Ducktown, Atlantic City’s Little Italy, was always a source of fascination to me as a kid growing up across the bay in Pleasantville. Dad sometimes took me to the famous White House sub shop — still a legend today.
By the 1970s, Ducktown was well into its decline, but the food was still good. The old restaurant standbys — which also include Dock’s and Angelo’s — have prevailed over generations. In fact, food is my only real memory of Ducktown. I was oblivious to the mobsters, racial tensions and other less savory aspects of the neighborhood.
Future generation may also remember Ducktown for something different: its artist lofts and galleries, in a arts district that is in the very early stages of formation. For guidance, city officials are consulting with Artspace, which turned Bridgeport’s Read’s Department Store into artist lofts and a large, if seldom utilized, gallery.
The Press of Atlantic City reports that a Ducktown arts district is in the work, and they are looking at cities like Providence, R.I., for inspiration. The bones are already there. The boardwalk side of Ducktown has massive Boardwalk Hall, also known as Convention Hall, the city’s main concert venue and the place where the Miss Atlantic City Pageant was held for years. There is also the Dante Hall Performing Arts Center, a much smaller theater that was built in the 1920s as a church hall.
When you think of all the ineptitude in Atlantic City, it’s hard to imagine anything coming of all this. But then you remember Reese Palley, one of the most flamboyant well-known art dealers of his time, anchored in the World’s Playground for so many years. Without a showman like that, with a gift for publicity, you can build all you want but the spark won’t be there.
Officials will soon start construction on a $30 million parking garage that would reserve 15,000 square feet on the ground floor for retail use, including possible space for artists, the Press reports, describing the project as a possible catalyst for an arts zone.