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Asbury Park – A revival of arts and economy at the shore

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This article is part of The VOICE’s DAY OUT series that takes readers on photographic adventures to interesting locations within 2 hours drive of our newsroom in central New Jersey.

What do Abbott & Costello, Danny Devito, and Wendy Williams all have in common? They all hail from the shore town of Asbury Park, NJ  just 45 minutes from Mercer’s campus. It’s where Bruce Springsteen got his start and Jack Nicholson grew up next door in Neptune.

Since its founding in 1871 the architecturally and culturally impressive resort town has experienced wide fluctuations in its fortunes. Now, after a decades of struggling, AP, as it is commonly known, is in the midst of yet another renaissance. Street art, affordable live music venues, hip restaurants and of course the broad boardwalk are drawing visitors and reviving a struggling economy.

In the 1970s, Asbury Park went through a steep economic decline. Buildings stopped being built while half way up. Crime rates soared. Shops were shuttered.

The VOICE spoke to Mayor John Moor and a number of locals in order to find out more about the fall and rise of the city.

Mayor Moor, who grew up in AP attributes the decline of of Asbury Park in the 70s one major problem was the construction of a new school district in Ocean Township in the mid 60s. Asbury Park high school was over filled students from eight districts, so families who could afford to move out, did so.

  “It was so crowded, it went on split sessions…Ocean grove [school] was state of the art, it was modern, [the parental mindset was] ‘I want my children to go to a potentially better high school.’” Moor said.

Gale Swan, who’s been a resident her entire life, told The VOICE, “It used to be awesome, in the 50s-60s. In fact when I was seeing my husband, this is where we used to come for dates. There’s Belmontes, Pascal & Sabines. They’re usually really packed on a breezy summer night,” Swan said.

Pam Galatro, a resident of 44 years, enjoyed the Paramount Theatre in its early years seeing movies such as the original Snow White in 1950. But she told The VOICE the beach has always been the main draw.

Tom and Terry Mayer have lived in Asbury Park for six years now partly because it’s affordable but also because of the culture.

“In 2011, there was some risk in living here but we liked the idea that Asbury has a lot of different types of people. It is very multicultural. You name it, Asbury has it. Too much of the same thing gets boring, Tom Mayer said.

Along with a variety of restaurants, Asbury Park’s vibrant music scene maintains its reputation for attracting young people as it has for decades. Kicking off the careers of Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, Asbury Park’s The Stone Pony still sees names like Seether, Dark Star Orchestra, Screaming Females and the Pixies.

Mayor Moor also testifies to the depth of the music scene. As a kid, he says, he “saw every band except the Beatles, and you know why I didn’t see them? It’s because they never came to Asbury Park. We’re talking The Temptations, Ray Charles, The Who. You name them and they were playing at convention hall.”

Moor explains that Asbury is doing better financially now. He believes that this year will be the last year they request any sort of government aid. They’ve come a long way from thirteen million dollars worth of state aid to a low 850k this past year.

“Every year we just keep getting better…We just want to give back to the city. Nobody is looking to use this as a stepping stone,” Moor said.


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