George Hamid Jr., a longtime owner of Atlantic City’s iconic Steel Pier, has died at age 94.
Hamid died about 10 a.m. Saturday at Shore Medical Center, said his son, George Hamid III. He had lived in recent years at Meadowview Nursing Home in Northfield.
In addition to owning Steel Pier with his father, Hamid Jr. operated a circus, ran the New Jersey State Fair and was part owner of the Miami Dolphins football team during the early ’60s.
“He was really a monumental person,” said Jim Craine, a local entertainer and owner of the Pleasantville Music Shoppe who worked at the pier for nearly a decade in the 1960s and ’70s.
Hamid Jr. graduated from Princeton University in 1940 and studied at the Wharton School of Business before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he came home and entered into his father George A. Hamid’s entertainment business.
In 1945, the family purchased the pier from real estate developer Frank Gravatt, for whom the elder Hamid had worked for many years. After the elder Hamid died in 1971, the pier was sold in 1973 to a group of Atlantic City investors, but Hamid Jr. remained active in the family’s other operations.
The pair were known for attracting big-name acts during the pier’s heyday.
Hamid III said one of his father’s proudest accomplishments was bringing The Beatles to Boardwalk Hall in 1964, just as the British band was riding a wave of popularity. Craine, 58, of Smithville, said he had “a knack for knowing what the masses wanted to see.”
“Then they booked ‘A Hard Days Night’ at the pier,” Craine said. “I was an usher at the pier and we had to tell the girls to shut up. All they did was keep screaming.”
Craine said both father and son were meticulous dressers who “looked the part of entertainment.”
“George liked to wear Panama suits, these white suits, and he always had a tan,” he said.
Local historian Allen “Boo” Pergament, 80, of Margate, said the Hamids made Steel Pier a premiere entertainment destination, but never lost sight of the people that made it possible.
“Working at the pier was like being on vacation and getting paid for it,” he said. “That was the atmosphere that existed, and they had hundreds of employees of all kinds.”
Despite their astute business sense, Craine said the Hamids treated employees like family.
“I don’t think I ever took a day off the whole time I worked there every summer, because you liked being there and they were great to work for,” he said.
Ed Hurst, 86, of Margate, a long-time television host who consulted for the Hamids, said the younger Hamid was responsible for bringing in younger, more popular acts. In 1958, for instance, Ricky Nelson broke attendance records when the rock ‘n’ roll singer drew 44,000 at his first show.
“He was a lot different from his father,” Hurst said. “The father was from the old school of circus tumblers. George Jr. was the antithesis, a graduate of Princeton who tried to bring modern ways of booking to Steel Pier.”
But the two shared fiery personalities.
“Both would start out, ‘my dear father, my dear son,’ and then the fireworks erupted,” he said. “But in the end, they’d agree to disagree and come back together.”
Hamid III said his father was often busy running the pier and other ventures, but at least once a year he’d take his children with him on trips to the Hamid properties. One year in the late 1950s, Hamid Jr. took his son up to Montreal for his first plane trip.
“I couldn’t wait to fly on an airplane,” said Hamid III, now 63, of Egg Harbor Township. “He had a job up at a large amusement park consulting for something and I got to ride all the rides.”
In addition to his storied career in Atlantic City, Hamid Jr. served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, was business manager for heavyweight boxer Ernie Terrell and owner of the Trenton International Speedway. He also wrote three books based on the life of his father, a Lebanese immigrant who started his career in the circus.
Together, father and son ushered in the pier’s golden age.
Even as the local economy declined, Hurst said Steel Pier remained a popular destination.
“In the years this town really sunk, the only place to see a good show was the Steel Pier,” he said.
Hurst said his friend was active and energetic well into his elder years. Until several years ago, Hurst didn’t even know how old Hamid Jr. was. “He was in fairly good shape until a couple weeks ago,” he said.
Atlantic City was active and vibrant for many years in large part because of Steel Pier and the work of Hamid Jr., Hurst said.
“He was one of America’s great showmen and I’ll really miss him,” he said.
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