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Cookman Avenue facade of Palace Amusements in 1999, showing Tillie murals
|Location||Asbury Park, New Jersey, United States|
|Area||0.9 acres (0.36 ha)|
|Architect||Ernest Schnitzler, William B. Stout|
|NRHP Reference #||00001406|
|Added to NRHP||November 22, 2000|
|Designated NJRHP||October 12, 2000|
Started Monday, Feb. 20, 1888, Ernest S. Schnitzler was soon placing advertisements in the city directory describing his pleasure palace as a place of "refined amusement for Ladies, Gents, and Children. Polite Attendants. First-Class Soda for sale in the Building." The Palace officially opened for business on July 4, 1888.
It was famous for having one of America's greatest hand-carved carousels. The three-row machine held 70 hand-carved animals, of slender and stylized bodies, spirited expressions and elaborate trappings. Most were carved by Charles I. D. Looff, but under the pressure of a delivery deadline, a few were purchased from the master carver Gustav Dentzel of Philadelphia.
In 1895, Schnitzler contracted with the Phoenix Iron and Bridge Company of Phoenixville, PA., to build a wheel that was 67 feet. It gave passengers a view of the area, because at the top of the ride, they could debark onto a platform, climb a short flight of stairs, and from an observatory have unparalleled views of Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, and the Atlantic Ocean. Over the years, changes to the Ferris wheel were made; the mid-1920s, saw the removal of the observatory owing to insurance concerns, and a reduction in the number of carriages from 20 to 18 owing to the tendency of carriages to lock together when they rocked. This Ferris wheel carried passengers for more years than any other in history.
When Williams bought the Palace from Ernest Schnitzler in the mid-1920s, the arcade was a 100-foot by 153-foot rectangle, consisting of the original pavilion, the rotating wheel building, and the Crystal Maze building (a mirror maze). In large measure, Williams' success in keeping the Palace alive during the Great Depression owed a great deal to a designer, "Nick" Nichols, and a Polish carpenter remembered today only as Mr. D.
The first major innovation by Nichols and Mr. D was the construction of a steep, surprise-filled Funhouse rising all the way to the eaves of the Palace roof, flush along the northern wall of Ernest Schnitzler's original Victorian pavilion. It could be navigated, said Joe Travers, the Palace's chief mechanic in the late 1930s and early 1940s, in 15 or 20 minutes, but at times, "sailors would come in with a girl and not come out for a half hour or more."
Nichols also appeared to have been a major player in the development of the first dark ride at the Palace. As dark rides go, the Palace was highly unusual. The dark ride was known as Ghost Town, featuring a series of spooky encounters and figures created by Nichols. One Nichols figure was a papier-maché image of a barker, reputedly patterned after a local Asbury Park politician; another was a manufactured animation of a bulldog, dressed as an Asbury Park police chief with the title deliberately misspelled "The Cheef" on his hat.
This park was known for inspiring a generation of artists, photographers and songwriters (including Bruce Springsteen). Thanks to its iconic wall murals, including two grinning fun faces known as Tillie, the Palace was one of the most identifiable buildings on the Jersey Shore. Honored by a place on both the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, the Palace operated for 100 years (from 1888 to 1988). Demolition, in 2004, occurred over the protest of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Asbury Park Historical Society, Preservation New Jersey, and the Save Tillie organization. Prior to demolition, Save Tillie members spent five days removing over 125 artifacts from inside the Palace. All items were given to the Asbury Park Historical Society and the City of Asbury Park for safekeeping. However, in February 2010, officials of both organizations said they had destroyed all but four of the more than 125 artifacts, an act denounced by Save Tillie's president, Bob Crane, who said that at no time was Save Tillie alerted to the impending loss or given a chance to reclaim the items. "We would have taken all of them," he said. "These irreplaceable items were all viable candidates for restoration, and all told a part of the Asbury Park story that is now lost."
Palace Amusements locked its doors for the final time at 6:00 PM on Sunday, November 27, 1988.
On May 26, 2005, on the first anniversary of the demolition of the Palace, the Save Tillie group launched the official online museum.
- "National Register of Historical Places - New Jersey (NJ), Monmouth County". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-02-14.
- "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places - Monmouth County". New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection - Historic Preservation Office. March 1, 2011. p. 1. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
- "Save Tillie... Beyond the Palace". Savetillie.com. Retrieved 2009-07-16.