The Queen of the Coast. The World’s Playground. The Casino Capital of the East. They can only describe Atlantic City, New Jersey. Beloved, maligned, always-hustling since its 1854 founding, the seaside resort has seen it all: first class hotels, popular amusements on the world famous Boardwalk and its piers, Prohibition, gangsters, speakeasies, conventioneers, celebrities, urban pride, urban decay, a casino revival, a casino collapse—and it hasn’t given up yet.
Boardwalk Playground shares a hundred stories of Atlantic City’s high spots and low points of the past century and a half, with an emphasis on the hospitality business that evolved into casino gaming—and is evolving again. With sections on the city’s history, its classic hospitality, personalities, community institutions, and casino resorts, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what gives Atlantic City its unexpected allure.
Begun as a monthly series in Casino Connection magazine, the stories in this book chart the rises and falls of Atlantic City through the years, featuring visionaries like Dr. Jonathan Pitney, who first imagined a seaside health resort on Absecon Island; political boss Nucky Johnson, who ran a wide-open town during Prohibition and reaped the benefits; Captain John Young, who built an amusement empire; Mayor Charles White, who called for the legalization of casino gambling in 1936; 500 Club owner Skinny D’Amato, who gave Frank Sinatra an Atlantic City home and first paired Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; the Hamid family, who kept the “showplace of the nation” going strong; Governor Brendan Byrne, who called for the legalization of casinos to revive the city; and many others.
The classic hotels of Atlantic City are no more, but in these pages the Traymore, Ambassador, Shelburne, Marlborough-Blenheim, and Brighton live again. Some hotels are still operating, but often under different names; this book shares the stories behind the buildings that are now Resorts, the Claridge, and Bally’s Atlantic City.
Much of the fun in Atlantic City happened on the amusement and entertainment piers that extended into the ocean. Steel Pier, Million Dollar Pier, Steeplechase Pier, and Central Pier each have fascinating stories to tell, and each is featured in Boardwalk Playground.
Atlantic City always had a lot of little oddities that gave it a unique flavor. Salt water taffy. Rolling chairs on the Boardwalk. Miss America. Jitneys. In Boardwalk Playground, you will learn the story behind each of those, as well as local institutions like the Atlantic City Beach Patrol, Atlantic City High School, the Atlantic City Free Public Library, and the venerable lighthouse.
Today, of course, Atlantic City is known for its casinos. Boardwalk Playground charts how each of the city’s fifteen casinos came to be (and, in seven cases, ceased to be). There are the current resorts like the Trump Taj Mahal, Borgata, Harrah’s, and Tropicana, but also names that have vanished, like the Playboy, Sands, Hilton, and Trump Plaza. The venerable Resorts, which started Atlantic City’s casino revival in 1978, and Revel, which shuddered to an end less than two years after its 2012 opening, bookend the casino stories, which are followed by chapters making sense of the recent casino decline and offering hope for the city’s future.
The hundred stories of Boardwalk Playground show Atlantic City from its awakening as a tourist destination in the 1860s to its lowest point a century later, its gambling-fueled rebirth to its current crossroads. It provides a personal, thoughtful view into a city that continues to fascinate the world.