8. The Paramount Theater and Convention Hall

Part 2

The Convention Hall and Arcade

 

It's a short walk from the Paramount Theater to the Convention Hall. Just stroll across the Arcade. You must know about the Arcade. In effect, it is a covered continuation of the boardwalk, but without the boards - a huge, softly day-lit hollow that echoed with the rustle of life. Oh, the scent of it! Like the Arcade of the Casino (which later we will see and smell), this arcade had a special perfume. Everyone who grew up in Asbury knew - consciously or unconsciously - the delicate scent of the Arcades. What was it? I believe it combined the scent of ancient paint that never completely dried; within it the sweetened saturated salt of a thousand ocean'd years; the mustiness of weathered woods and, yes, the aroma of roasted nut from the peanut shop. This was the perfume of life!

Image 1.8.1. This postcard looks south through the Paramount-Convention Hall Arcade. This postcard is brightened both by flash and retouching. In reality, a wonderful powdery daylight, streaming in from the boardwalk, illuminated the Arcade. For more photos of the Arcade click HERE.

Look at the above photo. Notice the windows at the right and left of the picture. See also the recessed passageway at right, above the middle row of windows. Asbury Park was full of curious, shadowed stairways, windows and passageways. I used to wonder (without actually wondering) what was behind them, where they led to. Adventure is built into things. Often we are left with spatial contradictions. For years, when thinking back to my childhood days, I would imagine that the screen of the Paramount Theater faced the ocean, east. Suddenly, a few years ago, when I went in the theater again, it dawned on me that you actually faced north when watching the screen. Logically, I knew this, having been in there many, many times as a kid; but the unanalyzed image I held was of an audience facing ninety degrees to the right. (I have uncovered the secret to my error, which I will reveal later on this page.)

In the above photo (1.8.1), the entrance to the Paramount Theater is at right, just outside of view. The entrance to the foyer of the Convention Hall is though several doors at left, by the columns. They are copper doors, heavy and distinguished, as shown in the following photo.

Image 2.8.1 the entrance to the foyer of the Convention Hall.

Fascinating shape is evident, architecturally, in the Convention Hall. Deco is everywhere. Its foyer, just off the Arcade, is bordered on two sides by stairs that are party sheltered by yellowish half-walls. These matching partitions are shaped with a building-block effect. I recall a kind of "Egyptian" feeling on noting these structures as a kid. Old-fashioned, brass-barred ticket windows line both sides of the foyer.

Image 3.8.1. The foyer of the Convention Hall, looking northeast. The line of six doors at lower right (which are not very apparent in this photo) open into the "hall" of the Convention Hall.

It is said that the Hall itself can be arranged to seat 4000 people. I haven't been inside it for several years, but I recall such set-ups. My high school graduation took place there. The seats are built up in tiers around its circumference and many rows can fill the main floor. For exhibitions, the floor seats are removed, leaving a spacious display region.

Image 4.8.1. A basketball game inside the Convention Hall.

Naturally, there is a stage in the Convention Hall. A good deal of painting - symbolic scenes in the fluid deco style - embellishes the walls on both sides of it.

Click HERE to see a few modern photos of the interior of the Convention Hall. (Added 6-1--03)

Unlike in the Paramount, you really do face east when you look at Convention Hall's stage. This is why, in my mind, the Paramount's screen became "attached" to this location. Since the ocean is just beyond Convention Hall's stage, any scene in a movie at the Paramount that showed the ocean was always a scene that took place just beyond the screen I was watching. From deep in my childhood, I remember distinctly the crystal blue water in some teen movie uncle Danny and I were watching. Throughout my life, when I think of that shot, I see us facing the ocean. So it is with other films I saw at the Paramount, such as Windjammer (a movie about sailing) or even movies not about water, such as Around the World in Eighty Days. All that blue sky. Fantasy was just beyond the screen, in the ocean and the limitless heavens beyond.

Now that I think about, I wonder if it was at the Paramount that I saw Windjammer and Around the World in Eighty Days. Perhaps it was at the Saint James (which we will see later). An enchanting blend of theaters and movies swirls within me. Sometimes an early error in recollection throws us off and inserts itself as an actual memory for years to come. But it is all Asbury Park; and even the intricate confusion is magical, heartrendingly impressionistic.

In the heyday of the Convention Hall, many of the big bands played there to packed houses: Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, Tommy Dorsey. The Jersey Shore, in general, was a favorite "stomping ground" for the popular musicians and entertainers of the '30s and '40s: Rudy Vallee, Gene Krupa, Harry James, the Clooney Sisters, Vaughn Monroe. Red Skelton arranged dance marathons. (See Remember When, by Edward L. Walsh, Asbury Park Press, Jan., 15, 1989.)

In the '50s, the town retained its links to popular music. It became strongly associated with the bands of that time - those from other places, as well as the homegrown variety. (Just ask my dear friend Nicky Addeo, who knows all about it.)

For a couple of very hot days in July 2002, the city of Asbury Park became jammed with humans. People from as far away as Alaska had descended on the town. The Berkeley-Carteret Hotel was filled to capacity; and those who couldn't find a room slept out on the beach. Once again, there was no place to park. What was happening? You guessed it: Bruce Sprinsteen was back in town. This time to publicize a new album and give Asbury Park's redevelopment "a shot in the arm." "The Today Show" broadcast live from there and covered the ceremony. My uncle Danny (DeVito), who happened to be in New York for a month doing a Woody Allen film, was invited down for an interview. Danny, his son Jake, Ian (his assistant) and I all hopped into theToday Show limo and went down the beach. I followed Danny around and took photographs. (Click HERE to see the images.)

Image 5.8.1. Part of the beach, the Boardwalk, the Convention Hall, Paramount Theater and Berkeley Carteret Hotel.

Outside the Convention Hall, a covered deck skirts its north, south and ocean sides. People would sit in (what else?) big green deck chairs and take the breezes; they'd watch the crowds on the beach, or observe the comings and goings of boardwalk life. The south side was a great place to witness fireworks displays. In the summer, the boardwalk would be packed, and the Convention Hall deck was always a choice spot to be in, especially on the Fourth of July.

Image 6.8.1. South deck of the Convention Hall.

One Columbus Day, I recall, I stood on the crowded deck with my mother, aunt Theresa, uncle Danny and little cousin Freddie and watched Columbus row ashore. Well, it was actually a cousin of ours, Fred Monteleone, playing the great explorer. I recall the big old ship (Nina? Pinta?) bobbing and rocking a few hundred yards out to sea. "Columbus" and a couple of his shipmates rowed ashore and met a few "Indians" (more Italian guys) who waited on the beach. I think they handed out corn. Fred tells me that the World Series was on that day and he didn't want to miss it. So as he rowed through the waves, he and his companions secretely listened to it on a transistor radio.

Being an Asbury Park high school student in the 1940s must have been an enviable experience. Here you had a miniature of the world - and beyond - in your own backyard, a kingdom. We haven't yet seen the real "small town" elements of Asbury; but when you couple these with the exotic features, you realize what a singular place it was. The quintessentially American fixtures and furnishings led to something fabulously, but safely, transporting.

I am certain that we who developed mental awareness in the late '50s and early '60 saw only the tail end of Asbury Park's greatness. Still, there's that remaining sense...

And now - yes! - the Boardwalk!

 

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