Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Glassy 50's Style Gamble in New Jersey

On Sunday I headed up to New Jersey with Margie, Richard and Heather. We had originally wanted to go up on Saturday but the weather had predicted ice and freezing rain, sleet, and other snowy wet mixtures so we sat at home and rode it out. The forecast had been a little exaggerated so an early start was possible on Sunday. We drove through flat, agricultural areas, arable crops alongside numerous species of shrubs and firs that were likely intended for garden centers or town councils. Large cowboy figurines, a Woody from Toy Story and a John Wayne lookalike, stood on the side of the road, a huge silver Mary statue, a large polar bear balloon, boats parked in front yards or abandoned in hedges and then a neglected industrial building where we pulled in and drove across a parking lot that glittered white and gold from millions of broken glass shards.
It was a commercial glass manufacturer, once part of a huge chain which at its height had 41 plants across the U.S. This particular plant closed last summer and what we saw now were huge piles of glass, each mountain a different color, monstrous mounds of glass nuggets, strands and bottles, some of which were complete. Blinking and glinting in the bright sunlight they drew us towards them, like jackdaws to a shiny piece of foil or kids to a treasure chest. I could barely concentrate on taking photos, I was too busy rummaging. The glass wasn't sharp and we were particularly fascinated by the string pieces, which in the brown glass pile, resembled sugar strands.
We also picked up some huge 'rock' sized chunks, which again, had no sharp edges. Trudging back and forth from the piles to the car, we amassed an impressive collection of sparkly objects, a few bottles, and glass boulders that resembled frozen pieces of ice. We finally managed to tear ourselves away and headed towards the buildings.
 Margie and I loved this huge piece of machinery, its pipes looking like gangling legs of a monster arachnid.We guessed this area was where some of the glass was made, there were brick areas that resembled kilns, and and we walked over steel grid floors that held giant machinery above the empty, dusty floor below.
I didn't use my tripod but still managed to get a few photos that were OK. We crept about stealthily, admiring the bright paint peels curling down from rusting pipes and the wonderful lack of graffiti and other desecration. We all finished photographing this building and decided to walk down and check out the others, of which there were quite a few. Striding down the side of a low long shed we were stopped in our tracks by voices. A masculine authoritative voice asked another person if she, or they, had been seen upstairs. I heard a mumbled response before we all looked quickly at each other then turned on our heels. We ran quickly from the buildings to the track we'd walked in on and didn't stop until the car was in sight. I bet we'd looked hilarious from behind if those guys saw us, four middle-aged persons tearing off in fright, as fast as our legs would take us. But we still took some time to collect more chunks of glass from the piles before climbing into the car and continuing our drive towards Wildwood.
 A close up of the 'sugar strands' glass that I picked up.
Our next stop was Wildwood, N.J., a beach town looking like it had been plucked right out of the 50's, most of the hotels proudly bearing their 'doo wop' style architecture. Apparently this area has the largest concentration of this architectural style in the U.S. and it's certainly a wonderful sight.
 What a handsome face. He was perched on a comfy chair in the lobby of a hotel, very much at ease in his position of guard cat, and posed quite contentedly for a portrait. We walked up and down Atlantic Avenue, snapping as many photos as possible before the afternoon light was lost. We were disappointed that none of the hotels' neon signs came on at dusk, but it was understandable as we were the only ones taking photos. Some of the locals would actually stop and look at what we were aiming our cameras at, and then act surprised or discreetly shake their heads. It was bitterly cold and I was constantly grateful for the hand warmers that were deep in my pockets, even though they weren't projecting as much heat as I wanted. We split up, wandering off in different directions, every now and then Richard moved the car up to where we'd advanced so we didn't have a long walk back. Nearly all of the hotels had the curtains closed on the rooms, but a few rooms had their drapes open so I peeked in, seeing new fixtures and fittings on the floor. It seemed most of the establishments were being revamped. All the palm trees were now just brown stumps, their leaves having been dismantled and packed away for the winter, as had all the glass light globes that would illuminate the balconies in the summer time.
I climbed up flights of steps to enjoy the views from the hotel tops but didn't linger long, the freezing wind whipping past me, making my eyes water, I loved the color schemes, teal paired with crisp white, pastel blue and candy pink, lemon yellow and lime green, navy and Carolina blue. The geometric designs of the buildings and the metal work was wonderful, squares and rectangles complimented with graceful curves of metal balustrades or ramps.
We drove down to the end of Atlantic Avenue and then walked up onto the boardwalk, also deserted, with only a few lights illuminating the wooden walkway. The huge Ferris wheel and roller coaster were silhouetted against the sky at the end of the pier, also closed for the season.
We stepped down onto the sand and walked to the end of the pier. The roller coaster loomed high above us, almost skeletal in the twilight. I stood underneath and as Richard joined me a loud voice boomed out at us, telling us to "Please return to the beach!" I jumped a mile, thankfully keeping hold of my camera, and we realized a motion sensor had been activated, prompting a recorded message. Obediently we left and walked to the end of the pier where we could just make out the waves crashing on to the sand. Capturing the last pinks and oranges of the sunset, we photographed the piers and then made our way back to the car.
While looking for a hotel and somewhere to eat dinner, we drove past a WAWA, also in the doo Wwop style and the Wildwoods sign. This sign confused us, making us wonder why there was an S on the end of Wildwood. I looked it up and discovered that Wildwoods comprises of five municipalities, Diamond Beach, Wildwood Crest, Wildwood, West Wildwood and North Wildwood.
We made our reservation for the night at The Sandbox Motel, one of the few places open, but it was delightful. Clean with a huge king size bed and a tiny 50's style bathroom tiled in teal with white walls. A superb dinner with fine beers was had at the Dog Tooth Bar and Grill. We finished the evening in a bar with crappy beer and a barman who informed us before we even sat at our stools that the draft beers weren't working, the kitchen was closed and the ladies' bathroom was out of order. When we asked him about local events, he softened a little, then proceeded to tell us that the local firefighters were mean tippers. He eventually loosened up when he saw that we weren't following suit, having laid a few dollar bills on the bar, and showed us around the building which used to be an old bank.
Next morning we were up bright and early, and back out on the street taking photos again. It was still bitterly cold as we parked back on Atlantic Avenue and again went our separate ways, this time with me clutching a hot cup of coffee in place of my hand warmers. While in the pale sunlight, it felt warm, but walking between the buildings the cars parked in the shade all wore a coat of frost. I walked back a few blocks trying to find hidden gems of architecture, but only found a miniature golf course.
 We left Wildwood with a promise to return in a warmer season when those neon lights would be shining bright, and continued on to Atlantic City where we were hoping to possibly look inside an empty casino or two, but this proved to be an improbable event.
The first place we tried was the Showboat, which has closed its casino and only operates as a hotel.
It felt odd walking along hallways with beautiful ceilings and chandeliers above, yet a wall of vinyl sheeting on one side which hid the once resplendent casino. We peeked inside and saw drab torn carpeting with an old dusty black jack table, trash on the floor and an escalator standing silent. All the machines had been removed, leaving a dark dreary area filled with shadows.
Out on the boardwalk we walked along the near empty promenade, peering through locked and taped up doors to Trump's Taj Mahal.
Richard noted that the temperature was dropping the closer we neared the building, implying we were walking towards Hell. I looked up, noting the plaster was peeling in places and the huge lettering had some of its red coloring missing. As I pressed my nose to the glass the foyer was empty with a lone desk at which a lady sat peering at a laptop screen. She ignored our faces.
We saw no point of entry so walked around to the front, not expecting to gain illicit entry but I was hoping we could get into the lobby area for a discreet peek.
We managed to get right up to the front when a security car pulled up and told us to scoot because we were on private property. We left, snapping images as we retraced our steps to the sidewalk. It was sad though, seeing this once highly ornate and proud building in its early stage of decline. There had obviously been no maintenance work carried out here for a few years, white walls had orange rust streaking down from pipes while gilded paint and plaster was falling off the elephants out front.
 In September 2016, 506 buildings in Atlantic City were classified as abandoned but we were not destined to explore any of them. Richard and Heather made it clear that they had no interest in the place so unfortunately Margie and I had to comply and didn't get the opportunity to check out any of the other closed casinos. They were likely impenetrable but I would have liked to walk around for curiosity's sake. Another time maybe...
We started the drive back towards home, stopping at an old Studebaker shop which we all agreed would make a wonderful brewery. We passed the Hi Ho Motel advertising king size beds and chuckled at other obscure and quirky signs that you'd only find in this area. as darkness fell we stopped at the Iron Hill Brewery which served good food and an excellent nitro pig iron beer. With full bellies we continued through the evening on our homeward journey, another action packed weekend under our belts.

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