38. Asbury Park

The Westside South of Asbury Avenue

Part 1

Many pages could be written about the Southwest side of Asbury Park. I will confine myself to a brief meditation on the subject.

It fascinates me to think that in so small an area, such as the city of Asbury Park, there can be districts that seem part of another country or world. For me, who grew up on the Westside between Asbury Avenue and Deal Lake, the streets south of Asbury Avenue were like routes of the past - or routes that belonged to some other mode of existence.

First, I'll sketch the terrain. The streets here are not laid out in the largely checkerboard pattern typical of much of Asbury. Rather, they appear to have tried to form a checkerboard but could never quite do it. The seams split a little here and there: two streets closer together than their neighbors; five streets that collide in a single spot with one that didn't quite make it. In fact, the streets of the whole area (in relation to much of Asbury) run a bit more "southwest," as if someone turned the whole area slightly like a dial.

Image 1.38.3. Prospect Ave., looking east.

The avenues are generally narrower here, bumpier and more crowned, the houses narrower too, closer together maybe, often next to small commercial buildings, everything a bit tired looking, worn. This "fatigue" is indicative of age, because this section of Asbury was developed earlier then the west side of Asbury we've already looked at.

Image 2.38.3. Prospect Ave., looking north.

Specifically, this was always the district "across the tracks" (a characteristic of many American small towns). This is where most "ethnic" people lived, usually lower-income people - African-Americans, as well as Italian Americans and other immigrant groups. From what I hear, people from a variety of different backgrounds got along pretty well there for the most part.

Naturally, I've heard more about the Italian-American experience of this district than about anything else. My great-grandfather, Lodevico Mochello, had a tailor shop on 1405 Springwood Ave., a street which was the "center" of the southwest side, the "main street," as it were. His daughters, Julia (later Julia DeVito, my grandmother), and her three sisters, Lena and Louisa, were born and grew up here, above the tailor shop, an address which was just west of the corner of Springwood and Dewitt Avenues.

Image 3.38.3. Lodevico Mochello. Would you believe that
Danny DeVito's grandfather was six feet tall?

Springwood was a thriving, bustling place - restaurants, nightclubs, vegetable markets, butcher shops, barbershops... Specific names are often connected to a specific era, and different people remember different places, but establishments like Fisch's Department Store, Cuba's nightclub and the Savoy Theater (across the street from Fisch's) seem to be universally recalled nowadays.

Fisch's Department Store closed in 1970.

Other establishments were Hutter's bakery, Perella's Meat Market, the New Deal Bar, Griffin's dry cleaners, Knuckle's Electric, Schriber's Bakery, Romano's Italian Store. Going back a ways, there was Cardilla's Clothing Store; Kafki's Shoe Store; Miller's Chicken Market (they'd chop off the chicken's head and you'd take it home). Mr. Butler's grocery store... Next to my great-grandfather's tailor shop was Scalpati the Shoemaker and Rabin's Dry Good's store.

Later in the century, nightclubs proliferated. It was the kind of place that a nice young man from the Eastside could visit for a "good time" (and maybe get himself into a bit o' trouble in the process). In short, it could be a "jumpin' place."

I have heard that famous entertainers, such as Lena Horne and Cab Calloway, have visited and performed in the area. And here's a piece of trivia: Leon Hess was born on Springwood Avenue (over a butcher shop of Lithuanian parents). In case you don't know Leon Hess is, let me give you a hint: "Hess Oil."

Later in life, I would ask my grandmother about the old days on Springwood. She always had a hatful of funny stories that involved even funnier characters. Please go to the next page to read about a few.



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