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Chapter 1
Early Resorts

Chapter 2
Railroad Resorts

Chapter 3
Religious Resorts

Chapter 4
The Boardwalk

Chapter 5
Roads and Roadside Attractions

Chapter 6
Resort Development in the Twentieth Century

Appendix A
Existing Documentation


An Historic Theme Study of the
New Jersey Heritage Trail Route
National Park Service Arrowhead

Resort Development in the Twentieth Century (continued)


In 1915, the New York Tribune published a promotional pamphlet describing Beachwood, the latest resort development south of Toms River. Interested buyers were invited to send for an application to purchase a Beachwood lot. For a mere $19.60 and the price of a six-month subscription to the Tribune, future residents could enjoy "the best there is at Barnegat Bay." [22] A money-making scheme created by Bertram Chapman Mayo, the newspaper's promotions manager, Beachwood began as 2,000 acres laid out in 20' x 100' lots. The advertisement hoped to attract New Yorkers by emphasizing the future town's location at the intersection of the Central and Pennsylvania Railroads. Pictures of forest paths, blueberry bushes, and bathing in the bay were juxtaposed with the assurance that "a continuous stream of automobiles pass through Beachwood on the way to Atlantic City." [23]

The Tribune immediately hired civil engineer Addison D. Nickerson to design and build a clubhouse, pier, bathhouse, lodge, dining hall, and railroad station. "By May 1915, More than ninety new owners and their families were visiting Beachwood, living in tents on their new land or staying at the thirty-seven room lodge." [24] The exclusive settlement of "rustic cabins and bungalows" became a borough in 1917. Five years later, Beachwood was in the process of forming a volunteer fire department, building a chapel, and constructing the Polyhue Yacht Club. Primarily a residential community, Beachwood has maintained a suburban scale despite the proximity of Route 9. The tradition of preserving the pines, established by the Beachwood Property Owners Association in 1919, has also preserved a sense of the atmosphere Mayo so convincingly described. [25]

Ocean Gate

Like Pine Beach and Beachwood, Ocean Gate, the most coastal of the three cities, began as a planned development. Founded in 1909 by Charles Guttentag, president of the Great Eastern Building Corporation, Ocean Gate was advertised in Philadelphia newspapers before construction began. Potential buyers, who were taken to the future settlement by train from Philadelphia, often purchased lots on the trip home. [26] The property, once a farm owned by a Toms River businessman, was laid out in a grid of streets named for popular resorts like Long Branch and Cape May. Residential lots varied in price according to their distance from the Pennsylvania Railroad line that cut diagonally through town; houses south of the tracks started at $500, while those north of the railroad and nearer the water were valued at a minimum of $1,000. Potential customers passed through the 1910 train station on Narragansett Avenue, now used as a municipal building.

By the time it became a borough in 1918, Ocean Gate had an elementary school, a fire company, two hotels, and several stores. After its incorporation, the city improved roads, and constructed a public pier and an 8 foot-wide boardwalk. A Methodist church was built on the corner of Bayview and Asbury avenues. Unlike the primarily residential neighboring communities, Ocean Gate developed a substantial commercial district. Ocean Gate Avenue is hardly bustling today, but the remaining shops, Kiesel's Hotel, and the yacht club suggest a self-sufficient community with a once-prosperous past.


Originally designed by Colonel Will Farrow for retired members of the military, Barnegat Park was soon transformed by the utopian ideas of B.W. Sangor. The New York and Miami developer imagined a vast and luxurious resort town catering to wealthy urban vacationers. Between 1928 and 1929, about 8,000 lots were sold in Pinewald, a "new-type, residential, recreational city-of-the sea-and-pines." [27] The developers immediately began construction of the Pinewald pavilion and pier at the end of Butler Avenue. The Royal Pines Hotel (Fig. 95), a $ 1.175 million investment facing Crystal Lake, was built on the site of an earlier hotel dating back to the days of Barnegat Park. [28]

Royal Pines Hotel
Figure 95. Royal Pines Hotel, Pinewald. HABS No. NJ-1101-1.

Mystery surrounds the eight-story concrete-and-steel building rising above the scrubby pines. Said to have been constructed by Russian architect W. Oltar-Jevsky in the early 1920s, the Royal Pines could serve as a movie set. Al Capone may have frequented its halls, perhaps even venturing beneath the lake in tunnels especially designed for smuggling "package goods." One newspaper article interviewed an unidentified man who claimed that "in the early 1930s the then Royal Pines Hotel was frequented by society's elite who, for $1.90 a drink, consumed prohibition liquor under the watchful eye of men who had guns strapped under their coats." [29]

After the stock market crash in 1929, the hotel was purchased for $50,000 and converted into a nursing home. Brochures advertising the medical center continued to emphasize its beneficial location. "You are in the pines yet at the sea. Relax on the promenade, if you wish, collecting your coat of tan. Breathe in the salty freshness of the ocean from the deck of a sailboat across the bay. Swim in the cameo-like Crystal Lake on which the Royal Pines fronts." [30] The building currently houses the Bayview Convalescent Center. Though the interior has been modernized, the dilapidated exterior recalls the hotel's grand history. The second floor opens out onto a terrace and bridge crossing the road to an abandoned lakeside pavilion. Stucco cornucopias, fixed atop either side of the bridge walls, recall a more plentiful past.

Twentieth-Century Resort Development

Figure 96. Sun Fun in New Jersey. Library of Congress. ca. 1920s.

Since the "boom years" of the railroad, the Jersey Shore has undergone steady change; during the nineteenth century, many northern resorts grew from the speculative ventures of individual improvement companies based in New York and Philadelphia. The area around Toms River and the Island Beach peninsula was slated for private development, but the village of Toms River and the communities along Barnegat Bay also received resort trade as a result of the railroad. The southern barrier islands became habitable, and even popular, as private companies anticipated the arrival of crowds by rail. In contrast, the religious resorts sprinkled along the shore depended more on the vision of a dedicated association, though these towns also grew after the main railroad lines were established.

With a few exceptions, the goals of the earliest resorts—the establishment of healthful and spiritual retreats amid natural surroundings—have been obscured by the practical requirements of modern commercialization. While people still seek the spiritual peace promised by a seaside vacation, they seldom find the pristine landscape frequently described in contemporary brochures (Fig. 96). In exchange for a host of modern conveniences, from instant food and gasoline to automatic tellers, a price is paid in the physical condition of the environment. Because resorts depend on both services and ambiance to attract tourists, issues affecting population and preservation determine economic livelihood. Such vital questions concerned early shore historians H.C. Woolman and T.H. Rose. At the end of his entry on beach residents, Woolman documents the construction of "summer homes for city families," noting, somewhat wistfully, that the new buildings would gradually replace "the weather-beaten dwellings" of those "humble beachmen" who "gather a livelihood from the natural productions of the neighboring bay." [31] Woolman's nostalgia for the simpler existence complementing nature touched on the paradox of the resort; the very people who visited, seeking to refresh themselves in the quiet of undisturbed wilderness, eventually destroyed that natural peace.


Since the founding of Holly Beach as a health resort amid "wild woods," Wildwood has undergone a social and architectural transformation. During the 1890s, Philadelphia papers advertised large numbers of rental cottages and hotel accommodations. Local guests were entertained at a band-concert pavilion near the beach, joined by a carousel in 1892. Early photographs of the Holly Beach area, now the city of Wildwood, showboats and piers scattered across the sand like driftwood. As late as the 1930s, tourists visiting "the port of call for the Atlantic fishing fleet" could watch boats haul in shipments of cod and mackerel that "are among the largest on the coast." [32] The beaches still entertain large crowds, but contemporary visitors no longer come to Wildwood for its tangled vegetation or fish-laden vessels. Wildwood's distinctive resort personality developed in the 1950s. Encouraged by the completion of the Garden State Parkway, promoters built resort hotels to attract lower- and middle-class "excursionists." Wildwood offered cheap, exciting entertainment for the day, as well as accommodations for extended stays at reasonable prices (Fig. 97). The "new resort provided an appealing compromise between the amusement parks at Atlantic City and Asbury Park, and the classier resorts of Stone Harbor and Cape May.

Figure 97. "Just a Hop, Skip and a Jump to Wildwood." Cape May County Historical & Genealogical Society.

The city's nineteenth- and early twentieth-century heritage is preserved in a number of Victorian civic and residential structures. Yet, when local businessmen approached the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC) in Cape May to begin to promote Wildwood's history, it recommended that the city turn to its commercial architecture—the motels, diners, and movie theaters built during the mid twentieth century. The result was a "Back to the '50s" trolley tour highlighting what Wildwood's promoters call "Doo-wop" styles: "Blast Off!," "Pu-Pu Platter," and "Phony Colonee." Architectural features include "Jetson Fins," "Boomerang Roof lines," "Tomorrowland Ramps," and "Levitating Rooms/Signs." [33] Night is the best time to observe the blocks and blocks of mesmerizing neon lights, spectacular colors, and outrageous designs of the motel architecture exhibiting such features (Fig. 98). Not surprisingly, the architectural boom of the 1950s-60s corresponds to what many regard as the Wildwoods' "heyday"—the club years when performers such as Lionel Hampton, Chubby Checker, Johnny Mathis, Liberace, and Connie Francis entertained the crowds.

Boardwalk by Night
Figure 98. Boardwalk by Night, Wildwood-by-the-Sea. Postcard. Allaback

The study of individual hotels begins to demonstrate consistency in the imitation and distribution of locally created design elements (Fig. 99). Regional businesses were influential in building and designing hotels, neon signs, and balconies. A distinctive bowed metal balcony common to many commercial structures also appears in private homes. The Allied Sign Company was responsible for many of the town's lighting designs, and the Mitchell Welding Company created most balconies. Builders frequently re-used plans, receiving sign-offs from the town's only architect. In these cases, where the role of the architect is diminished, further study should focus on the manufacturing companies responsible for mass-producing such details.

El Ray Motel/Caribbean Hotel
Figure 99. El Ray Motel/Caribbean Hotel. HABS No. NJ-1189-1.

Cape May

Travel guides documenting the rise and fall of Cape May's popularity in the early twentieth century point to competition from other shore resorts as the main reason for a noticeable decline in tourism. But the Works Progress Administration guide published in the 1930s assured potential visitors that "the city does not fret over its loss of patronage." [34] As one contemporary travel writer observed, Cape May was upstaged by Atlantic City in the 1920s and Wildwood in the 1950s. After the 1962 hurricane, the city began a preservation effort leading to extensive restoration of its architecture and strict enforcement of building codes. Along with this attention toward the built environment came a number of exotic restaurants, which also contributed to the resort's new image. [35] Today, Cape May offers a combination of Victorian culture packaged in scenic tours and standard boardwalk fare like skeetball and pork rolls. Classier gift shops selling ethnic artifacts, animal sculptures, and "Cape May" apparel are also plentiful in the Washington mall area, and antique stores can be discovered tucked away in unlikely corners.

Atlantic City

Characterizing various attitudes toward Atlantic City Boardwalk life in 1939, the WPA guide to the city remarked that "to some it represents the concentrated Babbitry of America on parade." [36] Today, the island has been so transformed by development that many visitors, entranced by the sparkle of the casinos and the sea, do not even realize they've left the mainland. The proximity of the other communities also often goes unnoticed, as Atlantic City isolates itself in an aura of "anything's possible."

Driving through Atlantic City on the way to the boardwalk, first-time visitors might question the mythology of wealth and wonder surrounding the resort. The contrast between neighborhoods of decaying houses and dilapidated commercial buildings (left over from prosperous Victorian years that lingered into the 192Os) and the more contemporary boardwalk development first became noticeable in the 1950s. A combination of factors resulted in the city's decline as a family resort: competition from other shore towns, the widespread use of automobiles leading to the demise of the railroad, and a lack of interest in Atlantic City's old-fashioned convention center. [37]

In 1978, voters agreed that "casino gaming" used as "a unique tool for urban development" might bring back nineteenth-century propriety and traditions. [38] Today, the boardwalk is lined with the glimmering towers and turrets of Bally's, Trump Tower, and ten other casinos (Fig. 100). The Disneyland-style, bright plastic and gold-colored "architecture," contributes to the sense of distance from dilapidated commercial streets and residential neighborhoods. But the wall of casinos and stores lining the boardwalk has not resulted in urban renewal. Perhaps the building of low-income housing near the marina, sponsored by Harrah's, will begin to improve living conditions in that part of the city. In 1991, the freshly-built units appeared conspicuously new and vacant amid characteristic urban blight. The Atlantic City of spectacle and excess has retreated from the boardwalk to the casino interior. However, even the most critical visitor is drawn by Atlantic City's power to embody certain American traditions. The real Atlantic City may be thirteen casinos against a backdrop of economic disparity, but visitors still bring home images of prosperity on boxes of taffy, postcards, and dinner plates.

Atlantic City casinos
Figure 100. Atlantic City casinos, Trump Taj Mahal. Chuck Milliken. 1994.

Asbury Park

While other Jersey Shore resorts declined after the railroad boom, Asbury Park continued to evolve, achieving popularity as a full-time resort community. "Asbury Park offers you welcome—welcome to the year 'round playground of the inviting Atlantic Coast," declared a 1938 souvenir folder. [39] A haven of escape during troubled times, Asbury Park prospered throughout the Great Depression. Postcards depict the crowded, colorful, and well-kept boardwalk, offering candy shops for the sweet tooth, teahouses for the thirsty, and miniature golf to satisfy the putt-putt craze of the 1930s (Fig. 101). Noisier games were found at Palace Amusements on Wesley Lake next to the Mayfair Theater. The latter was a bizarre, eclectic revival-style structure, floodlit at night to resemble a movie set.

Asbury Park boardwalk and casino
Figure 101. Asbury Park boardwalk & casino. Historic postcard.

In September 1944, a hurricane that damaged the boardwalk and destroyed a number of concession buildings prompted city officials to redesign the waterfront. A consulting firm was called in on the advice of New York's powerful parks commissioner, Robert Moses. The firm urged Asbury Park to clear away most amusements, tear down the casino, and adapt to the automobile age with "parking fields" for 1,800 cars behind the boardwalk. [40] By the 1950s, Asbury Park, "while much changed from 1920," was still acknowledged "as the Duchess of the North Shore," one chronicler of New Jersey reported (Fig. 102). During the 1960s, the city suffered from a loss of commercial momentum as well as tourist trade. Race riots in the latter part of the decade dealt the local economy a severe blow from which it has yet to recover. The lyrics of Bruce Springsteen focused attention on Asbury Park's dilapidated condition in the 1970s, but the Boss' rock 'n' roll prominence was not enough to revive an entire city.

Tourist attractions remaining in Asbury Park only dimly recall more exuberant times. Surrounded by weed-ridden parking lots and dilapidated commercial buildings, the once-famous amusement park is now abandoned. A half-finished condominium development facing the boardwalk suggests one unsuccessful solution to the city's complex problem. In 1986, an optimistic tourist guide predicted that such projects would encourage the rise of a new Asbury Park, reviving its early reputation. "The $550 million redevelopment plan will give Asbury Park a chance once again to become a thriving community and make it practically unrecognizable in ten years to those who recall only neon lights and the all-night sounds of rock 'n' roll." [41] Seven years later, the city still awaits the arrival of this plan and its accompanying crowds.

Asbury Park Boardwalk
Figure 102. Asbury Park Boardwalk. Alfred Holden, 1991.

Long Branch

Already falling from favor toward the end of the nineteenth century, Long Branch experienced a series of twentieth-century misfortunes that contributed to its decline. The city's slow demise as a resort can be traced back to 1893, when the New Jersey legislature shut down horse racing, one of its chief recreational attractions. Among the state senators who supported the bill was James A. Bradley, founder of Asbury Park, an advocate of temperance, clean living, and obviously Asbury Park, too, which coincidentally "succeeded in drawing away a substantial portion of the wealthiest visitors to Long Branch." [42]

The "cottagers" hung around longer. Presidents William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson were yet to come, and more Guggenheims would build mansions there. At the dawn of the automobile age, car racing and horse shows enjoyed moments of fashion, but the loss of gambling was a blow to an economy based nearly exclusively on resort trade. [43] Nineteenth-century entrepreneurs who experimented with local manufacturing such as shirt, cigar, and button factories, and a mail-order house, were unable to succeed. [44] Storms consumed the famous sea-bathing beaches. Gangs moved into the city, altering the social, and finally the physical, composition of neighborhoods. Publicized gang-related murders did little to promote summer vacationing. As the resort economy dwindled, the dilapidated state of the city reflected its loss of patronage. Not even the reopening of Monmouth Park racetrack (Fig. 103), the closing of which contributed to Long Branch's rapid fall from favor, could restore the Branch's tarnished image. [45] Today, hope for a renaissance of nineteenth-century prosperity lies in beachfront development; a Hilton Hotel may inspire others to build and encourage the remodeling of remaining historic structures. [46]

Horse Racing, Monmouth Park
Figure 103. Horse Racing, Monmouth Park. ca. 1870s. The New Jersey Coast and Pines

Trains from Manhattan still roll through towns up and down the north Jersey shore, travelling around the Amboys, inland across Monmouth County's many creeks and swamps, and over the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers to the Atlantic beaches of Long Branch, following a route laid down more than a century ago. However, many riders of New Jersey Transit are now commuters rather than seaside revelers, and the landscape of Long Branch has become fairly suburban. Generations of debate over whether it is a resort or a city seem to have been resolved: the ranch houses and road-generated sprawl built over its meadowlands have made Long Branch a more typical American city. By 1940, authors for the New Jersey Writers' Program declared that it "has expanded from a tiny town struggling to preserve its identity against a giant resort to a mature American city." [47]


The 1991 HABS report on Southern New Jersey and the Delaware Bay concludes with recommendations for a companion survey of shore themes and resources. Although common ground can be found for a comparison of both coasts, the report's historians chose to focus on the development of the resort industry along the shore from Cape May to Sandy Hook. Obviously, the two regions differ in terms of extant cultural resources. While South Jersey is scattered with industries that have moved away and cities that have diminished, the Atlantic coastal region continues to draw a significant population of summer visitors.

The history of resorts in South Jersey illustrates the difference between the primarily agricultural landscape of the Delaware Bay and the more urban, commercial north. At the end of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, three amusement parks existed in the part of South Jersey below Route 47; Tumbling Dam amusement park in Bridgeton, Riverview Beach Park in Pennsville, and Millville's Luna Park were popular recreational destinations via trolley. But South Jersey parks were not able to keep pace with the automobile. When vehicular travel became the predominant means of access to the shore, visitation declined. All three parks were closed by the 1950s and little remains of them. Not coincidentally, this was the decade of the Garden State Parkway; the new north-south automobile route provided smooth transportation up and down the coast, and resort cities that flourished had adapted to the changing lifestyle it represented. Today, much of the history of southern New Jersey and the Delaware Bay can only be found in photographs, archival records, and the memories of a few aged residents. Although a great deal of shore architecture has also been lost, much remains to remind modern visitors of the past in the undeveloped crossroads, towns, and villages. More significantly, shore cities have continued to build and evolve. Without pretending to be a survey of regional architecture, this report has highlighted characteristic historical and extant resources. In conjunction with its companion volume, HABS's study of a cross-section of significant cities and buildings on the Jersey Shore is intended to promote further study of the region.

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Last Modified: Mon, Jan 10 2005 10:00:00 pm PDT

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