Rule number 6: A writer needs to honor traditions, for there are stories within.
Poor New Jersey. It never really had a true identity. It was either West New York, East Philadelphia or Atlantic City. The concept of “Jersey Shore” was not a Snooki-ism back then. It was the only identity Jersey had.
A long, long time ago, as a child, I went to Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was a different world then.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, you could not access the beach by going under the Boardwalk; you had to go over it. You could not wear your bathing suit on the Boardwalk, even with a cover-up; you had to change in the bath house – for a price. Atlantic City was not a place to take young children who enjoyed amusement rides, since there were very few piers that catered to families in this manner.
At that time, my family was a frequent visitor to Wildwood, New Jersey. Even back then, it was a more family friendly place to vacation. That Boardwalk had pier after pier of amusement rides and quite the carnival atmosphere. Atlantic City had an atmosphere that was more “upscale”. We walked the Boardwalk around dusk and saw women dressed up in dresses and heels. Furs abounded. Men were dressed in summer suits. Many women wore hats and so did the men. It looked more like a parade of fashion than a vacation where you shed the cares of home and bummed for a bit. Dressing down was a big no-no there, where in Wildwood, it was expected.
Hotels were high-rises in Atlantic City. Old fashioned, art deco designs blended with Victorian designs to produce a very sophisticated atmosphere. Supper clubs were all over at that time. Many stars of the era got their start in Atlantic City clubs. The Boardwalk was home to many shops, restaurants, and candy stores. Once you left the Boardwalk, the atmosphere, however, changed. Venture far off the boards, and you entered a world of poverty. There were sections of Atlantic City that resembled the poorer, more neglected sections of Philadelphia.
Enter “Casino Gambling” in the late 1960’s and 70’s. The whole plan was to revitalize Atlantic City, bring it back to its former glory. Let’s look at what happened.
The first casino was Resorts International. They took over the original Claridge Hotel and made interior changes. The outside façade stayed the same. Then came the other casino conglomerates and changed the Boardwalk landscape into Vegas East. Lots of glitz and lights… lots of big name performers… Atlantic City became a destination after your career was going well, not a springboard stop on the road to success.
The city took several hurricane hits over this time period. Steel Pier was wiped out as I knew it. No more ballroom with the Ed Hurst Dance Party. No more Diving Horse Show. Now there is nothing there really, nothing at all.
My recent visits to Atlantic City left me a bit sad for the town. I got the feeling it’s still trying to find an identity. I think it’s looking for an identity that might incorporate casinos, but not be defined by casinos. That’s going to be a tough change. Lots of tradition left Atlantic City when the casinos came were built. Even Miss America left town.
Leave the Boardwalk, and there are still depressed areas of the city – areas that no developer would think of touching. Dressing up is now no longer as important. Most people don’t stroll the Boardwalk, except to get from casino to casino. But at least the covered push chairs are still there.
So what, really, has changed in all these years? The time stamp on the video of life? Values? Nothing? Hmmmmm – something to think about… but I really miss the older architecture taking me back in time.
Guess I may have to start watching “Boardwalk Empire” to get an “old Atlantic City” fix. It’s come to that…. sad, very sad!