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Miss America Pageant finds a home

Finally, Miss America has a good home to call her own. More importantly, perhaps, she has a place to show off.

The world's most famous beauty pageant, which for 75 years had no identifiable headquarters in its home city, has taken up residence in the new Sheraton hotel next to the new Convention Center.It might as well be called the Miss America Hotel, for it has display windows filled with Miss America Pageant memorabilia, full-length glass cases containing the gowns worn by winners and a wall's worth of the custom-made shoes worn by pageant contestants in the annual Miss America Parade.

And it will soon have a crowning touch: A life-size bronze statue of longtime master of ceremonies Bert Parks holding a crown under which visitors can stand while posing for pictures.

For more than 40 years, the pageant offices were housed in the nondescript Arcade Building, just off the Boardwalk in one of the city's seamier sections.

It was anything but glamorous. Neighborhood prostitutes used the building's reflecting exterior windows as mirrors when they primped themselves between appointments. Two years ago, the pageant moved into another office building across town while awaiting completion of the $79 million, 15-story hotel.

Early this month, the pageant's offices and its 16 full-time employees moved into its permanent home, with some 7,500 square feet of office space.

"There are thousands of people who come here for conventions and other events wanting to know where Miss America is. They were never able to see anything unless they came on a certain week in September," said Leonard Horn, chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization.

Seven display windows on the front of the hotel focus on different aspects of Miss America's role as cultural icon and are chock-full of pageant knickknacks, photographs and other items.

There's a lifesize cardboard cutout of Lee Meriwether (the 1955 winner) as she appeared as Catwoman in the TV show "Batman."

There's a Kellogg's Corn Flakes cereal box with Vanessa Williams (1984) on the front. There's a three-dimensional mockup of a 1950s-era Boardwalk parade made from enlarged black-and-white photographs. There's even a Miss America Pageant Game, a board game once produced by Parker Bros.

Inside, a glass case with a Miss America crown and a Waterford Crystal scepter stands in the middle of the rotunda. Along the walls are eight glass kiosks, each featuring life-sized photographs of Miss Americas and mannequins wearing the individual gowns they wore.

Near a bank of elevators is a giant video screen on which "Crowning Moments," a video showing the televised crownings of winners, plays continually. Officials hope the hotel's displays will fill a void.

"It's a subtle, elegant representation of what Miss America means to Atlantic City," said Bush Bell, the hotel's general manager. "It creates an opportunity for people to see what they've never seen and to see it in a very elegant setting."