The city that launched Monopoly's Boardwalk and Park Place; the original beach community and destination for millions of Northeast families; the city that built the world's first ocean pier amusement park and first ever boardwalk, so that its boardwalk is always recognizable with a Capital B…This is Atlantic City, linked early by train to Philadelphia to become America's first premier resort town, the country's Disneyland of the early 20th Century.
Atlantic City has a varied and colorful history, and its present-day character is as much a result of the fascinating set of individuals who peopled it in mid-century, as other, more varied forces shaping the nation's urban areas. Situated on a narrow,10-mile long strand on the broad tip of Absecon Island in New Jersey, Atlantic City's instant birth as a resort destination was due not only to its coastal location and fine sandy beaches, but especially to the advent of the train in 1854. Shortly afterwards, the Boardwalk was built, eventually becoming the center of activity.
Today's Atlantic City is of course accessible by air (through two international airports) and by car and bus along three major highways. And, while the four-mile Boardwalk is still crowded and very much an integral part of town, the primary tourist attraction since 1978 is legalized gambling. Today there are 11 casinos, located either along the Boardwalk or in the Marina District, making Atlantic City the gaming capital of the Northeast.
Now critical to the tax base of the city, the casinos have helped fuel the city's ongoing revitalization $7 billion program. Of course, it was hoped that the introduction of gambling would bring the necessary growth to help eliminate much of the urban decay that began to blight the area since about the 1940s, but instead, it seems that it has mostly served to intensify the stark differences between the glitter of the casinos and nightlife catering to visitors, and the existing impoverished working-class neighborhoods.
Atlantic City, however, remains a dynamic, pulsing exciting place, full of modern-day promise cloaked in past and present glitz. With a permanent population of a little over 40,000, it draws 37 million visitors each year, drawn by its beach and Boardwalk (guarded in the summer by the country's first lifeguard organization), its casinos and nightlife, and by that mysterious energy and ambiance so particular to great cities.