Long Branch Stadium: History & Photos
It’s difficult to narrow down a real name? It opened as Ocean Park in 1934 and closed as Long Branch Stadium in 1957.
During my research I’ve seen it called City Stadium, Municipal Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Garfield Stadium, Atlantic Stadium, Ocean Park Stadium, Ocean Track, Long Branch Speedway and Ocean Speedway. That’s lots of re-branding efforts for a concept that never really worked. On perhaps the city’s most prime piece of beachfront. Today, the Ocean Place Hotel & Spa occupy the grounds.
Located on choice Long Branch real estate (Broadway, Ocean Avenue, Laird Street and Abbottsford Avenue is the boundary), the property has a complicated history. It once held the magnificent Ocean Hotel — the largest in the country in its day.
Going further back, according to a 1928 Long Branch Daily Record account, the area was the farm of Dr. Elisha Perkins before he sold to developer Samuel Cooper in 1831. He opened “Cooper’s House” which by the following year was a hotel that could hold 175 guests. The spot grew tremendously as a place of activity and hospitality. By 1872, under the able direction of the Leland chain, the Ocean Hotel was a sprawling wooden resort that flourished during the Long Branch boom years.
Once “a mecca for notables,” according to a July 1903 boast in the Long Branch Daily Record, all the hotel resort’s glory seemed to fade away after Labor Day 1902, when the owner skipped town just head of his debts. It never reopened. In May 1905, the city council voted to acquire the property — 750-feet along Ocean Avenue at the foot of Broadway — for about $73,000. By that December, the great hotel was gone — with so much lumber remains that city officials despaired of possible “shanties being erected.”
Thus, the city had control over sizable open property resting along two of the grandest boulevards at the Jersey Shore. The 10-acre Ocean Park opened amidst great fanfare and fireworks on July 4, 1906 — showing that Long Branch has been doing the “Fourth” right for a while now.
As part of that new development, the Long Branch Casino was built and opened in June 1907 (designed by Clarence D. Wilson and built by Richard H. Hughes for $50,000). Seating capacity was about 4,500. After it burned in a “roaring” early summer fire in June 1928, Mayor J. William Jones called it a “failure.”
During the early 1930s — into the teeth of the Great Depression — the area was redeveloped by the Long Branch Kennel Club led by its president, Myer Goldberg. He invested $150,000 on a new steel grandstand, sand track, lighting, drainage and landscaping. In July 1934, the oceanfront facility opened — as a quarter-mile greyhound racetrack. Staffed by 200 employees; with mechanical rabbit too. According to the Long Branch Daily Record, “Cheerful Dick” won the feature dog race on Opening Night.
Thought to be the fastest of all dog breeds, greyhounds have been clocked at speeds up to 45 mph. In a 1934 Long Branch Daily Record profile, Goldberg offered a brief history of dog racing, saying it all began back in Ancient Egypt. The person responsible for bringing it to America was Oliver P. Smith, who came up with the electric bunny idea in 1910. After some early interest in Long Branch (250,000+ visitors in the first season), the idea faded when greyhound wagering was declared illegal in New Jersey.
The city took over the complex in 1936 and leased out or held various events over the years, including: auto racing, football, night baseball, several Pooch Parades, the circus, and boxing and wrestling matches.
By 1949, the Atlantic Stock Car Association was racing there four nights a week in the summer (NASCAR had been formed in 1948). Stadium capacity grew to 7,000. Among the top drivers were: Lou Volk, Frankie Schneider, Johnny Cabral and Duke Heller. The facility also held the Sportsman Bar run by Nicholas Cammerano and Joseph Catalano. As the “ramshackle” arena fell into decline, at the end of 1958 city commissioners were considering a tear down. By February 1962 it was all gone.
The spot was later called Garfield Park in honor of the slain American President (who died in Elberon). Even as late as June 1961, the Monmouth County Firemen’s Day event was held on old stadium grounds. The mayor of Palermo, Sicily was the guest of honor. In October 1963, a “Punt, Pass & Kick” skills competition was held in the park. And the Long Branch birthing tale — a 1668 wrestling match won by John Slocum — was reenacted on park grounds in June 1965.
Today, the Ocean Place Hotel & Spa and its parking lot sit upon the grounds. First, it was the Ocean Place Hilton hotel — opening in July 1990. The resort hotel’s original developers, William J. Maloney, Sr. and Jr., had acquired the property from the city in October 1987 for $1.6 million. United Capital Corp. of Great Neck, NY has owned the 16-acre property since February 2012. The previous owner, Olympus Real Estate Corp in Dallas, bought the hotel from the Maloneys in 1998.