Tillie stuck in a shed?

the 16 ton Tillie remains locked in a storage shed

Tillie may have survived the wrecking ball in Asbury Park, but preservationists are beginning to worry that the 16-ton grinning icon could meet its end in storage before developers find a use for it. Packed into makeshift sheds on sewage-treatment plant property beside the Atlantic Ocean, the painted images may be in danger of decay, critics say. They point out one of the sheds blew apart over the winter and had to be replaced.

The grassroots organization that saved the image of the toothy cartoon carnival barker when the historic Palace Amusements was demolished five years ago is pressing the city and its oceanfront developers to abide by a state permit by giving Tillie a better storage place — and more respect.

But with construction projects in Asbury Park taking a hit from the foundering economy, Tillie is low on the list of priorities, prompting an appeal for Gov. Jon Corzine’s intervention.

“After 1,000 days of trying, our organization has exhausted all available avenues within Asbury Park to resolve this dispute,” Bob Crane, president of Save Tillie Inc., wrote in an April 26 letter to the governor. “We no longer believe any resolution is possible in the city.”

Formed in 1999, Save Tillie unsuccessfully fought to preserve Palace Amusements, which has been featured in several movies and a few episodes of “The Sopranos.” It was frequently mentioned in songs by Bruce Springsteen, whose musical career was nurtured in Asbury Park.

But the group was successful in convincing the city and developers to preserve sections of the building, part of which dated to 1888. When the Palace was razed five years ago, crews first removed a 16-by-10-foot section of cinder-block wall with Tillie’s image and two 10-by-10-foot portions with bumper car murals.

The sections were cited in a state Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA) permit, which requires the city and developers to preserve them until they are incorporated into a luxury hotel that has yet to be built on the former Palace site at Cookman and Kingsley avenues.

Though it was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, those images, which adorned the building for about 30 years before it shut down in 1988, have spent the past five years in a storage shed on the grounds of the city’s sewage treatment plant a few dozen feet from the ocean. Without proper ventilation and a sound roof, the murals risk damage from mold and water, Crane said.

He’s urged developers to move the murals. The state Department of Environmental Protection vowed to ensure the city and developers complied with the permit. The city had set an Aug. 1, 2006, deadline for moving Tillie and the other murals.

Gary Mottola, chief operating officer for boardwalk redeveloper Madison Marquette, said he’s unsure of Tillie’s future. In the recession, developers are prioritizing their projects, and he’s not certain where Tillie fits.

“Tillie’s not an isolated thing. There are a number of things about the redevelopment that have to be revisited,” Mottola said. “Right now, Tillie is one of a lot of issues that need to be thought about in terms of how we take this waterfront.”Outside the sentiment for Tillie by some preservationists, there is nothing historically significant about the wall, he said, noting it could be recreated with materials purchased in any home-improvement store.

Even before the murals were preserved, they were chipping and peeling. Any restoration, Mottola said, would most likely entail removing the images from the cinder blocks, because they are decorated with lead-based paint now considered hazardous.

In a swipe at Crane, who lives in Maryland, Mottola said no one from the city or elsewhere in the state has expressed interest in Tillie to him.

But city manager Terence Reidy said neither argument is pertinent. The only thing that counts is the state permit saying Tillie must be preserved and incorporated into a building, he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether you love Tillie or don’t love Tillie; it’s part of the CAFRA permit,” Reidy said. “The city will weigh in and do whatever is necessary to be in compliance with its CAFRA permit.”

He said the city two weeks ago contacted the DEP about the lead paint issue and is awaiting word on whether that changes anything. No determination has been made, he said, about how the mural would be restored.

As for finding a new home for Tillie, he said, there’s a spot already picked out behind city hall on the west side of the railroad tracks. It’s waiting for the developer whenever he decides to move it.

this blog entry originally posted 6/3/09

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