The lobby of the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel — seen here in a rendering that shows the original pool outside the front entrance, and the pedestrian walkway to the old Sunset Pavilion — is the host venue for “Be Our Guest: The Golden Era of Asbury Park Hotels,” the latest “pop-up” exhibit from the Asbury Park Museum.
Their guest books once recorded the names of princes, prime ministers and Presidential candidates; stars of stage, screen, sport and song; the royal families of high society, and the “beer barons” of gangland.
Even after the glory days of yesteryear were past the many hotels, cottages, and boarding homes of Asbury Park accommodated visitors of every social class and ethnic background. Beginning the first week in April, the longest surviving feature of the city’s seaside skyline, the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, is the setting for a multi-media exhibit.
On display in the lobby of the hotel from Mon., April 3, and remaining on view through 2023, “Be Our Guest: The Golden Era of Asbury Park Hotels” explores the principal industry of a place that once claimed more than 900 guest lodgings within city limits — its spectacular rise in the Gilded Age and falling fortunes in the 20th century; its recovery and rebirth in the new millennium — in words and pictures and souvenirs. The latest in a series of “pop-up” exhibits presented by the award-winning Asbury Park Museum team, “Be Our Guest” tells its story through numerous banners, oversize posters, and display cases with branded artifacts from many of the featured hotels. Special emphasis will be on the grand hotels of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the numerous factors that inspired their growth and decline, as well as the workers who sustained them. The exhibit will be augmented by continuously screening slideshows on the city’s landmark lodgings, the often-overlooked hotels of the West Side, and the role of the grand hotels in the evolution of early jazz and Black popular music.
Here are the gargantuan Coleman House and other grand lodgings of the horse-and-carriage days; the myriad inns of the city’s side streets; the houses that catered to the members of specific ethnic communities; the once-prominent players that fell to the wrecking ball in recent years (the Albion, the Metropolitan), and the long-running landmarks (the Berkeley, the Empress) that endure alongside the newest additions to the waterfront. As the gracious host venue for the Museum’s acclaimed installations, the hotel formerly known as the Berkeley-Carteret finds its own colorfully fascinating history spotlighted with that of its onetime neighbor the Monterey, with attention paid to their wartime service to the Allied cause; housing British and American military personnel.
Made possible in part by the Monmouth County Historical Commission through funding from the New Jersey Historical Commission, “Be Our Guest” is co-curated by Asbury Park Museum’s Kay Harris, Charlie Horner and Pamela Horner, with contributions from other AP Museum trustees and advisors, and exhibit materials produced by Stan Cain Design. Replacing the installation entitled “One Voice Is Not Enough: Asbury Park’s Musical Diversity Since 1871” (which moves to the Guggenheim Memorial Library on the West Long Branch campus of Monmouth University), the self-guided exhibit will be available for viewing “24/7” in the eastern end of the Berkeley’s recently renovated lobby.
A public-welcome opening reception for “Be Our Guest: The Golden Era of Asbury Park Hotels” will be announced by the Asbury Park Museum in the coming weeks. For more information, visit ap-museum.org or contact APM president Kay Harris at 732-539-7574.