Covid be damned! Long Branch's beachfront, promenade and Ocean Avenue residences not only survived the last two years, but are burgeoning in 2022.
More than a half dozen new restaurants opened last year. The Carousel is whirling again. Along Ocean Boulevard, the equivalent of the population of Sea Bright or Monmouth Beach has moved in. Construction of condos and apartments have added more than 1,700 condos or apartments just south of the first phase of Pier Village. Added to the mix are two new hotels: the Bungalow Hotel and the 67-room Wave Resort, whose curved roof gives the promenade a much-needed modern look. New town homes are springing up on the west side of Ocean Boulevard and the twin towers of the decrepit Sea View Towers were demolished and the debris finally cleared this week.
More shops and eateries opening this summer at Pier Village
Last summer, Pier Village expanded further south with new restaurants including: the very upscale Salt Steakhouse, David Mizrahi kosher steakhouse; the Hummus Republic, first East Coast location of the popular Mediterranean eatery; Robinson Ale House, a branch of the restaurant in Red Bank; Kahuna Burgers, a Hawaiian flared eatery, and The Baked Bear, ice cream sandwich eatery. The Salt Nation surf shop expanded by subsuming the vacant space next door. More stores and are opening this spring and summer. Check back here for an update in two weeks.
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For the younger kids, the Pier Village Corousel is open year round weekends noon to 8pm.
Tickets are $4 each or 3 for $10, and Long Branch students ride for $2. Across from the carousel now is the arcade, Boardwalk Fun 'N Games, plus The Baker Bear.
Elberon Neighborhood: Seven presidents summered here
From the mid 19th century when Mary Todd Lincoln visited through the early part of the 20th century, Long Branch was a favored location of Washington elite. These power players chose the Elberon section to build "cottages," which were large seasonal mansions splayed on acres of prime beachfront land. Nothing is left of that era save one church. Still, walking along the beach today, visitors will marvel at what replaced those cottages -- stately mansions, three beach clubs and religious retreats.
Elberon's prominence on the national scene started in 1867 when wealthy Republican donors gave President Ulysses S. Grant a "cottage," knowing that his presence would attract wealthy home buyers. Grant was the first person to refer to Long Branch as the "summer capital." He and his family journeyed by train to the Shore for three months every summer from 1867 to 1885. Attracted by the notoriety and easy rail access, other presidents followed.
After being shot in Washington, D.C. by a crazed officer-seeker, President James Garfield languished in ill health for months in Washington. Not re-gaining his health, Garfield decided he needed the fresh air of the beach and came to Elberon. His wounds never healed. He died at the Jersey Shore in September 1881. Today, there is an historical marker commemorating Garfield's death on Garfield Road off Ocean Avenue. Other presidents that also visited Long Branch and likely stayed in Elberon were Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson. Monmouth County commemorated their presence by naming its park Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park.
When Elberon declined in popularity, the large footprints of the cottages were snapped up by private home owners, entrepreneurs who built beach clubs and religious organizations. It's one of the few places at the Jersey Shore where religions meets the ocean. The Catholic Church
operates the San Alfonso Retreat House. Nearby is St. Michael's Church. A reminder of its foregone glory is the Church of the Presidents, where all seven president worshipped. It was built in 1879. Later it was bought by the Long Branch Historical Museum Association, which opened a museum. Eventually, the Association had to close the museum due to deterioration of the structure. It's currently closed as the Association raises money for rehabilitation.
Remants of Long's Branch's Life-Saving Service Station
Before there was the United States Coast Guard, there was the United States Life-Saving Service. In 1848, NJ Congressman William Newell advocated for a law to establish eight unmanned lifesaving stations from Sandy Hook to Long Beach Island (including Long Branch) to provide "surf boat, rockets, carronades and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck". The first Long Branch station was built in 1855. It was at this station that Newell escorted friend and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and her party to witness the training drills of volunteer surfmen on August 22, 1861.
By 1878, the volunteer life-saving role was assumed by a new federal agency, the Life-Saving Service, which refurbished, replaced or built 40-plus stations from Sandy Hook to Cape May and many more along the nation's coastlines including rebuilding the Long Branch station in 1878-79 with a uniquely design boathouse. A lookout tower was added in 1897 as well as a Port Huron-type station in 1904.
Just before Superstorm Sandy, Long Branch home owner Douglas Jemal purchased the 1878 and 1904 structures and moved them to his home at 900 Ocean Boulevard. The remaining 1897 boathouse was completely destroyed by Sandy. You can glimpse some of the old life saving station through the gates at 900 Ocean Boulevard.
From 1871 through 1914, the Service aided 28,121 vessels, and rescued or aided 178,741 persons. It's unofficial motto: “Remember, you have to go out, but nothing says you have to come back.”
Long Branch and Elberon Names
The derivation of the name, Long Branch is rather straightforward. It references the southern or longest branch of the Shrewsbury River which was the principal means of waterway to Long Branch from New York via Raritan Bay. Elberon gets its name from real estate developer L.B. Brown, who called it Elberon as a play on his own name. Atlantic City borrowed his playful name for on its streets which is still there today.
Tips for Visiting Long Branch Beach
What's New: See above
Road Access & Parking: Parallel to the beach is four-lane Ocean Boulevard, the major access to the beach, parking, restaurants and accommodations. South along the ocean starting at Pier Village is Ocean Avenue, a mostly one way street that can make access confusing. In season, there is $10 a day parking at the city lot west of Ocean Avenue between South Broadway and Garfield Avenue. From May 1 through September 30, there is limited metered parking along the street at Pier Village at a cost of $2 an hour Monday through Thursday and $3 an hour Friday through Sunday and holidays from 10 am to midnight. The privately-run, indoor parking garage at Pier Village is very expensive.
Amenities: There are outdoor showers and restrooms along the main promenade and beach area that starts at Seaview Avenue by Seven Presidents Park and continues to the end of Ocean Avenue which meets Brighton Avenue by Ocean Boulevard.
Beaches: Seasonal beach badges cost $45 for adults 18-61 and $30 for students 14-17. Everyone else has free access. For daily beach access, adult badges are $5 weekdays and $7 weekends and $3 for people 14-17. Seniors and children access the beach for free.
Starring Role: Annie was filmed at The Great Hall at Shadow Lawn at Monmouth University in West Long Branch and The Bounty Hunter with Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler was filmed at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport. Both locations are only a few miles from the beach.
Follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his 2021 walk of every beach along the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Read all updated stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com.
Best summer yet at the Jersey Shore.