15 Aug The Empress, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Several weeks ago Richard and I finally pulled off our annual summer getaway to the Jersey Shore. A must-do for anyone who lives in the Metropolitan New York area! New Jersey is a state blessed with hundreds of miles of pristine coastline! Prime beaches for all the folks from every walk of life that want the same thing: a summer beach experience! There’s nothing like it!
We have our favorite “easy drive” beaches at Sandy Hook National Seashore, but weren’t able to get reservations for Sunday night at the place we usually stay in Sea Bright – so we decided to be adventurous and start our trip in Asbury Park, then drive south looking for a place to stay. We had a perfect day (hot, sunny, ocean temps divine), along with millions of others, on Bradley Beach, and when the day was over drove south in search of lodgings. However after canvasing a number of seaside communities we came up with nothing! I remembered seeing a great old style 60’s hotel right across from the Boardwalk in Asbury Park, and suggested we go back and check it out.
From the minute I walked into The Empress Hotel, I was taken with the place. The desk clerk was unusually friendly and helpful – the room rates seemed amazingly affordable, and we got a view of the ocean to boot! As I was checking in I heard that loud pounding of a bass beat from the adjacent outdoor area that appeared to be the pool area. I inquired about what was going on and was told it was their weekly tea dance! OMG! I haven’t been to a tea dance in YEARS!!! So we unloaded our stuff and came back downstairs for some good ol’ fashioned fun! Sat by the pool with a cocktail and watched the action as a bronzed, thonged cowboy danced to a disco beat on a stand above the crowd, and then the kicker was a great drag show featuring several extremely talented dancers!
When we were checking out the following morning, I asked a few questions about the history of the place and discovered the story that convinced me THIS (former) “motel” / turned “hotel” HAD to be a part of my vanishing roadside series! Here’s a brief history from Wikipedia:
In 1980, the Empress was featured on the picture sleeve of Bruce Springsteen‘s hit single “Hungry Heart“, which depicts a photo of Springsteen standing near a phone booth on the Asbury Park boardwalk, with the hotel visible in the background.
By the summer of 1976, Asbury Park was in a state of decline, albeit the Empress Hotel remained a popular establishment. During a New York Times interview, the hotel’s manager boasted: “all of our 101 rooms are taken!” Unfortunately, by 1988 the hotel was struggling for business, and closed shortly after.
A strip club, Extreme Fahrenheit, opened in the building in 1993. It became notorious for drugs and prostitution, and was eventually closed because of lewd conduct.
In 1998, Shep Pettibone bought the abandoned building and opened the Paradise Nightclub inside.
So after having been abandoned for many years, a derelict of a building, visionary Shep Pettibone came along and single-handedly restored this classic 50’s style building into a completely renovated hotel with clean, tasteful rooms that certainly is aimed at the gay community, but is equally friendly and welcoming to people of all persuasions. My hat’s off the Shep and others like him who see the value in saving these types of architectural treasures. The fabulous sign is exactly the same, but they changed the “M” in “motel” to “H” for “hotel”.
This sign is next on my list to paint!