Atlantic City Walking Tours Step Back Into Spotlight
By Diana Strelczyk - Assistant Director, Continuing Studies at Stockton University
The Stockton University Atlantic City Walking Tours returned in summer 2022 with overwhelming success and support by the community. The addition of new neighborhood sponsors, reduced ticket prices, and a fun, outdoor, educational program created an almost overnight sell-out of all four tours. While the series is not new, established in 2018, the “vibe” as Gen Z’s would say, was just right for a resurgence. Our last tours were scheduled in Spring 2020, and canceled during the height of the pandemic lock-down. Since then, vaccines, reduced restrictions, and people’s cravings for connections have all created the perfect timing for this socially distanced, historically researched, physically fit, and inexpensive program.
Diana A. Strelczyk, M.S.
Assistant Director of Continuing Studies, Stockton University
Groups of 30+ joined Dr. Levi Fox, Stockton adjunct, local historian, and leader of the tours, each Friday in July 2022 for a unique experience of a different A.C. Neighborhood each week. Each tour shared the historical people, places, buildings, cultural events, and current relevance to the city. Our central theme of “History Past to Present” could be seen through Atlantic City’s many rebuilds, repurposed buildings, renovations or reinventions. Whether it’s Ducktown's transformation from its Italian-American roots to booming Hispanic neighborhood and arts district, or the formerly secret, now out and proud “gay-borhood” of the Orange Loop, the Atlantic City Walking Tours provide a complex story of the city.
These tours are the collaboration of Dr. Fox and Diana Strelczyk, assistant director of Continuing Studies at the Stockton Atlantic City Campus. Prior to 2018, Dr. Fox was leading multiple tours around the city discussing the closed/former casinos of the then-Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal (now Hard Rock Hotel & Casino), and the history of gaming in the city. These tours were featured in an article in the Press of Atlantic City, and it sparked an idea with Strelczyk, who has recently experienced similar walking tours while on vacation. “Why don’t we have more walking tours about Atlantic City’s rich history?” Strelczyk asked herself, and, “I wonder if Levi has other tours that he would give?” From these conversations, the inaugural Stockton AC Walking Tours were born in Spring 2019. The tours were held again in Summer 2019, Fall 2019, and scheduled for Spring 2020. Unfortunately the Spring 2020 schedule would be canceled, and it would take another two years for all of us to gather safely again.
During the pandemic, the Office of Continuing Studies built strong partnerships with the Chelsea Economic Development Corporation and the Ducktown Community Development Corporation in Atlantic City. These groups were aware of our tours, and found them to be excellent vehicles to increase awareness in the city. The groups recognized the tours could help many community members “see” the city with a new lens; and help break stereotypes, myths and fears about crime and cleanliness in their neighborhoods. Our tours also helped reconnect many participants with their former neighborhoods, and take trips down “memory lane.” By building partnerships with community leaders, Dr. Fox can also ensure the stories shared are reflective to the current residents. As Stockton continues its role as a neighbor in Atlantic City, the school wants to work with our fellow residents.
In the Spring of 2022, after vaccinations and reductions of restrictions took effect, Stockton decided to bring the AC Walking Tours back to life with a full four-part series in July 2022. Dr. Fox’s first trip was his “Veterans’ Heritage Tour,” highlighting O’Donnell Park and many war memorials along Atlantic Avenue and the Boardwalk up to Bally’s casino. Our second tour of the summer was the “Ducktown Revitalization Tour,” which highlighted the former Italian-American neighborhood, now a booming Hispanic neighborhood filled with the arts and a shopping district. The third tour titled, “The Louisa Mack LGBT/Orange Loop Tour,” was a combination of geographic, self-identity, and diverse cultural communities. This tour reviewed the streets of New York, Tennessee and St. James Place (the orange properties in Monopoly), as well as Atlantic City’s larger impact on the national LGBT and Civil Rights movements. Our final tour of the summer was the new “Lower Chelsea Tour.” This tour also highlighted a geographic and cultural community; referencing both its importance to A.C. historical figures and architecture, such as Nucky Johnson and former influential A.C. politicians, as well as a thriving Jewish-American neighborhood.
The success of the sold-out Summer 2022 tours has led to multiple Stockton groups requesting additional private tours for their students, alumni, and community partners. In July 2022, the Office of Global Engagement requested two private tours for the Jeju National University Exchange Students from South Korea. These 11 Korean students were provided a modified “Lower Chelsea Tour” to help guide them around the neighborhood where they were living during their stay. The second tour was a modified “Veterans’ Heritage Tour” showing them many businesses, green spaces and important buildings on Atlantic Avenue and the Boardwalk. During the July 27th Veterans’ Heritage Tour, it was also Korean War Armistice Day. The Korean War also happens to be one of Dr. Fox’s areas of speciality. So prior to the tour, Dr. Fox provided the students with a selected reading and led a discussion/reflection session with the students about their experience at the Atlantic City Korean War Memorial. One of the Jeju National University students, a Korean Army veteran himself, told Dr. Fox that it was a very moving experience and was glad they experienced the day together. Additional tours have also been considered for the Stockton Women’s Leadership Council Event and University Weekend in October 2022.
As the Office of Continuing Studies looks forward to its partnership with Dr. Fox, we have already scheduled additional tours for Fall 2022, and requested new material for various neighborhoods across the city. Our goal will be to offer a walking tour for each geographic neighborhood in the city, and many of the self-identifying communities. Please save the date for Fridays, October 14-28, 2022, for the Lower Chelsea, Northside, and Ducktown walking tours. We encourage you to keep an eye out for the Spring and Summer 2023 calendar featuring new tours of Bungalow Park, the South Inlet, the History of Gaming and Casinos, and Upper Chelsea Neighborhood.