There's more to Cape May, New Jersey than the pleasant Victorian homes and hotels we looked at a few weeks ago; it also features a couple of pleasant parks and a once-depressed downtown shopping strip that's been reimagined as an outdoor mall. A tip of the hat to George G, once again identified the One-Clue Mystery for this week!
The mall, lined with trees, fountains and brightly-painted stores is part of the story of the town's re-invention of itself in the 1970s, and the story is not as pretty as the mall. Below, Washington Street in the late 1950s, in 1971 when the mall first opened, and now.
By the 1960s, Cape May was in decline. It no longer had a rail connection to bring visitors, much of its industry was gone, and large parts of the downtown area were deteriorated and in some cases abandoned.
The city did some recovery work in the 1960s, turning the former rail station into a shopping plaza, and rebuilding its Convention Hall. City officials also came up with two plans that sparked political infighting and even a change of mayors: Creating low-income housing on Lafayette Street, and turning the next parallel street, Washington Street, into a pedestrianized mall to attract visitors and locals to shop.
Rotary Park is 'just around the corner' from the Washington Street Mall
The Lafayette Street plan removed what the then-mayor described as "blocks of uninhabitable houses." They were also, likely not coincidentally, the site of Cape May's historically important African-American community. The thriving community was scattered. The Washington Street project wasn't universally loved either, but for different reasons.
In the end, though, it is clear that the mall was a successful idea; even out of season in late fall and mid-pandemic it was busy, and its rows of restaurants and shops were doing serious outdoor and takeaway business. Including my own Jersey Shore favorite: frozen custard from Kohr's. Go with the vanilla; it's a classic.
OK, I admit this picture made it in only because of the T-shirt.
A few blocks from the mall, I visited Wilbraham Park (and Arboretum, don't forget!) If it looks long and narrow, that's no accident; once upon a time it was a railroad right-of-way. It was nicely decorated for Halloween, only a day or so away, but I was too late for the park's annual special event: a lima bean festival. The annual festival includes antiques, entertainment, recipes, art vendors and oh, yes, lima beans. Cape May was once known as lima bean capital of America.
Hey, it's the Jersey Shore: of course there's miniature golf. Sadly, closed for the season.
And, oh, my! Somebody's not very clear on just what is Victorian!
...and two for the road...