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Atlantic City Newsletter

by Archie Black

Atlantic City Newsletter by Archie Black, March, 2000

The 500 Club - Part 1

Well, Brenda and I spent an enjoyable hour or so at the Atlantic City Library on Saturday morning and came up with a lot of interesting stuff with respect to the infamous 500 Club> chips that Bob Eisentstadt discovered, and Mason's records that Gene Trimble uncovered.

We plan to visit the Atantic County Historical Society next Saturday where additional info may be forthcoming. However, what we have documented leaves no doubt in our minds that the 500 club chips that Rober Eisenstadt has provided scans for are the ones that were in use in the 1930's and 1940's, at the least. The floral mold design may have come about at a later date... but that's speculation.

The 1949 telephone directory lists a 500 Club Tavern at 6 South Missouri Avenue, which would indicate the shipping address on Mason's card file to a Mr. Pill Barr at 4 South Missouri Ave. as the same place.... or at least connected to the 500 Club property. While we could find nothing about Mr. Barr, to whom the chips were shipped, perhaps our search next weekend may shed some light on who he was. Possibly the manager or owner of the 500 Club at that time in the mid-30's?

This is a scanned photo of the 500 club that appears on page 149 of "Atlantic City America's Playground" by Bill Kent with Robert Ruffolo and Lauralee Dobbins that was published in 1998.

A superbly illustrated reference work on the history of Atlantic City. Beneath the photo of the actual 500 Club building, is an image of a dinner plate with "the 500" embossed.

Since February was Black History Month I have added some background to A.C.'s nightclubs which might prove relevant and interesting too.......

"An attempt by the black community to deal fairly with racial tensions that created Atlantic City's vibrant Kentucky Avenue nightclub district, (some of the clubs date back as far as the 1920's, Atlantic City's Kentucky Avenue reached its peak during the 1950's when six nightclubs on or near Kentucky Avenue between Arctic and Atlantic Avenues featured nearly every African American entertainer in the country. Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughn, Nat "King" Cole, Moms Mably, Slappy White, Billy Daniels, Billy Eckstine were only a few of the entertainers who perforemd at Graces, Little Belmont, the Wintergarden, the Paradise Club and Club Harlem."

"Like New York's Harlem nightclub district, Kentucky Avenue began as a group of night clubs and carpet joints that, due to the necessity of procuring alcohol during prohibition, were linked to organized crime. Kentucky Avenue clubs, along with those in the mostly Jewish South Inlet and the predominantly Italian Ducktown section west of Convention Hall, "all offered some form of gambling."

But what made the Kentucky Avenue clubs different were their hours of operation. Musicians performed at the Jockey Club or the 500 Club "WHERE SINGER DEAN MARTIN AND COMEDIAN JERRY LEWIS FIRST TEAMED UP",

could put their instruments down at 11 pm (occassionally they played as late as 1 am) and feel safe under the protection of the Atlantic City Musicians Union, one of the most powerful labor organizations in the city. Because African American nusicians were not permitted to join the largely white musicians union, they formed their own, with the intention of beating the white union at its own game.

When other nightclubs in other parts of the city concluded thier entertainment at 11 p.m., the Kentucky Ave clubs were just warming up. During the summer months from the late 1940's to the early 1960's, "the corner" of KY and the "Curb" between Arctic and Atantic Avenues was so jammed with early morning revelers that cab drivers would pick up and discharge fares a block away, because it was often impossible to drive a car throught the crowds.

The city's police made a career of raiding the nightclub gambling operations - as was the case during prohibition; a club could measure its prestige by how much of an advance warning the police gave before they arrived. This, and a series of highly publicized investigations into municipal corruption, contributed to Atlantic City's increasingly negative reputation as a city on the make.

The city had as many as 300 restaurants and bars open during the summer season, many of them taking advantage of the city's law allowing 24-hour liquor service. The city had 40 movie theaters, most of them on Atlantic Avenue.

A gradual change in the nature of entertainment doomed some of the clubs to a slow death. The dominance of the nightclub style of show that had thrilled pre-WWII generations was being challenged by movies and television, though Club Harlem and the 500 Club managed to survive into the 1960's.

A fire that burned everything but a picture of Frank Sinatra, destroyed the 500 Club on June 10th, 1973, while a shoot-out that killed a pregnant woman shut down the Club Harlem in 1968. The Club reopened infrequently and was envetually torn down. Today, 500 Club Lane, a portion of Mississippi Ave between Pacific and Atlantic Avenues, marks the "Five's" location. (the actual club stood where casino limousines now park).

To be continued .... including the Nevada connection.....

"When the chips are down, you can bet "Mr. Chips" will be there to pick them up."

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