Community Members Decry Plans for Pool Club

Fearing a return to segregationist policies of the past, some community members and activists are decrying plans for a pool and beach club in north Asbury Park.

The pool club is being marketed as an amenity to the recently developed high-rise condominium complex, The Asbury Ocean Club. These projects are the newest construction by iStar, the company that controls the development rights to the city’s waterfront.

“Memories linger in my mind, of being denied access to the Monte Carlo Pool in the 1950s because I am African-American,” said Kay Harris, who is descended from a prominent Asbury Park family and who still makes her livelihood in Asbury Park.  “Of course, that would not be the case today in 2019.  The new barrier would be based on income, a euphemism for class distinction.  Do we really want to be defined as the beachfront which boasts amenities ensuring separation of the haves and have nots?”

Information about the price and availability of membership, or options for purchasing daily swim passes remain in question.  Advocates, community leaders and the public have vowed to question plans for the pool club and will make their concerns known during a public presentation scheduled for the Feb.13 City Council meeting at Asbury Park High School, scheduled for 6 p.m.

Community leaders point to the troubled history of the city regarding race, class and segregation, in both residential communities and along the famous boardwalk. For decades, up to and including the 1970s, Blacks or African-Americans could work on the waterfront, in the kitchens and back rooms of hotels, restaurants and shops, but were not welcome to enjoy the boardwalk and beach. Local residents recall, with pain and disdain, the short stretch of beach on the south end of the city, which was known as The Inkwell. For decades, it was the only beach where people of color were permitted, and it was also where the sewer outfall was located.

Many longtime middle-class residents have different memories than Harris. They remember the nearby Seventh Avenue Pool —a saltwater pool and two-story pavilion that straddled the boardwalk between 7th and 8th Avenues — as a welcoming and egalitarian place, where families could enjoy swimming and swim lessons.

Major development changes are making community members unsure about the future. “The feeling right now is that it’s a welcoming place,” said Myleah Estes, a junior at Asbury Park High School, about the waterfront. “There isn’t any pressure to buy anything, and you can just hang out at the boardwalk. But this beach club, I think it will give the feeling of more of a private area in a public space. Its sends a message that it’s not really yours anymore.”

She added, “I don’t begrudge people who have done well in life. I just think there should be equal opportunities for everyone on the beach.”

“We cannot allow our waterfront developers to make anything, even in appearance, on our public land beaches, and boardwalk with its shops and restaurants, not inclusive for all members of our and other communities who enjoy our public beaches and boardwalk,” said Joyce Grant, an Asbury Park resident and environmental activist.

The Reverend Gil Caldwell, a civil rights activist and longtime Asbury Park resident, drew comparisons between the beach club and elite privilege. “Say it isn’t so,” he remarked. “At a time when our President flaunts his ownership of expensive Hotels and Golf Courses, Asbury Park continues to demonstrate that; “Those who have the Gold, Rule”? I believe that Asbury Park and iStar are better than that. I dare Asbury Park to be different! I believe we are, and we can be.”

Asbury Park Demographics estimated by the US Census Bureau on July 1, 2018:

47 percent Black or African American.
37 percent White.
30 percent Hispanic or Latino.
Median household income is $39,324.
24 percent of the population is 18 or younger.

Posted in Asbury Park City Desk and tagged .