Now baby everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City
— Atlantic City, by Bruce Springsteen
House near Revel, currently empty casino — © Brian Rose
1963: Pauline Hill becomes executive director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority and Urban Redevelopment Agency. Under her leadership, about 80 acres of South Inlet land were razed to make way for casinos and high-rises. The project displaced more than 1,500 residents, and development never came. The still-empty tract is known as Pauline’s Prairie.
It was poor before casinos, poor when it had them, and it’s even poorer now that five of them have been shut down. Most of the people you see in the South Inlet are people of color. Most of the businesses are run by ethnic minorities. The Alpha & Omega grocery is owned by Greeks and staffed by Oaxaqueños. Around the corner, the marquee of the Baba Jones Food Market announces you can buy baby food with your EBT card. There’s also Mike Hauke’s pizzeria Tony Boloney’s, which sells tikka masala slices to intrepid hipsters, construction workers and the few remaining neighbors. In 2015 in a New Yorker article, Hauke described his patrons as a mix of “shitbags, crackheads, hustlers, and pimps.” These were happier times. Today even the shitbags seem few and far between.
— Route 40
Atlantic Avenue — © Brian Rose
Historic black church (Price Memorial AME Zion Church) on Atlantic Avenue with abandoned fire station.
During the early years, Blacks were integrated throughout the city. However, as their numbers increased they were forced out of White neighborhoods and into a ghetto known as the “Northside,” an area that was literally the other side of the railroad tracks that ran through that section of town.
The Northside became a city within a city. As Blacks encountered racial prejudice, they reached inward to construct a social and institutional life of their own. While White racism had created the physical ghetto, it was civic-minded upper- and middle-class Blacks who led their community to create an institutional ghetto in order to provide services that the White community had denied Blacks. The first major institution established by Blacks in Atlantic City was the church.
— Nelson Johnson (from his book The Northside)
In the 1980s and ’90s, the casinos with which Trump was associated comprised between a third and a quarter of AC’s gaming industry. The Playboy Hotel and Casino, which was founded in ’81, became the Atlantis in ’84, and went bankrupt in ’85, was acquired by Trump in ’89 and renamed The Trump Regency; he renamed it again as Trump’s World’s Fair in ’96, and it was closed in ’99 and demolished in 2000. Trump Castle, built in cooperation with Hilton in ’85, was rebranded as Trump Marina in ’97, sold at a loss to Landry’s Inc. in 2011, and is now operated by Landry’s as the Golden Nugget. Trump Plaza, built in cooperation with Harrah’s in ’84, went bankrupt and shuttered in 2014 and now just rots.
Back in Atlantic City for more pictures, Joshua Cohen writes in n+1 Magazine (http://tiny.cc/9oriiy):
I FOUND MYSELF — America finds itself now — at the very end of the Boardwalk. The very end of this immigrant’s midway lined with cheap thrills and junk concessions, pulsating with tawdry neon and clamoring moronically. The end of this corny, schmaltzy Trumpian thoroughfare that entertains us with its patter and enthralls us with its lies.
Down at the Boardwalk’s terminus, by Oriental Avenue, by night, the seagulls keep flying into the Revel and dying. Or they flap and limp around a bit before dying. You never see or hear the impact, you just get what happens after. Immense white gulls, flapping, limping, expiring. They fly into the Revel’s giant vacant tower of panes and break their necks, because without any lights on, the glass is indistinguishable from the sky.
Trump Plaza and the three other casinos he once owned are now shuttered, but his presence hovers over everything here in Atlantic City. To such an extent, that one group wants to build a Trump museum.
As an example of the possible impact of a museum, Fox pointed to Sevnica, Slovenia, the birthplace of first-lady-to-be Melania Trump. Since the election, people have been flocking to the town to get a glimpse of where she grew up.
“This is something that could drive people to the city,” Fox said. “You look at what is happening in Melania’s hometown, and why couldn’t that happen here?”
— Press of Atlantic City
“The legacy of Trump is an asset to the city. I would not be opposed to turning this project into a research facility and allow people to access them,” Blaskiewicz said. “His story in Atlantic City could tell us what he is going to do in the future.”
— Press of Atlantic City
We are back in Atlantic City on a relatively balmy Friday in January, The Trump Taj Mahal may be closed, but a carved elephant still points the way to the “8th wonder of the world.”
Kirkorov’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for the Republican candidate goes back 22 years, when Kirkorov performed at Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City.
Trump dubbed him “the Michael Jackson of Russia,” and the bro-mance has been going strong ever since.
“I hope that when the Donald becomes the president, our relationship will be much, much closer, and all American people finally understand — understood? Understand? — that Russia is a great country, Russian people is a great people.”
– CBS News
Atlantic City — © Brian Rose
I walked out on the beach opposite Ceasar’s and Playground Pier (originally the Million Dollar Pier), and took several pictures of the huge wall of signs attached to the troubled mall. A new investor recently bought the highly leveraged pier for $2.5 million and hopes to attract a younger crowd of shoppers.
At my feet in the sand I picked up a cigarette carton with Russian lettering on it. I thought reflexively, “The Russians are coming! But the Russians are already here.
Russian pop diva and Eurovision stalwart Philipp Kirkorov has revealed that he is a supporter of Donald Trump. In an interview with BBC News, the “You Are the Only One” songwriter spoke of his long friendship with the American presidential candidate, and his hope for closer relations between Russia and the United States.
Kirkorov, who represented Russia at Eurovision in 1995, first met Trump in 1994 when Kirkorov and his now ex-wife and Russia’s 1997 Eurovision singer Alla Pugacheva performed at the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.
The pier extends well into the surf, and on this damp and gloomy day, the waves crashed and swelled around the supporting columns.
Benjamin Strauss, a sea level expert at Climate Central, an organization of scientists, says that people in Atlantic City are uniquely vulnerable to rising seas because they inhabit a barrier island with extremely low and flat terrain.
In January of 2016, after a winter storm flooded parts of the Jersey coastline, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, then a candidate for president, sarcastically asked whether he should “pick up a mop” to help with flooding—a remark that was criticized by environmentalists for being out of touch with the gravity of the situation. Christie accepts that human activity contributes to climate change, but contends that the issue “is not a crisis.”
(Republican mayor) Guardian said: “If we go bankrupt, it’s because the governor will drive us into bankruptcy. It will not be an Atlantic City bankruptcy, it will be a (Republican governor) Christie bankruptcy.” — Philly.com
I’ll tell you, it’s big business. If there is one word to describe Atlantic City, it’s big business. Or two words – big business.
— Donald J. Trump
During Prohibition, Atlantic City created the idea of the speakeasy, which turned into nightclubs and that extraordinary political complexity and corruption coming out of New Jersey at the time. The long hand that they had-and maybe still do-even had to do with presidential elections.
— Martin Scorsese
Trump Plaza — © Brian Rose
Trump’s wall in Atlantic City.
(Reuben) Kramer shows us the shuttered Trump Plaza, which will likely be torn down. It is one of four casinos that closed in 2014, representing a third of Atlantic City’s gaming halls. Trump’s name has been removed from the Trump Plaza facade. Only the gaudy golden crest, a color reminiscent of Trump’s famous hair, remains.
Matt Katz, from the blog Katz on Christie
I made my second trip to Atlantic City. It was a grey, damp, December day — chilly, but not too bad. The project is beginning to take shape. I will focus, to start, on the Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza, two recently bankrupted casinos that have sent this already depressed city reeling, and then gradually expand out from the Boardwalk. Is Atlantic City a metaphor for what is happening to the country as a whole? Way back in 1981, Louis Malle said that his film “Atlantic City could be a metaphor for things going wrong all over America.” And recently the New Republic opined that “The closure of Trump Taj Mahal casino is a giant metaphor for Trump’s America.” So, I think we are on solid, if not original, footing here.
Driving down on the Garden State Parkway I pulled into a rest stop for coffee, and as I was leaving I noticed Governor Chris Christie’s beaming face lurking behind a couple of coin operated games. Politico called Christie and Trump “the twin villains of Atlantic city,” and I am in constant amazement that these two buffoons have come to exercise such power. Fortunately, it appears that Christie’s path to national acclaim has fallen victim to a traffic jam in Fort Lee, an act of political vengeance stunning for its clownish and petty nature. Ah well.
“Trump and Christie have one thing in common regarding Atlantic City,” says Frank Becktel, a jitney driver and an Atlantic City loyalist suffering along with the rest of the town in its hour of
need. “They both knew how to squeeze a buck out of us and leave us for dead.”
In 1984 Donald Trump opened the Trump Plaza, at the time the largest casino in Atlantic City. The project was done in a partnership with Harrah’s, an experienced casino operator, and involved a great deal of debt, which Trump was forced to refinance several times.
“Early on, I took a lot of money out of the casinos with the financings and the things we do,” he said in a recent interview. “Atlantic City was a very good cash cow for me for a long time.”
When Trump Plaza closed two years ago, over a thousand people were laid off. The buildings languished, and the embarrassment of having the Trump name in bold red letters all over exteriors prompted a lawsuit. “Last year, he sued to force the shuttered Trump Plaza to remove every reference to his name, a final pronouncement on his view of Atlantic City. The letters were removed, some carted off in a contractor’s pickup truck.”
Just in front of the Trump Plaza is a tribute to the Miss America pageant, which began in Atlantic City in 1921, and has been held, frequently, in the nearby Convention Center, now called Boardwalk Hall. Donald Trump never got his hands on Miss America, literally or figuratively — he was the owner of the Miss Universe and USA pageants for over a decade. Miss America would have been far too cerebral. When he took over Miss Universe pageant Trump said, “They had a person that was extremely proud that a number of the women had become doctors, and I wasn’t interested.”
When people show you who they are, believe them. Donald Trump made a bad gamble in my community, devastating thousands of American citizens. In his own mind, of course, he was a success. In May, Trump told the New York Times about his 25 years in Atlantic City: “The money I took out of there was incredible.”
It’s the only thing he has to say of my now-destroyed home town. He came, he took and he left. And I hate to break it to you, America — he’s not coming back for us.
— Arielle Brousse in the Washington Post
Valerie McMorris writes in “I Was A Trump Taj Mahal Cocktail Waitress:”
Now, 26 years later, I look back and reflect on my personal journey and Trump’s promise of greatness. I see now that the opulence and glamour were all just bait. His rhetoric was supported by majestic surroundings, but they were financed through junk bonds. The profits that Donald Trump enjoyed were not reinvested in the building or the employees. They were shipped back up to the shore to Wall Street. That casino money flowed right out of Atlantic City and into the coffers of the billionaire hedge fund owners.
Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose
It was Monday around noon, almost 60 degrees at the end of November, and a scattering of people strolled the boardwalk. As I stepped down to the beach across from the Trump Taj Mahal I encountered a half dozen stray cats lounging about as if they owned the place. And in a sense they did. The Boardwalk Cats Project feeds and tends the 150 or so spayed and neutered cats. Atlantic City may be bankrupt along with many of its casinos, but the cats are doing fine.
A wall with a discreet no trespassing sign blocks passage to a stairway into the now abandoned Trump realm.
On the north end of the Boardwalk just beyond the abandoned Trump Taj Mahal, Governor Chris Christie’s tax payer supported mega project.
Two years later, the Revel is shuttered — wiping out thousands of jobs amid an economic implosion of the gambling industry here. Rather than serve as a shining example of Christie’s economic stewardship, Revel now stands as a 57-story example of failure in a city that has bedeviled New Jersey governors for decades.
There is a party, everyone is there.
Everyone will leave at exactly the same time.
Its hard to imagine that nothing at all
Could be so exciting, and so much fun.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
— Talking Heads
The bankrupt Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Closed in October 2016. The beginning of a new series of photographs.
The closure of the sprawling Boardwalk casino, with its soaring domes, minarets and towers built to mimic the famed Indian historic site, cost nearly 3,000 workers their jobs, bringing the total jobs lost by Atlantic City casino closings to 11,000 since 2014. Atlantic City now has seven casinos.
Although I tend to keep politics in the background on this blog, there are times when the background and the foreground collapse into one another and it becomes impossible to separate them. So, I’d like to address the question of the appropriateness of the cast of Hamilton confronting the Vice President elect — who was attending the show — with a statement expressing their concerns about the incoming Trump administration.
Let me share a story from 1967 when I was 13 years old.
President Lyndon Johnson was in Williamsburg, Virginia to address a group of Washington journalists of the Gridiron Club. It was a roast much like the White House Correspondents Dinner, and there were the usual rhetorical jabs directed at the President amid the clubby conviviality between the press and the powers-at-be. I performed at the event as a member of the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps, and I remember vividly how the jokey bonhomie that evening clashed with the reality outside of constant protests against a never-ending war, and Walter Cronkite intoning the latest daily casualty figures on the evening news.
The next morning Johnson attended the Bruton Parish Church, an Episcopalian church presided over by the Reverend Cotesworth Pinkney Lewis, an eloquent, sometimes melodramatic, speaker
originally from Birmingham, Alabama. I was there with my parents as Lewis mounted the pulpit high above the congregation and directed his sermon at the President of the United States sitting just below. His remarks were respectful in tone, but the message was blunt: “there is a rather general consensus that what we are doing in Vietnam is wrong.” Lewis asked why the war continued to drag on and why there did not seem to be a concerted effort to end it.
Johnson, of course, was a captive audience to Lewis’s criticism, ambushed, some said in a house of worship, and Reverend Lewis came under fierce criticism in the national media. The governor of Virginia and the local vestry felt the need to apologize for his breech of protocol. But as far as I know, Lewis never apologized. A year later Johnson announced that he would not run for a second term. James Jones, President Johnson’s chief of staff wrote years later in the Times: “Mr. Johnson had begun to doubt our ability to prosecute the war to any clear-cut victory.” Precisely the criticism made by Reverend Lewis at Bruton Parish.
As a young teenager I considered Lewis something of a pompous ass, in love with hearing himself speak from on high, delivering well-tuned platitudes that soothed the earnest complacency of those filling the pews below. But Lewis broke from his habitual cautiousness that day, his conscience aroused, he seized what he knew was a once in a lifetime moment, and challenged the President of the United States on the prosecution of the war in Vietnam. Lewis’s church was not a safe space that day.
So, when I see the cast of Hamilton stand up and respectfully challenge Mike Pence in the sanctuary of a Broadway theater, I think back to that day in Virginia in 1967. Sometimes it is necessary to disturb the normally observed conventions, to break the fourth wall when the opportunity presents itself, and confront those whose words and actions promote intolerance and threaten our principles and our rights. May there be no safe spaces over the next four years for Mike Pence or Donald Trump.
Reverend Lewis closed his 1967 sermon to Lyndon Johnson with these words:
“The years ahead will be painful. Customs which seem an essential part of life may have to be given up. Opinions we have held tenaciously may be proven false. Physical and emotional landmarks may be swept aside. We may be compelled to think new thoughts and walk in new paths. Emerging young men and women who will gradually take over must have more understanding than we have had. Necessity will compel them to rise to greater heights than we have known. The future looks terrible; but with guidance from God (as in every strategic juncture of history) He will infuse the essential factor into the equation – something we could never suspect as a possibility – to make the future glorious.”