By Liz Sheehan |
MONMOUTH BEACH – No date has been given for the reopening of the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center at 128 Ocean Ave., which has been closed for repairs since a September 18, 2016 fire damaged the entrance and the history room.
The fire began in a planter in front of the building, and may have been caused by the discarded smoking material in the mulch, said Kevin Hayes, Sr., acting business administrator of Long Branch, who was the fire marshal at the time of the fire.
Before the fire, the center served for almost 17 years as a showcase for artists, a meeting place for local organizations, a stage for concerts and a location for community and official events, including meetings of the town’s Board of Commissioners and Planning Board after Super Storm Sandy badly damaged Borough Hall in 2012.
Mayor Sue Howard said Tuesday she could not give an estimate for when the center would reopen. “I don’t know what date it will be done,” she said.
Howard cited the difficulty of completing the work while following regulations required under the insurance that covers the building, the Monmouth County Joint Insurance Fund.
The building was put into service in 1895 as a United States Lifesaving Station, and then housed the U.S. Coast Guard and the New Jersey Marine Police. After the Marine Police vacated the building, it barely escaped being demolished by the state in 1999. A few days before the work was to begin, borough officials and the town’s historical society came to its rescue and volunteers from the borough transformed it into a community center, opening in 2000.
It was briefly closed after Super Storm Sandy but volunteers from the town again worked to make repairs and it reopened after four months.
Among the groups that used the center for their meetings prior to its closing were the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Navesink Knitters and the Sandpipers, the town’s senior club.
Residents of the borough used the large room at the center for festive events and parties and for gatherings to celebrate and remember lost family members and friends.
Yearly events included a Memorial Day service honoring those from the borough who lost their lives in service to our country, as well as a giant garage sale that filled the parking lot with buyers and sellers.
The center was so popular with local artists that those who want to exhibit there have to reserve a space a year or more in advance.
One local artist praised the center and Lois Geyer, the center’s director.
Michael Short, a borough resident who has had two exhibits there, said Tuesday, “I had a good experience both times.”
“It’s great place to exhibit,” he said.
Short, who described his work as found-object art or assemble art, said Geyer was “really easy to work with.”
He also appreciated the center’s policy of having the artists hold receptions to open their exhibitions and said he was pleased that many people attended.
The center only charged a 10 percent commission on works sold at an exhibition, an advantage over other galleries, Short said, which can charge up to 50 percent.
Ann Danieli, Eatontown, has exhibited her paintings several times at the center.
“The space is beautiful and the light is beautiful,” she said of the main room in the center. “It’s more like a museum space than a gallery.”
She said the large main room gave artists who have large paintings the ability to exhibit them in a place they can be viewed properly and from a distance. And the fact the center had three spaces to exhibit, one large and two smaller, was good for artists who had smaller collections to show, Danieli said.
She said her friends came down from North Jersey to her exhibition at the center. The loved both center and the fact that it was easy to get to, she said.
David Levy, the president of the Guild of Creative Art in Shrewsbury, an organization of artists, said the closing of the center has meant “one fewer venue for artists to exhibit,” and he was looking forward to its reopening. Levy said the center did not have the “commercial” quality some galleries have and he also liked the fact the center had different size spaces for exhibitions.
“I feel a loss of one is a loss for all of us,” he said.
This article was first published in the Nov. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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