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Palace Amusements

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Title: Palace Amusements  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Asbury Park, New Jersey, 1988 disestablishments in New Jersey, Demolished buildings and structures in New Jersey, Tillie, Amusement parks in New Jersey
Collection: 1888 Establishments in New Jersey, 1988 Disestablishments in New Jersey, 1988 Disestablishments in the United States, Amusement Parks in New Jersey, Asbury Park, New Jersey, Buildings and Structures on the National Register of Historic Places in New Jersey, Cultural Infrastructure Completed in 1888, Defunct Amusement Parks in the United States, Demolished Buildings and Structures in New Jersey, Demolished Buildings and Structures in the United States, Destroyed Landmarks in the United States, National Register of Historic Places in Monmouth County, New Jersey
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Palace Amusements

Palace Amusements
Palace Amusements in 1997
Location Asbury Park, NJ
Theme Indoor amusement park
Owner Ernest Schnitzler (1888-1920s)
August Williams (1920s-1939)
Edward Lange & Zimel Resnick (1940s-1986)
Sam & Henry Vaccaro (1986-1988)
Opened July 4, 1888 (1888-07-04)
Closed November 27, 1988 (1988-11-27)
Previous names Palace Merry-Go-Round
Area 0.9 acres (0.36 ha)
Total 12
Roller coasters 1
Water rides 1
Status Closed/Demolished
Palace Amusements is located in Monmouth County, New Jersey
Location Asbury Park, New Jersey
Built June 1888 (1888-06)
Built by Ernest Schnitzler
Architect Ernest Schnitzler
William B. Stout
Architectural style Late Victorian
Sculptor Charles I. D. Looff
Demolished May 26, 2004 (2004-05-26)
NRHP Reference # 00001406[1]
NJRHP # 3705[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP November 22, 2000 (2000-11-22)
Designated NJRHP October 12, 2000 (2000-10-12)

Palace Amusements was a historical indoor amusement park in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Built in 1888, and expanded several times over its history, the 100-year-old structure saw the good and bad of the storied Asbury Park boardwalk, withstood multiple nor'easters and hurricanes and both the Great Depression and World War II. After several different owners and an increase in competition from other nearby attractions and worsening economic situation in both Asbury and the country in the mid-1980s, the park had to declare bankruptcy and closed its doors for good in 1988.

Several efforts were made to save the historic structure, including its hand-carved carousel and infamous murals and decorations, but in 2004, after an independent structural inspection, the building was deemed unsafe (and already damaged in several areas) and was ordered demolished. A local grassroots organization was able to save several pieces from the building, including the famed "Tillie."


  • History 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Expansions begin 1.2
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Early years

On February 20, 1888, Ernest S. Schnitzler, a well-established German immigrant who already had several interests in Atlantic City, set out to build a pleasure palace at the corner of Lake Avenue and Kingsley Street in Asbury Park, New Jersey. After placing ads in local directories promoting the new amusement attraction, a contract was created for local workmen to remove planks from a 100 by 190 feet (30 m × 58 m) skating rink – known as the Surf Palace – for reuse "as far as possible" in the construction of the new building. Despite the arrival of a deadly nor'easter on March 12, which dumped up to an estimated 40 inches (1,000 mm) of snow from Maryland to Maine, it appeared as if nothing could discouraged Schnitzler from pursuing his dream. By June 1, the four-sided Victorian pavilion was nearly done. Asbury Park carpenter had built a 93 by 100 feet (28 m × 30 m) one-story structure and local roofer Joseph L. Seamon covered the double hip roof with 11,300 square feet (1,050 m2) of felt roofing. At ground level, wood frame doors with colored glass slid along horizontal rails, while higher up, a band of windows separated the lower and upper hip roofs. Inside, there were no partitions or finishes, leaving an exposed framing system. In a sense, it was big box.[3]

Schnitzler's big box was for them, the men in top hats and the women with their parasols, the summer folk who rode the railroad from New York City and middle New Jersey to enjoy the mile-and-a-quarter stretch of oceanfront Asbury. They walked Bradley's boardwalk, took in performances in the orchestra pavilion, visited the public baths and strolled the pier at the south end of the boardwalk, but except for 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." At the heart of his enterprise, as his premium draw, Schnitzler placed a great carousel crafted by Charles I.D. Looff, who was among the first eminent American carousel builders. The three-row machine held 70 hand carved animals, of slender and stylized bodies, spirited expressions and elaborate trappings. Most were carved by Looff, but under the pressure of a delivery deadline, a few were purchased from the master carver Gustav Dentzel of Philadelphia.[3]

Expansions begin

In 1892, R.A. Johnson & Company announced plans to erect an observation wheel in Asbury Park right next door to the Palace. Known as an "Observation Roundabout", the 50 feet (15 m) wooden wheel was one of three made by Atlantic City inventor William Somers. Asbury Park's The Daily Press of June 28, 1892 described Somers' wheel as "the most conspicuous object in that part of the Park. It is a decided novelty, and will doubtless prove a success here as it has in other places." According to the newspaper, the wheel "is attractively painted in three colors, white, red and yellow. It is being fitted up with eighteen coaches, each one seating four persons. It is run by steam power, and is entirely safe. The roundabout will open for business about July 1."[4]

Schnitzler, owner of the Palace, appeared to be unsettled by his new neighbor. While no records of his reaction remain, a series of events gave a strong indication that he was less than pleased. In 1895, Schnitzler contracted with the Phoenix Iron and Bridge Company of Phoenixville, PA, to build a wheel that was bigger (67 feet (20 m)), stronger (iron versus wood), had more carriages (20 versus 18), and carried more passengers (160 versus 72) than the Somers wheel, and gave his passengers a better view, 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 Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, and the Atlantic Ocean. Knowing that they could never compete, the Johnson Company dismantled and moved the Somers wheel to Baltimore, and Schnitzler bought their 32-foot by 100-foot property along Lake Avenue - the first expansion of the Palace resort - as the home for his own wheel. The Daily Press quickly jumped onto Schnitzler's bandwagon, predicting that "Ernest Schnitzler's amusement palace, when finally completed, will be one of the sights of Asbury Park. "...The Merry-go-Round has always been a leading feature of the Park, but the addition this year of the new iron observatory will make the establishment one of the most complete of its kind in the world." (June 19, 1895.)

Schnitzler's invention [5] was immense, rising 74 feet (23 m) from the floor of the Palace to the observation deck, high above the roof. Two rectangular towers supported the central wheel, the upper landing and the observation deck. The ride was powered by a 2-cylinder reversible steam hosting engine manufactured by Ledgerwood Engine Co., Newark, NJ. The 20 carriages were each named for a U.S. city, including Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, the names appearing in gold letters. Electrical problems foiled Schnitzler's hopes to carry passengers for the first time on the Fourth of July, 1895, but after electricians worked through a drenching rain on July 5 to finish their contract, the wheel, spinning at seven revolutions per minute, opened a few days later to excellent reviews. At night, 300 lights shone brightly from the rims of the wheels and another 80 lights illuminated the observatory.

Even with the weather delay, the timing of the wheel's first rides couldn't have been better. For just as the wheel went into operation, Asbury Park played host to over 10,000 members of the League of American Wheelmen, bringing bicyclists from as far away as Denver to the Shore for national competitions. They, and Asbury's summer folk, flocked to the Palace to experience a ride on the wheel that the July 11 The Daily Press described as "a surprise at night, but more so in the daytime. The view from the tower is simply indescribably grand in every direction." Far less thrilled were the owners of nearby hotels who, according to historian Daniel Wolff, complained about sparks and ashes from the steam engine. By the time Schnitzler's wheel faded into history, it had carried passengers for more years than any Ferris wheel in American history.

Tillie mural in 2002

When August 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

Palace Amusements locked its doors for the final time at 6:00 PM on Sunday, November 27, 1988.

See also


  1. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form" (PDF). National Park Service. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  2. ^ "Palace Amusements Building (ID#3705)" (PDF). New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places - Monmouth County. NJ DEP Historic Preservation Office. p. 2. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "1888, Formative Years". Palace Online Museum. Palace Museum. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "1895, Formative Years". Palace Online Museum. Palace Museum. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  5. ^ US patent 544866, Earnest Schnitzler, "Roundabout and observatory", published 1895-8-20 

External links

  • Palace Amusements Museum
  • Photos of the now-demolished Palace Amusements
  • Save Tillie
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