Annihilation of Ruin: Asbury Park

Ruins always captivate. Derelict remnants confirm that at one time, people and activities thrived in a place. The deterioration becomes mythical – the marker of an era that was somehow better, or more abundant, or that offered more hope.

Stadium: Asbury Park, NJ: Deborah Johnstone

Stadium,Asbury Park, NJ: Deborah Johnstone

In these photos – taken over twelve years ago – the deteriorating walls of Asbury Park, New Jersey bear the marks of abandonment. Graffiti sprawls on decaying wood suggest that the ruins became a haven for nomads, the disenfranchised, the surly, the lost. Wandering around the deserted beach that day I marveled at the whiteness of the sand and the clarity of the water. Less than half a mile away, Ocean Grove beach was packed with tourists. At Asbury Park, I had the beach to myself with the exception of a grizzled curmudgeon prospecting for metal in the sand.

Asbury Park, NJ: Deborah Johnstone

Asbury Park, NJ: Deborah Johnstone

Skeletons of semi-completed luxury buildings littered the landscape – more remnants of a failed redevelopment scheme in the 1980s and another failed redevelopment scheme before that. That plunder decimated Asbury’s economy even further and recovery has been laborious.

In 2015, the tide has turned – somewhat. Oyster and Jazz fests, beach cafes, and a string of funky businesses have sprung up. A new developer claims that 29 “fresh, contemporary” townhouses have sold out. The planning board has approved “Boutique hotels”. Soon the blight will be forgotten – overrun by condos featuring oak floors, granite kitchens, and private decks in $250,000 studios. The artists will eventually leave, be priced out, unable to survive on Starbucks coffee.

Howard Johnson Cocktails, Asbury Park: D. Johnstone

Howard Johnson Cocktails, Asbury Park: D. Johnstone

Still, over thirty years of decay has not been easily erased from the beachfront property. Landscapes insinuate themselves on populations. They hold decades of stories and tumult and the aspirations of all those who traversed their boarders. For me, the ruins harbor myths and legends that can never be recovered once lost.


Content originally appeared at “Quail Bell Magazine” September, 2

One response to “Annihilation of Ruin: Asbury Park

  1. “Asbury Park”….the name itself evokes associations. It was an beach destination in my childhood, part of the America we’d never get to because it was too far to travel to by bus and train from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and we didn’t have a car. But my rich classmate, Barbara M., who lived in the Eldorado on Central Park West, brought me a box of “salt water taffy” from her visit to that New Jersey destination and that confection had magic to it. For one thing, my family didn’t know what it was: the “salt water” and the “taffy” didn’t seem to mix. Was this some other kind of odd American food like peanut butter and jelly? In the end, I think we threw it out. so I never tasted it, which only added to the mystique of Asbury Park.

    American ruins have a particular pathos to them. How can such a “young” country have so many of them? Are ruins part of the way we speed up process? Are they part of the way we turn our backs on our own experience, reaching for the new, the novel, the thrilling?

    Your remarks are profound and invite a great deal of reflection. They also remind me of two works I love and think of often, even look at from time to time, Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial, and W.E. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.

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