The year was 1965. Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States. Popular music was dominated by the Beatles and students had not yet begun protesting the Vietnam War. Interest rates hovered between 4 and 5 percent and consumers did their shopping at local stores rather than in malls.
In Monmouth County, Route 35 from Eatontown to Asbury Park was one lane in each direction. The Garden State Parkway was a mere 10 years old and Route I-195 did not even exist. The county’s commercial center and primary resort town was Asbury Park, where $15 million in new construction had recently taken place.
It was in 1965 that a mild-mannered, bespectacled man named Kendall Lee resigned his post as Asbury Park’s city manager, a job he had held since 1957. During his tenure, the city acquired a new beachfront, saw a boom in apartment buildings, and initiated redevelopment of its west side. On summer weekends, this thriving city, with a year-round population of nearly 20,000, was jam-packed with tourists thronging to its mile-long beach.
“Nobody did anything in Asbury Park without Lee’s approval. The things he looked for were those that would improve the city,” recalled Edwin Ambler, who was Chamber of Commerce president at the time. “When he left the city manager’s office, Asbury Park ceased to improve.”
That year, 16 candidates were pitted against each other in a bitter election for five seats on the city council, including that of the mayor. As the campaign heated up, some of the candidates tried to besmirch Lee’s reputation, calling him “a well-seasoned politician feared by his employees,” and claiming he misspent funds in his “misguided efforts” to improve the city.
But Edward R. English, running on the ticket backed by the previous administration, and one of the eventual winners, replied: “I say Kendall Lee has worked harder for the city than any other man in the history of Asbury Park,” and pointing out that during his tenure, Lee brought in $1.2 million in federal, state and county aid, and $5 million in urban renewal and public housing aid.
Lee’s widow, Camile, recalled how he loved Asbury Park, and especially its beachfront. “Of all causes dear to his heart, he was most vitally interested in promoting the town and its shore,” she said. It was this love that led Lee to help form the Asbury Park Development Committee in 1959. Members, appointed by the mayor, were charged with promoting property investment, attacking problems that could affect the city’s resort image, and pressing for better access roads in and around the area.
By 1965, the committee realized that promoting the shore would take more than 28 men from one town, so Kendall decided they should expand. They invited the mayors from all the towns along Railroad Avenue. “We had been trying to get Railroad Avenue made into a through street and we weren’t very successful,” said Ambler, a founding member. We invited the mayors from all the towns along Railroad Avenue to join us. We couldn’t get any response at first until we started holding free luncheons and inviting people who got things done.”
Such was the start of the Shore Area Development Committee, later to become the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council.