In a town better known for its nightlife and casinos than its family-centric fun, Steel Pier offers a day filled with amusements and attractions for everyone. Complete with games, rides, restaurants and bars, visitors will enjoy old-fashioned fun in a modern setting. And if that’s not enough to draw you in, just wait until you see The Wheel.
Best of NJ recently spoke to Steel Pier president and owner Anthony Catanoso. Here are the details on this New Jersey landmark.
Steel Pier’s Beginnings
“[Steel Pier] opened in June 1898 and it quickly became an entertainment venue. It was a first in a lot of ways, it had something for everybody,” shared Catanoso. “It had movie theaters, it had showrooms, two big ballrooms and a music hall.”
“Anybody who was anybody in the music industry or entertainment industry played Steel Pier.”
Steel Pier thrived until the 1960s, when travel elsewhere became more affordable. When the 1964 Democratic Convention shed a negative light on the already-declining Atlantic City, things took a turn for the worse.
“It kind of limped along and then in 1976, the Pier closed,” said Catanoso.
This also marked the last year that the famous diving horses, which jumped from the pier into the ocean and had been around since 1926, served as an attraction.
Following the 1976 closing, the Steel Pier structure, which stretched almost 2,000 feet out into the ocean, burned down.
In the meantime, casinos and gaming had come in and really took off.
A New Era for Steel Pier
The pier was later purchased and rebuilt (at half the size, 1,050 feet) with the intention of building a hotel on top of the pier.
When the hotel failed to materialize, Catanoso and his team stepped in and leased the pier from Jim Allen (who was the leasing agent for Donald Trump and the Taj Mahal at the time, and is now known as the man behind the newly-opened Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City) at the end of 1992.
They then had about 30 days to turn it into an amusement park.
“Believe it or not, we did. Me and my brothers and our partners, we got the thing together.”
The team lasted 20 years in that contract, going from 1 to 2 year leases and facing seven lease terminations. Each time, Catanoso managed to hang on to the property.
“Anybody in their right mind probably wouldn’t have stayed with those 1 to 2 year leases, but we did,” shared Catanoso. “Steel Pier was always really special to us so we just hung in there.”
In 2011, the property was put up for sale and Catanoso and his partners were able to buy it. Now, they continue to improve the pier and bring in crowds year after year.
Steel Pier Today
“We have rides for kids of all ages, 23 rides, and the observation wheel, which is our newest attraction.”
The Wheel features 40 climate-controlled gondolas and, at 227 feet tall, is the third tallest wheel in the United States. It’s the perfect place to grab a drink (there’s a bar located at the bottom of The Wheel) and take in the sights.
Rides and attractions include beach buggies, the carousel, the slingshot and a helicopter ride around the city. There are also three bars, two large event spaces, a pub and boardwalk food available on the pier.
Ticket packages and Funday Fridays (unlimited rides for $35 per person) make this an affordable day at the Jersey Shore.
Despite the ups and downs of the city, from storm destruction to casino closings, Steel Pier has survived. It’s now celebrating its 120 anniversary.
This year, Catanoso shared, the pier had its strongest Fourth of July yet, proving that hard times might not be a sign of failure, but an indicator of future success if you’ve got the will to hang on.
“Amongst all this bleak news, we never gave up hope and we never thought this town was going down the shoot,” said Catanoso. “We didn’t have a crystal ball, we just believed in what we saw.”
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ