Restore sent the following editorial to the APPress on May 19th, 2004. It never ran.
Did ‘Save Tillie’ Obscure the Shore's Oldest Iconic Treasure?
The last time the wrecker's ball hung over Asbury Park's Palace Amusements complex, the threat motivated the city’s historian to have it designated a National Historic Place and launched a worldwide popular movement. Organizers of the popular campaign made the tactical decision to focus on one aspect of the Palace, its cartoonish identity, “Tillie”. "Save Tillie", the simple message fortified by the smiley face of the same name, created by George C.Tilyou, galvanized an international audience of Springsteen and other fans of music icons and seaside nostalgia. Proof of these efforts’ success is apparent in that the Palace complex, for which Tillie is symbolic, survived another 6 years - until now that is.
But its destruction is once again imminent. The city manager holds a permit for the demolition of the Palace, while stories fill local papers about efforts to salvage memorabilia from some sections. But little has been written about the pending loss of the 1880’s carousel house – the oldest carousel house on the Jersey Shore - immortalized by Stephen Crane's short stories, including the now ironically named "The Pace of Youth".
What makes the loss even more tragic is the lack of public knowledge about the Carousel House, no doubt exacerbated by the confusion between it and the more visually dramatic Art Deco carousel house attached to the Casino building just East of the Palace complex. Is it important to save an 1880’s building that symbolizes what distinguished the Jersey shore for generations? Is it smart to lose the landmarks that drew tourist dollars to the City? Can a Rock ‘n Roll Tour of the Jersey Shore skip the Palace?
Over the years numerous parties have made offers aimed at preserving the Palace complex and other locations as destination points. Most failed because their proposals fell on a disinterested administrations – not because their business models were flawed. Current redevelopment plans include token nods to what once stood here and wax on about a commitment to honor Asbury Park’s historic past. This always reminds me of the assurances given the people of Hong Kong by the Chinese government prior to the handover from the British: Words to the effect, “Don’t worry, we don’t intend to kill the Golden Goose,” a reference to Hong Kong’s role as the financial heart of Asia. But a Time magazine editor back then noted, “I might believe what they say about not killing the Golden Goose, if there weren’t so many headless geese lying about.” We in Asbury have only to look for the National Registered, exotically designed Mayfair Theater, and the St. James Theater, The Albion…and other ‘headless geese’ who have vanished from the landscape. When Asbury’s civic groups describe Asbury they proudly point out these ghosts of the past - not condominiums of interest; few living quarters inhabited by mere commoners have held the public’s imagination for any length of time.
Now once again, business plans – some might say desperate last ditch efforts – swirl around city hall’s current denizens. The ‘Save Tillie’ enthusiasts have stripped what they could from inside the Palace for posterity, folded their tents as it were, but not without noting on their website the experts’ final assessment on whether the Carousel House should or could be saved – their conclusion: save it. Amen! Let’s get the business plan signed off.