Monday, December 15, 2014

Asbury Park Sunrise

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: We photographed our only sunrise on Wednesday in Asbury Park, a place I’d been curious about since I was 13. That summer I camped out cross country and exchanged letters with a girl who summered there. The hotel where my letters were read is still there, part of a once elegant bit of beachside planning by the architects of Grand Central Station, Warren & Wetmore. Their Beaux Arts buildings once overlayed the remnants of Victorian Asbury Park. What a place it must have been, with oceanfront amusements and boardwalk that stretched a mile-and-a-half north from Ocean Grove, until it all faded after WWII and was washed away by storms! 

We stayed at a lovely, oceanfront B&B, the Laingdon Hotel, just over the border in Ocean Grove, and discovered a community with a deep and unique history and street after street of beautifully kept Victorian houses beside the city where much had been swept away and the rest left to urban decay. We arrived too late and left too early to photograph much of either, so we look forward to returning in the spring. Our Ocean Grove B&B, also worthy of photographing, was just a block along the ocean from the beginning of the Asbury Park boardwalk, what there is of it. 

We crossed onto the Asbury Park boardwalk through the ruins of something called, “The Casino,” - nothing much now but some mullions, a sign, and part of the floor beneath the stabilized roof. The buildings nearby (a powerhouse and the Carousel House) were partially restored and all were designated as landmarks. From there we continued about two or three blocks to the Convention Center and Paramount Theater buildings, also landmarks. Along the boardwalk between the landmarks, shabby arcade stands and shops are like a smile with many missing teeth. The landmarks were all Warren and Wetmore. It is a substantial architectural legacy that no longer comes together to be a place, and the individual buildings are genteel and bland. 

All but the Carousel House. It is something precious - an oversized Tiffany lamp of a building. A circular arcade of green copper arches surmounted by a copper crown with flaring rays that forms a canopy. The arches are inset with whirling mullions like tracery holding glass rays surrounding cast copper suns with furious faces. Imagine this giant Tiffany lamp, with the music of the carousel and the whirling horses and lights and happy faces inside. But the inside is empty, and nothing moved between the layers of glass as we photographed to no purpose.

I learned later that the carousel, installed in the Carousel House in 1932, had been sold in 1980. I could go to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and ride it. However, it occurs to me that if the carousel house had been located a block away, in Ocean Grove, there might still be music and children riding horses there - though, on second thought, its unlikely the Ocean Grove leaders would have permitted a carnival ride in Ocean Grove; until 1981 it was illegal to have a motor vehicles on the streets there on Sunday, and even the beach was closed until noon.