Tuesday, December 11, 2018

An excerpt from "The Jersey Shore"

An excerpt from The Jersey Shore
Written by Dominick Mazzagetti

Excerpt reprinted with permission from Rutgers University Press.

I come to the subject of the Jersey Shore with a personal bias. For the millions of us who grew up in New Jersey, the Jersey Shore has a pervasive hold. We may not remember the first time we were dipped in the ocean by our parents, but the Jersey Shore has become part of who we are. Whether our experience as a child was day trips to the beach anxiously awaited, week-long vacations in a cramped bungalow with family and friends, or long summers spent at a family beach house, the shore evokes compelling memories. As teenagers it may have been the freedom of being on our own on the boardwalk for the first time, learning to sail in the bay, or lifeguarding on the beach. As adults, we continue to be drawn to the shore to give our own children and grandchildren the experiences we so enjoyed.

A postcard view of Atlantic City, circa 1928.
I grew up in Newark in the 1950s. We had few opportunities for vacations except for several days each summer spent at Long Branch, Seaside Heights, or Asbury Park. The thrills of riding the waves at the beach and the rides on the boardwalk lasted twelve months until we returned. As a teenager, especially with the availability of a car, the shore was the go-to trip in the summer on a hot day, or overnight if we could find a friend whose family had a summer home or was renting a house for a week or two. The ride might be hours on the Parkway in stop-and-go traffic with no air-conditioning; the accommodations might be a spot on the floor in a crowded summer home. Whatever, we could sleep on the beach the next day. Later on, one of my most memorable trips to the shore was a July weekend spent at the home of the Commandant of the National Guard at Sea Girt (a friend’s father). We raised the flag the next morning after a night hopping the local bars. Another was hitting a long-shot Daily Double at Monmouth Park on the way to the shore (never since repeated).

As an adult, I have visited the shore every summer since getting married in the fall of 1974, for one or two weeks at various beaches—from the Dover beaches in Toms River to Avalon—and at various Long Beach Island (LBI) communities. Eventually, we returned each year to LBI and purchased a seasonal home in Harvey Cedars in 1999. We have entertained at the shore, learned to sail, visited the casinos at Atlantic City, and simply enjoyed lazy days lying on the beach relaxing by the water. I am hopeful that my retelling of the story of the Jersey Shore demonstrates my appreciation of seasons and vacations lovingly enjoyed.

The story of the Jersey Shore is a story of change, constant change, right up through today, which is not obvious to those who return each year to the same resort looking for the same simple pleasures. The first chapter of this book describes the physical elements of that change: geography and climate. The final chapters describe the political and cultural changes currently shaping the Jersey Shore. New Jersey’s geology provides a coastline naturally suited for summer pleasures and adventures. But will it last? The coastline shifts, sands attrite and recede with little regard to human desires, and storms take buildings and livelihoods on a regular basis. Changing societal norms dealing with beach access and a heightened awareness about our environment have already and will continue to impact the way we see and enjoy the shore.

A view of the beach at Asbury Park with the Asbury Park Convention Hall and Paramount Theater. Circa 1950s.
The story of the Jersey Shore is a story about transportation. The development of the Jersey Shore as a national resort parallels the growth and development of transportation. The widespread popularity of the Jersey Shore begins with the coming of railroads. Without clean, cheap, and convenient access, the shore might still be largely uninhabited, the purview of hermits and fishermen. The individual (and mostly tiny) communities that dot the shore came about through the efforts of local businessmen eager to bring a train to wasteland areas that could be divided into lots and sold at a profit. The automobile eclipsed the trains in the 1900s and made the development of these communities even easier. As a result, each shore community offers its own unique amenities, allowing day-trippers, weekenders, and week-long visitors, as well as summer residents and year-round residents, to choose from a variety of beaches, home styles, fashions, and entertainments. And at all price levels. Could Atlantic City, Spring Lake, and the Wildwoods be any different? Over the last fifty years the availability of cheap and easy airplane service to distant and exotic destinations has impacted the economics of the Jersey Shore’s largest resorts, most notably Atlantic City.

The story of the Jersey Shore is a story of individuals driving development and taking control of beachfront properties. Beachfront development was a local issue in the not too distant past, as was beachfront protection. How the locals dealt with these issues contrasts with contemporary approaches. The state government became a major player only in the past seventy-five years and still struggles at times with local politics and “home rule.” The federal government became a factor at about the same time through its ability to focus resources on issues of erosion, beach nourishment, and disaster recovery. Federal funding in the past fifty years has provided the impetus for the beach nourishment efforts that now dominate our approach to beach protection. But will that funding continue?

Pan American Motor Inn Motel, Wildwood Crest, NJ. 1979.
The story of the Jersey Shore today is a story of ideas and ideals. The laws defining who can access the beach have evolved since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The nature of the debate about who should be allowed to enjoy the beaches has changed from an economic issue to a civil rights issue. And even more recently, the focus on global warming puts the Jersey Shore at the crossroads of the debate about rising sea levels and what, if any, measures should be taken to deal with the issue both in the short and the long term (depending on each person’s definition of short term versus long term). These issues have highlighted and exacerbated the tension between beach access and private property rights and the result can be seen in the post-Sandy efforts to protect all the state’s beaches with dunes. The difference between historic and modern attitudes and efforts in regard to civil rights and climate change may be startling for the modern reader. All of these themes are present throughout the history of the Jersey Shore. They intersect and overlap.

About the Book
In The Jersey Shore, Dominick Mazzagetti provides a modern re-telling of the history, culture, and landscapes of this famous region, from the 1600s to the present. The Shore, from Sandy Hook to Cape May, became a national resort in the late 1800s and contributes enormously to New Jersey’s economy today. The devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 underscored the area’s central place in the state’s identity and the rebuilding efforts after the storm restored its economic health.

Divided into chronological and thematic sections, this book will attract general readers interested in the history of the Shore: how it appeared to early European explorers; how the earliest settlers came to the beaches for the whaling trade; the first attractions for tourists in the nineteenth century; and how the coming of railroads, and ultimately automobiles, transformed the Shore into a major vacation destination over a century later. Mazzagetti also explores how the impact of changing national mores on development, race relations, and the environment, impacted the Shore in recent decades and will into the future. Ultimately, this book is an enthusiastic and comprehensive portrait by a native son, whose passion for the region is shared by millions of beachgoers throughout the Northeast.

About the Author
Dominick Mazzagetti is the author of Charles Lee: Self Before Country (Rutgers University Press), which received an Honorable Mention for the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond’s 2014 Book Award. Mazzagetti is a lawyer and banker with a fervent interest in American history. He has served as law secretary to the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and was Acting Commissioner of Banking in the administration of New Jersey Governor Tom Kean.

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