Lines in the sand

Posted: July 30, 2014

LOOK AROUND the Monopoly game board and there is, primarily, the pattern that Atlantic City founder Jonathan Pitney laid out for street names: The east-west streets were named for the states, and the north-south streets referenced the world's oceans.

Then, over in the third corner, there is an oddment - Marvin Gardens. Look around Atlantic City, today or even back in the Depression when Monopoly rocketed into popularity, and you will see nothing by that name.

In fact, you wouldn't find it anywhere.

On the border of MARgate and VENtnor, though, you will find a little development of sorts, Marven Gardens, honoring its placement. It is the only misspelled Monopoly property - and the only one not in Atlantic City.

The naming of Shore town streets mostly came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Developers were often torn between naming streets for their friends or business associates and some natural element that might lend their resorts some cachet, or kitsch.

Signs of the times

The Baker brothers and others who developed much of Five Mile Island into Holly Beach and the Wildwoods divided the names of the streets that way, according to Al Brannen, of the Wildwood Historical Society.

On the south end, now Wildwood Crest, the east-west streets invoke flowers and trees - Aster, Forget-Me-Not and so forth. The more central east-west streets primarily memorialize early settlers and investors in the island's development: Schellenger, Bennett, Saylor, Hand and others.

Up in Anglesea, now North Wildwood, the streets are numbered, 1 to 26, where the Wildwood border starts.

When the towns, especially Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, were developing before World War I, the street along the beach was Atlantic Avenue, which today you will find a block back.

"People think the beaches in Wildwood have been growing only lately, but it goes way back," Brannen said. In about 1912, the developers took some of the accumulated beach and fashioned a new beachfront block. They soon built Ocean Avenue, the current north-south road closest to the beach.

Wildwood recently renamed a couple of streets after rock icons.

Spicer Avenue near Pacific is Chubby Checker Avenue, signifying the block where Checker danced "the Twist" for the first time in public, in 1960, at the old Rainbow Supper Club.

Pacific Avenue near Oak is now Bobby Rydell Boulevard, in honor of his recording of "Wildwood Days" a half-century ago.

The Checker and Rydell street signs have apparently been pilfered by ambitious oldies-rock fans, said a city official, and have had to be replaced.

Venice Beach?

Charles Landis, who had already developed former farmland in Cumberland County into the city of Vineland, had an idea in the early 1880s that he would transform an island just south of that new Methodist resort, Ocean City, into a new Venice.

"Landis had gone to Italy for a vacation and thought he could bring canals and resort homes to Sea Isle," said Michael Stafford, president of the Sea Isle City Historical Museum. Thus, the Venetian Road section of town just over the bridge to the mainland.

Landis Avenue, to be sure, became the major north/south street, and along that, from the bridge several streets south, the cross streets evoked European exotica - Italia, Paris, Minerva, Ariadne, Neptune, Coral and Pearl.

To the north, said Stafford, Landis wanted to honor the American presidents. Streets that would have been enumerated 1st to 10th instead became Polk, Tyler, Harrison, Van Buren, Jackson, Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, Adams and Washington, though skipping an extra "Adams" for John Quincy, in between Monroe and Jackson, presumably.

The current JFK Boulevard, formerly 41st Street, was renamed the year after the 1963 assassination.

Ocean City was founded by four Methodist ministers in 1879, in hopes of replicating the Ocean Grove religious retreat north of Asbury Park, which was by that time a decade old. Not surprisingly, they named two of the main streets after 18th-century icons of the evangelical Methodist movement, John Wesley and Francis Asbury.

Pols and wise guys

Atlantic City has had a long history of either "rewarding" politicians for their service with street names, or renaming other streets for various reasons.

Bacharach Boulevard, which goes diagonally through the city, is named after the Bacharach family, which became rich and influential in the early part of the 20th century. Harry Bacharach was a mayor and Isaac a congressman through much of the 1910s, '20s and '30s.

Kuehnle Avenue pays homage to Louis Kuehnle, the mobbed-up boss who mentored the Bacharachs and also Nucky Johnson, the prototype for "Boardwalk Empire" boss Nucky Thompson on the HBO series.

Kuehnle was in real life called "The Commodore," as is Thompson's predecessor in the fictional "Empire."

Shady activity is no bar to having a street named after you in A.C. Indiana Avenue is also known as James Usry Avenue, for the former mayor who, like so many other pols in the city, had his own corruption scandal, having pleaded guilty in 1990 to illegal reporting of campaign contributions.

In 1987, a couple of decades after his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.'s name replaced Illinois Avenue through much of the city. Atlantic City Library archivist Heather Perez surmises that the city fathers picked Illinois because it went through the Stanley Holmes Village, the first public-housing development in the city.

That year, the city also unveiled new street signs proclaiming the street alongside the Atlantic City Convention Center "Miss America Way" to commemorate the pageant that had pretty much given the city its national recognition for more than six decades at that point.

When the pageant moved out of town nine years ago, Atlantic City struck back. Go down that street today - even though the pageant's returned - and you will be on the more prosaic Convention Boulevard.

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