Inside Asbury Park’s Studebaker building

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ASBURY PARK, NJ – This city has seen its share of historic buildings demolished due to neglect, indifference or rapacious economic forces – but, many opportunities for innovative re-purposing remain.

Rather than bemoan the loss of the former Felix Fox Paints building; the Charms building; or even the infamous Odyssey/Phoenix nightclub building, we’d like to highlight the remains of the day as an antidote to disposable redevelopment culture. The recent success story of The Miramar – the 1920s apartment building that has been renovated into condominiums – points toward a better way forward than cookie-cutter new designs which threaten to strip Asbury Park of its history and character –  in some instances.

To get a peek into The Miramar before its official opening, we enlisted the aid of Realtor Bob Roccia of the John C. Conover Agency in the city – then pressed him into service once again for a look inside another historic Asbury Park address that’s long on history but a little short on love – for the moment.

The Studebaker building at 807 Summerfield Avenue has sat on the real estate market for far too long. It’s a prime spot for adaptive re-use in an area of the city that’s been on the upswing for quite some time. It’s located between Main Street and Memorial Drive, a block-long borderland which stretches the length of the city.

It demarcates the infamous East/West divide within the city along the NJ Transit rail road tracks but, increasingly, is transcending that narrow geographic space and pejorative mindset. These blocks have historically been a sort of catch-all – light manufacturing, service industries, commercial establishments and above-store residential units all jostling together – and in 2014 this unique status looks like it will be reinforced into the future.

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The Studebaker building sits squarely within this context. It is, of course, the former showroom for the legendary Studebaker dealership – cars which helped define the style of a generation back in the 1940s and ’50s.

Some history of the building and Studebaker in Asbury Park can be found in Helen Pike’s fantastic book, Asbury Park’s Glory Days: The Story of an American Resort. The author writes, “At the start of the Jazz Age, the snappy little car that many wanted to drive was a Studebaker. Louis Lipsey was the local agent…He built the a 7,500-square-foot showroom and assembly plant by the railroad tracks on Summerfield Avenue for $175,000. The square building was all angular lines and soaring planes and was crowned by a decorative band of hieroglyphic-like designs just under the roofline.”

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Some of the decorative features of the building remain, others are gone – just like Lipsey and Studebaker cars. The stock market crash of 1929 left him bankrupt, Chantal-Pike explains, and Joseph F. Stein, a Dodge dealer from Long Branch, stepped into the breach relocating to Asbury Park and moving into a stucco building on the northwest corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue – which is still there and well-known for its charm. Stein took over what was left of the Summerfield property, too and also opened another showroom on Main Street to house his combined dealerships which included Studebaker as well as Cadillac. In the 1960s, production of the Studebaker ceased. (Its roller-coaster history mirrors Lipsey’s)

Today, the 7,000 square foot space is ripe for re-imagining. Offered for sale at $1.6 mil, it’s prime location close by the Asbury Park Transportation Center benefits from liberal redevelopment zoning. It can easily be re-purposed for entertainment, commercial or residential use. It boasts poured concrete flooring and solid steel construction with large, showroom windows that are currently covered over with wood for safety purposes. Additionally, an original Otis elevator is in the building and many features, like tin ceilings – which run to 16 feet, and original woodwork remain. It also has a full basement and, of course, garage door entry into the space…though we wonder how  Porsche slipped into a Studebaker dealership, as you’ll see below!

One of those small businesses which all too often fly under the radar, Terriss Consolidated Industries, Inc., which stocks and manufactures a comprehensive line of scientific instruments and laboratory supplies required by the food, beverage, chemical, pharmaceutical, water and wastewater industries, occupies a portion of the space in the Studebaker building now – which is a cool discovery in and of itself.

For the (very) financially fortunate, Roccia has found this post industrial space as a point-of-renovation-reference just for fun; it’s the apartment of Tumblr founder David Karp. Naturally, not everyone is an Internet billionaire.

Whatever use the Studebaker building comes to, it’s a neglected gem full of structural and historical integrity – and an opportunity to preserve rather than destroy Asbury Park’s architectural heritage.

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