Monthly Archives: September 2010

Jersey’s Pinball Wizard

My second story for Inside Jersey magazine, and second set in Asbury Park, is now posted online, here. It was included in the Star-Ledger this weekend and will be on newsstands next week. The story, headlined “Jersey’s Pinball Wizard,” is about the Silverball Pinball Museum in Asbury Park, and its entrepreneurial founder, Rob Ilvento. Pinball may make a comeback with Ilvento as its booster. Besides Las Vegas, Asbury Park is now the only other place where people can play the best pinball games of all time, all lovingly restored and most playing like new.

As I’ve written before, I grew up near the faded seaside town of Asbury Park and have always been attracted to its charm and history, its mix of old and new. As it has done for many others (i.e. Bruce Springsteen), the city speaks to me. More than two years ago, I began scouring the city for stories. The first one I stumbled upon was about the longstanding Mr. Fashion men’s clothing store, whose elder founder, Carl Williams, had a life tailored for a magazine profile.

I found out about the pinball museum in one of many trips to Asbury.  It had recently upgraded its home from the basement of a clothing store to the boardwalk. I went one night with my mom, a former pinball junkie. The beauty and history of the games and the uniqueness of the museum immediately struck me. And the story behind it was great: the founder, Rob Ilvento collected classic pinball machines and then decided to archive this piece of Americana on the same boardwalk where he once played pinball as a teenager. I look for stories about people who have a loyalty to the past, and that was true in the case of Ilvento, and before him Carl Williams.

So now, I’m in search of more stories in Asbury. Readers, write in!

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The summer’s gone and the time is right…

…We’re going racing in the street.

Those are lyrics from what has to be my favorite song of summer – Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street,” off the 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s sad, sentimental, and youthful, with a silver lining of inspiration. Roy Bittan’s piano solos are spellbinding, especially the final one. Here’s a live performance from 1980. The best version, I think, is from the E Street Band’s Christmastime concert at Billy Graham’s Winterland in San Francisco on December 15, 1978. Bruce introduces the song with a short summary about how Ocean and Kingsley Avenues in Asbury Park were turned into drag strips on summer nights.

On that note, I’ve had a joyful summer, one with new adventures, people and places. I thought I’d share a few of the photographic highlights.

This is one of five portraits (and my favorite one) Vincent van Gogh painted of postal worker Joseph Roulin that are on display at the MoMa. I was there recently for the Matisse exhibit, and afterward, as always, went over to see this. I’ve always been intrigued by portraits. According to one description, “Roulin was a a postal employee in Arles, and van Gogh painted him for the first time in the summer of 1888, resplendent in his blue, gold-trimmed postal uniform and cap, seated at a table and set against a light blue background.”

Long Island Restaurant, once an Atlantic Avenue mainstay, remains vacant going on three years. The name might confuse, but Brooklyn is actually the western end of Long Island. The area’s Long Island Hospital also reflects that still.

I unfortunately never had a chance to eat here. The rumor a few years ago had been that it would then reopen soon, but that never happened and it seems unlikely now. Long Island Restaurant opened in 1951, by Ramon Montero, and was run for a long time by his daughter, Emma Sullivan. Emma’s brother was Joseph Montero, who opened the bar in 1947 across the street which bears his name and is still open. Joseph’s elder wife, Pilar, can still be seen there, and their son, Pepe, runs it. It would be nice to see the chrome-and-neon sign light up once again at this Art Deco landmark. For more on the history of these two bars, see here.

I’m a sucker for old advertising on the sides of buildings. It just shouts Old New York. This one I stumbled upon recently on Middagh Street, perhaps the most authentic block in Brooklyn. It was one of the first streets in Brooklyn Heights – the city and country’s first suburb – and several wooden frame houses from the early 1800s are still well preserved. Walking down Middagh Street takes you back in time. It’s a lovely feeling. This advertisement is right off Henry St. Who even uses the word “let” any more instead of rent? The realtor – James R. Ross & Co. – was located at Fulton St. and Nostrand Ave. (the trees block the cross street in the photo). I have no idea how to figure out how old this is. For more on Middagh Street, see the former Lost City New York blog.

I took these photos at the Brooklyn Bridge summer film series a few weeks ago. It was held this year at the new Pier 1, at the foot of Old Fulton St. It’s a well designed, enchanting park, with large manicured lawns, little marshlands and creeks, and sweeping views from the Statue of Liberty all the way up to the Empire State Building.

Here is an electronic junkyard of old televisions and betting machines at Monmouth Park. I felt like Wall-E when I discovered this in a vacant area of the grandstand. My friend and I found a voucher which allegedly had $36 still on it, but the thing had long ago expired.

Last weekend I went to a middle of nowhere clam bar called Shoal’s Lobster Company in Port Monmouth, New Jersey, an almost rural fishing village on the Raritan Bay, near Earle Naval Base and Sandy Hook and within sight of Staten Island, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. The clam bar was as no frills as possible – you order inside at a narrow counter and then eat on picnic tables outside – but the lobster ($15 for a pound and a half) and littleneck Bluepoint clams were some of the best I’ve had in my recent tour of New York/New Jersey clam bars. (The best clams so far were at Randazzo’s in Sheepshead Bay.) Near Shoal’s were other seafood markets, old fishing boats and tugs. It felt like the Louisiana Bayou, instead of a place in the densest state in the US.

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