Welcome to Asbury Park, a site of the New Jersey Shore.
Back in 1869, the land of Asbury Park was only beachfront and forest. A developer by the name of James A. Bradley changed the future of Asbury Park when he purchased the land while vacationing in nearby Ocean Grove. Recognizing the potential of the land, on January 24, 1871, Bradley acquired 500 acres for approximately $90,000.00. He named the town Asbury Park after the founder of Methodism in America: Francis Asbury.
Bradley made plans for a wooden walkway for strolling along the shore. He offered only expansive residential lots for building, resulting in large Victorian “summer” homes. Since Bradley had traveled throughout Europe, his architectural vision for Asbury Park gave the town an old world feeling that was unique and pleasing to the eye.
The first hotel in Asbury Park, the Lake View, was opened in 1873. A year later, in 1874, Asbury Park’s first post office opened. Bradley was the town’s first postmaster. By 1877 there were several hotels to accommodate the large groups of vacationers flooding the area. The largest was the Coleman House, occupying an entire city block.
To solve the problem of vacationers getting to various points in town, in 1885 a trolley system was installed. What made this trolley special was that it was the second electric system in the United States – trolleys were previously horse drawn.
By 1890, the city of Asbury Park had enough hotels to accommodate several thousand guests. The town was known throughout the country as a beautiful seaside resort destination. Bradley sold the boardwalk in 1903 to the city, and rapid development followed. Soon after, grand structures such as the Casino, Esplanade & 7th Avenue Pavilion rose to prominence. The Cookman Avenue shopping area boomed, attracting both locals and vacationers alike.
The major Nor’easter of 1923 devastated many of Asbury’s beloved structures. To rejuvenate the town, several new structures were built, including the massive Berkeley Carteret Hotel, a new Casino and Convention Hall. The same firm who completed New York City’s jewel – Grand Central Station, designed both the casino and Convention Hall.
By the 1930’s, Asbury Park was the hottest town on the Jersey Shore. There were amusements on the boardwalk and big bands playing the various pavilions. Bud Abbott & Lou Costello performed at Convention Hall, as well as other top acts of the day.
The big lifestyle changes of the post war years started a slow and steady decline in Asbury Park. The shopping district of Cookman Avenue was affected by strip malls sprouting up in the surrounding suburbs. As people prospered, air travel and vacations far from home became the norm.
By the 1970’s, Asbury Park was in serious need of urban renewal. The town that had inspired many songs of the legendary Bruce Springsteen, who often played the seaside bar scene, was rapidly turning to a no-mans land of poverty and urban blight. Many plans for renewal throughout the years ended due to lack of funds and political corruption.
However, today Asbury Park has new hope in the massive re-development operation-taking place. In the last few years, millions of dollars have been invested in new housing, infrastructure and rejuvenation of the boardwalk. A thriving art and restaurant scene is once again evident on Cookman Avenue and elsewhere. And, if you are lucky, you still may catch The Boss at The Stone Pony, singing about Madam Marie and the other heroes that made Asbury Park great in the first place.