6. The Berkeley Carteret Hotel
On July 9, 1989, the Berkeley Carteret Hotel sparkled with more lights than it had seen in many a year. Limousines pulled into its semicircular drive. Men in tuxedos and women in glittering gowns stepped out amid blinding volleys of flashbulbs. In front of the hotel, Sunset Avenue swarmed with onlookers as powerful spotlights crisscrossed above them in the clear evening sky...
What was happening? Some kind of Hollywood premiere? Well, yes - except that it was Asbury Park and not Tinseltown. It was, in fact, the premiere party for Danny Devito's film "Throw Momma From the Train." Danny, an Asbury Park native (and my uncle), premiered his film at the Paramount Theater, across the street. "Danny's Homecoming" (as the papers called the event) was a night of great and glittery fun. The classic actress Celeste Holm (who was head of the New Jersey Film Commission) gave a tribute to Danny, as did Governor Thomas Kean and our long-time friend Mayor Frank Fiorentino. The incomparable singer Nicky Addeo, our best of friends for many years, provided the music on that spectacular evening.
At the dinner and the party, I glanced around the ballrooms, at the chandeliers, the many-paned windows, the clean new elegance of the hotel. The predominant colors were pink and white with a touch of light green. Was this the Berkeley that only a few years before had been full of shattered windows?
Image 1.6.1. This photo shows the Berkeley Carteret Hotel, the Monterey Hotel behind it and the Sunset Avenue Pavilion.
The Berkeley Carteret has been a fixture in Asbury since 1925. Like its neighbor the Monterey, it was conceived as a luxury Hotel, serving (as they used to say) "all the best people."
The Berkeley shares an interesting history with the Monterey Hotel. During WW II, both places became receiving stations for the British Royal Navy under the name "HMS Asbury." At times, as many as 5000 officers and enlisted men from the U.K. were stationed in Asbury. Some waited for their ships to be repaired in U.S. dry docks; others recuperated from battle fatigue. The great actor Sir Alec Guinness was one of the officers stationed in Asbury Park.
Image 2.6.1. Northeast side of the Berkeley.
It was still a very nice hotel in the '50s, when it catered to a middle-and upper middle-class clientele. In contrast to the many new and candy-colored motels that appeared in town, the Berkeley was one of the remaining throwbacks to the days of distinction writ large.
The establishment closed in 1976. Like so much of Asbury Park, it fell into great disrepair. In 1983, local businessmen Henry and Sabastian Vaccaro purchased it. The hotel saw nearly $20 million in renovations. Its resurrection was a bold achievement. Everyone hoped that its return would inspire more renovation in town and allow the hotel to work in concert with the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall (which I will write about next). It offers 254 bedrooms, four grand ballrooms, a restaurant, a cocktail lounge and conference rooms. Though the original interior was gutted, the romantic feeling that comes with grand old seaside hotels is still obtainable in various parts of the interior.
Image 3.6.1. French doors inside the restored Berkeley Carteret Hotel.
The hotel formed one of Asbury Park's several color schemes. Like the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall (which are coming up) and the smaller Avenue Pavilions, its exterior was fashioned of red bricks. (Confectionery White, Copper Green, Sky Blue and Moorish Sandstone were the other color- strains running through the town.)
The intense and persistent decay of Asbury Park hindered the Berkeley Carteret's potential, but it has succeeded in serving people who come to Asbury for an occasional function held at the Conventional Hall or elsewhere. Recently, a major film was shot in Asbury, and the crew stayed at the Berkeley. Periodic flurries of activity seem to be its purpose at present. A haunting "Twilight Zone" quiet often settles on its elegant lobby when nothing is going on in town. We hope that the hotel will enjoy a more steady and active life someday (though I like the poetic quietude too). Who can say what the future will bring?
Now ... get ready for one of Asbury's awe-inspiring signature places!