Photo courtesy of the George A. Lange Collection.



Spotlight Shines On Historic Artifacts Kept From View By Asbury Park Developers

May 4, 2024

Preservation New Jersey today announced the listing of irreplaceable Palace Amusements artifacts in Asbury Park on the organization's 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list for 2024. The listing acknowledges the "rich and diverse history" of the antiquities and their "importance to the heritage of New Jersey." Save Tillie, the long-time Palace advocacy organization, praised the listing in the following statement, while underscoring the dangers threatening the survival of the artifacts.

When historically significant artifacts are destroyed through neglect or demolition, they are gone forever. Every loss chips away at the unique character of a community. This is the situation involving threatened artifacts in Asbury Park, and we are deeply grateful to Preservation New Jersey for joining us in spotlighting the dangers.

Twenty years ago, 33 irreplaceable artifacts were saved when developers demolished Palace Amusements, a century-old arcade listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The plan for their future was imperfect. But the promise was explicit. In exchange for lucrative waterfront rights granted by the State of New Jersey, developers promised preservation and reuse.

Twenty years on, the artifacts have never been brought back. The developers have never announced a preservation and reuse plan. Three times over the years, the artifacts were inspected by a prominent independent conservationist, who most recently found evidence of serious deterioration.

It is imperative now that state officials undertake a long, hard, unbiased review of the deal, made in 2004, that has allowed the artifacts to be pushed to the brink of irretrievability.

Welcome to the Palace Museum

At the southern end of Kingsley Street, between Lake and Cookman Avenues in Asbury Park, New Jersey, is a 36,000 square foot graveyard of memories. Until May of 2004, a building stood here, perhaps the most identifiable landmark on the Jersey Shore. Then, as dawn rose over the waterfront, developers used a giant mechanical claw to rip apart 116-year-old walls that had survived it all - hurricanes, fires, abuse, neglect, all, that is, until falling at the end to a combination of politics and greed.

Photo copyrighted by Peter Szikura.
For 100 active years, those wooden walls anchored Palace Amusements, a place where people came to spin, to fly, to literally soar through the roof, to rediscover delirium and to laugh at fright, a place of creativity and ingenuity, ever changing, ever suited to the tastes of generations that were confronting great shifts in the world around them.

This place, this Palace, expanded over time to become an L-shaped arcade in five parts, all under a series of interconnected roofs. Its carousel bore the signature of America's greatest carvers of wooden carousels. The rotating wheel carried passengers for more years than any Ferris wheel in American history. Some of the best known and most creative amusements manufacturers in the world infused the Palace with excitement and fun. Designers, painters, mechanics and electricians - enormously talented and largely anonymous - turned six dark rides and two fun houses into shriek-inducing classics. The Palace excited ten decades of visitors, and inspired a generation of New Jersey songwriters, photographers and artists.

Photo copyrighted by Frank Saragnese.
To fans, it was a palace of dreams, a wonderland. Families planned summer trips to the Palace. Teenagers used their beach money on the rides. Couples loved the dark rides and the Ferris wheel. To them, the Palace was an irresistible destination. To historians, it was unique, a timeless place that reflected the evolution of America's amusements industry. In 2002, Dorothy P. Guzzo, the State of New Jersey's senior historic preservation officer, reminded Palace owners that the complex was listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, and expressed her office's official position that "if saved, this complex could serve as a major tourist attraction as it did historically and be a cornerstone to the redevelopment plan of Asbury Park."

Yet sadly the first instinct of the developers was not to save and renovate, but to tear down, to destroy and to let nothing stand in the way. So it was that on May 26, 2004 - less than eight hours after preservationists approved new strategies to save the Palace's most historic sections - Asbury Partners, an out-of-town group of developers fronting for New York financiers, rushed in their giant mechanical claw and suddenly brought the walls tumbling down, leaving us with the following memories.

Opening of Palace Amusements - Daily Press, Saturday, August 18, 1888. Opened at 5PM on Friday, Aug. 17, 1888. (Courtesy of Brian Maher)