Interview with Bob Crane - Originator and strategist of the "Save Tillie" Campaign

Greasy Lake, 2000, by: David J. Mieras
<img border="1" src="images/Bobcrane.jpg" align="left" hspace="5" alt="Bob Crane at the Backstreets party, Oct. 2000" width="163" height="375">In January of Nineteen Ninety Nine I was informed by my friend Mike Dowling, the Public Safety Director of Asbury Park that a small group of Bruce Springsteen fans were attempting to "Save Tillie." Mike suggested I stop by Cleopatra Steps Out art gallery on Cookman Avenue, across the street from the old UPSTAGE Club. I'd just begun working on a project a few months earlier, which had laid dormant in my mind for twenty five years. I'd tell anyone who'd listen that my dream was to make a movie about my friends when we were growin' up. This usually produced weird looks and laughter. One person I told who is the business manager of a small seashore town said that was an infantile idea. When he was done laughing, I said, well Bruce wouldn't think it infantile because he's one of the characters in the script. It was amazing to see the immediate change in attitude.<p>

I stopped by Cleopatra's and met the owners, Kate and Dave. A couple months went by, Bruce announced the reunion tour and "Save Tillie" organized a Jersey Shore rock-n-roll memorabilia benefit show @ the gallery. I'll help by getting a couple of musician friend's to display some items that don't see the light of day often. Vini brought assorted instruments and the Challenger East surfboard that Tinker made for him. I asked Ricky "D" if he still had his original silk Stone Pony house band jacket? After some searching, Rick found the coat which was one of twenty five made, and the only one's produced in silk. This was great, cause beautiful things happen when people get involved. Next, Bruce announced that a percentage of the proceeds from the two rehearsal shows in March of Nineteen Ninety Nine would be donated to the "Save Tillie" organization. These dedicated and caring people deserve a round of applause!<p>

David Mieras: Bob, I have tremendous respect for you and your "Save Tillie" committee. How did you come up with the idea to rescue Tillie?<p>

Bob Crane: On July 15, 1998, the Asbury Park Press reported the partial interior collapse of a ceiling @ the Palace, near the bumper car area. According to City officials, the Palace had become a danger to the public and would be demolished within weeks. Save Tillie was born that day during an hour of frantic emailing and phoning between six Bruce Springsteen fans. Our first concern was the Palace, but with demolition seemingly @ hand, we devised a fail-safe plan which would go into effect @ the time of demolition. We would remove, preserve, restore and reinstall the iconic Tillie image @ another location. Since Bruce first used Tillie on a tour t-shirt in 1973, images of the Palace have become instantly recognizable to fans around the world. So we devised the plan -- technically difficult but doable -- to save Tillie as a strong reminder of a place which means a lot to a lot of people. Then fate intervened. A New Jersey developer, William Sitar, rescued the Palace Ferris wheel and the carousel from the scrap heap in Mississippi, and gave the City of Asbury Park a plan to restore the Palace with his own funds. So far, his plan has not been accepted, and the Palace remains in grave danger. Nonetheless, Mr. Sitar's proposal was the perfect expression of our hopes, and @ that point, "Save Tillie" became "Save Tillie, the Palace preservation campaign."<p>

David Mieras: You've been working hard and long for two and one half years to "Save Tillie." Could you speculate on how you view the outcome of your groups efforts?<p>

Bob Crane: Besides the rescue plan, we have accomplished three of our four main goals -- documenting the structural integrity of the Palace, documenting the historic significance of the Palace, and documenting the economic viability of a restored Palace. These three points are now established beyond doubt.<p>

Structural integrity is crucial, because no historic building can be restored if the decay is too severe. Those who favor demolition -- including the owner of the Palace, and some City officials -- argued that the Palace is too far gone and can't be saved. So together with the Asbury Park Historical Society, we hired a major New York engineering firm to inspect the Palace. Their conclusion is that the Palace can indeed be saved.<p>

Historic significance is important, because no one will restore just any old building. Over many months, Save Tillie members researched the 112 years of Palace history, documenting its historic importance to the people of New Jersey, and to the nation. The first payoff came on Oct. 18, 2000 when the Palace was added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. If you would like to read our nomination of the Palace, you can do so @ . Now the nomination is being considered by the U.S. Park Service. We're hopeful the Palace will be on the National Register of Historic Places within a few months.<p>

Economic viability is critical if the Palace is to have a future. After many months of research, the evidence is overwhelmingly positive. I'll mention just one point. Right now, virtually no money reaches Asbury Park from historic destination tourism. This is a tragedy, because historic destination tourists spend $250.00 a day on average in New Jersey, most of it in hotels, restaurants, and shops. Further down the shore, in Margate, is a huge structure known as Lucy the Elephant. Lucy is the only attraction in Margate, and over 25,000 people a year come to see it. Twenty-five thousand visitors to a historic destination spend enough to create 41 jobs, $91,000 in local taxes and $974,000 in wealth a year. If 25,000 people visit Lucy the Elephant, just think how many Bruce fans will come back to Asbury if the Palace, the Pony and Convention Hall are all in operation!<p>

So we've accomplished three of our four major goals. The fourth goal is to use these points as weapons in the fight to save the Palace. We believe the critical phase of the fight will begin unfolding in the next few months. The City of Asbury Park and the owner of the Palace are currently in mediation over the future of the waterfront. If mediation succeeds, the future use of each waterfront property will have to be decided, and that will be the decisive battle.<p>

David Mieras: In my opinion, "Save Tillie" has been the catalyst in making people aware of Asbury Park's sad state of affairs. Do you think redevelopment of the beachfront will happen in the next few years?<p>

Bob Crane: We appreciate the compliment, David, and if it is @ all deserved, it is because of the commitment and passion of Bruce fans. Asbury Park has a tremendous asset in its musical heritage. I can't name another city, anywhere, as rich in brick and mortar places memorialized in songs as Asbury Park. An amazing number of people around the world have told us they will visit Asbury if these places are saved. If the cards are played correctly, Asbury Park can devise an economic revival that respects history and meets future needs. So yes, I believe we'll see redevelopment. the potential is enormous. The question is -- will it be the sterile high rise kill-the-past vision of redevelopment proposed by some? To us, the answer is pretty simple -- if the historic buildings are lost, there aren't very many people who will come to Asbury Park as tourists to see where the music landmarks used to be.<p>

David Mieras: It seems to me that Asbury Park is being held hostage by the bankrupt developer? What do you think it will take to move the process of redevelopment?<p>

Bob Crane: Here's what we have to keep in mind about Joseph Carabetta, who owns the Palace and all the major waterfront properties. (1) He went through bankruptcy on his non-Asbury Park properties and came out owing over $250 million to creditors. (2) To have any chance of reducing his debt, he has to make big money off his Asbury Park properties. This is a complex and legally difficult situation. (3) The mediation currently underway, offers the best hope we've seen in years for resolving these disputes. It could very well lead to the sale of Carabetta's properties. If mediation succeeds, and if the City accepts a $40 million start-up proposal from the State of New Jersey, then we could see serious work begin on planning redevelopment within a matter of months, with actual construction following in 12 to 18 months.<p>

David Mieras: How can Greasy Lakers get involved with "Save Tillie?"<p>

Bob Crane: For everyone who cares about the Palace, the critical day is coming. Gov. Whitman's administration has given $150,000 to the City of Asbury Park to hire planners to rewrite the waterfront plan. Once planning gets underway, we're going to need the active involvement of Bruce fans in many ways. What form that will take, we can't yet say. Almost certainly, things will happen quickly, and we'll need to respond quickly. You can help no matter where you live. Save Tillie now has supporters in 27 states, each country in Europe and Scandinavia, in Japan and Australia and Brazil. The best step is to keep checking Save Tillie web site, and to let us know if you'd like to be notified of news. When the time comes, we'll use our email list as the primary tool for letting you know how you can help.<p>

David Mieras: What plans do you have for the future to keep the momentum of "Save Tillie" moving forward?<p>

Bob Crane: David, momentum and motivation have never been a problem. Back on July 15, 1998, we started with six fans, over 500 people have come to us since then and asked to be involved. We're still a small organization, but it might do well to recall what Margaret Mead said about small organizations. "Never doubt," she said, "that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Hopefully, when all is said and done, people can look @ us and say Save Tillie helped save a small corner of Asbury Park, New Jersey.<p>

David Mieras: Since the inception of your idea to "Save Tillie," what positive changes have you noticed in Asbury Park?<p>

Bob Crane: I'm tempted to say we've seen fire and we've seen rain, because it has been a very mixed bag. Asbury Park breaks your heart. It currently ranks 6th out of 567 communities on New Jersey's Municipal Distress index (with #1 equaling the most distressed municipality.) There are positive changes. In anticipation of redevelopment, homes are selling. Prices for old Victorians in need of care are still relatively low. As new people move in, the politics of Asbury gradually begin to change. Some commercial properties have sold and are being restored. There's a new deli on Main Street, and a really fine bookstore in the old Asbury Park Press building. And least we forget the Pony! But for every step forward, there has been @ least one step back. Earlier you mentioned Cleopatra Steps Out gallery. There wasn't a finer gallery on the Jersey shore. But recently, after four years of pouring every bit of passion and energy they possess into the gallery, Kate and Dave had to close. We hope someday they will reopen. I think of the gallery as the indicator species of Asbury Park. If redevelopment happens, the gallery will reopen and thrive. If redevelopment fails, we'll never see Cleopatra again and we'll lose a whole lot more.<p>

David Mieras: The rigors of work and "Save Tillie" take up most of your day I would think? What other interests and passions do you enjoy?<p>

Bob Crane: Looking @ my life since we formed Save Tillie, it would be fair to say that driving back and forth to Asbury Park has become an interest, a passion and a preoccupation. Fortunately, my 16-year-old daughter, who'll be headed for college before to long, and my love of music, help keep me in touch with reality. The best part of the last 27 months, however, has been the friendships formed through this collective adventure. The commitment and passion of so many people has been simply incredible. Each and every time we face obstacles, whenever we've needed help or ideas or resources, people stepped forward big time. We'd be absolutely nowhere without their help, and we're deeply grateful to each and every one.<p>

David Mieras: Thank you Bob, for the informative overview of your organization. It don't come easy down in Asbury Park. I'm positive that each and everybody @ Greasy Lake are routing for your success and the day that Tillie receives a face lift.