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With television gaining popularity, entertainment standards changing, and super highways for the first time putting southern New Jersey beaches within easy reach, Edward Lange and Zimel Resnick made a bold bid during the mid-1950s to keep the Palace in the forefront of Jersey Shore amusements.
They expanded, again, and this time in a big way.
Between the fall closing in 1955 and the summer opening in 1956, the Palace
expanded by 17,300 square feet, nearly doubling in size. Ninety feet of frontage was added along Cookman Avenue and another 83 feet facing Wesley Lake, west of the Crystal Maze building. To clear the way, buildings which had blocked the expansion plans of August Williams years earlier were bought and demolished, including the Ocean Spray Hotel at 211 Lake Avenue, a hotel at 206 Cookman Avenue and several small boarding houses. To finance it, Lange and Resnick acquired additional partners, including Paul Kramer, an Asbury Park real estate figure who became vice president of the ownership group, Central Amusements Corp.
|Architect's conceptual diagram for the Palace expansion (Cookman Avenue and Kingsley Street). From The Evening Press, June 12, 1955.
Resnick told the press that in his view, increased mobility made possible by new super highways was a positive development rather than a threat to the Palace. Asbury Park seemed to be enjoying a "continued influx of population in the summer ... especially teenagers looking for a good time," he said. In his view, expansion was needed if the Palace hoped to keep pace with changing times. "There simply aren't any major rides and there is a big need for them," Resnick explained, adding that some of the popular attractions, including the dark ride known generically as the tunnel of love but officially as Hell 'N' Back, would be redesigned. (Asbury Park Press, June 7, 1955.)
Engineered by William M. Birtwell, the $500,000 expansion produced large, clear spaces, supported by high-density cinder block walls 35 feet tall, and protected by arched roofs with cathedral-like trusses. Originally, the new facades were supposed to include art work depicting a leaping lion on the Kingsley side and a full-bodied dancing clown on Cookman. These, however, were never painted. Instead, when the Palace opened for the 1956 season, the most distinctive exterior feature was a series of original artworks, illuminated by neon, on the Lake Avenue, Cookman Avenue and Kingsley Street walls that became among the most instantly recognizable images on the Jersey Shore.
The murals were painted in 1956 by World War II veteran Leslie W. Thomas, a design specialist for the Asbury Park sign company Road-Ad Services. On the Lake Avenue facade, looking out toward Wesley Lake, Thomas (who preferred to be called "Worth") painted two huge Auto-Skooters, each with a pair of fun-loving passengers, racing toward a head-on collision. Along Kingsley, facing the Casino, Thomas painted a giant standing clown, and passengers in a series of roller cars that seemingly flew across the face of the building as the clown's arm moved up and down, thanks to the magic of custom-made neon. All around the building, Thomas used raised, metallic channel letters to spell out the Palace logo.
Thomas later would tell Asbury Park Press staff writer Mark Voger the Palace assignment had been "just a routine job," but there was nothing routine about the murals he painted on the Cookman facade, looking out over the expanse of Asbury Park.
Near the eastern and western ends of the facade, Thomas painted nearly identical images of a clown face with a look that intrigued the knowing and unwary alike to further explore the Palace. The murals were huge, over 15 feet tall, and stylistically continued a tradition begun in 1897 when Coney Island amusements impresario George Cornelius Tilyou introduced a fun face as the logo of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island. Tilyou so successfully integrated the image throughout his park that most other amusement entrepreneurs followed with designs of their own. The Palace face, nicknamed "Tillie" in honor of Tilyou, bears a striking cartoon-like resemblance to the Coney Island promoter. On opening day, and for years after, Tillie winked a neon eye and courtesy of tape recording, laughed a continuous welcome that could be heard a block away. Between the Tillie images, Thomas painted the names of the attractions in curvy, offbeat fonts, creating a circus effect.
Jessica Lange, the granddaughter of Palace owner Edward Lange and daughter of eventual Palace owner George Lange, said that when she was growing up, "my father would tell me that my grandfather had used my father's baby picture for the likeness on the wall. We all knew better, but we all used to laugh."
During his final newspaper interview, at age 87, Thomas said he was unsure who had designed the Tillie image, but said most of the exterior design work and all of the painting was his. "I painted it on the wall myself," he said. "I did all of that. Everything. The original." (Asbury Park Press, Nov. 29, 1998.)
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Over the years, Tillie became the unofficial but instantly recognizable logo of Asbury Park.
Bruce Springsteen used Tillie on tour t-shirts in 1973 and 1988, as well as in promotional photographs and tour merchandise, bringing the image to the attention of a huge world-wide audience.
Tillie became famous on television with appearances on NBC's "The Today Show," on MTV and VH1 and twice on the HBO hit series "The Sopranos," in the syndicated comic strips "Zippy The Pinhead" and "Mutts," as an official United States Postal Service pictorial postmark, on a giant screen video feature at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, in a photo on Jesse Harris & The Ferdinandos' CD The Secret Sun, and in an editorial cartoon by Pulitizer Prize winner Steve Breen of the Asbury Park Press.
|Official USPS pictorial postmark. Photo courtesy of Carl Beams.
The Palace itself appeared in movies by John Sayles ("Baby It's You") and Robert DeNiro ("City By The Sea"), in the cover photograph on Springsteen's "Lonesome Day" CD single, and as a clue in the hit TV program Hollywood Squares.
During several repaintings, Tillie and the other murals were faithfully restored, but the list of attractions featured on the Cookman facade changed, as rides came and went from the Palace.
The Bubble Bounce and The Flying Coaster made appearances on the wall in the late 1950s, ultimately to be replaced by promotions for the Auto Skooters and the Olympic Bobs.
|Danny Federici, of the E Street Band, wearing the first Tillie tee-shirt, 1973.
In later years, Tillie reproductions adorned the walls of the Wonder Bar on Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park, the sleeves of bootleg CDs, at least one backyard fence, a restaurant wall, a tattoo, and was painted onto John Haney's motorcycle helmet (as well as embroidered onto the back of his wind breaker), winning the Easton, PA., resident thumbs up from enthusiastic highway travelers.