10. Wesley Lake Section, Part 1
The Casino, Part 1
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The Casino marks beginning of the Wesley Lake section of town, which was, in my opinion, the most magical and remarkable quarter of Asbury Park. For me, it is the Center of the Earth, the World Navel, the Hub around which all other places on the planet revolve. (Later I will pinpoint for you the exact spot of the Center of the Earth.) It will take a bit of time to build up a picture of this world and demonstrate what I mean, but I'm hopeful that the journey will be interesting.
Image 1.10.1. The Arcade section of the Casino.
The Casino is the second of the two great Boardwalk buildings. Built in 1928, it is a fanciful art nouveau / deco concoction that suggests the gothic in certain spots. Like its sister building, the Convention Hall / Paramount Theater, it is divided into three main parts: the Carousel Crown, the Arcade and the Auditorium (though there are also significant connecting sections). As the photos show, a unique and fantastical "unity in disunity" joins its parts.
The Carousel Crown
The westernmost section of the Casino I call the Carousel Crown. It appears on the right side of the following image.
Image 2.10.1. Full view of the Casino. Note the two "extra" sections that connect the Crown to the boardwalk Arcade. The tower in the upper right is the heating plant (1930), which we will look at later. To the right, we see a tiny tip of Wesley lake as well as some buildings in Ocean Grove.
This copper-green structure, which resembles the crown of a giant chess king, rests where Ocean, Lake and Asbury Avenues meet. A close look at this wing of the Casino reveals an enthralling array of copper-sculpted figures. Truly, it is a curious and impressive sight - unlike any building I know of.
Image 3.10.1. Two of the fabulous doors on the Casino Crown. CLICK HERE to see a full photograph of the crown and a shot of its top that I took in 1987. There's also a neat photo of the roofs.
What a vision it was to see the turreted Victorians of Ocean Grove across the lake reflected in its windows, superimposed with clouds over the carousel horses.
Image 4.10.1. The Casino Carousel. Note the reflection of the Palace Ferris Wheel across the street.
Happy sounds always spilled from the Casino, in particular the hollow piping of the carousel's calliope-like music: A Bicycle Built for two, The Band Played On and other festive tunes from the Gilded Age danced out onto the avenues and over the glittering water of boat-dotted Wesley Lake. Colored lights whirled past the windows and beckoned you.
Inside, other attractions appealed. On the east side of the compact crown, just past the carousel, the haunted-woods and neon-lighted exterior of "Mad-O-Rama" promised a trip to hell (what fun).
Image 5.10.1. Mad-O-Rama Sign and some great high "Asbury Windows."
The Mad-O-Rama cabs were lined up on their tracks in front of the weirdly painted facade. Opposite Mad-O-Rama (on the west side of the area) was the entrance to small walk-through "Circus Funhouse." Part of this funhouse formed a canopy that separated the Crown area of the Casino from its extension, which led to the Arcade. Like "Mad-O-Rama," the funhouse was nowhere near as elaborate as similar attractions in the Palace Amusements across the street (which later we will go in). I recall it being geared mostly to younger kids. I believe I went in it only once, long ago. Its red and yellow circus-striped presence and the knowledge that it formed some kind of unknown interior district, implausibly contiguous, adds to the thrill of the Casino in recollection.
What I've been calling the extension provided a connection from the Crown to the Arcade. Even though this short, wide corridor was outside the crown proper, you didn't really think about its location (it always seemed to me that I was in the crown all along). Many minor attractions formed little districts within the limited space: a hoop-toss game, rows of catchpenny machines, a photo booth, a guess-your-weight scale, a fortune-telling machine that housed a mannequin in mystic robe and turban.
On the south side, between the crown itself and the connection corridor, was a carpeted room of glass cases filled with every sort of bauble. The coins and tickets you won at skeeball or other games could be cashed in for these prizes. Among these, you could find a few better items, such as cameras and pocket knives. I seem to recall that dolls and stuffed animals hung from the walls.
Click HERE to see some Casino "currency."
When I think of the Prize Room, an exotic feeling seizes me and many features of the Casino Crown enjoin in my soul. It's a kind of "Moorish" or "Persian" intimation. It may be that the Prize Room recalls a bazaar. Rather, I believe it is the collection of angles and alcoves and colors and windows, along with the music, sounds and smells of the whole Crown that does it. As I have said, Asbury Park was full of mysterious windows, passageways, stairways and corners. In addition to the unknown, there was the preconscious knowledge of what was just around the bend. For example, beautiful Wesley Lake lined with the Victorians of Ocean Grove was right outside the Casino. The hotels were full, the majestic theaters ran and reran their pictures of other times and places and people splashed in the wide Atlantic Ocean. Even if you didn't think about all this, it was there, working on you, tinting your present and being stored up, carried with you to the future for the evocation of your past.
At the east end of the amusement corridor, and bordering a part of the Arcade, was the Bumper Cars or "Auto-Scooters." (This was one of two such attractions in town.) Rinnnnng went the bell, which meant the start of another round of smash-ups. You'd step on the puck-shaped accelerator and take off. There was the usual steel track and stubby neon-colored cars. A series of mirrors that covered more than an entire side of the attraction provided disjointed glimpses of your vehicular folly.
Please Continue on to Casino, Part 2.