(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)
In 1929, the year the Great Depression began, the world's largest auditorium and convention hall opened in Atlantic City. Built by the municipal government at a cost of $15 million, it occupied an entire block of seven acres and fronted directly on the Boardwalk.
The mammoth structure seated 41,000 persons in the main auditorium alone. At the time, the 66,000 people living in Atlantic City could be seated in the building with room to spare.
In addition to the main auditorium, which also contained the largest stage in the world and an ice skating rink, there was a spacious ballroom which could accommodate 5,000 people, and another large stage.
Through the use of a specially designed apparatus, a whisper at one end of the huge auditorium could be clearly heard at the other. The main ballroom also housed what remains the largest pipe organ in the world, with 32,000 pipes grouped along the 350-foot trusses of the vast ceiling.
There is an automatic heat and ventilating control throughout the structure, with an entire change of air every seven minutes, filtered and cooled in the summer and heated in the winter.
To accommodate the various trade shows and conventions, steam trains could unload at the ground floor entrances. Ramps made it possible to drive cars from the street directly onto the auditorium floor. Specially designed freight elevator equipment could handle the heaviest pieces of machinery and exhibits with ease.
In addition to the various conventions and trade shows, the main auditorium has had many different uses. Some of these are the Ice Capades, midget car races, football games, wrestling tournaments, basketball finals, Miss America Pageants, the 1964 Democratic Convention, an Army training center during World War II, a three-ring circus, ice hockey games for a minor league team and open ice skating.
In 1945, Convention Hall was under consideration as the interim site for the United Nations headquarters and was visited by the UN Inspection Committee comprised of seven delegates representing China, France, Yugoslavia, Russia, Uruguay, Iraq and Great Britain.
Still standing and in use today, this important part of the Atlantic City skyline has undergone a few renovations and now is known as Boardwalk Hall.
Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is located at 907 Shore Rd. in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.