“Steel Pier, the ‘Capital of Americana,’ was an entertainment destination never to be replicated.
It deserves a book of its own!”

-- Vicki Gold Levi, author of Atlantic City: One Hundred Twenty-Five Years of Ocean Madness
and a historical picture editor, photography curator, and co-founder of the Atlantic City Historical Museum.

Steel Pier, Atlantic City

Showplace of the Nation

By Steve Liebowitz

Benjamin Franklin
Awards finalist:

• Regional Book
• Cover Design
• Interior Design

of Steel Pier
Steel Pier
Steel Pier
hardcover, 11-1/4” x 9-1/2”
263 pp., 227 Illustrations
ISBN-13 978-1-59322-036-5


I have memories of going on the Steel Pier in 1928, when I was 11, packing a lunch and staying there all day so we could see the water sports and as many shows as time would permit.

– Phoebe Maley (The Press of Atlantic City, June 1991)

Steel Pier was a place I never tired of . Each week the acts and the movie would change. There was a fun house outside one of the movie theatres, and a house of mirrors, also some antique furniture.
Trained parakeets would perform really unique tricks, such as picking up a piece of paper and bringing it to a special box.
A magician would perform marvelous card tricks and sold special decks of cards. There were clowns who would dress up in early 1900s bathing attire and perform all types of antics using the Pier and the ocean. And there were high-wire acts involving walking and riding a bicycle across the ocean from the stage to the spectator sections.

– Jim Mannion

Work on the Pier hardly seemed like work at all. We were young, strong and athletic. We were the ones working behind the scenes to make the Pier a famous attraction. All the plumbers, electricians, carpenters and painters were in-house. Every year, we repainted benches and replaced broken stairs, worn dance floors, and rails along the ocean. When the Pier closed after breaking the attendance record for Labor Day Weekend 1934, we had 2 hours to clean four theatres before we opened for business again. Our work on the Pier was a round-the-clock effort.
From 1935 to 1937, my friend Walter Rossi and I took jobs as guards for the dressing rooms of the Miss America Pageant, held at the Marine Ballroom. The work was exhilarating. We wore white shirts, white flannel trousers, and white bucks. We stood guard in front of the doors to make sure no one tampered with the costumes or bothered the contestants.
In 1937, I got a lucky break and became the manager of the Music Hall. My last job on the Pier was as Assistant Manager of the Front, operated by James Rock. James taught me a lot about show business.

The Pier averaged 35,000 visitors a day and was the place to see and be seen. Gentlemen wore their best suits, and ladies wore their best dresses, hats and furs. On the Sunday before Labor Day in 1934, the Pier set an attendance record: 89,000 visitors during the 20 hours the Pier was open. That same weekend, the Million Dollar Pier drew 62,000 people. Life magazine wrote an article about this event.

In 1939, I left the Steel Pier.

– Russ LeVan, Memories of AC, NJ – The Queen of Resorts
(Gateway Press Inc., 1998)

I could write volumes about Steel Pier. I knew every way to sneak in that was possible. In fact, my friend even developed a way or two...

We snuck into Steel Pier every day from roughly 1959-1963 when we weren’t working, until finally my cousin hooked us up with someone who “passed” us in legally. I saw every act a million times. We tortured the Fun House guards. They could never find us. We knew every secret passage, and if we had to, we made our own…

We never paid to get in. Of course, knowing the owner’s son helped. What a relief that was when we could just go in the employee entrance instead of shimming out over the pipes and climbing up the trap door under the stage. The Hamids were real gentlemen…

Riding the pipe to get into the Pier was a trip. Of course, we had rust on our clothes when we were finished. My friend was the guy who sawed the hole in the bottom of the Pier that led you under the Music Hall stage and let you out on the side of near Pennsylvania Avenue. He also spanned the area with wood between the pipes to make it easier to climb out there during high tide and stay dry…

The hole in the Pier existed before we ever attempted to reopen it. Originally, it was probably an access hole for plumbers to get to the pipes. Below the Pier were a maze of pipes, some 12 inches thick and some smaller. They all pretty much ran close together. This feature was conducive to laying boards across the pipes to form a platform of sorts. With a platform to be used as a working surface, one could lie on one’s back and perform all sorts of carpentry tricks, recreating the famous Steel Pier under-the-stage secret entrance…

Over the years there were at least three secret entrances that I knew about. The one we liked and by far the best was the one that let you out under the stage. When the shows were on, we could hear the music of the dancers and feel the pounding above us of the acrobats…

Since we snuck in almost all the time, over a number of years, I cannot remember acts except for Johnnie Ray and the Lennon Sisters. One act I recall was Wells and the 4 Fayes, an acrobatic act that wore funny costumes. We snuck in so many times when they were on stage that I actually got to meet Wells, a very nice chap. He knew we were sneaking in and I supposed just ignored it. Oddly enough, this same act was one of the opening acts for the Beatles when they were on Ed Sullivan’s Show…

The person who sawed the hole reopened was Dennis, the skinniest, shortest, bravest of the group. He shimmied out over the breaking waves ten feet above them to use a hand-held crosscut saw to reopen the hole. I remember it was high tide on a nasty day when he did it. We had to be careful, since people seeing us doing this might report us to the lifeguards at Virginia Avenue Beach Patrol station. Luckily, I knew the two lifeguards at that beach and they never bothered us. Anyway, the worse the weather, the easier for us...

I know many more people used this hole than we did. In fact, the reason it was closed in the first place was related to the other dopes who got caught and showed management where the hole was. Two of our guys were caught coming out of the backstage door by ushers, but refused to tell them anything...

When we knew that one of the ushers suspected someone had snuck in and set a trap for us, we would wait until we heard the crowds exiting. We would try to blend in with them by opening the door and walking with a crouch and backwards until we could emerge. It always worked...

Other ways to sneak in was from under the Boardwalk via the Fun House... quite scary and very dark... Guess we weren’t very claustrophobic then… The other was so obvious and stupid... the old squeeze through the bent gate when Lester Jackson would see us from his office and come out after us. We always outran him. Once, he was MC at the Tony Grant show and spotted us in the back. He had us removed by the security guards, but we were back the next day. I can remember getting to the reserved seats section in the Music Hall, which cost 25 cents extra, by crawling between the seats on the floor down to the front rows. Nice.

– Ratso, Philadelphia


“An exhaustively researched and impressively illustrated history of what, for a large chunk of the 20th century, was celebrated far and wide as ‘the showplace of America.’”

—   Philadelphia Daily News

 “Chronicling the Pier’s history — and more… in 263 picture-packed pages.”

—   The Press of Atlantic City

 “Celebrates Atlantic City’s magical Steel Pier.”

— Courier Post

“An homage to Atlantic City’s best-known entertainment mecca.”

—  Baltimore Jewish Times

  “Almost as much fun as a day on Steel Pier, and as close as you can get to it in the 21st century.”

—  The SandPaper

 “Covers the great entrepreneurs and showmen who made the pier run through the vaudeville acts and stars of the ‘20s and ‘30s, the diving horse era, the big band era and the rock’n roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s.”

— Atlantic City Weekly

 “The Pier’s glory days live again in Steel Pier, Atlantic City, a big nostalgic history of the pier…”

—  The Philadelphia Inquirer

“…As I turned the pages of this book and saw so many, many people having the time of their lives, I began to care, not so much about a place that has come and gone, but about the kind of imaginative, entrepreneurial spirit that made Atlantic City the fun, fascinating place it was. Someone should read this book, and make history repeat itself.”

—  The Philadelphia Inquirer


Steve Liebowitz has been researching Atlantic City entertainment history and the Steel Pier for many years. He has written articles for the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Jewish Times, and Generations, the journal of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. He wrote about the old days of Wildwood, NJ in that Shore town’s newspaper for six years.

After writing and producing commercials for CBS Radio, he wrote, co-produced and co-hosted “The Rock & Leebo Show” and has now gone out on his own with his comedy sports program “The Leebo Show” heard in Baltimore.

A graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, he has also painted animation cels in Chicago’s Cioni Studio. Steve is a student of old theaters and show business history and is involved with historic preservation as a member of the Theatre Historical Society of America. He lives outside of Baltimore with his wife Andrea, where he dreams of living near an ocean and a boardwalk.

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