Preservation Magazine, Winter 2024

Home Turf: Restoring an Iconic Hub for Black Musicians in Asbury Park, New Jersey

During the 1960s, the Turf Club was the place to be for jazz, blues, and R&B fans in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The long-shuttered venue is now the only music-related structure left on Springwood Avenue, the heart of the city’s Black community during the mid-20th century. But in 2017, locals determined to highlight the neighborhood’s key role in the area’s musical history formed a nonprofit called the Asbury Park African-American Music Project (AP-AMP). The group collected oral histories and photos, set up concerts, and eventually purchased the Turf Club with a plan to turn it into a community venue and museum.

In 2022, AP-AMP received two grants from the National Trust: one for $100,000 from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and another for $25,000 from the Telling the Full History Preservation Fund, which was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We spoke with city councilmember Yvonne Clayton and green building professional Jen Souder, the founders of the AP-AMP.

How did you come to start the AP-AMP?

Jen: In 2017 I facilitated discussions about Springwood Avenue at a local conference. Afterward, I spoke to every person who would listen about wanting to start a project that focuses on this history. Yvonne was on board immediately. We got a small group of people from disparate backgrounds and said, “Let’s see what we can do.” It’s not just Yvonne and me—it’s a core team and has been from the beginning.

Yvonne: For me this is a true labor of love, because I grew up in this town. And I spend a lot of time at the senior center, which is on Springwood Avenue. Talking to the seniors, they’re like, “Do you remember this? And do you remember that?” I thought, “This is something where we really have to get involved. There’s so much history, and if we don’t do it, it will be lost.”

What was Springwood Avenue like in its heyday?

Yvonne: It was just a constant round robin of musicians and music and people. I was not old enough to hang out in the Springwood Avenue of my memory, but my relatives were. They would come from New York and Philadelphia for the weekend and get dressed up and go out on Springwood Avenue. You did not go out unless you were ready. Everybody looked so glamorous. Not that we’re going to be able to re-create that [entirely], but we want to bring some of that back.

Jen Souder and Yvonne Clayton

photo by: Samuel Markey

Jen Souder, left, and Yvonne Clayton, founders of the Asbury Park African-American Music Project, at the Turf Club.

How did you get the plan in place to purchase the Turf Club?

Yvonne: First, we have to thank the National Trust for that. We were invited to participate in the PastForward conference in San Francisco in 2018. And we did a presentation where we talked about the Turf Club and the history. The first question that was asked at the end was, “And what are you doing to preserve that building?”

Jen: We looked at each other. It wasn’t that we hadn’t thought about it; it was more that it didn’t seem feasible. I remember we sat there after and were having a glass of wine and [thought], “Is there a possibility?”

Yvonne: When we came back home, I figured out who owned the building [Vince Gifford, an Asbury Park native] and went to see him and said, “We’d like to buy this building from you. We don’t have any money. We don’t know when we’re going to have money. Would you sell it to us?” He said yes. He has just continued to be supportive of us. And on January 3, 2022, we purchased the building from him.

How far along is the renovation?

Yvonne: The roof is secure and waterproof. There’s so much left to do, but the contractors have done a number of things inside to make sure the building is going to be stable and be here for what we hope are the next 100 years.

What will it be like when the work is complete?

Yvonne: One, we want it to be a place for the community to come and feel comfortable and hear live music, something that’s been missing from Springwood Avenue for generations now. And it will be a place where you can also see the history, with a digital exhibit on a platform called Pass It Down. In addition to doing oral histories, we’ve been doing mapping of what was on Springwood Avenue. And then we want to provide an opportunity for professional musicians to teach people how to play instruments and how to interact with an audience and all those things that go into performing.

Jen: We call it a music and cultural venue. So it will be a mix. Our architects are wonderful, too—they understand our vision. We’ve had so much pro bono assistance. People have jumped in and they’re not looking for recognition or anything like that. They just want to be a part of it.

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Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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