Alan Levin used to jog every day past Kennedy Plaza on the Atlantic City Boardwalk — and he did not like what he saw.
“I was a big fan of the president, and I have a lot of love and affection for him,” Levin said of John F. Kennedy. “And Kennedy Plaza was really just left to die.”
Levin, of Galloway Township, made it his mission to restore the plaza — and most importantly, the bronze bust of Kennedy dedicated in 1964 — to its rightful place as the center of the Boardwalk.
It was a temporary amusement park in 1999 that really angered Levin, then of Ventnor.
A wall to a children’s ride completely blocked the Kennedy bust from view. When Levin began to publicize the situation and successfully asked that the wall be removed, a state amusement safety official decided the wall was needed for safety and ordered it moved back.
“That’s what got my hair up,” Levin said. “In addition to going before City Council, I made other calls, and eventually they did move the ride so there was some kind of access. At least you could walk back and see it.”
The seasonal amusement park left that fall, “but after their lease ended, it became desolate again. It was left to ruin, to just fade away,” Levin said.
City Council’s next plan was to bring in private developers to build a retail shopping area there. One proposal, Levin said, was to include a high-wire act, “which was just another way of turning the plaza into a comical area. At one meeting, I told City Council that if you approve (the developers) taking over, take the Kennedy bust out of there. Send it to Annapolis, because he was a Navy veteran.”
Thanks to opposition from himself and several Boardwalk merchants, the plan failed, on a tie vote, to pass council.
Levin cited then-city Planning Director Kenneth Platt as a key ally in fixing up the plaza, where a refurbished Kennedy bust sits in full view at the center amid a stage, a mini-golf park and the relocated Workers Memorial to construction workers killed during the casino era.
“Platt was very receptive to everything,” Levin said. “He was a politician, but he had an idea of what the plaza could be.”
Levin contacted the daughter of the Kennedy bust’s sculptor, Evangelos Frudakis, who met with him and helped refurbish the statue.
In late 1999 — on his birthday, he recalled — the Atlantic City Arts Commission awarded Levin the Paul Aiken Arts Humanitarian Award for his work in promoting the integrity of the plaza.
“I’m just very proud of what the city did,” Levin said. “It was a long saga, but it ended in the mid-2000s when they started to make it pristine. It really is historic, what it is now.”
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