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Stone Pony Faces Demolition

Music fans rally to save the club that launched Springsteen

January 11, 2002 12:00 AM ET

Preliminary redevelopment plans in Asbury Park, New Jersey, are calling for the relocation of the music club, the Stone Pony, and fans, musicians and owner Domenic Santana are fighting to keep the legendary venue from being demolished.

The Stone Pony, which was instrumental in cultivating the careers of Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and others, is being targeted for demolition and relocation as part of a redevelopment project for the beachfront area of Asbury Park. According to plans, condominiums will be constructed in an attempt to boost summer interest in the deteriorating city, which once prospered on the Jersey Shore.

At the heart of the dispute are disparate visions of how to best present a cleaner, safer and busier Asbury Park. Owner Santana is a supporter of redevelopment ("We call it 'Beiruit by the shore,'" he says of the city's current state), but from an angle of preservation of the past, rather than a new face for the future. Santana envisions a return of the city's history and grandeur, citing shuttered or ailing establishments including former beer garden and pizzeria Mrs. J's, Fifties nightclub the Rainbow Room and the Sunshine Inn as examples of the city's more prosperous past that should be rejuvenated. "There's a lot of notable names that we'd like to see incorporated into the so called 'entertainment zone,'" he says. And Santana sees the Stone Pony as an anchor in that vision.

The venue is certainly with few peers as far as rock & roll venues go. "It is to the New Jersey Shore what the Ryman Auditorium is to Nashville," says Howard Kramer, associate curator at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. "It's the birthplace of music from there. It is so ironic that the Pony would be in danger, because it is the only thing that has withstood time there."

But the Asbury Park, and its City Manager, Terrance Welden, have aggressively been pursuing new development plans, working with New York City-based investment firm, M.D. Sass and Company and its local Ocean Front Acquisitions affiliate. Last October, M.D. Sass and Ocean Front began a oceanfront demolition work, including the James A. Bradley Hotel.

More recently, Ocean Front has called upon developer Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, to work on the project. Duany Plater-Zyberk, founded by husband and wife team of Andres M. Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, is an acclaimed Florida-based firm that has been crucial in the "New Urbanism" movement. The company laid the groundwork for the revitalization of hundreds of American cities, notably Seaside, Florida, one of the company's earliest projects, based upon the concept of ending a trend of suburban sprawl characterized by strip malls, parking lots and housing clusters. Duany Plater-Zyberk's developments (discussed in their book Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream) are focused on reversing the outward flow (likely sparked by the automobile) and reestablish a focus on the notion of towns.

Asbury Park's woes over the past two-plus decades sent summer beach-goers, one of the area's primary sources of revenue, just south to the re-developed town of Ocean Grove, a dilemma that resulted from and yet still feeds the city's slide. Representatives from Duany Plater-Zyberk plan to arrive in Asbury Park next week and begin observing the city before working on redevelopment specifics. "We're being called in to reach consensus on issues that are still not resolved between the city and the current developer," says Demetri Baches of Duany Plater-Zyberk. "We try not to get too swayed by any one group's opinions and desires until we actually get to the site, so we can see what's happening and speak with people face to face and make more educated decisions."

Fans, musicians and patrons started the Save the Pony Organization, in an effort to help preserve the club. Santana and the Stone Pony had balked at working actively with the organization, as they were still active in negotiations with the developers. After talks between the Stone Pony and developers broke off, Santana joined the fray. "I'm going to take a frontline position from this day forward to fight and stay there," he says. "All along their plans called for condos on Ocean Avenue [where the club is located], so we're the thorn in their side. It's a numbers game to these bottom-feeders. They're in it for the money, and they don't care about the history."

According to Santana, development plans called for pushing the city's entertainment venues south, a plan he says will outrage Ocean Grove. "They will rage over our town and music and the noise pollution," he says. "That was a very Methodist community; you couldn't even drive in that town on Sundays until about five or six years ago. It's a very religious town, and they would rage when we had one of the hard, modern shows with all the piercings and spiked purple hair floating in the area. I think they would cringe at the notion."

A petition protesting the relocation has been started, and Save the Pony held a press conference yesterday, which was attended by Springsteen's management, to discuss plans for fighting the proposed redevelopment. Little Steven Van Zandt has also thrown his support behind the club. "Like Convention Hall, the Berkeley Carteret Hotel and the boardwalk, the Stone Pony has become an institution of Asbury Park," Van Zandt said. "It has an important place in history and is a great source of pride for the state of New Jersey as well as being an international tourist attraction. Leave it where it is."

Santana has already planned a rally at City Hall on January 16th and at the club on January 19th. And next month, the Stone Pony celebrates it's twenty-eighth birthday, with a series of concerts that are still taking shape. "February is going to be a very big month at the Stone Pony," Santana says. "It's gonna be a great month. Joan Jett and Patti Smith, they're already lining up."

Welden and Asbury Park City Hall could not be reached for comment. The specific development recommendations are expected to be presented to the public on January 23rd.

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