Facing -- and Fitting In With -- The Music
By Mallory Ertel
It is not often that the new urbanism is associated
with rock royalty, but it happened this past January in Asbury Park, N.J.
The new urbanism came to Asbury Park in the form of a charrette team from
DPZ led by Andrés Duany. The team was brought in by the city manager,
Terry Weldon, and financed by the developers, Oceanfront Acquisitions,
to look over a design prepared for them by planners Clarke Caton Hintz.
To rock enthusiasts, the team was entering unto hallowed ground. Asbury
Park has been known in the music industry for decades as home to The Stone
Pony, a bar and rock venue comparable to the Fillmore in San Francisco
or the House of Blues in Chicago. Rock legends Jon BonJovi, Southside
Johnny and, above all, hometown hero Bruce Springsteen cut their musical
teeth at the Stone Pony, and the bar remains as a sort of rock pilgrimage
site. What's more, visiting veterans have been known to come back, collaborating
onstage with fresh acts in outdoor summer concerts fans travel unknown
distances to experience.
Throughout the history of the town, Asbury Park has also been known as
an entertainment mecca. Planned in 1871 by James A. Bradley, the development
was incorporated as the city of Asbury Park in 1887, complete with a casino
or gamehouse, a boardwalk, plenty of hotels, large boulevards that opened
views to the ocean from deep inside the town, and a lively downtown that
served the entire region. By its heyday in the 1930s, Asbury Park was
a city known throughout the Northeast, and throughout the country, as
an incomparable resort town for family entertainment.
Barely standing today is one of these entertainment buildings, the Palace,
an abandoned amusement building of which the base structure dates to 1888.
The original structure has been added to numerous times, including the
façade bearing the clown-face likeness lovingly referred to as "Tillie,"
a replication of a motif used on a similar amusement building at Coney
Today the Stone Pony and the Palace, as well as the Casino, the Convention
Hall, and a few other abandoned buildings are the only remnants of this
past along Asbury Park's waterfront. And they all lie within the Redevelopment
Zone created by the city and slated for redevelopment by Oceanfront Acquisitions.
The precarious positions in which these remaining buildings lie lead fans
of music, carnival, performing arts, and even "Tillie" to petition
and protest in opposition to any redevelopment.
Even with all of the town's history, the amount of controversy that surrounded
the charrette was surprising. Groups from all imaginable factions came
to the public meetings to represent their individual issues. Media of
every type, from VH1 to the Wall Street Journal to the local 'zine, tracked
the process from beginning to end. But it was the process itself that
was most incredible. The charrette team's task was to review the developer's
plan, edit and add to it where necessary, and ensure that it will be carried
out. Throughout the process, Duany served as mediator between a development
company, music fans, preservation advocates, city management, community
activists, interested citizens and a city council, just to name a few.
And in the end, all groups came away with relatively what they were asking
The proposal from DPZ recommended that the Stone Pony indeed be saved,
and that the development surrounding it be designed and billed as residential
skyboxes to the outdoor summer music events. It recommended that the Palace
amusement building be reinforced until further decision is made. It also
recommended that the historic Casino and Convention Hall, as well as the
beloved boardwalk, be restored and preserved along the retained public
waterfront. But the developer would have to be allowed to build density
in exchange for these public amenities. And the city would have to demand
the highest level of architecture from the developer in order to permit
these large buildings. These disparate groups will have to continue to
come together to make these proposals a reality. And in the meantime,
the rock, and the Stone Pony, will live on.