President’s Letter – April, 2018

The Breakers Hotel, Part IV
by Elaine Henson

In this Breakers Hotel ad from the Sunday Star News, June 13, 1948 edition, one can see that the building has been stuccoed and painted white giving it a whole new look.  The ad’s photo shows the side of the Breakers that faced the street. It also shows a north wing and south wing with a recessed porch in between.  The lobby and dining room faced the ocean on the other side along with the long porch running the building’s length.  The original 50 bedrooms have been converted to 73 and the manager that year was George Earl Russ.

In late 1951, the Breakers was purchased by Earl Russ and John Crews.  They spent $5,000 in repairs and new furnishings before a fire broke out in the southern wing apartment on January 10, 1952.  The fire mainly affected the southern wing with the main part and northern wing unscathed.

Two years after the fire, Russ and Crews sold the hotel to Lawrence C. Kure and Glenn Tucker.  They had bought the Wilmington Beach Corporation which included the remaining unsold land.

Tucker planned to market the remaining building lots and Kure planned to build a 1,000 foot pier in front of the Breakers to be named the Wilmington Beach Pier.

It was begun in December of 1953 and completed in time for the 1954 summer season. That was the pier’s  only summer.  On October 15, 1954, mighty Hurricane Hazel destroyed the pier and most of the hotel.

What remained was later torn down bringing an end to the Breakers Hotel.

On its footprint today is Sea Colony Condominiums, between the Golden Sands and Pelican Watch.

The pier ruins stayed on for many years and was nicknamed “Stub Pier” by locals.  It was just south of Center Pier which also opened that summer of 1954, and suffered damage in the only Category 4 hurricane to hit our area in all of the Twentieth Century to present.

 

Fisherman’s Steel Pier

Carolina Beach, NC  (1956 – 1977)

Excerpt from North Carolina’s Ocean Fishing Piers by Al Baird

If there was ever a pier that described the disclaimer ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time,’ it would be Fisherman’s Steel Pier on Carolina Beach.

J.R. Bame and his son J.C. Bame, both Carolina Beach businessmen, were approached with the idea to build a steel pier in 1955. The elder Bame, who already owned a hotel and Center Pier, thought it was a good idea.

In Spring of 1955, they began construction on the state’s third steel pier. The price tag was estimated at about $75,000. At the very beginning of construction, Hurricane Connie destroyed half of what had been built, but the pier was operational by 1956.

Angler Jack Wood recalls the location of Fisherman’s Steel Pier as ‘downtown at the boardwalk.’ The entrance was behind the bumper cars and north of the putt-putt. That put it right across the street from Carolina Beach’s largest amusement park, Seashore Park.

“The pier was built on the site of the Fergus cottage, which was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel, and R.C. Fergus would later become part owner. The one-thousand-foot-long pier was an instant attraction, but – as was the case with other steel piers in the state – the metal did not hold up in the salt water.”

“Fisherman’s Steel Pier had an arcade and a grill, but the main feature was the Skyliner chairlift, which lifted sightseers thirty feet into the air and out over the length of the pier. Many old postcards of the pier and the ride can be found online and in antique stores.”

“In the late 1960s, Bame and Fergus sold Fisherman’s Steel Pier to Effie and Howard McGirt from Zebulon, North Carolina, who were looking for something to do during their retirement years at the beach. One common postcard from 1970 shows the McGirts standing in front of the Skyliner ride at the entrance of the pier.”

“The pier lost about 150 feet to a storm in 1969, and by the early 1970’s, the pier was too much upkeep for the McGirt’s, who returned it to Bame and Fergus. Fisherman’s Steel Pier was closed and demolished shortly after.”

 

Upcoming Events – Walk to Sugar Loaf and Walk of Fame

Walk the “Sugar Loaf Line-of-Defense” with Chris Fonvielle

Saturday March 17, 2017  – 2 pm to 4 pm

Donation $10.00

To register call 910-458-0502.

Including the entrenchments in the proposed “Ryder Lewis Park”

 

 


Don’t Miss the 2018 ‘Walk of Fame’ Ceremony

 Saturday March 24, 2018

1:00 pm

At the Carolina Beach Lake

 

We need your help!

Coming Summer 2018!

“Celebrating  the Boardwalk”

We need your help. We are looking for objects

(souvenirs and memorabilia) to borrow for display.

 


     We will probably keep the exhibit up for 9 months to a year.

Ashtrays, spoon holders, key chains,     

Magnets, plates, tea cups,  Pendants, beer bottles,

cupie dolls, and shells glued to anything.

 

 

 

 

We Need Your Help!

Coming Summer 2018!

“Celebrating the Boardwalk

 

We need your help. We are looking for objects (souvenirs and memorabilia) to borrow for display.

We will probably keep the exhibit up for 9 months to a year.

 

Ashtrays, spoon holders, key chains, Magnets, plates, tea cups,  Pendants, beer bottles, cupie dolls, and shells glued to anything.

 

We need your Knick-Knacks!

 

From the President – October, 2017

By Elaine Henson

This month we are continuing to look at some of the empty lots on the boardwalk where the summer rides are located.

The lot between the Gazebo and the Marriott Hotel was the site of three Bame Hotel buildings built by James Rowan Bame and his wife, Mandy, from Barber, North Carolina.

The first Bame opened on the site in June, 1930.  It was three stories with a white wooden exterior and contained “33 rooms with running water, tubs and showers” according to a 1930s brochure.  Bame’s Hotel faced Cape Fear Boulevard near the wooden boardwalk and included a café with “Miss Mandy” in charge of the cooking. The rates were $1.50 to $2.50 per day or $10.00 to $15.00 a week based on the European Plan which did not include meals.

By 1935, “Mr. Jim” decided to enlarge and remodel his hotel with a brick exterior and including a large paneled dining room and a grill which faced the boardwalk.  The 60 rooms had a single bed or double bed with or without a private bath.

But it was not to last.  On the night of September 19, 1940, a fire began in the old pavilion and swept away two blocks of the boardwalk including the Bame Hotel reducing it to rubble.  Mr. Jim and the other business owners vowed to rebuild in time for the summer of 1941 and they did.  The fact that they were able to restore two entire blocks from ashes in just a few months earned Carolina Beach the nickname “The South’s Miracle Beach”.

The new brick three story Hotel Bame had 80 rooms, 65 with a private bath.  The floors on the first level were tile with hardwoods on the second and third floors. Red leather chairs graced the spacious lobby.

The new Bame also had an elevator, sizable dining room facing Cape Fear Boulevard, another grill on the boardwalk and optional air conditioning window units in the rooms.  It later included a pool room and a barber shop.

J.R. Bame died in 1959 with his son, George, continuing to manage the hotel until his death in 1968.  The family leased it for a few years before selling it to investors from Myrtle Beach in the early 1970s, who tore it down and built a water slide in its place.

 

From the President – September, 2017

By Elaine Henson

Click

The summer boardwalk rides have added so much in making Carolina Beach a family destination again.  The empty lots where families now ride was formerly occupied by several buildings and businesses. Some of those lots are footprints of large hotels built in the 1920s-30s.

This month we will look at the Hotel Royal Palm and Fountains Rooms and Apartments which were along Harper Avenue between Canal Drive and Lake Park Boulevard as seen in this post card.

The builder and owner was named Willie Gardner Fountain.  (Mr. Fountain did lease the building on the right to Mr. Southerland for a few years and thus the sign indicates that this picture dates from that period.)

W.G. Fountain and his wife Serena moved to Wilmington in the 1920s from Chinquapin in Duplin County. Within a few years he started Fountain Oil Company in Castle Hayne selling fuel oil and also operating gas stations in the area. He had a ready work force with their seven sons Clayton, Millard, Alton, Elmo, Woodrow, Gus and Archie. Summer months were slow in the fuel oil business and so he decided to start a summer business at Carolina Beach.

In 1935 he built three two-story buildings with 20 rooms each on Harper Avenue near the boardwalk and named them Fountain’s Rooms and Apartments. One could rent a room or an efficiency apartment for a stay at the beach. They were so popular that Mr. Fountain decided to build a hotel next door opening in time for the 1936 summer season.

The four-story Royal Palm Hotel had 58 rooms with wrap around porches, a spacious lobby, dining room and the first elevator at Carolina Beach. Perhaps its most distinctive feature was a neon sign spelling out the name in four foot letters that could be seen a mile away.

In 1946, Fountain enlarged the Royal Palm with a fifty room addition over a cafeteria that seated 100 people.

People flocked to Carolina Beach and business was good.  These businesses also survived the disastrous 1940 boardwalk fire in addition to rebuilding after Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and several other storms.

W.G. Fountain, a very astute businessman, was the founder of the Bank of Carolina Beach and served on the Carolina Beach Board of Alderman, also serving as Mayor ProTem and Mayor.  He died in 1956 leaving the businesses to his sons and daughter, Lila Fountain, who was Miss Carolina Beach 1939. They sold and moved the Rooms and Apartments in 1959 to make a parking lot for the Royal Palm and later sold the hotel in 1961.

For the next 20 years the hotel had various owners and experienced a slow decline until Vince and Dee Bolden bought it in 1982.  They renamed it the Hotel Astor remodeling the 107 rooms to 53 more spacious rooms with private baths.

In spite of their efforts, the hotel continued to decline prompting the Boldens to sell it in 1994.  That trend continued until it was condemned by the Town of Carolina Beach in 2005.

Awaiting demolition, the building was burned on June 27, 2005, by an arsonist who was later tried and convicted.  The empty lots along Harper Avenue have been there ever since coming to life every summer to the delight of families and children.

 

From the President – August, 2017

By Elaine Henson

Many of you have undoubtedly heard the news about the ocean front Carolina Surf Condominium at 102 Carolina Beach Avenue South being condemned.  It seems that the four story, 28 unit condo built in 1986 has a “lack of structural integrity” with metal support beams corroded to half their original size. It got me thinking about what was at that location before the Carolina Surf was built.

For several summers in the 1980s our family rented a cottage right across the street from the Accordion Motel which was then at that address.  The Accordion was a large 2 story, “U-shaped” building with asbestos shingling.  The rear rooms faced the ocean with a pool in the center of the U as seen in this post card from the 1950s.

The picture taken by renowned Wilmington photographer John Kelly, whose studio/home was at Third and Greenfield Streets near Greenfield Lake.  Note the guests sitting on blankets, folding aluminum chairs with woven webbing didn’t become popular on the beach until the 60s.

You can also see a rock jetty beside the motel.  Jetties, made from rocks or creosote poles, were used in a futile attempt to keep the sand from washing away back then.

The motel had 30 pine paneled rooms and baths all “cross ventilated” which is good because I don’t see any window units.  It was owned and operated by Alice and John Washburn who advertised that it was “Just a wee bit nicer” and later “Just a wee bit better”.

John William Washburn was an accomplished accordion player and loved to sit on the porch and play. He decided to name his motel for this unusual feature so guests wouldn’t forget the name or his nightly serenade.

John was also the mayor of Carolina Beach from 1959 to 1961.  The Washburns later sold the motel to Ree and Jackie Glisson who put in air conditioning units, enlarged the pool to 48 feet and made other improvements.  This card shows it under their ownership. The Glissons operated it for several years before it was sold and torn down to make way for the Carolina Surf.

 

‘American Routes’ Sea Breeze Beach

Seabreeze Resort

Each week, American Routes brings you the songs and stories that describe both the community origins of our music, musicians and cultures — the “roots”— and the many directions they take over time — the “routes.”

This week (July 19 – 26, 2017), we travel to Sea Breeze Beach in North Carolina.

In the late 19th century African American beach communities emerged along the East Coast as havens for black vacationers excluded from white beaches.

Sea Breeze provided summertime leisure to African Americans throughout the Jim Crow era and became one of the few integrated places where blacks and whites could hang out, hear music, and dance together.

Nick Spitzer talks to Elder Alfred Mitchell and Brenda Freeman about their summer memories of Sea Breeze before white developers claimed ownership of the beach.

Enjoy the full program (11:22) at americanroutes.org.

 

 

Gil Burnett – Memories of the Carolina Beach Boardwalk

Click image – to view images & videos

Want to take a walk along the new and improved Carolina Beach Boardwalk?

And learn something about its history from master storyteller and long-time resident Gil Burnett while you’re there?

Click the image or follow this link to a series of pictures from a recent History Center walk with the retired Chief Justice Court Judge. Click or tap on any image in the photo series to view images in full screen mode.

Video clips capture Gil’s experience as a 12-year-old setting up a successful sno-ball operation on the Boardwalk and provide some background on the evolution of shagging in Carolina Beach.

See you on the Boardwalk!