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Asbury Park was established in 1871 as an outgrowth of Ocean Grove, a Methodist camp meeting to the south. The city was named after Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop in America. Unlike Ocean Grove, Asbury Park had a secular nature with businesses and amusements. By the 1890s, large homes were being built here and 600,000 summer visitors were to be found in the 200 hotels and rooming houses.
In the 1920s, the boardwalk area was rebuilt with notable brick structures decorated with shell, fish, and nautical motifs. The availability of automobiles and an improved highway led to Asbury Park's popularity with middle class residents of the Trenton, NJ, area. Visitors enjoyed first run movie theaters, extensive flower beds, and landscaped parks in addition to the beach.
The increasing affordability of jet travel to Florida had a profound effect on the Jersey Shore in general. Asbury Park began to lose its clientele in the 1960s. An urban riot in the summer of 1970 scared off the last of the visitors and caused many businesses and middle class residents to leave. The city has yet to recover from this downturn.
Asbury Park has had a sad history of failed redevelopment. At one point, the several blocks closest to the boardwalk were cleared, but nothing was built on this extensive tract of vacant land. Eventually, a tall condo was erected across the street from the boardwalk only to be abandoned in mid-construction. The rusting framework stood for years as a monument to failure. The boardwalk itself eventually became abandoned and the beach unused.
In the 1990s, some signs of life appeared in the boarded up business district of Cookman Avenue. Some of these businesses were operated by gays who had started to purchase and restore some of the grand old houses. Today, one will find restaurants and home decor stores with condos above on this street.
The 2000s saw yet another redevelopment plan which succeeded in rebuilding the boardwalk area and drawing crowds back to the beach. A large condo complex was constructed along Wesley Lake on south side of Asbury Park. Unfortunately, the housing downturn of 2006 led to slow sales here and at other redeveloped sites, as well as, the postponement of several major construction projects. The Asbury Park of today is a mixture of gentrification and urban decay.