The Atlantic City Historical Museum has reopened its doors after being closed for about five months while the dilapidated Garden Pier underwent $2 million in renovations.
“It feels great to be open again and to be in operation,” said Herb Stern, vice chairman of the museum. The museum reopened last week following the Memorial Day holiday.
A recent survey by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey found a lack of nongaming attractions such as museums hinders the city’s ability to draw more tourists.
The survey showed 48 percent to 56 percent of adults who travel in the Northeast section of the country say museums, art and performing arts centers are extremely important when they are planning vacations.
The art deco-style building has Atlantic City memorabilia, old-time baubles and portraits of the city’s previous residents wearing bloomers and bonnets.
The museum, established in the 1980s, is not new. But with its location outside the main stretch of the city’s buzzing Boardwalk, and its small building dwarfed by the ongoing construction of the Revel megacasino, the museum doors don’t open and close as much as officials would like. It hasn’t helped that officials have had to close the pier periodically for repairs, including the just-finished renovation.
Until the end of April, the Garden Pier was not particularly attractive to the casual passerby.
The site, whose old, weather-battered piling were labeled the city’s third-worst eyesore in a public poll by Mayor Lorenzo Langford last year, did little to create a welcoming atmosphere for people who stumbled upon the almost hidden goldmine of Atlantic City history.
Now, with funding from the Revel Entertainment Group and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority — with each entity contributing $1 million to the project — the pier looks less rundown and more inviting for visitors.
Renovations to the pier include a new surface and the removal of the piling that used to support the far end of the once 1,500-foot-long pier.
The pier was constructed in 1913 and named for the flower gardens the pier once held. The city took possession of the pier in 1944. Shortly after, a hurricane washed away a ballroom that was once located at the end of the pier. The city has closed it multiple times due to structural damage it sustained during storms and hurricanes.
Renovations also included repairing damaged electrical and plumbing systems that were nearly destroyed during a December storm.
Stern said he was glad the far end of the pier and the piling were removed because now the museum could function in a more attractive location.
“The old pilings were removed ... during the rebuilding of the pier system,” Stern said. “Most of those were unsightly and unsafe.”
Even though the pier seems to be open for business as usual and is not scheduled to close again in the near future, Ruffolo said the future of the museum is always overshadowed by the potential the pier will be closed permanently.
“That’s our home, and that’s our foundation,” he said. “But at the same time it’s an expensive undertaking to operate a pier. All other piers in the city are an income-producing operation.”
The museum is funded by the city and operated by city officials. Volunteers staff the museum board.
“There’s not as much foot traffic,” said Robert Ruffolo, chairman of the museum. “People tend to stop and turn around at Showboat.”
Now that the museum has reopened, organizers said, they are ready to start showing visitors a fresh historical perspective on a city that was built on the backs of working people and thrived off the spectacle of diving horses and grand parades.
Stern said he hopes area residents and visitors will finally make time and visit the museum to learn about the city’s lengthy history and inspiration for the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire”.
“To get a real feel and real view of what Atlantic City was in its heyday in the 20th century, they should go there and learn a lot about it,” Stern said.
The lack of steady visitors was apparent this week; on a warm Tuesday afternoon, with plenty of tourists strolling nearby, the museum was quiet but for four people looking at the building’s exhibits.
“I’ve been to Atlantic City before and always see the museum, but I never came,” Brenda Lots, of Mifflintown, Pa., said. “It seemed like a good thing to do today.”
Lots said seeing the history of the city captured inside the museum’s four walls actually makes her sad when she sees how it changed during the last 100 years.
“I’m kind of sad to see some of the changes,” she said, adding the little mom-and-pop-style shops that once dotted the Boardwalk were her favorite part.
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