Recently, I attended the Steel Pier reunion for people who worked or performed there. It was held on the new Steel Pier. I had not been back to that area of the Boardwalk in 25 years. I didn't recognize the area.
Gone was the familiar Steel Pier marquee, the scent of roasting peanuts and Belgian waffles. But I didn't come for the old Boardwalk charm, I came for a party that reunited people who shared their summers on Steel Pier. It was an eclectic group: circus people, dancers, musicians, high divers, TV and radio personalities, food service workers and midway carnival barkers.
It was a perfect night for reminiscing, and I wondered why Steel Pier mattered to so many of us. Taken individually, none of the piers' attractions - the theaters, ballrooms, midways, water circus - was particularly special. But put them all together "for one admission price," and it was pretty spectacular. George Hamid Sr. was the architect of that something-for-everyone approach. The diverse venues attracted diverse crowds and workers.
I can't accept the idea that casino gaming "saved" Atlantic City - the city doesn't look "saved" to me. Instead, I would like to think that maybe the casino era is a placeholder until a time when new innovative thinkers will craft a vision for Atlantic City that is bigger than gaming and entertainment, one that attracts entrepreneurs in all industries with diverse talents, who see what Atlantic City could be.
The new owners of the Steel Pier, Anthony and William Catanoso, are working to restore the pier to its former glory and make it once again, the "Showplace of the Nation." They seem excited about the opportunity to transform Atlantic City and they understand the importance of attracting diverse audiences. Wouldn't it be something if someday those of us who loved the pier could say, "Remember when Steel Pier saved Atlantic City?"