The Changing Face of Atlantic City

by Staff

Atlantic City is a popular place for a vacation with tourists from across the United States, as it has been for much of the last 200 years. AC became a resort in the mid-19th century and turned into the go-to place for many New Jerseyites and Americans from across the east coast. 

In these early days, the Camden and Atlantic Railroad would bring in visitors from across the state to enjoy some time away from the tough working conditions of the time. 

Much has changed since the early days of Atlantic City; the needs and wants of its visitors have evolved, as has the technology and the legal environment. These changes have completely transformed AC on more than one occasion, eventually creating the city we know today. 

The Boardwalk

The Atlantic City CRDA describes the AC Boardwalk as “the backbone of (the) seaside resort city”. It stretches from the Absecon Inlet in the north all the way to Ventnor City, flanking the beach on one side and the casinos and other attractions on the other. 

When it was first built in 1870, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk was the first in the United States and inspired the construction of many others around the country in the years that followed. Back then, the structure was temporary, with workers building it for the tourist season and then removing it again for the winter months.

Over the years, main hotels, casinos, piers, theme parks, souvenir shops, bars, restaurants, and more have sprung up along it. The Boardwalk has been damaged by fire, hurricanes, and other events over the years, but each time it has bounced back stronger than before. 

Photo by Chermel Porter.

The Hotels

The first major change that took place in Atlantic City was the creation of the large hotels in the early 20th century, with famous names like the Ritz Carlton, Mayflower, and Ambassador all springing up to accommodate the huge crowds of vacationers looking to spend some time beside the seaside.  

The invention of saltwater taffy a few decades earlier was another big draw as it was (and remains) a local delicacy, with people flocking from all over to try it. 

The Nightclubs

During the 1920s, the restaurants and bars in Atlantic City helped it to become a popular destination for people looking for a fun night out, earning it the nickname of “The World’s Playground”. Due to the laws of the time, much of the entertainment available in AC couldn’t be found elsewhere, securing it a constant stream of visitors.  

Between the 1930s and 1960s, Atlantic City reinvented itself again, becoming best known for its nightclubs, with venues like the Jockey Club, Wonder Gardens, Club Harlem, Paradise Club, and the Clicquot Club being popular among visitors. 

The Casinos

Towards the middle of the century, the popularity of nightclubs and domestic beach resorts declined sharply. Rail travel, which Atlantic City had been dependent on, was falling rapidly as people bought their own cars. 

Officials needed a way to give the city an economic boost, and to do this, they looked to the west. They say that Las Vegas had made Nevada a popular tourist destination and set about creating a gaming destination on the east coast.  

In 1976, New Jerseyites voted yes in a referendum on allowing casinos to operate in the city, with work to convert some old hotels into gaming halls beginning almost immediately. In the years that followed, the city began to build giant integrated resorts that can be seen in other major gaming cities, including Las Vegas, Singapore, and Macau.

The 21st century has seen more changes to Atlantic City and the state of NJ as a whole. Officials began to see the success of iGaming in countries like the UK, where online casinos have bloomed and decided to replicate it. Today, these online casinos thrive by offering modern takes on classic games, such as casino races and live dealer games that take advantage of the technological advancements of the last few years. 

The Future

Atlantic City has shown itself to be a versatile resort that can continually adapt to the changing wants and needs of its visitors. In a recent report from the CRDA and the Chamber of Commerce of South Jersey, several recommendations were made for improving the city for its residents and tourists. 

This includes major infrastructure works to make the city more appealing and a complete refurbishment of the boardwalk. These will help to keep AC as the tourist hotspot it has always been.

Photo by Library of Congress.

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The New Jersey Digest is a new jersey magazine that has chronicled daily life in the Garden State for over 10 years.

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