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Trump’s First Atlantic City Casino Is Imploded, And Spectators Marvel At The Symbolism

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The Trump Plaza hotel and casino falls to the ground when it is demolished in Atlantic City, New Jersey on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock

The Trump name was officially vanquished Wednesday from the town that brought the former president so much fame, fortune, and failure, as the long crumbling Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in the heart of Atlantic City was finally imploded. 

Donald Trump’s three Atlantic City casinos all ultimately fell into bankruptcy and were sold, but after he opened Trump Plaza, his first, in 1984, his name became entwined with this resort town on the ocean. That Trumpian symbolism hung heavy in the cold air as the last building in town with his name on it was blown to rubble with 3,000 sticks of dynamite. 

“I’m hoping the implosion here is as spectacular as his implosion has been,” said Rick Sorensen, who drove from Bucks County, Pa., in a car adorned with a “Resistance” bumper sticker. Using an oceanic reference, he called Trump “a carbuncle on humanity.” For Sorensen, the impeachment trial wasn’t enough. The election loss wasn’t enough. He came to witness another Trump collapse. 

Spectators woke up before dawn to drive to Bader Field, the $10-per-car viewing area. A group of guys from Lakewood, NJ, were crushing Miller Lites, and a vendor sold pretzels from a shopping cart. 

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An eager spectator, April Knighton, gets ready for the spectacle in Bader Field Matt Katz / WNYC

Trump Plaza was the first casino you saw pulling off the Atlantic City Expressway, and it was the only one left that still had Trump’s name on it. It drew national attention for its events—Mike Tyson won his legendary 91-second first-round knockout there—and it provided good-paying jobs for the region’s workforce, back when Atlantic City had the only gaming on the East Coast.

“I met Trump many times. Loved the man,” said Carl Ulrich, who was a gaming mechanic at Trump Plaza. Ulrich said Trump asked him both about his family and for advice on the look of the roulette tables. “Great boss. Great everything.” 

Ulrich brought pictures from his time at the casino to the implosion. Another former worker, security guard Junior Rivera, brought his name tag. Gamblers, meanwhile, brought their memories—more of wins than losses, of course. 

“I won $50 my first slot pull and I was like, ‘Whoah!’” said April Knighton of her first time on a slot machine at her 21st birthday party at Trump Plaza more than 30 years ago. 

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Spectators watch the implosion on February 17, 2021 Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

After Trump Plaza shuttered in 2014, it shed chunks off its facade, becoming increasingly hazardous, and so it had to be knocked down. The physical demise of Trump’s empire tracks with the demise of Atlantic City as a gambling destination. The city has always lived in a constant state of reinvention, but Carl Icahn, the billionaire who bought the deed to the Trump Plaza site for $3 million, hasn’t announced plans about what he’ll build there. The clean-up alone will take months.

Listen to Matt Katz's report on WNYC:

A few weren’t there for Trump, nor his casino, nor Atlantic City. For some, it was a way to do something in the dead of winter, in the middle of a pandemic. Robin DiGrazio and his adult son drove down from Central Jersey just to see something blow up.

“We don’t get to do too many things together,” DiGrazio said. “So this is a bonding moment, to see an implosion.”

A few minutes after 9 a.m., the boom came. There was a smattering of cheers. Then, the smoke cleared, and spectators drove off rather quickly, like bettors fleeing a bad-luck blackjack table.

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