Punch drunk holiday coast desperately trying to get on its feet again after being hit hard by nature
08.06.2013 25 °C
New Jersey is best known for the seaside resorts along its Atlantic Coast affectionately known as "the Shore". I'd seen Cape May the Southern Jersey Shore the previous week and it was now time for me to see the northern part of the Shore around Asbury Park and Ocean Grove popular with New Yorkers.
We began our trip to the northern shore with a visit to Ocean Grove which was founded as a summer camp for Methodists in 1869. Preachers and concerts are still held in its famous 6,250 seat Great Auditorium built in 1894 which has an 11,558 pipe organ centre stage, one of the 20 largest pipe organs in the world. A 4,000 foot square foot section of the roof was torn off in a single piece by Hurricane Sandy on 28th October 2012 but miraculously didn't damage any other part of the building or anything around it. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the Jersey Shore was to become a growing theme of our visit.
Surrounding the Great Auditorium are 114 historic tents echoing back to when the summer camps first started. Packed away each winter they are re-erected and available for rent May to October - although there is a 10 year waiting list!
From Ocean Grove we walked over to nearby Asbury Park on the coast; at the northern end of the broadwalk there was a group of sorry looking buildings including an empty fairground carousel and casino. Their derelict condition predated Hurricane Sandy and was due to Asbury Park no longer being able to attract as many vacationers as it use to in its hehday of the 1940s and 1950s.
Making our way south along the boardwalk we reached Asbury Park's Grand Arcade and 3,600 seat Convention Hall built in the early 1920s. It was here on the 8th September 1934 that the luxury ocean liner SS Morro Castle came to rest on a sandbar a few yards off the Convention Hall after catching fire returning to New York from Havana, a disaster in which 137 died.
Moving on from the Grand Arcade there was a lovely beach and a freshly restored broadwalk after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Once known as the "Jewel of the Shore" there was little evidence of the amusement arcades, food outlets and gift shops I had anticipated lining the broadwalk after visiting the Southern Jersey Shore the previous week.
While the Southern Shore feels like an endless amusement arcade what Asbury Park is famous for are its music venues and for being the home of a genre of pre-Beatles rock and roll and pre-Motown rhythm and blues music known as Jersey Shore Sound that was in vogue from the late 1960s until the mid 1980s. Examples of major artists of the Jersey Shore Sound are local boy Bruce Springsteen and early music from Jon Bon Jovi. Most famous of Asbury Park's music venues is the unassuming Stone Pony where many of the exponents of the Jersey Sound began their musical careers.
While there had been evidence of damage by Hurricane Sandy in Ocean Grove and Asbury Park nothing could prepare me for the devastation that greeted us as we drove further south along the coast to Mantoloking which had been especially hard hit. Two dozen oceanfront houses completely disappeared from their foundations during the hurricane and more than 50 others had to be demolished (10% of the housing stock).
There were piles of rubble, security fencing and construction plant everywhere in Mantoloking and in many ways it reminded me of the earthquake redzone in Christchurch I'd seen earlier in my trip. 37 people lost their lives in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, having seen the biblical proportions of the damage in Mantoloking the death toll could have easily have been higher if the area had not been evacuated beforehand.
From Mantoloking we carried on south to the seaside resort of Seaside Heights (location for the MTV Show "Jersey Shore" which I can't say I've watched) with its amusement arcade lined broadwalk more akin to those I'd seen in Wildwood further south the previous week. However unlike the South Shore Seaside Heights was badly hit by Hurricane Sandy with much of its Casino Pier collapsing into the sea and currently being rebuilt and its Broadwalk either newly restored or currently being reconstructed after much of the sand underneath it was washed inshore.