Saturday, March 5, 2011

Atomic City - The 1950's

Atomic City was incorporated in 1949, bringing together the docks, the living areas for the workers, and the area around the main roads linking them to the government facility. With the war over, the postwar drop had slowed the economy, but by '49 things were starting to move again and the incorporation set the stage for massive growth and expansion.

The major features of Atomic City at the start of the decade are the port and the reactor and some would say the air force base nearby. There are no monuments, no amusement parks, no shopping malls, no museums. Between the two major centers of activity all that a visitor would see are homes and small businesses serving those homes. The population is about 50,000 people, about a third of whom arrived during the war.

In 1951 Atomic City University is founded. This is the first local institution of higher learning and though it starts small it grows very quickly as it is linked to the facility that gives the city its name.

Giovanni "Johnny" Sorvino came to the city from back east in the 1940's. Originally born and raised in Italy he came to America and fell in with the New York families.  Following a disagreement with his boss he came west, started working on the docks and then started his own family business. By the early 50's he had complete control of the city's criminal underworld, small though it was at the time. Because of this he is a regular target of the city's early heroes, though he manages to outlive most of them. loosely connected to the Sorvinos are the local gangs including the Pharoahs and the Jets.

The local newspaper, The Beacon, began in the late 19th century when the local area was a rural backwater. Run as a family business, it was comfortable and familiar but many of the new arrivals saw it as decidedly small-town.  As the docks ramped up and more and more workers arrived and The Eagle was founded in  1946 by a returning veteran with a more activist and cosmopolitan outlook and competition soon took off with most of the older families favoring the more conservative Beacon while newer citizens and the students of the university favored the Eagle. Throughout the decade the papers dueled for exclusives and scoops in a stiff if cordial rivalry.

Television also came to the city in the 50's with Channel's 2, 5, and 7. Late in the decade a local public broadcasting channel also came about, largely run by and based at the University.

Radio was already well-represented in the area but really took off in the 50's with no fewer than 8 different stations in operation. Competition was fierce and some of them were allied with a TV station or a newspaper as the decade came to a close.

The Joyland amusement park opened in 1954. It quickly became a major local tourist attraction and an occasional battleground between heroes and villains as well. recreational options besides this included swimming pools, skating rinks, and drive-in movie theaters.

This is also the decade when the core of downtown was built - City Hall, Police Headquarters, the Central Fire Station, and many of the storefronts on Atomic Way date from this time. Much of the central city's infrastructure was built at this time too - roadways, sewers, power lines, rail lines, and water towers. Most of the major parks were laid out at this time too. Burns Field is also constructed, the city's first commercial airport.

Along with this development an electric trolley system is built that runs from downtown to the university and the facility, including many middle class neighborhoods. Plans are made to extend the line to the dock area but this line is never completed, leading to some resentment and bad feelings from that neighborhood. This does not appear to be serious at this time but it does plant some seeds that will come up down the road.

Major businesses that set up shop during the 50's include General Products, Axis Chemicals, and National Calculating Machines. Great Western Aircraft built an engine plant in the city to produce jet engines and was the largest single employer by 1957.

By the end of the decade Atomic City is a "working" city known mainly for advanced thinking and research and some advanced industries. The population is now 100,000, about 1/3 pre-war local families and 2/3 recent imports, making the 50's a time of major cultural change. It is often tagged nationally as "The CIty of Tomorrow" which is eventually adopted as the city's motto and painted on the sides of police cars and the downtown trolley cars. It is not a tourist destination nor is it a very large city, but it is well known and regarded as a blueprint for the future.

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