Former Steel Pier owner George Hamid Jr. dies at 94

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George A. Hamid Jr. George A. Hamid Jr.

SOMERS POINT – George A. Hamid Jr., longtime owner of Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, died Saturday, Feb. 23 at Shore Medical Center where he was a patient for nearly two weeks. Hamid, 94, was a resident of the Meadowview Nursing Home in Northfield.

“George Hamid Sr. and Jr. were entertainers of legendary proportion – they were local icons,” Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said Monday, Feb. 25. “Junior extended the glory of Steel Pier to new heights. He had an incredible knack for predicting entertainers’ futures.

He brought the Beatles to Convention Hall in 1964 at the start of their first American tour. And after passing on an opportunity to bring then-unknown Elvis Presley to Steel Pier – he signed Rickey Nelson who set records after seeking the advice of American Bandstand’s Dick Clark who also worked on the pier.

For the record, Levinson said he worked on the Steel Pier in its golden days – he was about 12 years old, working on concessions.

“George Hamid Jr. was an extraordinary man,” Levinson said. “And about the controversies involving the diving horses, I can tell you those horses were exceptionally well cared for. Everything George did, he did well.”

The executive said he was always glad to see Hamid at Meadowview, the Atlantic County nursing home, especially at Veterans Day events.

“We’ll never see the likes of George again,” Levinson said. “He’s an American legacy. Only in America.”

Hamid who owned the pier from the 1940s to the 1970s was born Nov. 25, 1918 to circus owner, George A. Hamid, Sr. and his wife, Elizabeth (Bess) Raab Hamid.

Hamid’s humor showed through when he commented on how some with similar backgrounds claimed to have been born in a traveling trunk.

“Being around elephants qualifies my statement that although I wasn’t born in a trunk, I had the occasion to watch a few trunks being born,” Hamid says in a quote on the Hamid Circus website.

Born in Jersey City, he grew up a New Yorker, Hamid said during the months before his death.

He graduated from Princeton University in 1940 and enlisted in the Navy after attending the Wharton School.

 He became a lieutenant commander, serving mostly on a tanker in the South Pacific during World War II.

After the war, he joined his father in the family entertainment business where he went right to work booking acts on the Steel Pier and for county and state fairs across the country.

The family also owned the Hamid-Morton Circus – now Hamid Circus, the New Jersey State Fair, the Greensboro, N.C., Agricultural Fair and a number of Atlantic City movie theaters.

The Hamids, George Sr. and Jr., brought the Beatles to Atlantic City. They were two of the original owners of the Miami Dolphins. 

George Jr. has been president of the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, president of the Circus Producers Association of North America and executive vice president of Freedomland Amusement Park in New York.

He was also business manager for heavyweight fighter Ernie Terrell.

He owned the mile and one-half Trenton International Speedway.

A member of the Crescent Shrine, he was a supporter of Princeton athletics. A large stuffed tiger greeted guests to his room at Meadowview.

Hamid earned the Manners Prize for excellence in creative writing during his senior year at Princeton and went on to write three books, “Circus,” “Boy Acrobat” and “The Acrobat” based on his father’s life.

Radio personality Barbara Altman said she was saddened Saturday to learn of Hamid’s passing.

Altman called Hamid a gentleman and a true icon.

“He entertained generations and really was a genius ahead of his time,” she said.

Another Atlantic City icon shared her sentiments.

“It was a sad thing to see him go,” television host Ed Hurst said Sunday. “He represented Atlantic City at its best. And even at its worst, Steel Pier remained a major attraction.”

Hurst, whose show, “Summertime at the Pier,” emanated from Steel Pier for 20 years, still does a Steel Pier radio show at 4 p.m. Saturdays and repeated at 11 a.m. Sundays on 1450 AM.

“From 1958 to 1978 we broadcast from the Marine Ballroom most years,” Hurst said. “Then we moved to the Casino Theater in front. George Jr. was very instrumental in TV. It was the most popular TV show in the Philadelphia market all those years.”

George Hamid Jr. was “the complete antithesis of his father,” Hurst said.

“George Sr. was old school,” he said. “George Jr. went to Princeton. He was Ivy League all the way.”

Booking top acts became difficult as time passed, Hurst said.

“They were performing in stadiums before 50,000 fans and more,” he said. “Why do five or six shows a day when they could make more money doing just one performance. It was very difficult to book in later years, but Jr. managed to do it.”

Hurst, 87, said he started working at Steel Pier was he was 16 years old.

“I worked sound control – playing the music that was on the pier,” he said. “I was on WFPG (radio) at night. The Hamids were very good to me all those years. We had a wonderful relationship.”

Atlantic City’s Singing Lifeguard Jim Craine worked at Steel Pier 1963-1973.

“Everybody who worked at the pier – it was like a family,” he said. “I liked George a lot; and his dad. You knew everybody from the front door to the back door. He was definitely a legacy of Atlantic City.”

Craine said he had many dealings with the Hamids.

“They both knew the entertainment business so well,” he said. “Both were immaculate dressers.”

He said they were always kind and he remained friends with them and the whole Hamid family.

“He’s going to be sadly missed,” Craine said. “They treated everybody on the pier like family – from the people working the games, up to the big stars.”

And the stars were big.

A program from the mid- to late-1960s listed stars including the Supremes, Louis Armstrong, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Edie Adams, Al Martino and the Turtles.

Among those listed separately as entertainment for the Marine Ballroom dancing were Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra Jr., Gene Krupa, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and Les Elgart.

Hamid was predeceased by his wife, Patricia, their son, Herbert, and great grandson, John Davis III. 

He is survived by sons, James Hamid (Lorraine) of Galloway Township, George Hamid III (Patricia) of Egg Harbor Township, and Timothy Hamid (Linda) of Silver Plume, Colo, and a daughter, Elizabeth Roberts (William) of Keene, N.Y.  He is also survived by grandchildren Christine Davis, James Hamid, Jr., Carolyn Hamid, Kristina Roberts, Marta Russell, Ashley Hamid and Alisha Hamid, and nine great grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggested donations may be made to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. See www.shrinershospitalsforchildren.org or mail to 2900 Rocky Point Dr., Tampa, FL 33607; or the John Davis III Memorial Scholarship Fund in care of Jeffries & Keates Funeral Home, Tilton Road and Infield Avenue, Northfield, NJ 08225. 

There will be a gathering of family and friends at Jeffries & Keates 2:30 p.m. Monday, April 1, with a memorial service at the funeral home at 3 p.m.

George Hamid III said Sunday, Feb. 24 that April 1 was the first day the entire family would be able to get together.

He said he remembered a mostly normal childhood growing up in the Hamid family in Margate.

“My brothers are in show business,” he said. “My sister and I were more interested in science.”

He is the information technology manager for the Atlantic City Convention Authority; his sister is a retired high school science teacher.

Brother Timothy is currently involved in construction in Colorado, but he “loves show business and managed the state fair and theaters – and he worked with me on the pier when we were little.”

A fourth generation of Hamids led by James Hamid Jr. now runs the Hamid Circus based in Egg Harbor Township.

“My father was a lot of things,” George III said Sunday. “We went to meet the Beatles – sometime in the middle of the night at Bader Field. That was pretty cool. And he took us to Florida for the introduction of the Miami Dolphins’ uniforms.”

But like in most homes, he said his father was generally busy.

“We were kids,” he said. “Everybody has Steel Pier stories.”

In his later years, Hamid was known to all at Meadowview.

People visiting others would stop and chat with him, often telling him stories of taking their children to Steel Pier or being taken there themselves as children.

Hamid said that running Steel Pier was his biggest accomplishment and the favorite thing he ever did.

Until he got sick this month, he could remember minute details from his career, the books he wrote, sports and world affairs.

He still had a powerful voice and sang with the residents’ choir and performed solo at events at the nursing home.

He loved singing, and listening to his daughter-in-law, Lorraine, who performs with the Sentimental Songsters. She would always sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her father-in-law.

Her rendition of that song last Friday night was among the last things Hamid heard. He passed away at 10 a.m. the next morning.


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