborhood with an almost vacant shopping center becomes home to "Georgies Alibi", now a staple in the redevelopment occurring for miles around.   Unlike Asbury Park, the redevelopment there has been swift, rapidly rising home values (some of the highest jumps of anywhere in the country) have occurred over the course of the past few years.  A huge gay community has emerged, with folks relocating from all over the country.  A "small community" of dedicated people created "Wilton Manors", whereas the primary redevelopment in Asbury Park will come from "big corporations". 

In the meantime however, prices in Asbury Park are also rising, and the Cookman Avenue corridor looks better then it has in 2 decades.  Several fine-dining restaurants have appeared in just the past few years.   Many of the new gay and lesbian settlers come from New York City.  New condos and town homes can be had from about $300,000 and up.

On June 6, 2004, New Jersey Pride was once again help in Asbury Park.  It was the 13th year of the event, though I am not certain if the event has been held for 13 consecutive years (a visit to JerseyPride.org didn't answer my question).  Though it was an overcast damp day, a good size crowd showed for the small parade and festival that was held on the lawns across from the Convention Center.  The festival offered some of the best Pride entertainment for 2004 with 2 headliners, Sophie B. Hawkins and Taylor Dayne.  Instead of parading down the boardwalk as in years past, this year, the parade headed down Main Street.  A new boardwalk has been installed, and that may have been reason for the route change.  The boardwalk itself has yet to offer much of anything.  Weather aside, considering the population in all of New Jersey, one might say it was a pretty poor showing of the states GLBT residents, considering turnouts at similar festivals around the country.

I decided to take photo's of the parade with the Palace Amusements and famous face of Tillie in the background.  This would be the last chance ever, as demolition of the old building (the oldest amusement park of this style remaining) had begun just days earlier.  A group organized to "Save Tillie" succeeded in that Tillie's face was saved from the wreckage is is supposed to appear in the new hotel / buildings that will replace the old amusement palace.  They failed in that their efforts had hoped for savior of the entire building.  Unfortunately, years of neglect, government corruption and deals gone bad sealed the buildings fate.

 

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Updated: Tuesday February 08, 2011 ęChristopher Clay