BY TOM HESTER SR.
For nearly seven months, the Asbury Park government, including the police, saw no reason to make this crime public.
It has come to light that on Aug. 2, at least 30 antique copper panels valued at $100,000 and weighing an estimated 5.5 tons that were once part of the Asbury Park Convention Center on the city’s boardwalk were stolen from storage. The panels are described as four by six foot green copper decorative pieces.
City manager Terence Reidy told The Asbury Park Sun that he was notified of the incident in August, but saw no need to make a public disclosure at the time. “It was a police investigation, pure and simple,” Reidy said.
The police failed to solve the case and have declared it closed. “All leads have been exhausted,” Chief Mark Kinmon told the Sun.
The failure of authorities to notify the public of the theft has angered Asbury Park history and preservation activists. The Asbury Park Historical Society is offering a $5,000 reward for information that would help solve the theft.
Warner Baumgartner, city historian emeritus, said Wednesday the panels were removed for the hall for structural inspections and were stolen from storage. He said a public outreach campaign is forming in the hope that additional information will come to light through the offer of the reward.
Dolly Sternesky, Historical Society secretary, said the public should have been notified sooner.
“We don’t own the building but this is Asbury Park,” Sternesky told the Sun. “We have the most beautiful architecture. You’ll never find this any place, anywhere. The fact that this wasn’t shared with anyone -- it’s a scandal.”
The green-tinged panels were embossed with a decorative design and dated back to 1929, when Convention Hall was constructed. Boardwalk redeveloper Madison Marquette removed the panels so they could make necessary repairs to the building. The Historical Society put the number of panels at 34, while the police report says there were 30.
The Historical Society held an emergency meeting to discuss the theft of the panels on Saturday. Society members questioned why the public was not made alerted to the theft.
Commenting on the theft and government silence, historian and preservationist Billy Neumann wrote on the New Jersey History Network, "Once again another horrible demonstration of how intrinsically valuable historic and architectural assets really are. Recently, the Hackensack Water Works lost interior stair rails and other important fixtures when someone cut and yanked them out for metal salvage.
It is almost impossible to stop these crimes without constant site vigilance or help from sympathetic salvage business owners," Neumann said. "A secure historic site can go a long way to prevent this loss along with extensive inventory and documentation of any valuable component parts.
"After this type of crime it is important to thoroughly involve local, county and state police as most time the assets removed get salvaged much farther away from the victimized site," Neumann concluded.
Convention Hall was built in 1929 and is listed on national and state historic registries.
The Historical society can be reached at 732-869-HIST.