Atlantic City, The Mob and the Entertainment World
Atlantic City soon became a kind of “Hollywood East” where the cream of the entertainment world brazenly cavorted with others of their ilk.
A scrawny lad with big dreams from Hoboken named Frank Sinatra sang there in the Harry James Band, begging for his shot at stardom.
The world’s favorite playground was attracting performers of all types-everything from vaudeville to Hollywood. They entertained at the piers and graced the stages of the glamorous hotels like the Traymore, Haddon Hall and The Shelburne. Throughout the 1930s, Atlantic City’s glamorous skyline remained a symbol of architectural excess. For nostalgia buffs, that pre-casino skyline can still be seen today in a large mural on the front of Atlantic City’s International Airport Terminal building.
Notorious mobsters, like Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz and Al Capone showed more than their faces during this time of hot jazz and free-flowing gin. They ran the speakeasies and the back alley gambling dens so prevalent at the time. The nearby inlets and marshy river mouths provided the perfect venue for the smuggling of European whiskey. Atlantic City became neutral territory for warring mob factions and a safe haven for rest and relaxation between mob hits. This was so much the case that kingpin, Meyer Lansky, actually honeymooned here in the Presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton hotel! In May of 1929, mob big-shots gathered at the Ambassador Hotel for a three-day national convention. Leaders gathered in hopes of finding ways to settle their differences, coordinate racketeering activities and curb the violent activities of one of their own, Al Capone, whose cruelty was unnerving even them.
After World War II, Atlantic City’s shine began to tarnish due to access to air travel, population shifts, and an alteration in public tastes for more sophisticated entertainment. By the 1960s, travelers headed for Miami and Bermuda instead of the Jersey shore and Las Vegas had become the new entertainment capital of the nation. The city quietly deteriorated until 1976 and the passage of the Casino Gambling Referendum.
Atlantic City’s Decline and Rebirth
Atlantic City suffered a decline similar to other older east coast cities after World War II. It became known as “the inlet” and was plagued with poverty and crime into the mid and latter part of the last century. It became a hub for the poor and the elderly and by the late 1960s, many of the once great hotels were forced to either close or become converted into cheap apartments or nursing home facilities. During the advent of legalized gambling, many of these great hotels would be demolished, and eventually none would remain to attest to the legacy that was the golden age of Atlantic City.
The reasons for the downfall were manifold, involving the proliferation of automobiles, which offered tourists the option of shorter visits rather than relying on the rigid train schedules and staying for a few weeks. Also, modern amenities such as swimming pools and air conditioners diminished the need to rush to the beach for the relief of the oppressive summer heat. To add further salt into Atlantic City’s deteriorating wound, cheap fast jet service to other premier resorts smite the final blow. Miami Beach, and Nassau, Bahamas became the new favored vacation spots.