Vivian Johnson: Shore Nightclub Queen
She was the fashionable female contingent of the borough’s most famous political family. Vivian Johnson, born in Monmouth Beach in 1901, was a trend-setter and accomplished nightclub owner. Way ahead of her time.
To focus alone on the Johnson men’s deeds fails to recognize her moxie and style as an entrepreneur. This daughter and sister of Monmouth Beach mayors came of age during the Roaring ‘20s. She fit right in with the times. Friends and relatives admired Vivian as an original “flapper” girl — a talented and fun-loving young lady who enjoyed entertaining others.
Beginning in June 1927, she operated the Vivian Johnson’s Nightclub on Ocean Avenue in Galilee. At first a “speakeasy,” she was finally granted a license “to sell beer” in April 1933. Her father — then in between two terms as borough mayor — owned the property and highly promoted the business.
Considered “one of the Jersey Shore’s best known dining and dancing clubs,” the Queen-Style structure would host many events throughout the early 1930s. Classic jazz music from a six-piece orchestra filled the halls of the seashore mansion; her menu included fine French cuisine. The nightclub’s “Marine Room” sported a unique floating yacht-shaped bar. All was lost during a spectacular fire in September 1935. Living in an upstairs apartment, Vivian got out unharmed. Her only brother, the future mayor, also escaped the blaze.
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”
Vivian not only survived Great Depression times, she flourished in them. Local newspaper society pages were filled with reports of parties and celebrations all through the early 1930s at her shore nightclub. Just two weeks prior to the tragic 1935 fire, a dinner-dance party and fashion show with over 350 guests had been hosted there.
Legend is that Vivian started her operation in a small “tearoom” on River Avenue in the 1920s (I’m supposing you could get a hard drink there). Her father owned much of the property in that area too; nearby Johnson Street is named for the borough’s “First Family” of politics. Vivian died in October 2002 at age 101.
As to politics: her father was, Abram O. Johnson (mayor from 1917 to 1926 and 1937 to 1945) and her brother was, Sidney B. Johnson (mayor from 1949 to 1978). Combined the two men were elected to 12 terms as the borough’s chief executive. So politically dominate were the Johnson men, that one of them would hold an elective office in Monmouth Beach from 1906 to 1997. They also ran the family business the Monmouth Beach Cold Storage from 1912 to 1977.
Finally, there’s Maude W. Johnson — wife of A.O. and mother to Vivian and Sidney — who was no slouch herself. A Red Bank native, before her death in July 1959 at age 80 she was part-owner of the family cold storage business and was also served as the borough’s tax assessor from 1933 to 1945.
• Monmouth Beach Politics: J & J Style — HERE
In Long Branch …