Asbury Park can claim numerous historic buildings, many no longer there. But, perhaps the most important building in the city’s history was the first public building, Park Hall. Asbury Park was founded in, by James A. Bradley in 1871. Park Hall was built the same year. Aside from a couple homes, Park Hall was the first building to occupy the new city. Bradley needed an office to work in while he planned the layout of the city. But Park Hall needed to be more than just an office building. Bradley built Park Hall to temporarily house all that the young city needed. Besides Bradley’s office, Park Hall was a church, theater, school, courtroom, jail, police headquarters, social club headquarters, post office, pharmacy, newspaper office, telegraph office, polling place, library, council room and general hanging out place, all in one.
Park Hall’s initial 1871 site was the southeast corner of Main Street and Cookman Avenue. Bradley’s office was on the first floor. The second floor, reached by an outside stairs, housed a theater with a stage and small balcony. In 1883, Park Hall was moved to the northeast corner of Summerfield Avenue and the railroad. At that point, the previously opened underpinnings were walled in to make a basement. It was the basement that housed the courtroom and two jail cells. That area is believed to also house church services and most likely the city’s first school. On the last Monday in May, 1873, the Asbury Park Free School opened in Park Hall. Eighteen students were enrolled and all school expenses were donated by founder, Bradley.
As Asbury Park grew, the many functions of Park Hall moved to larger accommodations. Bradley. However, continued to use the building as his office. James Bradley died in 1921. In 1928, Park Hall, then used by an automobile dealer to store auto parts in, was razed to make room for a more modern business building. Another piece of history was lost.
(c) Charlie Horner, Asbury Park Museum