Glossy photochrome postcard of the Shelburne Hotel, Atlantic City, circa 1913. (The Post Card Distributing Co./Wikimedia Commons)

Want a story that somehow ties together Irving Berlin, the New York mob, and Benihana? Then you want a story about Atlantic City’s Shelburne Hotel.

Located at Michigan Avenue and the Boardwalk, the Shelburne started as a humble boarding house all the way back in the mid-1800s.

The property grew into one of AC’s beachfront gems, reaching its architectural zenith in the Roaring 20s with the addition of a tower that rose more than 200 feet above the boardwalk.

In its heyday, the Shelburne was an elite destination.

Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, Lillian Russell, and many more made their summer home at the Shelburne , according to The Inquirer.

And it hosted an era-spanning array of politicians, from Ulysses S. Grant to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

View from beach, Atlantic City, N. J. showing Shelburne, Dennis, Marlborough-Blenheim, Claridge, Brighton and Traymore Hotels, sometime between 1930-45. (The Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library/Wikimedia Commons)

After fading during the Great Depression, the Shelburne enjoyed a postwar revival under the ownership of the Malamut family.

Then came the gambling era — and its ultimate demise.

Ironically, the Shelburne’s owners were among the most vocal proponents of the hotel-casino model, spearheading the fight to legalize gambling in Atlantic City.

When that happened via voter referendum in 1976, the Malamut family eagerly attempted to jump into the game.

What followed was a cascade of calamities involving all sorts of rogue figures.

It all began with an (allegedly) mafia-connected businessman using a fake name.

In 1977, a man calling himself “Matty DeNardo” approached the Malamuts about buying the Shelburne. DeNardo was actually Emmanuel Gambino, a reputed associate of New York’s famed Gambino crime family.

Once the alleged mob ties surfaced, that deal fell apart.

In 1978, the Malamuts made a final attempt to cash in on the casino craze. They signed a long-term lease with two Japanese businessmen: Benihana founder Rocky Aoki and businessman Takashi Sasakawa, a speedboat racing magnate, per the AP.

The plan was to turn the Shelburne into a Benihana-inspired resort and casino.

“We want to bring an Oriental flavor to Atlantic City,” Rocky Aoki told the New York Times.

That vision never came to fruition. Aoki was caught up in an SEC investigation. There were financial and personal disputes.

By 1984, the Japanese investors had retreated. In August of that year, the Shelburne was torn down by its new owner, Philly developer Jack Blumenfeld.

Blumenfeld’s attempts to build on the site also fizzled — and eventually Bally’s purchased the land.

In 1997, the property became part of Bally’s Wild West Casino. By then, the Shelburne itself was long gone.

Bally’s Atlantic City. (Bruce Emmerling/Wikimedia Commons)

Few properties capture the boom-and-bust nature of Atlantic City better than the Shelburne.

A wooden shack becomes a glitzy 1920s destination. It tries to reinvent itself, only to get mixed up in scandal before becoming an empty parcel, and eventually…

A casino.

Originally tweeted by Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) on June 15, 2023.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...