Sunday, August 9, 2009

Remembering summers among Armenians in Asbury Park, N.J.

Asbury Park, NJ is a small shore town a hop, skip & a jump from North Jersey and New York City.

In its hey-day, Asbury was famous for its beaches and a boardwalk with miniature golf, arcades, shops, saltwater taffy, and Madame Marie - the fortune-teller.

The beachside convention center hosted big-name concerts, and -- at the south end -- the Casino housed the best, old-fashioned merry-go-round. The Ferris Wheel and Swan-shaped peddle boats were south-end attractions, too.

What drew Armenians to Asbury Park were the Armenian-owned, family-style hotels: the Van Hotel, Hye Hotel, and Roosevelt-Hye Hotel - all on 6th Avenue. (Pictured above is the Van Hotel.)

My family stayed at the Van Hotel owned & operated by Sam and Varsenig Eretzian. This hotel was home-away-from-home for so many Armenians, and what a deal, too! With the price of the room (by the week, usually), a family received lodging, 3 meals a day, passes to the famous Monte Carlo swimming pool (at the time, the world’s largest outdoor, salt water pool), and entrance to the beach.

Summertime in Asbury was all we could think of all winter long.

Barbara (Minassian) Hovsepian, niece of the owners, is a dear family friend. She, my sister Dawn and I were reminiscing last month about the good-old-days in Asbury. Barbara, her sister Rose and their brothers Larry and Donald all worked in the hotel's dining room.

Dawn was the desk clerk for several summers. The year I was old enough to work in the dining room, she joined me there, too.

The Van Hotel had two main chefs: Leonard, the breakfast cook, who made the best omelets, and “Chief," the Greek chef, who took over after breakfast.

What food! That’s all I can say!

Breakfast: There were always 3 bowls on each table: grape jelly, Greek olives, and feta cheese. Then came eggs, bacon, toast - or- whatever your heart desired.

Lunch: Usually a variety of sandwiches, which they’d pack for guests to take to the beach.

Dinner: Served at 6 pm sharp, dinner was the highlight! Each night of the week offered a different entrée , complete with salad, a starch dish, dessert, coffee.

Barbara, Dawn & I had trouble recalling which dinner entrée was served when. It doesn’t really matter now, but here’s what we did remember:

Friday: spaghetti and meatballs or fish
Saturday: steak
Sunday: shish kebab (always!)
The other entrees were chicken, moussaka, lamb chops, roast lamb. Not a bad selection, I must say.

Unfortunately, those days are gone and can never be recaptured. The Van Hotel and its surrounding structure burned to the ground in the late 1960’s, taking the life of Mrs. Eretzian. Soon after, Asbury Park was affected by riots of that turbulent decade.

To this day, Asbury hasn’t fully recovered, but we were happy to see, recently, some signs of life as we drove down 6th Avenue and along the boardwalk where we spent so many carefree summers.

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