Thursday, February 18, 2010

Comment on Palace Amusements Demise

Dear Maureen:
Thank you for posting Kathryn Bevacqua's inventory of the 1888 Carousel House and the Palace Amusement's treasures that were destroyed through what is apparently neglect by the City of Asbury Park. For those of us who have been involved in trying to save all the treasures of the Asbury Park waterfront, this outcome could have been predicted as far back as 1994 when my husband and I first moved to Ocean Grove.
Our apartment on Ocean Avenue overlooked The Palace Amusements, the Casino with its lovely art nouveau Carousel House and Wesley Lake. Yes, they were all in pretty bad shape but they still possessed an astounding - if eerie - beauty. So beautiful, in fact, local artists continually painted and photographed the waterfront and "Tillie" and other examples of Asbury Americana. Those art works were (and continue to be) on display in antique stores and galleries and restaurants.Intrigued by Asbury Park and its connections to Ocean Grove, I joined the Citizens for Wesley Lake where I eventually became secretary of the organization and worked on the painting of the footbridges and raised money to place fountains in the center of the lake. Later on, I joined the Historical Society of Asbury Park.
It was through CWL that I first met Werner Baumgartner, who at the time, I believe, was Vice President of the organization and the modern founder of the HSAP. I was immediately impressed by his vast knowledge of Asbury's history and his brilliant articulation of the myriad problems facing the town and redevelopment. I would even go so far as to say that Werner is a visionary. And that, of course, is what disturbs and infuriates those who cannot see what he sees.
Now, I'm no visionary, and I don't know much about art, but I know what I like: those lost and fading treasures we thought were safely entombed within the Public Works office. I believe there is a lot of blame to spread around regarding this mess, including individuals such as myself who were way too slow to action.
Paradoxically, I was the first person on the scene at 6:00 am in 2004 when the demolition began on the Palace. I was alerted to this by an Ocean Grove pal who was rattled out of her bed by the sound of bulldozers. This was a startling development: the demolition was scheduled for 8:00 am. Why was the time changed? Was it to get the drop on activist-citizens who planned to rally at that exact hour while others sought a court injunction?
By the time I called Werner and others, the destruction was well underway and I was advised by police to move away from the scene. Such a sad morning and I strongly remember Werner's grief and frustration at the waste.
But it wasn't just the ordinary residents of the area who were to blame. Much of the fault lies with a truly supine media that ignored every indication of the wholesale destruction that was to come. By media I mean: The Asbury Park Press, the Coaster and the Tri-City News. The Asbury Park Press and the Coaster blindly supported the redevelopment plans while Tri-City waffled back and forth, finally settling on a countdown to the death of "Tillie" and a foolish editorial stance that suggested the world-famous Stone Pony be removed from its Ocean Avenue location and resettled in the downtown area. Luckily, that brain child never came to fruition.
Meanwhile, the APP reporters never failed to call concerned and intelligent tax payers who gathered at City Council meetings "gadflies", while the Coaster took up precious newspaper space to publish a photograph of Werner's (a private citizen, mind you) house after he received several code violations. What was the purpose of that except to embarrass the City Historian? I always thought that backfired since the photo showed a lovely Victorian house that fairly glowed with mellowed charm.
In the end, of course, the lion's share of blame must lie with the past and present City Councils who were so giddy at the prospect of redevelopment and tax ratables, they were deaf to all reasoned arguments that challenged the perceived wisdom of out-of-town developers, the felonious City Manager, Terrance Weldon, unlicensed city planners, builders and perhaps worst of all, the lawyers who followed in their wake.
As Addie says in Lillian Hellman's underappreciated play "The Little Foxes": "Well, there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it - then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it...sometimes I think it ain't right to stand and watch them do it."
You said it, sister.
Maire Martello

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