The Ruins of a Beach Vacation and the Time Warp Hotel

Nothing ruins a trip to the beach like temperatures in the 60s, and rain, and 30 mph winds that whip sand at you like slivers of glass, and monster waves that make the lifeguards tell you to keep out of the water. I mean, when the few other crazy people who are also trying to enjoy the ocean on such a day look like this:


you pretty much know it’s bad. (I myself looked like that for the majority of the time I was suffering-I mean “having fun”- on the beach.)

But, when you have a non-refundable reservation at a hotel, you kind of have to just suck it up and hope for the best - so that’s what we did. And, in the end, we were glad. But more about that later. First, the beach.

Here was the plan: The kids and I were going to go with my mother and nephew Donovan to stay one night at Ocean Grove. It’s only 45 minutes away but my mother wanted to be able to wake up there and be able to get right back to the beach, so we were staying in a hotel. One that happened to not be refundable after making the reservation. So, when it was spitting rain on Monday morning, we figured we’d try for it anyway. Who knew? It might blow over. And regardless, we couldn’t just let that money go to waste. So we went.

Our first clue that it wasn’t going to go so well - I mean, apart from it starting to rain 20 minutes after we left - was the fact that there was TONS of available parking right next to the boardwalk. Being somewhat optimistic (or stupid, not sure which) we just felt lucky. Wow! Look at this great parking, and it’s already 10:00! Isn’t that great! So we schlepped our umbrella and cooler of food and beach bags and chairs and noodles and blankets all onto the sand - only to be approached by a lifeguard telling us that no one was allowed in the water.

I’m not sure how much you can tell from the picture, but this was why:

For an idea of the wind, take a look at the flag in this picture.

The waves had to have been at least 10 feet tall, and started way off in the deep. They crashed one on top of each other violently, and I could only imagine the undertow that it all created. So, naturally, no one was allowed in. They told us that if we put ONE TOE in the water they’d boot us off the beach. Okay, then.

We stayed anyway. The kids were so excited, and we couldn’t check in until 3:00 so what else were we going to do? So I covered myself up with my towel while the kids played in the sand. After a while the lifeguards relented and told us that we could let the water come to us and let it come as deep as our ankles, so that added something else to do, but was hardly the fun filled beach day everyone had had in mind. The sand was literally making little cuts in our skin, the wind was driving it so hard, and I was freezing. The lifeguards were all huddled behind an overturned umbrella and were wearing sweat suits, for goodness sake! We felt like idiots.

Here’s our little spot, all staked out. We didn’t bother with the umbrella, for obvious reasons. We got a really great spot, though, right next to the water. Lots of space to ourselves. (You gotta look at the positive in things.)

At first we were the only idiots, and we were sure the lifeguards thought we were nuts. After a while a few other idiots joined us, though, and draped themselves in their towels just like I had. I felt like we had a little idiotic community going. But I couldn’t stand it for long. Mom seemed to be heroically trying to enjoy herself and said she could stay there for a while, but I was freezing so we left after an hour and a half.

Really, don’t you think an hour and a half was pretty darn good under the circumstances? I sure do. Here are pictures of our only time on the beach for the two days. At least they had fun with what they were able to do.

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The tragic part of all this is that the water was WARM. Like super warm in the way that the Atlantic Ocean never is. It was perfect. If only we’d been allowed to get more than just our ankles in it. Sob.

Oh, well. We left, harboring stubborn hopes that maybe things would improve later, and went to see if we could check in earlier than 3:00. We hadn’t been able to find a place in Ocean Grove that had enough room for all of us for only one night that cost less than an arm and a leg, so we were staying in neighboring Asbury Park. Tim found the place for us. Two queen beds and a pull out sofa, right across from the boardwalk, all for $129. It was a steal. I expressed concern about it not being in Ocean Grove, which I knew was nice, since I knew nothing about Asbury Park, but Tim said, “It’s like 6 blocks away! How different can it be?”

Sigh. How different can it be? Well. Let’s see. After we’d made the (non-refundable) reservation, I went online to find out. On Wikipedia I found this gem of a quote: “Asbury Park has been afflicted with a high crime rate for several years. Drug and gang violence have been a persistent problem within the city, and by 2004 Asbury Park was ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in New Jersey.

What???? So, now not only were we not going to be able to swim, but we were also going to be mugged in our sleep. Super. Just super.

To get to Asbury Park you have to totally leave Ocean Grove because O.G. has lakes on the north and south sides that completely separates it from all surrounding areas. (that’s probably what keeps it so nice.) Going from one to the other gives you something like vertigo. It’s like going from a quaint victorian village to the ghetto. There are empty buildings and half-torn structures like this one everywhere.


But you know what they say about books and their covers. This is what else
Wikipedia has to say about Asbury Park (apart from being gang-central): “From 2002 onward, the rest of Asbury Park has been in the midst of a cultural, political, and economic revival, led by a burgeoning industry of local and national artists. Its dilapidated downtown district is undergoing revitalization while most of the nearly empty blocks that overlook the beach and boardwalk are slated for massive reconstruction....The year 2007 has also seen the purchase of the historic Berkeley-Carteret Hotel, which is to be restored to four-star resort status.” The city also has an interesting history, giving birth to many musicians such as Bruce Springsteen and members of Bon Jovi, as well as being Danny DeVito’s old stomping grounds. These people have been a big force behind the revitalization attempts.

But that last part of the quote, about the hotel, is especially important, since that’s the hotel at which we were staying. The outside is mixed. The front is nice enough:

But the back of it reveals that most of the windows are boarded up, which isn’t so very reassuring. Apparently, the hotel also has an interesting history. It was built in the 1920s as a place for the upper crust to stay when they came to town, conveniently located right across from the convention center built at the same time. The depression and world war weren’t good to the town, though, and as it went into decline, so did the hotel, until it was almost unusable in the 1970s. It was bought and sold several times over the years (once, interestingly, to a maharishi who wanted to turn it into a transcendental meditation mecca until zoning laws put an end to it) until 2007 when some serious renovations started taking place.

Stepping into the hotel, out of the blight of the surrounding area, is like stepping back in time. Knowing the hotel was built in the 1920s for the posh of the time makes perfect sense, and I’m not sure if the furnishings have been purposefully replaced to reflect that time, or if they’re just left over. Either way, it’s like an Art Deco time machine in this place. The lobby is spacious and filled with the angles and monochromatic schemes of the 20s art deco movement, as are the rooms. But they’re nothing compared to the mezzanine level ballrooms, which just blew me away. We took a walk around the hotel taking pictures, and I hope you can get a feel for how out of time this place feels.

The Lobby:

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Stairs up to the Mezzanine. Check out those steps!

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Mezzanine lobby

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Ballrooms Off the Mezzanine - some more restored than others (there were four of them - I don’t know why I didn’t take pictures of all of them. They were spectacular.)

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Tim came to eat dinner with us, and I took him through the rooms before he went back home. Let me tell you, going through this vacant part of the hotel during the day is MUCH different than in the unlit night! It was really spooky, especially when I started to think about all those boarded up rooms at the back of the building....

Our hotel room. One disgruntled reviewer called the furniture “shabby asian furnishings,” which amused me. It actually was in pristine condition, whether or not you think it’s ugly, and completely reflected the 20s aesthetic. Really interesting. The beds were incredibly comfortable and the shower was AWESOME. It was really large too, which is good when you have three kids with you!

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The reviews on this place can be scathing. There are some real horror stories out there about staying in this hotel - I suppose from before the main renovations started - including the elevator coming off the track while the reviewer was inside, and poop being found in the pool. They’re rather amusing.
Here’s a good post-renovation review, if you’re interested.

After we got settled in, we decided to go for a walk along the boardwalk. I was interested in the old building across the street, which was obviously a 1920-ish building as well.

The boardwalk reflected both the decay of the decades and the efforts at revitalization. It’s in a half and half level of completion, where you can see how things are cleaned up, but you still see the history of neglect. For someone like me, that made everything exceedingly fascinating.

Here’s how windy it still was on our walk. Look at that tree.

This is the old convention center.

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Inside: a few shops, but really interesting architecture.
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The kids on the boardwalk:

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There were some interesting shops along the revitalized boardwalk. This was one of them. It was a place that turned sand into glass art - I loved the name of the place. They had BEAUTIFUL pieces.

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There was also a little playground on the beach, which the kids enjoyed and was a nice surprise.

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At the opposite end of the boardwalk was this structure. Through the other end of it is the beginning of Ocean Grove. At one time it had been a reflection of the convention center, and had arcade games and a carosel and rides in it. It was boarded up and filled with trash for a while, and now it’s cleaned up - but still a shell.
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So, in the midst of a ruined beach vacation, we found a gem of a place. It might not have been a “gem” in the typical sense of a word, but it had history and character and was fascinating in its paradoxical blend of promise and decay. I loved it.

We never did get back to the beach. Tuesday was worse than Monday, with rain and a 10 degree drop in temperature on top of the crazy wind. We tried to go shopping in Ocean Grove just so that we had something to do other than just stay in the hotel, but it was kind of miserable. But - somehow - it still felt like a good trip. Fun and interesting, even if it did end up completely different than what we thought it would be. Goes to show that, even if things don’t end up as planned, things don’t have to be ruined unless you let them be.