This particular narrative is about a house that holds two tales; one happy and the other sad. Two families, completely different, yet their stories are reflective of the era in which they live. As you read, you will find that although the people and circumstances are quite dissimilar, the parallels cannot be denied: it’s about two sides coming together. I first heard this story from Russell Lewis, owner of Watermark. I didn’t have a lot of details at the time, but when I finally put pen to paper (or digits to keyboard), the people who lived it began to appear.
The Story of Joe Monteparo
The house at 1117 Third Avenue is more than just your average house. Within it holds some of the most poignant memories of Asbury Park’s finest; the story of a fallen hero that will tug at your heartstrings and bring you back to a place in time not so long ago. The first of these two tales began in 1971 and the occupants were Officer Joseph Monteparo and his family.
Joe Monteparo grew up in Asbury Park and graduated from Asbury Park High School in 1948. He was an exceptional athlete. He played baseball, basketball, and football, and was Captain of the football team. Later, he became a good golfer. Joe was a very community-oriented person. He liked people and people liked him. He married his high school sweetheart and purchased the house on Third Avenue in 1959 where he lived with his wife Ann and their three children: Joe Jr., Susan, and Laura. Ann worked as a secretary at the Bradley Elementary School directly across the street from where they lived. Joe joined the Asbury Park Police force in 1960. Joe had grown up in a subjective era; an era that seeded racial prejudice and sprouted the subsequent riots. During the first week of July 1970 the tensions — due to lack of jobs, recreational opportunities, and decent living conditions — came to a head and the streets exploded along with the Fourth of July fireworks into a violent frenzy that lasted for 6 days. After the dust settled, the entire city was divided racially. Officer Monteparo, now a Sergeant on the force, was no stranger to the discord within the community.
In an effort to diffuse the tensions the Police Department held ‘sensitivity focus groups’ where community leaders, police officers, and citizens would sit down together and have round-table discussions. They would talk about their concerns and try to understand the other’s point of view, to become empathetic towards each other’s circumstances. Joe Monteparo attended the focus group and listened as people talked about their frustrations and concerns. He became sensitive to the needs and considerations of those unlike himself, as did many who attended these talks. And the tension began to ease for Asbury Park and also for Joe Monteparo; a man who could be tough as nails but had a soft heart.
Less than a year later on April 24, 1971, a call about a domestic dispute came over the police radio. It was approximately 11 am, Captain Gilbert Reed, a retired veteran of the force, remembers it well: Officers John Graham and Curtis Gunter responded to the call. The disturbance was in an apartment above a store on Springwood Ave. The suspect, George Spaulding, was holding a knife, behaving violently and out of control. Sergeant Montapero was the Shift Commander on duty and went to assist in an effort to calm the suspect down. Upon arrival, he took control of the scene. The suspect then became more violent and lunged at Officer Monteparo with his knife. While he was being attacked Monteparo fired shots at the suspect, as did Officer Graham. Officer Monteparo received multiple stab wounds which resulted in his death. The tragedy hit the community hard and his family even harder.
Sergeant Joseph Michael Monteparo died at the age of 41. He had served on the force for 11 years. He was a good police officer, a good husband and father, and an all-around good guy. He loved children and was always willing to help someone in need. Joe was on his last tour of duty at the time of his death. When his tour was over he planned on joining the Police Community Relations Unit, (a program that oriented police officers into the community they served). A new unit that was in the early development stage; organized by Holly Porter and Officer and Reverend David Parreott Jr., Joe was also involved in the creation of the unit. Joe and David were good friends. Not only did David Parreott grow up with Joe Monteparo, they went to the police academy together and were part of the Academy’s 50th graduating class. As a way to honor his friend, Officer / Reverend Parreott had bumper stickers made with the saying “Be a Good Joe.” Officer Parreott would travel to schools and churches handing out the bumper stickers to both local and distant communities. It became a popular slogan. Along with memorializing fallen Officer Monteparo, it was also a reminder for people to be nice to one another.
His wife Ann was devastated and just could not deal with the loss of her husband. On the day of the funeral, she left the house that morning with her three children and never returned although she remained in the area and continued to work at the elementary school across the street from their house. When their daughter Susan grew up, she became an elementary school teacher and also worked at Bradley Elementary School, across the street from where they lived. As the years went by everything changed: the neighborhood, the community, and the city itself, but the Monteparo house stood frozen in time.
Part 2: Making a Mark
The following summer, The Baker Boys was one of the first tenants on the boardwalk, located in the arcade of Convention Hall. Coming from the entertainment industry, Russell had a larger vision. He wanted to open an upscale lounge that catered to the larger Asbury Park community. First, he checked out the operating Howard Johnson’s building at the Fifth Avenue Pavilion. Then he was shown the upstairs of the First Avenue Pavilion. The floor to ceiling windows captured his vision perfectly. At the time, the Esperanza Condominium project was under construction and the high-end luxury condominiums had an influence on the caliber of lounge that became the end result. Russell created the vision, now it was up to Andrew to create the design. Together with Madison Marquette they took on a $3 million dollar renovation and build out of the interior.
Watermark opened its doors on November 13, 2008. It was the night of the Obama Presidential election and the inauguration of the Great Recession, there would be tough times ahead. Struggling through the first few winters, along with two damaging hurricanes in its first five years were the most challenging. But Watermark made it through those daunting times. As the business evolved Russell noticed something interesting. Asbury Park was not a place where only gays went to gay bars and straights went to straight bars; it was a more inclusive community where gays and straights mingled together. He also realized that he had established a completely different demographic then what he expected. “It turns out that it was the straight community who was underserved, not the gays.” Said Russell “We are definitely a straight bar on Friday and Saturday nights”. They operate the business along with longtime friend Nona Lloyd as their Partner and General Manager, Russell and Andrew are very happy to provide a venue for the whole community, creating special life moments and producing 50 gay and straight weddings a year. In case you’re wondering how Watermark got its name: it’s the point where the water reaches its highest. Watermark will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.
Out of the Blue
With Russell and Andrew living on Third Avenue just two doors away from the boarded up Monteparo house that had been lying dormant for over four decades, it was obvious to them that the diamond in the rough held enormous possibility. It was 2006 and they had just finished the renovations on their home. Russell had heard the story of Officer Joe Monteparo and one day he noticed a man on the property talking to a neighbor. When he learned that the young man was Joe Junior, the son of Joseph Monteparo, he approached him with an offer to buy the house from his family. His offer was met with an unfavorable response. The family was not ready to let the house go. Nearly ten years later, out of the blue, Russell received a call from Joe Jr. He said the family wanted to sell the house to him. Joe Jr told him that it was important to his family the house not be torn down. They wanted the house to be restored. Joe Jr had hoped that was what Russell and Andrew had intended, and he was pleased to learn that it was. They finalized the deal in March of 2016.
When they went inside it was as if they had entered a time capsule. Many of the families personal belongings were still in the house. On the second floor were children’s toys, some furniture, and clothes still hanging in the closet, including Joe’s police uniform. They also found some letters. Joe, being an outstanding athlete, was being sought after by professional baseball teams. Russell and Andrew again worked together as a team and took on the renovation and design of the Monteparo house.
The renovation began in the spring of 2016. After adding a 600 square foot addition along with a turret and wrap around porch, the project is nearing completion. The large addition was to expand the kitchen and dining room in order to add more living space. They also plan to install an inground pool and finish the outdoors with privacy landscaping. When asked what the inspiration and vision were, Russell said “Our main inspirations were the homes around town and the house Itself. We tried to stay in the same language as far as the base house design. For the new parts, like the wrap around porch, we were mostly inspired by the architecture of homes in South Carolina, around Charleston. We found the plantation approach fit.” They consider the house design to be ‘industrial farmhouse’. One of their most notable materials used is the black standing seam metal roof on the wrap around porch. They also carried the metal feature inside on some walls.
I look forward to seeing the finished product…and what the Baker Boys might be cooking up next.