HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Karen DiMeo Buondonno knew him as Uncle Hap. Her childhood memories were of a genial man always impeccably dressed in a double-breasted suit and whose passion for politics was exceeded only by his love for his family.
“When he helped you, you never owed anything in return but love — and one other thing. Of course, if you were old enough, you knew that you were expected to vote for every Republican, on every ticket, in every election that you were eligible to vote in. And that was that,” Buondonno recalled of her great-great uncle, the late state Sen. Frank “Hap” Farley.
Fifty years after Farley used his political power to get the Atlantic City Expressway built to bring more tourists to the Jersey Shore, they were honoring him again at the toll road. Farley peered over Thursday’s ceremony while family members, politicians and his former law partner traded stories about the legendary Republican lawmaker from Atlantic County.
Actually, it was Farley’s portrait that was there. The ceremony marked its official unveiling. The iconic image, showing Farley in his 1960s heyday, has been refurbished and placed back on display in the expressway rest stop named in his honor. Over the years, the portrait had faded, so it was given a facelift and sealed under a protective glass cover at the Frank S. Farley Service Plaza in Hamilton Township.
“You can still see his beautiful eyes,” Buondonno said, marveling over the portrait.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority, the expressway’s operating agency, commissioned the Noyes Museum of Art in Galloway Township to restore the portrait to its original luster.
Once thought to be a painting, it is actually a photograph done by the old Hess Studios in Atlantic City. The Noyes Museum turned to its restoration specialist, Earl Parker, of Williamstown, to do the touch-up work. The cost was about $700.
“It was very dirty, so the entire surface was cleaned, which heightened the color saturation,” Michael Cagno, executive director of the Noyes Museum, explained of how Parker brought the portrait back to life.
Indeed, after the portrait was unveiled, it was clear that the colors had regained their vibrancy. Farley’s blue eyes, brown hair, teal-colored tie, navy suit and white handkerchief all stand out.
Farley died in 1977. His avuncular expression in the portrait evokes the genteel family man that Buondonno described in her remarks. She spoke for about 20 members of the Farley family on hand for the ceremony.
“Just like he was for New Jersey, he was most definitely our family’s problem-solver,” said Buondonno, 46, of Linwood. “He never hesitated to offer help to any of us, no matter what you needed.”
Buondonno and other speakers also noted Farley’s skills as a politician. He served in the state Senate for 34 years from the 1940s to the 1970s. The expressway’s construction in 1964 was one of his crowning achievements. He also orchestrated the construction of the Garden State Parkway, the now-named Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, the Atlantic City Race Course and the Atlantic City State Marina, now called the Sen. Frank S. Farley Marina.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said that the expressway’s east-west route follows a virtual straight line, another testament to Farley’s power.
“Try doing that now,” Levinson said, alluding to the environmental and construction requirements that often push out the boundaries of modern-day public projects. “That was the power that Hap had.”
Levinson also noted how former President Richard Nixon had credited Farley for helping him to wrap up the presidential nomination during the 1968 Republican National Convention.
“I’ll never forget my friend, Hap Farley,” Levinson said, recalling Nixon’s tribute.
Farley also had a hand in the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. The expressway’s construction was pushed to be ready in time for the convention. Ironically, a convention that was intended to make Atlantic City a national showplace became a public relations disaster when the news media focused on the resort’s poverty and blight.
Like Atlantic City itself, the expressway also struggled in the 1960s. In the road’s early years, it was so sparsely traveled that it was ridiculed as “Farley’s folly.” But the arrival of casino gambling in Atlantic City in 1978 transformed the expressway into a busy corridor that now handles more than 52 million vehicles and generates $76 million in toll revenue per year.
Farley’s former law partner, Frank Ferry, described how Farley worked with then-Gov. Richard Hughes, a Democrat, to have the expressway built. Ferry, like Levinson, stressed that Farley’s political power extended far beyond Atlantic City. Former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican who became vice president under President Gerald Ford, recognized Farley during a fundraiser in Newark in the 1960s, prompting the audience to give Farley a standing ovation, Ferry said.
“We were in North Jersey, 100 miles away from Atlantic City. That happened to him quite often in Atlantic County. But we were in another part of the state. That said a lot about him and his influence,” Ferry said of how Farley was honored with the standing ovation.
Ferry, the only surviving founding partner of the Farley, Fredericks and Ferry law firm in Ventnor, is in the midst of writing a book about Farley. Now about 30 percent finished, the not-yet-titled book will chronicle Farley’s extraordinary political career.
“He was the dean of the Senate,” Ferry said, a trace of nostalgia in his voice.
Contact Donald Wittkowski: