Back in the late 90’s, when my family immigrated to the United States, some of my vivid memories include times we spent at Atlantic City. Although my family mainly made the trip for the beach, it was not the sole reason for the trip. The colorful hotel casinos, each trying to out-do the next, were quite the sight for a family straight out of Ukraine. Although my family does not gamble, we would still make an effort to enter the Casino’s because we admired the beautiful interiors. Each casino had it’s own personality and theme. Western, Asian, Exotic and 80’s Retro are among some of the interior styles I recall.
The trip always started out with us entering the Taj Mahal Casino, where everything was made to look like a trip to India. Walking through the casino was thrilling because the building looked like a palace, so it was no surprise that it was my family’s favorite. There was beautiful carpeting, chandeliers and animal statues along the way towards the back of the casino where one could exit into the boardwalk. Once you made it to the boardwalk, there was a pier directly across the Taj Mahal. This pier was the home of various carnival style rides and is probably one of the only things that still presently looks the same as it did almost 20 years ago (except newer rides of course). I remember the ride ‘Crazy Mouse’ was my families favorite.
Although I have a positive past recollection of Atlantic City, at the present moment, I no longer feel the same. I had the opportunity to visit AC a couple of weeks ago and I was tremendously disappointed. It no longer holds the fantastic luster and appeal that it had long ago. Many of the buildings along the boardwalk are either under construction or abandoned. It all looks quite sad and I couldn’t help but feel more and more depressed with each step I took, trying to make sense of what I saw as reality and my recollections collided with one another. I could only describe it as a bad trip down memory lane.
Atlantic City has been on the decline for some time now and super-storm Sandy did not help. There was so much potential in AC and judging by the current visual state it’s in, it seems like everyone decided to give up. The original big players are still there, but there is no newness, nothing to attract tourism besides the ritzy casinos. While walking the boardwalk, I was looking for something to eat before settling for Johnny Rockets. Initially hoping for some unique restaurants, all I found were the usual franchises. The food options were just as unexciting as the boardwalk. Towards the end of the day, I had entered the Hard Rock Casino and realized that all of the restaurants that were worth trying are all hidden away within the casinos. Had I known this earlier, I would’ve eaten in one of the indoor casino restaurants instead. Even the Casino’s are trying not to give their customers the option of going out onto the boardwalk for a bite to eat.
So much has changed in AC, especially now that the Taj Mahal Casino was replaced with the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. What once looked like an arcade lit palace from a Hollywood film now looks like any regular casino from Las Vegas. In fact, most of the casinos have dialed down on their outrageous and glamorous exteriors. It’s a shame because the outlandish exterior designs of the casinos was one of the charms of the place since the boardwalk existed. The Atlantic City Boardwalk was the first U.S boardwalk (opened on June 26, 1870). The TV show Boardwalk Empire is based on it, yet even the historic value of the location is not worth the return.
One thing that stayed the same is the beautiful sunset you can watch when on the pier. It’s still as beautiful as ever and almost allows you to forget how disappointing the whole place has become. While photographing AC, I made it my mission to try and capture the vibe I remembered when I was a child. Maybe one day, AC will bring back that ol’ glamour and thrill of an original boardwalk.