Methodist Urbanism: Ocean Grove

43 thoughts on “Methodist Urbanism: Ocean Grove”

  1. Actually Ocean Grove is part of Neptune Twp. The reason the Sunday ban on driving was ended was a law suit brought by newspaper delivery men.
    A couple of good restaurants left for Asbury Park, Because people were not allowed to bring their own beer and wine for diner.

  2. Great post. If I recall correctly, Ocean Grove is also a dry town. At least I think it was when we went there a couple of times about two decades ago. Another thing I remember relates to all those houses around the central green (ocean to the east, auditorium to the west). I think that the houses closest to the ocean are furthest apart and that as you proceed away from the ocean, the houses each come forward about a foot or two. This allows all the houses to get some ocean breeze. At least that’s the way I remember it. 🙂

    1. The green space that connects the ocean with the Great Auditorium tapers so it’s wider at the ocean side and narrower at the church side. This was done intentionally and achieves multiple goals.

  3. Johnny,

    You said you were in Miami. I assume you’re here to look at the Art Deco. I really like reading what you write and I’ve always wanted to meet, so if you’re still here, get back to meet and let’s see if we can sort out something. Robert.

      1. Don’t forget Coconut Grove for another “hyped” neighborhood while also checking out Little Havana, Allapattah, Little
        Haiti if you’re going to places like Hialeah for the “Real Miami”…. Coral Gables if you’re actually exploring Miami-Dade overall

  4. Johnny, thank you so much for sharing this. What a fascinating and wonderful place.

    Do you know what ownership there looks like? Are the tents and cabins individually owned, or are they owned by some agency of the Church and leased to people? The sort of long-term commitment that happened there is easier if there’s some sort of shared ownership. More important for people to work together that way. Not necessarily easier, but opting out is harder.

    1. Ocean Grove has an association that owns the land and leases lots with 99 year terms. Central London and much of Honolulu have a similar model. The tents are leased from spring till fall and renters much follow specific requirements.

  5. If you’re interested in other towns like this, Pitman in South Jersey is also an old Camp Meeting. The Grove neighborhood has many of the same characteristics as Ocean Grove, where tents gave way to houses, with 12 walking path spokes that all end in the Tabernacle. These are now fairly rigidly zoned to preserve the neighborhoods “character.” Unlike Ocean Grove, it hasn’t maintained its status as a Camp Meeting in the same way, because Pitman’s status as a tourist destination fell apart when the lakeside declined (it once had a race track, merry-go-round, etc, now it has a Superfund site). But in contrast with the municipalities around it, Pitman has stayed walkable, with a solid downtown (primarily made up of restaurants and experience stores that don’t have to compete with Big Boxes), with a lot of new growth and creative use of old buildings. If you’re ever interested in coming down, I’d love to buy you a beer/pizza.

    1. Drew, I’ll keep you and Pitman in mind for my next trip to South Jersey. Island Heights in Toms River is another charming little meeting camp town too. I’m in Miami now. Blog posts to come…

      1. Ocean City might be also interesting to check out as a middle ground between the religious focus of Ocean Grove and the unbridled shoobie (out of town vacationeer) oriented development of a place like Wildwood. Ocean City is still dry, and has a lot of urbanity in its main street shops and public greens and spaces near the shore but has a commercialized boardwalk (but without what I feel are the worst excesses of a place like Wildwood).

  6. My wife and I happened onto Ocean Grove while sightseeing and trying to drive up Ocean Avenue from Spring Lake to Asbury Park some years back.

    It turns out that Ocean Avenue ends at the town borders both north and south…there’s basically a moat around Ocean Grove (Fletcher and Wesley Lakes “start” at the beach and run back toward Main St. which runs along the rail line about a mile inland). So the physical isolation of having only a handful of street/road connections leading into to the town proper probably helped preserve things too.

    But it has not escaped suburban sprawl entirely. A Google Maps tour today reveals that along the west edge (Main St.) is The Tire Place and the U-Haul dealer (which occupies the former furniture and mattress store) along with the trifecta of used car dealer, body shop, and transmission shop. A little bit of Anywhere, New Jersey.

  7. Hey Johnny! I really enjoyed reading about Ocean Grove in your blog. I was alerted to that entry through my friends Chris and Barb who just procured a lease into the community. I remember visiting the Jersey shore with them years ago, and being so transfixed by the out-of-time look of the Auditorium (which somehow appeared a bit sinister to me from the outside) that when I got back to New York I snuck into the Columbia University library to research it.
    I too love architecture and the use of space. I’ve lived in the greater L.A. area/ Orange County my whole life and watch with great interest the machinations of what gets built and what’s torn down in the Southland….
    Keep up the good work. Pax!

  8. Funny, but we were just there in early August. We rented a house in nearby Point Pleasant Beach for a week, and I showed my wife Ocean Grove and Asbury Park. We used to go to the Jersey Shore when I was a kid, but as an adult we’ve been going to Upstate NY, where my wife’s family used to visit.

    Here is another thing that’s great about that area. It is at the end of a commuter train line to New York City. So our adult children could stay with us, even though they had to work part of the week. Having that train go by every couple of hours made the whole thing really old school.

    Trailways e-mailed me and said they were starting up a “luxury bus” to Upstate, perhaps in response to this post.

    Perhaps more affordable vacation and recreation options will reopen to non-drivers in the next few decades. After all, the ocean and mountains are still there.

    1. Larry, I’ve noticed a resurgence of 1950s style motels all across the country. Megabus and others are bringing back the old Grayhound model of inter city and rural transit.

    1. Kevin, since there’s a “Klinkenberg” I wonder if a new term might be coined called a “Sanphillippo.” Something that combines brutal pragmatism and a desire to never interact with officialdom. “After eleven years of committee meetings Susan pulled a Sanphillippo and began living in the old Jiffy Lube under the radar.”

      1. Johnny, I think you might find this music video of interest to your theory of urbanism.

        King Kunta is a celebration of culture. It’s a romantic vignette of Compton, California. It’s all people and no architecture.

        And I think it’s a big blind spot for the New Urbanists to grapple with. Why is this place the font of emergent culture? Compton is massively influential on producing new music, fashion, language etc. and it’s all tire shops and drive through restaurants.

        I think you might have some insight on how to explain all this.

        1. Spot on. Thanks for the link. In my recent presentation in LA I mentioned that I’ve reluctantly given up on building new towns that have the physical charm of older Main Street neighborhoods. Instead I’m interested in working together with likeminded people in a less than perfect environment where people’s activity rather than architecture or urban form would do all the heavy lifting.

          1. What do these new pioneers look like?

            A decade ago the “4 Hour Workweek” entered the zeitgeist. It proposed an alternative “lifestyle design” where you could start an internet company and outsource all the routine functions to a nice virtual assistant in Bangalore. You would then be liberated to travel the world and sip lattes and join the “location independent” class.

            My twenty something self thought this was a pretty good blueprint at the time and now I just look at it and say “yuck!”

            Johnny, I’m sure you have met many people who are equipped with the virtue to engage the world in a more meaningful way. What are they like?

            1. What are the “pioneers” like? They’re all over the map. I wouldn’t describe them as virtuous as much as willing to try something unorthodox in the hope of getting a better outcome. The people I gravitate toward are the ones who decide that interacting with officialdom is a waste of time. Taking personal responsibility for our own affairs at the household level is more meaningful.

              1. Guerilla Libertarianism is the best succinct description I can come up with for this sub-rosa solution mentality. You’re free to steal. 🙂

  9. This part of the Jersey Shore is actually really fascinating, and is a perfect illustration of everything you talk about. Ocean Grove you cover here. Directly north is Asbury Park. Famous for Bruce Springsteen and the Stone Pony, abandoned to blight in the 70s, it’s now become SF/Brooklyn on the shore, with awesome restaurants, an amazing pinball museum and a bunch of hipster events, and the music is still there. South of Ocean Grove is Bradley Beach, a family enclave which has a fascinating history as the one place where the Chinese could go to the Shore back in the (racist) day. Each has survived and is flourishing today. Contrast with Atlantic City, 70ish miles south, once high on casinos and redevelopment and now crashing to earth since you can basically go gamble anywhere at this point. Note all of these have reasonably decent public transit in the form of NJ Transit coast line (it’s sort of possible to commute from Asbury to NY).

    1. Yeah, I got plenty of photos of the Stone Pony and all the new condos while I was in the area. That part of the shore had hit bottom in the 80s when I lived in Jersey. The state had dumped an unusual number of psychiatric outpatients on Ocean Grove at a certain point. There were lots of cheap little rooms for rent and it was easier to place folks there than in the middle class suburbs. I wonder what happened to them all. Interesting to see how things rise, fall, and rise again.

      1. basically, asbury started back up when the lounge of the paradise hotel was fixd up and developed into a gay bar. It was really popular and they remodeled the whole hotel which became the states number one gay resort This started the renissance of Asbury (although i liked the old post apocalyptic playgroud myself) and ocean grove followed suit.

  10. How heartening to see just one community — and you are so right that it required a long-standing community with shared values — making the necessary and ongoing investment to preserve beautiful and wholesome aspects of town life. Thank you for this fascinating tour! I will put Ocean Grove on my must-see list if and when I visit New Jersey.

    Oh, and the cooling system of the churches reminds me of what I saw in Bombay — the sides of the church that my daughter most often attends consist mainly of louvered windows with no screens. Many big oscillating fans are placed at intervals along both sides and at the evening services we attended the cross breeze thus created made the place very comfortable in spite of temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s (in January). It did feel to me like a camp meeting!

  11. It’s good to see the long-term view represented in the church (even a Protestant one). Too often, the religious community is viewed, by itself as well as those outside of it, as simply another part of the secular, which it should not be. Some communities preserve and this is a beautiful example of one. It looks like a really nice place to walk in.

    1. This long term, community oriented view is integral to the Methodist Christian philosophy/practice. That is part of why pretty much every Methodist Church is America has a daycare/preschool facility within and supported by the individual church community. My three boys went to two different daycares/preschools at two different Methodist churches despite us attending Roman Catholics churches. Plus, Methodists aren’t ‘pushy’ with their Christianity and like to ‘preach’ through good community work.

  12. This is awesome, Johnny. I assume this is one of the examples you would put forward to city planners for lessons to learn and ideals to strive for. I like it.

    1. Actually I have no desire to ever interact with city planners. We aren’t going to solve any of our problems using the same institutions that are dedicated to maintaining the current arrangements. Let things fail. We’ll pick up the broken shards later.

  13. This is really interesting! I’ve never heard of Ocean Grove before, but the homes are gorgeous. They remind me of Cape May. What a charming little area!

    1. Joseph, you and your family should visit sometime. Ocean Grove is a charming place just an hour-ish away from Philly. (See what I was up to last week?) Busy busy.

    2. i wouldn’t recommend visiting during the summer however. It has gotten obnoxiously crowded during summer time with terrible traffic and families crammed in everywhere. You’ll miss out on the quiet charm. Fall or spring is a much better time to visit.

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