The legendary Upstage to be sold!
Building of historic Asbury Park music venue The Upstage Club sold
Thursday June 18, 2009, 7:50 PM, Andrew Mills / The Star-Ledger
The Upstage Club, at 702 Cookman Ave., where Bruce Springsteen and many others, including Southside Johnny and Steve Van Zandt, started out in Asbury Park.
ASBURY PARK -- The building that housed a music venue that staged some of the Jersey shore's biggest emerging stars was slated for auction this afternoon, but a last-minute deal with a buyer took it off the block.
For years there were hopes the building of the Upstage in Asbury Park would be purchased and converted into a museum or music center, but Eric Kaufman, the auctioneer handling the sale, said his talks with potential buyers in the music business fizzled.
Upstage Club: Bruce Springsteen's early hangout and a visit to his Freehold childhood home
Courtesy of the Tom Potter ColleCrowds fill the legendary Upstage club on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park. The club was only open from 1968 to 1971 but is famous for launching big talent, including Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
"I definitely tried to get those guys to show up," Kaufman said today, after the auction was canceled. "They weren't there and this guy was. You know what they say. Money talks."
Kaufman declined to name the buyer until the contract is closed in 30 days, but said the person bought the property for commercial use. The minimum bid on the property was $1.1 million.
Between 1968 and 1971 the no-alcohol cafe and club above the old Thom McAn store at 700 Cookman Ave., gave a stage to Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The building changed hands numerous times since the club closed in the wake of the 1970 Asbury Park race riots, but the cafe and club floors were left untouched.
It's often said Bruce Springsteen got his start at the Stone Pony, just off the boardwalk in Asbury Park, but locals know it was at the Upstage, where he met the members of the original E Street Band, including David Sancious, Danny Federici and Steve Van Zandt.
"If I were rich, I'd buy it, and then it would be like the old days," said Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez, 60, of Jackson, who played drums in the original E Street Band. Lopez and Joe Petillo, a 58-year-old singer-songwriter and Asbury Park native, came Sunday to the Upstage to see the place one last time before it was sold. As he entered the old club space, Lopez recalled the first time he and Federici saw Springsteen playing.
"Me and Danny came in, and we stood right here -- I mean right here -- and looked up there and said holy mackerel," Lopez said. "That made the start of a whole new deal right there for me."
Nyier Abdou/The Star-LedgerLeft, Bass player 'Little Vinnie' Roslin, who played with Bruce Springsteen's earlier band, Steel Mill with Vini 'Mad Dog' Lopez, an original member of the E Street Band, try to take a piece of DayGlo painted wall from the Upstage club in Asbury Park on June 14, 2009.
On the stage with Springsteen that night was bass player "Little Vinnie" Roslin, now 63, of Freehold, who also visited the club Sunday. As he walked around the club looking at the peeling DayGlo murals, he said quietly, "I hate to see it go."
Petillo sees more than the peeling paint and yellowed newspaper clippings now hanging off the walls of the abandoned building. He sees psychedelic DayGlo murals bathed in black light and hears pounding live music and wild cheers, reaching out from four decades ago.
"Once you got in, it would literally be wall-to-wall-people," said Petillo, a 58-year-old singer-songwriter and Asbury Park native. "You tried your best to find a spot sitting on the floor or the few benches and seats along the wall. And it was just so loud."
The brainchild of Asbury couple Tom and Margaret Potter, the Upstage started in 1968 as a second-floor cafe known as the Green Mermaid. But it quickly expanded into a third-floor club that drew a young crowd. Tom Potter, a beatnik hairdresser and artist, would sign in musicians at the door and throw them together on stage. Sometimes Marageret Potter would play with her band, the Distractions. After 1 a.m., an over-18 crowd rocked until 5 a.m.
"You just jammed. That's all it was," Petillo said. "This place had such an impact on making us and defining us as to who we were. Every night until five or six in the morning, the greatest music in the world came out this place."
"No rules," Roslin said.
Visiting Asbury Park and the old homes and venues of Bruce Springsteen
"It was a great place," Springsteen wrote of the Upstage and the musicians who played there in his liner notes to Southside Johnny's debut album "I Don't Want to Go Home" in 1976. "It was music as survival, and they lived it down in their souls, night after night. These guys were their own heroes, and they never forgot."
Gary Wien, a musical historian who authored the book "Beyond the Palace," a history of rock music in Asbury Park, said lore of the Upstage reached across the country.
"What happened was, you had all these good guys, all these really good musicians. They all honed their skills together," said Wien, who lives in Belmar. "It's like a rock-and-roll high school -- but a club."
Sheila and Irwin Strauss, who own the building, said they held off on a "pure business venture" for years in the hopes that someone would preserve the place and capitalize on its musical history. But the Strausses could not wait any longer. They auctioned off seven other buildings in Asbury Park today.
"It's an emotional thing," said Carrie Potter, granddaughter of the Tom Potter, who lives in Waco, Tex. "Everybody has stories about their grandpa and grandma. Not everybody has grandparents that so many other people have stories about."
"The best thing we can do at this moment is document it," said Potter, who is publishing a book on the Upstage called "For Music's Sake."
"I'm okay with it," Petillo said today of the sale. "You just reach a point when you have to let it go. You can't recreate the past."