“The Palace may soon be gone, but Tillie still lives.”

The left-side Tillie is removed from Palace AmusementsIt’s a shame to see Palace Amusements in Asbury Park, New Jersey be demolished. For those of you who don’t know, the original portion of Palace Amusements was built in 1888, and a major expansion was completed in 1955. The 1955 expansion also included a number of murals, including a roller coaster, bumper cars, and two large, smiling faces that are each known as “Tillie”. Above all else, the two Tillie faces (named for George C. Tilyou, considered the father of Coney Island’s Steeplechase amusement park) make the building distinct. Palace Amusements closed on November 27, 1988, and saw no maintenance since then. As a result of this lack of maintenance, the paint deteriorated, cracks developed in the walls, and the roof and second floor both collapsed, at least in part. A group called Save Tillie, where the photo at left came from, has been involved in efforts to save the Palace Amusements building, or at least to save the Tillie images from the side of the building. In the end, they lost the building, with the original 1888 carousel house already demolished, and the remainder with only a short time left to live. But they were able to save one of the two Tillie faces (the left-side Tillie, shown here being lifted from the wall), as well as the bumper car images. A number of items from the Palace Amusements building, including Tillie, will be used in the new building to go up on the site. So why am I writing about this, you wonder? My father grew up with Asbury Park. He worked on the boardwalk as a teenager. He’d always known Tillie at Palace Amusements, as well as the nearby Casino, Convention Hall, Howard Johnson’s, the Stone Pony, etc. The Palace is also of value to Bruce Springsteen fans, as the Palace has been mentioned in a Springsteen song, plus one album cover photo was actually taken in front of a neon-lit Tillie. Additionally, when I was little, when we used to visit my paternal grandparents, my grandfather, whom we called “Pop”, as well as Dad, Mom, and I (this was before my sister’s time) used to go to the boardwalk, where we’d hit the beach some, and also visit the Casino. I personally have no memories of Palace Amusements, but I have great memories of going with Pop to the Casino and riding the merry go round, waving to everyone each time I went around to face them. Additionally, I still have vivid memories of attempting (and backing out of) the Casino’s Fun House, as well as riding Mad-O-Rama with Mom, which is a small scary rollercoaster ride. I was in tears at the end of my first and last Mad-O-Rama ride, as I was quite scared by it (hey, I was little). Pop died in 1988 when I was six years old, and I have not been back to Asbury Park since. Since then the whole town has practically closed down, with the boardwalk area now a modern ghost town. Developers now are working to redevelop the oceanfront, renovating a number of buildings, including the carousel house portion of the Casino (which housed the merry go round. fun house, and Mad-O-Rama areas – these attractions are now dismantled), and demolishing others, including another section of the Casino as well as Palace Amusements. While it’s sad to see the Palace go, especially after so much effort to preserve the palace, we must admit that more than fifteen years of neglect have rendered it structurally beyond repair. Nonetheless, though, one Tillie and a number of other items of historical significance will be going to the new building to be built there. Let’s just hope that this redevelopment project is seen to completion, as Asbury Park has seen enough redevelopment catastrophes, including one that left the unfinished skeleton of a ten-story high-rise that was intended to house condominiums. If this project is seen to completion, maybe Asbury Park will rise to a spot of prominence once again, making everyone, including my father, who remembered Asbury Park in its heyday, happy again at seeing life in the town again, and a restored Tillie smiling down on it all.

Date posted: June 26, 2004