ATLANTIC CITY — I’ve been looking forward to the re-opening of the new Steel Pier like a little girl anticipating her birthday party, but these days, it’s more because I want my grandchildren to experience the thrill of the rides as I did so many years ago.
I’m also hoping that one day the new owners will decide to build a showroom again where some of my fondest teen memories — seeing the Supremes, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson with the Miracles — took place.
My brother still swears that Diana Ross was singing directly to him. That showroom had a way of bringing some of our country’s most disparate groups together during some very turbulent times.
The Steel Pier was always the most popular of Atlantic City’s piers. At one time, it extended almost 1,800 feet out over the Atlantic Ocean. Amusement rides, a movie theatre, a dance hall, a music hall, arcades, a circus area, a water show area (featuring the famous diving horses) and exhibit areas allowed the Steel Pier to boast itself as the “Showplace of the Nation” as far back as the 1920s.
Though the other Atlantic City piers — the Million Dollar Pier, Garden Pier, Steeplechase Pier and Central Pier — had similar rides and games, none of them ever reached the status of the Steel Pier. It sometimes drew more than a million customers in one season and was advertised as “A Vacation in Itself.”
George Jackson opened the Steel Pier in 1898, less than 50 years after Atlantic City’s incorporation. He was followed by owner Frank P. Gravatt, a showman who realized the public’s appetite for an eclectic mix of entertainment in one location at one price, 25 cents.
Gravatt was followed by George Hamid, who was good at spotting up-and-coming talents and future household inventions.
During the early 1970s, as the city and its amusements deteriorated, so did the piers. Then, in 1978, with the opening of the city's casinos, Resorts, the city's first casino, bought the Steel Pier and eventually Trump leased the property.
Instead of continuing to lease the property and its rides, the Catanoso family and partners now own the Steel Pier and plan to turn it into a major attraction with indoor amusements by 2015. A showroom, a nightclub and many more interesting attractions are planned for the multi-phase overhaul, a portion of which has been underway for the current summer season.
From the 1930s through the 1960s, Atlantic City's Northside residents attended huge Easter parades on Arctic Avenue, where singles and couples were crowned as the “Best Dressed” by Madame Sara Spencer Washington, the owner of Apex Hair.
Eventually, both young men fell in love with skateboarding and wanted to pass it on as a way of giving back to their community.
From Pop Lloyd to Pattie Harris to Nucky Johnson and the Northside, not to mention Nina Simone and Sam Cooke and other entertainers' connections to Atlantic City and region.
Though the night was filled with spoken-word talent of all genres, children and young adults also spoke passionately about being bullied and the challenges of growing up in a society that glorifies violence but complains about the proliferation of violence and guns in our neighborhoods.
Wash's hosts 'Rewind - Live Radio Show,' bringing back sounds of Motown with several local talented performers.
The Catanoso brothers were already seasoned amusement-park veterans when they reopened Atlantic City’s Steel Pier with 14 rides in 1993, a scant 22 days after signing a five-year lease that extended to the year the famous Pier turned 100.
Plus DrewToonz on the Air Show, Album of the Week, and Atlantic City's Farmers Market
For Catanoso, the interest of casinos in embracing the amusement pier is a hopeful sign. Operators of family attractions have long been battling it out alone.
Forty years ago this summer at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, the Allman Brothers Band shared a bill with another legendary performer — a four-footed one.
It is 1939, 10 years into the Great Depression. In Atlantic City money is tight but summertime on the Boardwalk is still a magical time with big bands on the Steel Pier, well dressed men and women strolling the boards, pitchmen selling their wares and teenagers looking to have a good time.
The City of Atlantic City, in partnership with the Steel Pier, will hold the resort’s annual Best Dressed Contest on the Steel Pier at Virginia Avenue and the Boardwalk, starting 2pm on Easter Sunday, April 4.
When it comes to Atlantic City, there’s no shortage of iconic images. From the Monopoly Board to salt water taffy to rolling chairs on the Boardwalk, A.C.’s mark is indelible.
Archive photos (circa 1900-1910) courtesy of Library of Congress; Modern (2007) photos by Tom Briglia Long before the casinos arrived, Atlantic City's Steel Pier was the place to see the greatest ent...
Never, a Hollywood agent supposedly once told his actor-client, play a scene with a kid or an animal. A seven-year-old flower girl threatened to steal the show from the bride. As a tot four years ea...
It was the middle of World War II and the radio show was called Night Trick, a network-feed broadcast on Atlantic City's WFPG (World's Famous Playground) from the Steel Pier. Announcer Ed Hurst, who ...
Legend has it that the good doctor was out with his favorite horse one night when a country bridge collapsed, sending them both into the river. Horse and rider escaped in fine fettle, and Dr. William Frank Carver, a buddy of Buffalo Bill's and perhaps the world's finest rifle shot, had hit upon a business bull's-eye. Daughter Lorena was his first rider, as Deadeye Doc launched his "diving horses" at state and county fairs across the country. He died, however, before the act came to Atlantic City and its prime venue. Steel Pier owner Frank Gravatt built a tower and tank for the high-flying steeds in 1928, and an attraction that would become synonymous with the seashore for five decades wowed audiences over the ocean. The marquee diver was Sonora Webster, a Georgia native who interviewed for the job in 1923 when Carver brought his show to Savannah. She later married the boss's son, and dove in the act for 14 years - 11 without the benefit of eyesight. Completing a dive in 1931, Sonora sustained detached retinas that, left untreated, led to virtual blindness. Disney's 1991 movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken depicts a spooked horse causing the accident, but the reality...
JIM CRAINE KNOWS ALL ABOUT the Steel Pier. As an usher there in his early teens, the Atlantic City native learned all about the entertainment mecca that once attracted musicians and music fans from all over the world during most of the last century. Craine worked at the "old" Steel Pier in several capacities between the ages of nine and 19. In fact, he pretty much grew up there. He worked the diving bell, the Marine Ballroom, was a clown and diver in the circus, and took care of the diving horses. He was also an usher at the pier's Music Hall. It's that job that made him want to become a musician. He watched and learned from the best of the best, getting coffee for Duke Ellington and hanging out with Buddy Rich and Count Basie on different occasions. Craine fell in love with the sounds of the big bands while working at the Steel Pier in the 1960s. Although it was a little past the prime of the big band era when Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers and Benny Goodman ruled, and Craine was only a kid, the big bands that were booked at Steel Pier ignited a...
LONGPORT RESIDENT, Princeton graduate, WWII veteran, owner of the Steel Pier and NJ State Fair, part owner of the Miami Dolphins, and son of an inspiring tumbler turned Showman of the Century, George Hamid Jr. has had quite a story to tell for a long time. In his new book, The Acrobat: A Showman's Topsy-Turvy World ... from Buffalo Bill to the Beatles, he lays some of it down. He sat down for an interview last week with AC Weekly. Among the fairs, the circuses, the piers, and the other businesses that your family has been a part of over the years, which one stands out the most? Always Steel Pier. But for its longevity, it's the Shriners' Circus. We started it in '31 and it still operates. We play as far west as Denver and as far south as South Carolina and as far north as Massachusetts. [The Hamid Circus] almost exclusively operates the Shriners' Circus 20 weeks a year. You once said that it was up to the talent to find hotel rooms for themselves back in the day when you were booking the Steel Pier. Things sure have changed, haven't they? Back when we were booking big stars -- Crosby...
There was a time in Atlantic City, before the casinos and pay-per-view boxing, when the crown jewel of the city's summer attractions was the Steel Pier. Tantamount to Coney Island in New York or any number of traveling carnivals that thrived throughout the country during the past century or so, the Steel Pier was synonymous with the sort of beachfront festival atmosphere that now defines summertime fun. Although rides and carnival games could be found on almost any boardwalk in any beach state, because Atlantic City attracted so many visitors from its surrounding metropolitan areas, that summer palette of carousels and cotton candy was coupled with performances by top headliners such as Guy Lombardo, Frank Sinatra, the Three Stooges and Bob Hope. When Atlantic City Boardwalk strollers were not being entertained by Ol' Blue Eyes or Moe, Larry and Shemp, the famous (or perhaps infamous) diving horse lead a cavalcade of big-top performers whose roots went back to the old Buffalo Bill Cody traveling circus of the 19th century. Human cannonballs, high divers, trapeze artists and daredevil motorcyclists would perform either on one of the pier's many stages or right there among the patrons. After almost 80 years of operation, the...
Before Michael Jackson’s death, the four brothers who performed with him as the Jackson 5 and later as the Jacksons — Jermaine, Marlon, Tito and Jackie — were working towards touring again. Three years after Michael’s death on June 25, 2009, his brothers finally stepped on stage together with their Unity Tour, which opened June 20 in Canada.
Sedaka and the Globetrotters