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
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
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.