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Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ
Home of the biggest-ever chunk of Lionel memorabilia!

by Joe Mania

(originally printed in "TTP&M Extra: Perspectives on the Printed & The Prized" Issue No 11 Fall/Winter 2002. [this is the newsletter of the Toy Train Paper & Memorabilia Group of the TCA])

Once found on home layouts from coast to coast, the Lionel City Station appeared in the company’s catalogs from 1931 through 1949. Photo 1 shows one of these stations, a No. 115, installed on a typical toy train layout from around 1940. Since it is a moderately large and impressive station, it frequently became the centerpiece of many toy rail systems. Possibly the most famous parcel of real estate that one of these stations occupied was on the Lionel Showroom Layout which opened in 1949. It reigned over the imposing multi-track passenger station/subway station scene that dominated the south side of the layout, the first side you saw upon entering the room.

I worked in a local train store in New Jersey starting in 1975. The owner had always referred to the Lionel No. 115 Station as the Asbury Park Station. According to him, it was a dead ringer. I had to see this for myself! Imagine a life-size Lionel accessory! The No. 113, which is the same station as the No. 115 except for the color and exclusion of the Train Stopping Device, was introduced in 1931. Two other prewar variations, the 112 and 117, variously omitted lights or train control. Often referred to as having been modeled after Grand Central Terminal in New York City, it's a far cry from the latter's grandeur. Photo 2 shows Grand Central around 1914. The arched windows look similar, but the roofline doesn’t agree. Also, the scale is considerably off, even by Lionel's standards.

After some pestering, I got my father to take me to see the real Asbury Park Station. Sure enough, it looked very much like the No.115! The buff-colored stone exterior, red trim and windows, the distinctive shape of the roof, and the arched windows were a close match, although there were three big windows across the front as opposed to one on the Lionel model. Photo 3 shows the station soon after it was opened in 1922. Note the semi-circular plots with the flagpole to the left; both are very much like the landscaped plots and terraces offered by Lionel at the time.

Asbury Park was a station stop on the New York and Long Branch Railroad, jointly owned and operated by the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Railroad. This was the line that serviced the Jersey Shore. Part of the NY&LB RR was the route of the Blue Comet as it headed towards Atlantic City.

Knowing that the Cowens vacationed along the Jersey Shore (they had a summer home in Deal, just north of Asbury Park), could this building have been the prototype for the No. 115 Station? Did Josh suggest to his staff that this structure would make a good model? We know that many other structures not far removed from the Lionel factory served as the inspiration for products. The similarities are striking, yet if it was the prototype, then some liberties were taken with the design. Sadly, this majestic structure fell to the wrecking ball in 1987, but thanks to Lionel's models, its grand design survives, gracing hundreds, if not thousands, of toy train layouts.




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