Big Plans for Garden Pier

The Atlantic City Free Public Library now manages the A.C. Historical Museum inside the newly 
renovated Garden Pier, and has a lot of interesting enticements in store for visitors.

By Ray Schweibert
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 1, 2012

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In late August, following a $2.5 million overhaul of the historic city-owned Garden Pier, came the announcement that one of the city’s services, the Atlantic City Free Public Library (ACFPL), would be operating the pier’s adjoining Atlantic City Historical Museum. 

The pier has served as longtime home to both the museum and the Atlantic City Art Center, and is located across from Revel on the northern end of the Boardwalk at New Jersey Avenue.

Shortly after that announcement, the library released a statement that it had plenty in the works for the Historical Museum, including the incorporation of select items from its distinguished Alfred M. Heston Collection, introducing new displays and exhibits, eventually providing free wi-fi access and more public seating in and around the pier, and is considering partnerships with outside organizations for displays of other collections at the museum as well. 

The Heston Collection is named for Alfred M. Heston (1854-1937), a former Atlantic City dignitary, historian, and one of the founders of the ACFPL. The bulk of the Heston Collection is housed at the library’s main branch in downtown Atlantic City (1 North Tennessee Ave.), and includes numerous published and unpublished works, photographs, postcards and other memorabilia of Atlantic City’s storied history, and an extensive array of resources on A.C.’s history available to the public.

“The response the museum has received since we assumed management has been wonderful,” says Don Latham, public information officer for the ACFPL. “We are getting about a thousand people a week, which is great considering we didn’t open until the end of summer. The local residents who have visited are happy that the museum has re-opened. We’re also seeing a large number of tourists from different states and countries on a regular basis as well.”

Latham says the ACFPL is looking to create more space to accommodate an expansion of the Heston Collection at its main branch, but in the meantime the transfer of some of the collection’s components to the Garden Pier’s Historical Museum has broadened the collection’s exposure to more visitors and enlightened a greater number of area residents to what the collection entails.

“We have been able to make items from the library’s Heston Collection of Atlantic City history more accessible to the public by showcasing them at the museum,” says Latham. “We used images from Heston to add two new exhibits to the museum – “The Atlantic City Experience: 1920’s” and “The Magic of Kentucky Avenue.” The ‘20s exhibit includes shots of Nucky Johnson, and the “Kentucky Avenue” exhibit highlights some of the businesses, including the legendary Club Harlem and the entertainers who performed there. Our plan is to frequently add new exhibits but also to refresh the existing ones.”

Back in February, a construction project made possible through joint financial contributions stabilized the Garden Pier’s substructure, removed an unsound section of its furthermost ocean side (and thereby maximized ocean views for visitors), and enhanced visually and aesthetically the entire interior and exterior. The project included new facades for the Historical Museum and Art Center, established new lighting and landscaping, and added new decking and fencing around the entire property. Much of the concrete debris from demolition was hauled out to sea and used to bolster the Great Egg Reef eight miles offshore.

The $2.5 million renovation included about $750,000 (plus the purchase of the wood-decking materials) from the city, $1.5 million from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and $300,000 from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

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