ATLANTIC CITY — It’s hard to remember that Atlantic City is as much urban as it is beach resort and casino mecca. Because our city is so small and everybody seems to know everybody on the Northside, it feels like a small town.
Maybe that’s why Stanley Holmes Village never seemed like the housing projects in big cities when I was little, like the infamous Cabrini-Green in Chicago or Redhook in New York. It actually felt like a traditional African village years ago, a communal environment where people shared whatever they had and looked out for one another’s children and property.
“The Village,” as it is fondly recalled by so many who grew up there, was the first public housing constructed in the state of New Jersey and one of the first “projects” in the United States. When so many tent cities sprang up during the Great Depression, the government decided that it had to do something to help relocate these families as the country began to recover.
Prior to the Depression, tenement housing, basically large apartment buildings with whole families housed in two or three rooms, was common for new immigrants to the cities of the U.S. Otherwise, people lived on farms and in small towns.
Under President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, which was designed to provide jobs as well as housing, low-income and working-class families were able to move into these housing developments, which were subsidized by local, state and federal government housing authorities. The Atlantic City Housing Authority (ACHA) began in 1938 under the jurisdiction of the United States Housing Authority, which had been formed in 1937.
Members of an earlier organization of community leaders and residents, called the Civic Committee for Better Housing, became its first appointees with Walter Buzby (hence, Buzby Village), as chairman. Funds were earmarked for Pitney Village, named after Jonathan Pitney — commonly referred to as Atlantic City’s “founder” — in October of 1938, but these homes were specified for poor Whites only.
When Pitney Village was demolished in 1998, a collection of photos, records and scrapbooks documenting ACHA history was found and handed over to the Atlantic City Free Public Library for preservation; hence, the history of the Village is well-documented.
The Village did not change much during its first decades of existence, but like much larger urban areas in other parts of the country, during the 1980s, Atlantic City felt the effects of the crack cocaine epidemic also: mass addictions with their accompanying dissolution of families, risky behaviors, increased crime, gun violence and deaths.
Public housing projects, with their insular nature, were often hot spots for this epidemic. This time period coincided with prosperous times for the casino industry and many people in our city wanted to see the Stanley Holmes Village demolished. So far, it has survived all opposition.
The mass media have noted these projects time and time again as places infested with drugs and violence. It’s strange how places can take on new or different names depending on who’s occupying them at any given time. The townhouses that are really part of the Marina District have become known as “Back Maryland” in recent years. When poor Jews, blacks and Latinos lived uptown, it was called just that, “Uptown.”
Sometimes we’d say “the Inlet”, but now I hear people referring more and more to the “Inlet District.”
Back in the 1950s when my parents were a young couple living in the Village, rarely was it called “Stanley Holmes Village” as the Press usually refers to it.
Then, it was a refuge for low-income families, the elderly and disabled veterans in need of decent and affordable housing. Many young couples got their starts there and were proud to do so. My mother recalls how maintenance delivered flower seeds to each household in the spring so that everyone could have a little garden by the time summer arrived. I remember being told not to step on those colorful gardens when we swung on the chain fences that surrounded each one.
Bell's Critical Race Theory, which suggests that the U.S. legal system, among other institutions in our country, is inherently biased against non-whites, made him a controversial figure in many circles.
Jacob Lawrence Day in Atlantic City