Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Steel Pier
Of all the piers in the amazing history of Atlantic City the Steel Pier stands out above the rest. The pier opened for business in 1898 with an appearance by famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley. It was located opposite Virginia Avenue and the bathhouses owned by George W. Jackson, the president of the newly formed Atlantic City Steel Pier Company. In an effort to engineer a stable structure ( these piers had a way of getting blown away by nasty storms ) massive iron pilings were driven into the sand, and a steel skeleton extended 1,600 feet from the Boardwalk, its sturdy frame topped with a hardy wooden deck.
Next came the beautiful buildings that lined the pier, dazzling both tourists and permanent residents alike. The stylish Casino Building, with its two stately towers, served as the entrance to the pier. To squeeze the most space out of the available square footage, it was built as a double-decker. The first level was a large esplanade, perfect for people watching and catching a refreshing sea breeze. The floor above served as the Casino Theatre, host to many great bands of the day.
Next built was the almost 12,000-square-foot dance pavilion, behind which was a monstrous aquarium where people gathered to watch the sea lions, yup, sea lions. In Atlantic City nothing succeeded like excess, and the icing on the cake was the almost 3,500 electric lights outlining the structures. The Steel Pier was a wondrous site to behold, and it drew people to it like moths to a candle.
Another innovation was that instead of using the traditional "pay as you play" model, the owners of the new pier created a marketing plan that permitted entrance to the pier and all it had to offer for one flat price, a dime :) The public loved it.
From opening day the Steel Pier was a smash hit, providing band music, dances, and water shows, and even introducing the latest dance craze., the cakewalk, to the country. No trip to the America's Playground was complete without a visit. During the first half of the twentieth century, everybody who was anybody, or wanted to be somebody, appeared here, at the "Showplace of the Nation." Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Jackie Gleason, Benny Goodman, Bob Hope, Amos 'n' Andy, and even the Three Stooges played the pier. In the 1960s such acts as the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys followed a generation of stars to the Steel Pier.
Two of the pier's memory makers were the Diving Bell, in which up to fifteen riders took a trip below the waves, and of course, the High Diving Horse, an act in which a rider and horse jumped from an elevated platform 45 feet into an 11-foot-deep tank.
More to come in other posts on this wonderful pier.
I hope you agree that this is a much better format for the stories and pictures I am sharing with you.