A FAMILY FIGHT IN MIDDLETOWN
In Middletown, New Jersey, Tillie’s brother … whoa, wait a minute, Tillie’s brother?
Oh, you didn’t know?
Yes, Tillie has a brother. His name is Calico, and if you’re looking for family resemblances, fuhgeddaboudit. Calico is tall, really tall, towering over Tillie by 15 feet (30’ to 15’). Tillie is far heavier, outweighing his sibling by an estimated 12 tons. Calico is a tough guy, built of steel. Tillie is all cinderblock and painted stucco. Calico emotes a deliberate, menacing derangement. Tillie, he of the swooping hairdo and Cheshire-cat grin, bids you to come hither, to share an amusing moment.
Even so, there are strong familial similarities.
For one thing, they share a father: the late Leslie W. Thomas, a design specialist for the Asbury Park sign company Road-Ad Services. Thomas, who preferred to be called “Worth,” created Calico in January of 1956, and gave Tillie to the world a few months later.
For another, their conceptual origins are virtually identical. Both were created at a time when most businesses were still locally owned and family operated, and entrepreneurs sought distinctive ways to capture the attention of shoppers. In Middletown, Joseph Azzolina needed Calico to distinguish his Food Circus store on Route 35 from competitors. In Asbury, Tillie’s job at the southern end of Kingsley Street was to entice thrill-seekers off the Boardwalk into Edward Lange and Zimel Resnick’s Palace Amusements.
For yet another, as Calico and Tillie approach their 60th birthdays, both are famous, with legions of fans, book and magazine appearances, and yes, credits for Tillie in movies, television, and song. In short, both are icons of historic significance to their communities.
There’s also this. To varying degrees, they are both victims of elder abuse.
In Asbury, a group of (now disgraced and ousted) developers tried every trick and imaginable deceit to send Tillie to the scrap heap. They failed, finally settling on a compromise which allowed them to remove Tillie from public view indefinitely, pending construction of a new building into which Tillie is to be incorporated.
Which is why Tillie will celebrate his 60th birthday in a storage shed, so close to the ocean that Super Storm Sandy left an water mark on the bottom of the mural.
In Middletown, Calico remains in place, although he no longer spins on a motorized axle. His hasn’t been cleaned, or had a refreshing coat of paint, since 2011. Of perhaps greater concern stems from the fact that Food Circus, the commercial venture which gave context to Calico’s existence, is long gone and the property is targeted for a major development project.
Mountain Hill LLC., operated by Joseph Azzolina Jr.,(who is the son of the Food Circus founder), and his cousin, Louis J. Scaduto Jr., plans to build 375 condos on the lot, fronted by a huge retail complex. Whatever merits the plan may have, its scale has drawn extensive local opposition, and fans of Calico are up in arms over the failure of Azzolina and Scaduto to put forth a preservation plan.
The absence of a viable Calico plan is surprising. Unlike the failed development group in Asbury (which consisted of outsiders with no connection to the community), Azzolina and Scaduto have roots in Middletown, and know, or at least should know, the value of heritage to the fabric of the community. Surprising, too, in light of Azzolina Jr.’s assertion back in 2011 that Calico is “a cool and unique icon.”
In the face of obstinance on the part of the developers, public support for Calico preservation is growing. Margie Rafferty, whose Save Calico page on Facebook is attracting major attention, posted recently that the New Jersey’s State Historic Preservation Office “has evaluated Calico, and found him to be eligible in the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places,” the crucial first step in toward a formal listing. Dale Kirby, publisher of Roadside America, has mapped Calico on the Roadside America iphone app and GPS software. Calico, he says, “is an important piece of 20th century sign art, and Middletown should preserve it for future generations to puzzle over.” Meanwhile, the folks over at Weird NJ accurately note that “most Middletownians have embraced old Calico with a kind of nostalgic fondness as the town’s unofficial mascot, just as Tillie has stayed an enduring symbol of Asbury Park, even nearly a decade after the demolition of the Palace Amusements building.”
WHEN IN LOS ANGELES, DO AS THEY DO IN ASBURY!
Ah, the Tillie spirit … alive and well in Los Angeles.
That’s where you’ll find Peter Sabri and Seraya Ghoneim dishing Tillie pork rolls and other Asbury-inspired breakfast delicacies at a variety of popular farmers’ markets.
These foodie siblings grew up a stones throw from Asbury in Ocean Township, which accounts for their Jersey pride.
Their culinary tastes trace directly to one of Asbury’s most famous eateries.
“We grew up going to Frank’s Deli in Asbury Park for our pork roll, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches,” they explain on their Web site. “It’s hard to believe that no one has jumped on the NJ transplant market, serving up P.E.C.’s and home fries. While as a whole, we want to be able to offer more breakfast sandwiches to the people of Los Angeles we decided to roll with a Jersey boardwalk food theme. So, for those who are non-meat eaters, we provide an alternative option, tomato (another food Jersey is known for), egg, and cheese. And to show how much we appreciate business, we finish all of our customers off with a little something sweet.”
Four years ago, Peter moved to Los Angeles to continue pursuing his acting career. This past summer, Seraya, an avid cyclist, bicycled across America to raise money for a non-profit organization, Move For Hunger, and eventually joined her brother out West to start a new career.
July 2014 report:
INDEPENDENT CONSERVATOR SAYS
PALACE AMUSEMENTS ARTIFACTS
ARE IN "FAIRLY STABLE" CONDITION
The 31 surviving artifacts from Asbury Park's historic Palace Amusements are, for the most part, in "fairly stable" condition 10 years after being removed from the National Register of Historic Places amusements arcade and placed into storage.
That was the central finding of Paul Himmelstein, a New York conservator, who inspected the artifacts June 19, 2014 in their three storage locations along Asbury Park's waterfront.
Himmelstein wrote in his inspection report that three large wall murals, painted on stucco-covered cinder blocks and stored in plywood sheds, appear to have survived the 2013 super storm Sandy with little water damage. There is, he wrote, some evidence of paint loss, and the rate of deterioration suggests the need for regular inspection.
A series of wooden cutouts, depicting amusement scenes from the Cookman Avenue side of Palace Amusements, appear to have been "soaked" by water from Sandy, causing considerable deterioration, he said. Himmelstein called for removing the artifact to a dry, elevated location.
The inspection of a sign and 26 metal channel letters was cut short owing to an inoperative lighting fixture in a storage area. From what he could see, Himmelstein said the metal items appear rusted, but stable.
Among other recommendations, Himmelstein proposed annual inspections of the artifacts as a way of preventing small issues from growing into larger ones. However, Carrie Turner, general manager of the Madison Asbury Retail development firm, rejected the concept, saying that the developer was opposed to granting "access by right" to the Save Tillie organization, a federally recognized non-profit group which paid for the Himmelstein inspection. By letter, Save Tillie called on Turner to reverse her position.
The inspection came 10 years after Asbury Park's watefront redevelopment firm, Asbury Partners, agreed to preserve and reuse the artifacts in a new building in mitigation for demolishing the 116-year-old amusement arcade at the corner of Cookman Avenue and Kingsley Street.