I grew up at The Jersey Shore and each summer I have watched as Asbury Park has been brought back to its ‘glory days.’
As a child, I remember passing through Asbury Park and looking out my window at abandoned buildings and many unsavory characters. Asbury Park had fallen on difficult times in the late 1970’s due to a riot which was fueled by racial tensions. Sadly, the city never recovered. All of the beautiful historical buildings fell into disrepair. The historic bones of the city left a lasting impression on me as a young child. Even then, I was able to see the beauty underneath.
Sitting in the backseat of my parent’s car as we drove through Asbury Park in the early 90’s, I remember passing the larger than life looming face of Tillie. Tillie hauntingly looked down from the crumbling Palace Amusements building as we drove past.
In my research for this post, I found that Tillie was designed to look much like the ‘Coney Island Character’ face. The owner of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island built a similar albeit smaller amusement park in Asbury Park in 1888. The amusement park was named Palace Amusements and the owner had the original Tillie face replicated on the side of the main building ‘. Sadly, the amusement park closed in 1988, and the building fell into disrepair until it was demolished in 2004.
Over the years I have watched as Asbury Park has been rebuilt-little by little. On my most recent trip, I managed to take a few photos to try to capture the beauty of this recently restored beachside city.
Gone are many of the crumbling buildings and unsavory characters. They have been replaced with brand new glistening condos and artists with sleeves of tattoos. The beaux-arts buildings designed by architects Whitney Warren & Charles Wetmore (the designers of Grand Central Station) that were once left to decay are now back to their former glory.
My heart skipped a beat as I walked into the old convention center which now houses unique shops and a brand new convention center. In the 1960s, the Asbury Park Convention Hall was the largest venue in the area, hosting such artists as The Doors, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones. Now Nirvana is playing the refurbished convention center in a few weeks…who would have thought?!
Walking along the boardwalk I tell my children what I remember of the Asbury Park before the restoration. I’m just about to mention Tillie when I spy a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. Could it be?
That is when I see him…Tillie grinning from ear to ear just as I remember him.
This Tillie now prominently displayed on the Wonder Bar along Ocean Avenue is a replica though, I would recognize that smiling grin anywhere.
I am happy to see that Asbury Park though long neglected is now on its way to a bright future. Oh, and if you look to Tillie, the future is looking pretty happy too.
The original Tillie that I remember vividly from my childhood has since been saved and is awaiting restoration.