Locations > Atlantic City
In the early 1900's, Atlantic City was the premiere summer vacation spot for the residents of nearby Philadelphia, New York City and the other burgeoning metropolises of the 20th century United States. Since there was no air conditioning, people would come to the sea side resort to escape the heat.
It was also a major playground for gangsters and mobsters from all over the country, and was even the host of the 1929 Atlantic City Conference, the first major crime summit in the history of the American mafia.
Atlantic City experienced a dramatic rise and fall during the period of Prohibition and beyond, powered by the blatant lack of enforcement of Prohibition in the city. The political bosses that ran Atlantic City understood that the vices were the base of their tourism and they were necessary to maintain the economy and the popularity of Atlantic City.
These political bosses of Atlantic City were unique in that they were corrupt politicians that affiliated with gangsters and widely accepted that vices were tied to the survival of the city. They were not gangsters in the sense of the Mafia. However, while Johnson was not a gangster in the sense he killed anyone or even had them murdered, he did at the very least allow a massive bootlegging operation to occur within the city limits.
Atlantic City did not develop naturally like normal cities along the East Coast. In the mid 19th century the Pennsylvania Railroad Company tried to build a resort city on Absecon Island off the coast of New Jersey. The hope was that the city could be a weekend retreat for nearby residents of Philadelphia and a railway line was connected between Abescon Island and the mainland to help easily transport people from the city.
Atlantic City would have been nothing without the vision and entrepreneurial spirit of Louis Kuehnle, the creator and boss of the local Republican political machine. He was responsible for building utility companies that constructed wells, waterlines and generally built the infrastructure of the city so that it could grow into a major East Coast metropolitan metropolis.
When he was indicted for corruption related charges, the mantle of leadership passed to his chosen successor, Enoch Johnson. Kuehnle tried to return to Atlantic City and reassert his power but his time was over. Johnson gave Kuehnle a spot within the city government as City Commissioner where he sat, respected until his death.
Enoch Johnson was the boss of Atlantic City for over thirty years between 1913 and the early 1940's. Running the city through its height during Prohibition, Thompson was the quintessential boss that Kuehnle was not and often partied and was even responsible in having a leadership role within the National Crime Syndicate.
Johnson was responsible for building the Steel Pier and the Convention Center, first of a kind structures in their day and really put Atlantic City on the map during the Roaring 20's, a turbulent and storied period of American history.
When Enoch Johnson was convicted and imprisoned based on tax evasion charges power within the Republican political machine passed onto Frank Farley. Farley would go on to control Atlantic City through its slow decline from the 1940's to the 1970's when the advent of air travel meant that Atlantic City was no longer the premiere vacation spot for people wanted to party and celebrate.
The only physical evidence of Atlantic City's Golden Age is the Convention Center. At the time it was a state of the art auditorium complex and was the site of the 1933 Miss America Beauty Pageant. Held there annual until 2005 when it was switched to Las Vegas, this became one of the most popular pageants in the world.
The Convention Center was also host to many of the American culture events of the time such as the Easter Parade.More than half a century after its completion by architects Lockwood and Greene, the Hall continues to serve its original use as a convention center. It is also of interest for its size and engineering. In 1929, it was the world's largest convention facility, and its ballroom was larger than New York's famed Radio City Music Hall. It was the largest building in the world without roof posts and pillars. As engineering, the Atlantic City Convention Hall occupies a significant place in the history of large-span structures. Indeed, when it was built, it contained the largest room with an unobstructed view in the history of architecture. That feat was accomplished by the use of an architectural form developed for railroad train sheds, the three-hinged arched truss. The form had already been used for a similar exhibition purpose, in the Hall of Machinery of the Paris Exhibition of 1888, but it had not been used in a public auditorium. The engineering triumph of building so vast a hall on the seashore site resulted, on its 50th anniversary, in its being the recipient of the Civil Engineering Landmark designation of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Atlantic City Convention Hall is also highly regarded by connoisseurs of American pipe organs, for it features what is, arguably, the largest organ in the world, with 33,000 pipes, arranged in chambers built into the walls of the Great Hall. Built in 1933, the organ is still the largest in the world. The organ's first performance was at the 1933 Miss America Pageant. In 1987 the Convention Hall was listed as a National Historic Landmark.