ATLANTIC CITY — There’s hot, and then there’s wearing-a-black-pinstripe-suit-in-the-blazing-sun hot. But for Rich Francesco, 37, who portrays the “real” Enoch L. “Nucky” Johnson on an Atlantic City bus tour, there was no missing Monday morning’s debut of the “Boardwalk Empire” facade.
Francesco and cohorts Shelly Damiano and Carla Myers, each of them dressed in their Roaring ’20s finest, were among several hundred people in attendance as longtime area radio host Pinky Kravitz formally unveiled the Boardwalk Empire facade.
The 180-foot long display is in front of the West Hall of Boardwalk Hall, near the intersection of the Boardwalk and Florida Avenue. It is a re-creation of some of the sets for the HBO television series, which is itself a translation of Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson’s history of Atlantic City.
The show has led to a local cottage industry as businesses and individuals seek to cash in on the series, which returns to television with new episodes next month.
This display is the brainchild of Kravitz, who also is a columnist for The Press of Atlantic City. “It is just an unbelievable feat that we have here accomplished,” he said Monday.
Before the 10 a.m. grand unveiling, the display was sheathed in a white covering with towering capital letters that spelled out “Boardwalk Empire.”
Part of the point of the facade is to hide the industrial front of the West Hall addition to Boardwalk Hall. City officials don’t know what to do with the long expanse of yellow brick and debris, exposed to the elements and tens of millions of visitors since the former Trump World’s Fair casino was demolished in 2000.
A colorful printed mural by Peter Max hung in front of the 1970 structure for about five years before it faded and was finally dismantled by a January 2008 winter storm.
This new coverup comes from Interstate Outdoor Advertising, which created the images from designs from the show provided to them by Kravitz. The company said the frames that hold up the facades are similar to their billboards.
The storefronts are re-creations of the Ritz-Carlton, Steel Pier and a store that put premature infants on display, among other actual places. It is unclear how long they will remain on display.
Speakers on Monday said that the Atlantic City Special Improvement District would have an employee stationed nearby to keep the facade safe. And Kravitz said that special anti-graffiti paint was being tested on the facade.
After the unveiling, Carol Boyce Heinisch, 69, stood near the infant store. She was once an infant on display, living in a store incubator through the summer of 1942, she said. She was grateful today for the care she received then.
On Monday, she posed for photos with people who wanted to have their pictures taken with one of the real premature infants.
“We weren’t freaks,” Boyce Heinisch said. “We were babies. We were just little.”
Visitors also clustered around the costumed Francesco, Damiano and Myers.
“We tell the true story of Nucky Johnson,” Damiano said of the Atlantic City bus tours.
“‘Boardwalk Empire’ doesn’t do Nucky Johnson justice,” Myers added later.
Unlike Steve Buscemi, who portrays the show’s “Nucky Thompson” as a sickly looking violent criminal, the broad-shouldered Francesco resembles the real “Nucky” Johnson.
Tom Verba, of Vineland, was one of the people who attended the facade unveiling. Verba, 65, said he and his wife are extras who have attended several Boardwalk Empire casting calls but have never gotten a role.
“I like the show Boardwalk Empire and think that its great Pinky got this done.”
Within a half-hour of the unveiling, the crowd had scattered, leaving city employees to stack the chairs and clean up the Boardwalk.
One of the people stacking chairs, Shaheed Salaam, 46, said he enjoyed the show.
“I didn’t realize so many political things were going on behind the scenes,” he said. “I think it put Atlantic City on the map a little bit.”
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