It was the mid-1960s when several emerging groups began playing live in Asbury Park theaters. The sound of Asbury combined rock and roll, R & B, soul, and doo-wop, creating what would end up being called Sound Of Asbury Park (S.O.A.P.). Venues such as The Stone Pony, Asbury Lanes, Wonder Bar or the Convention Hall and the Paramount Theater – all of them still active – have housed bands and artists such as Patti Smith, The Clash, Jon Bon Jovi, The Ramones and, of course, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
A century before, in 1871, James A. Bradley, a businessman from New York, decided to invest in the development of a small summer resort on the central coast of New Jersey. The charm of the beach, the climate and the easy communication from New York thanks to the railroad were a magnet for the crowds, who soon began to spend the summers enjoying the sun of Jersey Shore. Bradley was concerned that Asbury Park was not missing anything; He put all the efforts in the construction of a wide promenade – which today is still the main attraction of the city, the sound of Asbury – a pavilion for orchestras, public bathing stalls and a pier at the southern end of the promenade.
During the period between WWI and WWII, the remaining icons of what we might call the first age of Asbury Park were built. Those were the set formed by the Convention Hall and Paramount Theater, and the Casino and Carousel House. Designed in red brick according to Beaux-Arts aesthetics -predominant in the 20s- the buildings were placed directly on the Boardwalk, across it, and drastically changing the appearance of the walk. Both buildings extended towards the beach, physically connecting the city with the sea and marking milestones in the parallel route to the shoreline.
The decline of Asbury Park and the sound of Asbury began with the inauguration in 1947 of the Garden State Parkway. The arrival of the major highways facilitated access to other Jersey Shore towns that did not have a railroad, spreading vacationers from New York and Philadelphia along the coast. In addition, the appearance of shopping malls and office complexes in the vicinity of the Parkway reduced activity to downtown, plunging Asbury into a slow and progressive abandonment.
Empty streets, abandoned spaces… a breeding ground suitable for social fracture, staged mainly by the riots against racial discrimination occurred between July 4 and 10, 1970. However, a place in crisis is also an ideal place for new opportunities and creative talent, which in Asbury Park resulted in the aforementioned SOAP. While urban artists left their mark on the facades of abandoned Boardwalk stores, emerging groups wrote a new page in American musical culture.
Part of this spirit has remained up to our time. Nowadays Asbury Park continues to be a point of reference in the American music scene, with hundreds of concerts each year and contests for emerging bands to make themselves known. There is still a certain air of decrepitude in the old buildings, frozen in time just enough for them to continue to be used. Still, occasionally, world stars who took their first steps in Asbury continue to act in the venues that gave them the opportunity, renewing the feeling of belonging to the place and vindicating that spirit in their songs. So did Springsteen with his first album, which he entitled with the same motto that, still today, hangs on the facade of the Paramount Theater: “Greetings from Asbury Park”.