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