Asbury Park holds a place in my heart like no other. Growing up in the 60s in a family of limited means, our "vacation" each summer was a day in Asbury. We started in the morning with a trip to the Monte Carlo pool, with its cheerfully painted Adirondack chairs. We stored our stuff in a locker room that sported a sign with a 40s style bathing beauty in a red swimsuit. After a morning swim, we walked through the cool underground tunnel that led straight to the beach, where we spent the afternoon until it was time for dinner at the Homestead Restaurant. Sometimes we took a ride in the swan boats on Wesley Lake, but we always ended up on the boardwalk, riding the carousel, eating Kohr's custard and taffy from Criterion, always stopping to sit on the reversible benches--where you could either watch the people or the ocean. I always chose the ocean.
As you can see from the photo, going to Asbury is a tradition in my family, one that started during World War II. Most of the men in the family were away, so my grandmother, my mom and two uncles, as well as a number of assorted great aunts would spend a week in one of the more modest boarding houses. It was a women and children's vacation during the week, and on the weekends, the men who were either too young or too old to serve would come down and visit. After the war, the tradition continued into the early 50s. On the rides down during our day trips, my mom would tell me stories of Asbury's heyday. My favorite was her description of dances held around the Monte Carlo pool, where a band played out on a floating platform in the middle of the water. It was easy to imagine the ladies in their 40s updos, dancing with their soldier husbands and boyfriends to Big Band music. But the Monte Carlo pool, like many of Asbury's landmarks, is long gone. My heart broke when the carousel was dismantled, when Convention Hall and the Paramount fell into disrepair, and when the Palace Amusement building was demolished. But after years of economic decline, recent revitalization efforts in Asbury are revealing hopeful glimmers of its glory days (to quote its most famous champion, The Boss). And while Asbury is no longer the dream resort of my youth, it's a place I'll always love--even in all its shabby splendor.