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THOMAS FARRAGHER

Rooting for the return of Salisbury’s glory days

Developers are building a 210-unit apartment complex on the site of a former go-kart track in Salisbury.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Developers are building a 210-unit apartment complex on the site of a former go-kart track in Salisbury.

It’s about time to pack up the car for the annual vacation to the North Shore, a splendid week on wonderful Salisbury Beach.

I’ve got a thick skin, so cue the jokes.

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“Get a good view of that nearby nuclear plant up there, do you?’’ one silver-spooned colleague always asks.

“Biker bars, and strip joints, nice,’’ another one snickers. Regular bunch of wise guys, they are.

I love our week in Salisbury. A big rental cottage on a clean beach. Ocean-front porch. Spectacular vistas. Thunderous surf. Good books. Ice-cold beer. Joe Castiglione’s play-by-play. Bliss.

But the jokes cut deep. Because, well, the truth hurts.

I caught the last part of Salisbury Beach’s glory days, the late 1960s to early 1970s when, as a kid, I rode the Dodgem cars and the iconic roller-coaster.

And I was there as the place began to slide into decay. The biggest barroom brawl I ever witnessed — actually the only one I ever witnessed — took place circa 1975 at the old Edwards Club when longneck beer bottles exploded against grimy walls, tables were upended, punches were exchanged, and the police tossed dozens of drunks into the back of steel-grilled wagons.

Ah, good times.

If you stick to the beach, fine. But venture into Salisbury’s fried-doughy beach center and only one question comes to mind: Who’s on the take here?

Actually, there’s no evidence of municipal corruption, just cycles of bad luck, economic calamity, a devastating blizzard, missed opportunity, and — just when hope glimmered — the Great Recession.

Well, Wayne Capolupo is here to tell you that all that is about to change.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years, and I’m sick and tired of our beach being referred to as a honky-tonk,’’ Wayne told me as we talked under a blazing beach sun. “We’re going to put an end to all that.’’

Capolupo and his family have put their money where their mouth is. Their Atlantic Hospitality Group owns the Blue Ocean Music Hall, the Seaglass restaurant, and other downtown commercial interests, and he is part of a local business group plotting an ambitious makeover to transform the beach center so it’s worthy of the beach itself.

Whole blocks would be razed, replaced by hundreds of condos with first-floor, first-class retail space. There would be a fishing pier extending 500 feet into the ocean. And a raised 750-foot boardwalk and outdoor stage would become sparkling fixtures.

Capolupo points to a depressing stretch of gone-to-seed eyesores along Ocean Front South and winces. He wants it torn down. “It’s literally an embarrassment,’’ he said. “When I have friends from out of town, I don’t bring them here.’’

I don’t either. In fact, I don’t bring myself.

During our week in Salisbury, the decaying hulk of the beach center sits unwelcomingly a half-mile and a world away, thankfully obscured in the shimmering mirage of a boiling August heat.

Since 2007, a Boston-based firm has tried unsuccessfully to corral a development partner. Capolupo’s group is trying that again now, and vows that a $100 million revitalization is around the corner.

He points to the place — just beyond the main drag — where that barroom brawl took place at the old Edwards Hotel. It’s a handsome five-story condo now owned by Bruins legend Terry O’Reilly. “He’s our resident celebrity,’’ Capolupo said.

Two miles away at Town Hall, Town Manager Neil J. Harrington said the revitalization plan has his support and, for the most part, that of the community.

But Harrington said that it’s, well, complicated. It’s a barrier beach. There are new FEMA maps to consider. “A lot of things have to fall into place,’’ said Harrington, a political realist and a former mayor of Salem.

But he’s rooting for Capolupo. He’s rooting for the return of Salisbury’s glory days.

So am I. But I’ll be waiting for it from way down on the beach. I don’t like fried dough. I don’t own a motorcycle. I can do without barroom brawls.

And I don’t need Janis Joplin screaming at me from tinny outdoor speakers, as she did the other afternoon.

Give me Joe Castiglione any day.

More reading:

210-unit building is on the rise in Salisbury

Connie’s Stagecoach evokes an earlier era

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.
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