Rock 'n' roll's Stone Pony may escape wrecking ball

By | January 25, 2002 at 12:00 AM

The Stone Pony, a mecca for fans of Jersey shore rock ‘n’ roll, appears to have survived a brush with destruction, officials said on Thursday. The dilapidated nightclub, a musical home to such legends as Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, will be incorporated into a tentative plan to help revitalize the decayed beachfront of Asbury Park, New Jersey, they said.

Original plans called for the Stone Pony – the best-known place to catch an impromptu Springsteen appearance – to be demolished or moved, but a rollicking campaign by devoted patrons ensued to preserve the squat, grimy building now sitting amid rubble-strewn vacant lots.

Stone Pony owner Domenic Santana was jubilant after an urban planner hired by the city of Asbury Park unveiled tentative plans on Wednesday night that showed the Stone Pony surrounded by, rather than replaced by, a condominium complex.

“Basically the Pony will live forever,” he declared.

Developer Larry Fishman of Ocean Front Acquisitions was more cautious, saying, “I would say it appears that we have reached a tentative agreement on the Stone Pony. It’s not etched in stone. It’s not a done deal.”

Trying to revitalize the beach resort roughly an hour’s drive south of New York, he said: “We’re trying to create an atmosphere that all ages and all types of people can walk up and down a resort strip and feel comfortable. We want to make sure that their ingredient in this mix will work.”

So little is left of the once bustling Asbury Park that the Stone Pony has been its only tourist lure, patrons say.

“If we didn’t have the Stone Pony, we’d need to invent it,” said City Council member Kate Mellina. “It’s one of the few things that draw people now to what is an empty beachfront.”

What does remain is deserted and haunting – a splintered boardwalk, shuttered vending stands, remnants of a carousel, the padlocked hut of fortuneteller Madame Marie, an abandoned funhouse with a “Tunnel of Love” and trees growing through the roof of a 1920s casino.

But the Stone Pony has kept rocking. Opened in 1974, closed in 1998 and reopened in 2000, it’s been the stage for such greats as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Jon Bon Jovi, David Sancious and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Springsteen, from nearby Freehold, started playing in the dark, smoky club in the 1970s. A big booster of Asbury Park, its local businesses and its charities who still lives nearby, the rocker known as “The Boss” shows up for frequent visits.

“It’s what people come here for,” said John Greco, a local electrician and one of about 200 people who gathered outside a public hearing last weekend to protest the club’s possible demise. “There’s no reason to come here if the Pony’s gone.”

Mellina said she is sure the tentative plans will survive upcoming public hearings and a vote by the city council.

“I’m 100 percent satisfied that the Stone Pony is saved,” she said. “People would come from all over the world and stand in front of the Stone Pony even when it was empty. It would be stupid of Asbury Park to throw away all that good will.”

Developers are proposing condominiums, retail and entertainment space to revive the town after decades of crime, racial tensions, neglect and mismanagement.

The Stone Pony itself is no palace. Inside the windowless building, there’s a bar, some stools, a cigarette-scarred carpet and a small raised stage.

But to fans, it’s rock ‘n’ roll heaven.

“If they take this away, I wouldn’t have any paradise to go to anymore,” said Alan Mindrup, a regular who attended one of the rallies that were part of the preservation campaign.

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