Seabreeze Part 6 – The 50s

by Rebecca Taylor

The 1950’s

After World War II Carolina Beach business owners worked hard to present the beach as a “family friendly” resort. The resort continued to attract large crowds, and on holidays cars might line the road as hundreds of black patrons walked along the main highway to Carolina Beach. Sometimes on weekend nights in the summer, Seabreeze music was audible for miles, and sometimes Carolina Beach officials and residents pressured Seabreeze business owners to lower the volume.

In 1951, Frank and Lulu (Freeman) Hill sold their New York residence and returned to Seabreeze to invest their life savings, building a restaurant, beach pavilion, bathhouse, and a paved parking lot on Lulu’s inherited land – now part of Freeman Park. monte-carloThey called it the Monte Carlo by the Sea.

They came by bus, by cars, and whole churches. The Monte Carlo drew groups from  all over North and South Carolina. “We had a lot of groups who came up even as far as South Carolina…We had them come up in busses,” said Frank Hill who was proud of the Monte Carlo and believed it was the best beach facility available in North and South Carolina.

“The black people didn’t have any other place to go…there was that place down in Atlantic Beach, down in South Carolina, but I think they only had about half a block space that they could be on.”

The Wilmington City Directory of 1955 listed the following businesses at Seabreeze Beach: The Hotel Faison, the Daley Hotel, owned and operated by Richard Daley who also owned the Breeze Point Pavilion; the Edgewater Cafeteria, The Breeze Inn, and the Tavern, owned by Bruce and Bill Freeman. The Tavern was a lunch room but also had dining, dancing and facilities for private parties.

Juke Joints

The heartbeat of Seabreeze was its many juke joints.  At one point there were as many as 31 juke joints where jukeboxes (known as piccolos locally) supplied the “race music” that spawned not only rock-and-roll, but also the Shag, and Beach Music.

Those who vacationed there remember it well. Booker T. Wilson, who lives in Bolton, visited Seabreeze regularly as a young man. When asked what he remembered most about the place, Wilson promptly replied, “The dancing!” His favorite style of dance? “Swing. All of it,” he said.

juke-jointsThe music of Seabreeze drew people from miles around as live bands and jukeboxes exploded with the sounds of swing, soul and rhythm and blues brought to life by the voices of Little Richard, James Brown, the Platters and others. The area became known as a music mecca. Seabreeze’s music was so distinctive that many locals called the beach strand “Bop City.”

Clam Fritters

Recipes for clam fritters were closely guarded family secrets, and fritters varied from one eatery to the next. It would be safe to say that the basic recipe included eggs, milk, flour, and clams. Every restaurant specialized in seafood, fried fish, oysters, and soft shell crabs all gathered from the crystal clear sound shallows. Among the most famous was Sadie Wade’s place where hundreds of diners enjoyed the nickel apiece clam fritters; the recipe is still a guarded secret of those with Seabreeze in their heritage.

Arthur Ross once put together the batter for the cakes. He estimated they sold 3,000 of the 6-inch- wide cakes made up of clams, green peppers, onions, flour and other secret ingredients before being deep-fried.  The ocean breezes that blew through Seabreeze were no doubt infused with the smell of palate-pleasing dishes. Restaurants in Seabreeze served a diverse selection of food, but were renowned for their fresh and local seafood.

Hurricane Hazel

On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel came ashore west of Seabreeze, along the Brunswick County Coast. The Category 4 storm, with 140 mile-per-hour winds and an 18 foot storm surge wreaked havoc all along the North Carolina coast, but hit Seabreeze with a blow that it would never recover from.hurricane-damage

Because Freeman Beach was not listed as a Wilmington-area beach, it did not receive aid to rebuild.

When the storm departed, residents and property owners were tasked with cleaning, clearing and rebuilding. People who held land in common with other relatives found the job particularly daunting, as they were deemed ineligible for disaster relief loans.

Without financial assistance, many could not afford to rebuild. Those who were able, however, worked hard to bring Seabreeze back to life. Music, food and laughter did return; but the Seabreeze that once was, would be no more.

Frank Hill remembers, “It had taken away everything.” The severe erosion caused by Carolina Beach Inlet and Hurricane Hazel destroyed the majority of the sound side and ocean side businesses and homes. Few people at Seabreeze had insurance and though many salvaged what building materials they could and tried to rebuild, Hazel was followed by two category storms the next year; Hurricane Connie and Hurricane Ione.

Frank Hill continues, “We survived until that last one [Hurricane Alma] came through in ’62, and by them opening the Carolina Beach inlet it made it impossible because the beach was eroding so bad and it just put us out of business for good.” This damage was exacerbated by the Carolina Beach Inlet Development Corporation’s establishment of an inlet from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway claiming it would make access to the Atlantic Ocean easier.

Beach Music/Birth of the Shag

The R&B, soul, and beach music that played was notorious for drifting down streets and into other neighborhoods. Prominent musicians such as the Bobby Blue Band and Bo Diddley performed at Seabreeze.  Accommodations were also plentiful for overnight visitors, who by law, weren’t allowed to stay at hotels reserved for whites. Famous entertainers like Fats Domino, James Brown, and Ike and Tina Turner played for white audiences in Wilmington, but slept at the 25 room Loftin Hotel.

By the 40’s you had whites in their teens and 20s coming to Seabreeze to listen to the music. Then they’d go back to Carolina Beach and tell the club owners what was hot. Music at Seabreeze was a bit different from Wrightsville and Carolina Beach because it was black swing, rhythm and blues—in short, everything the white race rioters had so greatly feared a couple decades earlier. The dance moves seemed suggestive and the volume was cranked up to a level that could be heard for miles around.

The legend of Malcolm Ray “Chicken” Hicks is a local favorite. Hicks was a teenager in 1941 when he visited Seabreeze and picked up on the R&B music and dance, which he already knew from his upbringing in Durham. Jukeboxes, which were called piccolos, were in every jump joint, and Hicks had an appreciation for what was then called race music.

Hicks also had a connection with a fellow named Parker who loaded up the jukeboxes at both Seabreeze and Carolina Beach, and was able to persuade Parker to put some of the same records he would have heard in Seabreeze into the jukeboxes in Carolina Beach.

 

Hurricane Hazel – A Special but Evil Storm

By Nancy Gadzuk

hurricane-hazel-1954Steve Pfaff of the National Weather Service spoke at the History Center’s October 17, 2016 meeting. Originally Steve was scheduled to make a presentation on Hurricane Hazel. And then Hurricane Matthew happened on October 9th.

steve-pfaffDespite working long hours dealing with the aftermath of Matthew, Steve found the time to weave his original presentation on Hazel into a fascinating presentation that combined information on both Hurricanes Hazel (1954) and Matthew (2016).

paths-of-hurricanes-hazel-mathewHe began by sharing some information about Hurricane Hazel, a “special but evil storm.” Hazel became a Category 3 hurricane very quickly and killed over 1,000 people as it tore through Haiti, a pathway that Matthew would unfortunately follow as well.

He cautioned that we should not let radar fool us when determining how big a threat a hurricane may pose. Over-reliance on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale to determine hurricane strength and possible destructive effects has been problematic, especially with storms such as Hazel and Matthew, where storm surge and high water levels have been so destructive.

hurricane-hazel-impactsHe cited meteorologist Ryan Knapp’s apt example to show relative destructive impacts: I can breathe in 100 mile per hour winds, but I can’t breathe under 10 feet of water.

Hazel had what Steve called “good air”: high barometric pressure that allowed for a very large storm surge. High temperatures preceding the hurricane and a high lunar tide, along with unusually warm water temperature, all contributed to a powerful 18 foot storm surge that wiped out most of the oceanfront dwellings in Brunswick County.

byron-mooreByron Moore, long-time History Center member who lived in Carolina Beach during Hazel, shared some of his recollections of the storm and its aftermath. His family lived on Canal Drive and water went up to the speedometer of the car sitting in the driveway. He remembered seeing propane tanks floating down Canal Drive and 6 to 8 feet of sand on Carolina Beach Avenue North. Other audience members contributed their own memories of the devastation Hazel caused.

return-period-for-hurricanesSteve warned us that the return period for hurricanes along the North Carolina coast was 5 to 7 years. Also, since 1999 there have been five 500 to 1000 year flood events in the Southeast in case anyone has a notion to become complacent and let their insurance lapse.

From the President – November, 2016

By Elaine Henson

Most residents on our island consider 1954’s Hurricane Hazel as the worst hurricane ever to hit our area.  It was the only Category Four hurricane in southeastern North Carolina in all of the 20th Century or since. And, it came in on a lunar high tide. It is often the benchmark to which all other hurricanes are compared. 

Hazel’s reputation often overshadows the 1955 hurricane season which had three hurricanes impacting coastal North Carolina with two of the hurricanes hitting within 5 days of each other.

Hurricane Connie hit on August 12, 1955 as a Category Two with typical strong winds, high tides and heavy rainfall.  It caused heavy crop damage and 27 deaths in North Carolina.

Five days later, on August 17, Hurricane Diane made landfall in North Carolina as a Tropical storm with winds of 50 mph and gusts of 74 mph in Wilmington.  The waves were 12 feet, tides were 6-8 feet above normal and the storm surge caused damage to homes along the beach and coastal flooding on top of the rain-soaked area from Connie. hazel-cb This August 17, 1955 press photo of Hurricane Diane shows the 1600 block of Carolina Beach Avenue North featuring two flat top houses on the ocean front. Their porches are gone and waves are splashing at the front door. 

Lane Holt, whose parents Dan and Margaret Holt operated the Carolina Beach Pier on the north end, confirmed that these two houses were just a few yards south of the pier.

He remembers Connie and Diane well and reports that the post Hazel rebuilt pier held up through the two storms, but the tackle shop was destroyed again. Then on September 19, 1955 Hurricane Ione made landfall near Wilmington as a Category Two storm leaving more flooding, strong winds, storm surge, more crop damage and 7 dead in North Carolina.

Not only did Pleasure Island have to rebuild after Hazel in 1954, a year later it suffered three hurricanes in just 37 days and faced more rebuilding and repairs.  It makes one understand just how strong and resilient our residents are.

 

Seabreeze Part 5: The 40’s

By Rebecca Taylor

By the 1940’s Seabreeze had its own hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and dance halls.  Drawing crowds from all over seabreeze-warfNorth Carolina it became known as the “National Negro Playground.” Among the local businesses – many of them run by Freemans or members of other families linked by marriage – were bathhouses where visitors could rent bathing suits for the day.

Daley’s Breezy Pier Restaurant was a two-story covered pavilion at the end of a pier where bands played and people fished and crabbed.

An amusement park opened in the summertime with a Ferris Wheel, a hobbyhorse (like a merry-go-round), chair planes, a carousel, the Octopus, and the Caterpillar. A fellow named Charlie ran the gambling tables. A Native American known as the Snake Man set up a sideshow tent, and one of the attractions he offered was “the Woman with No Body,” which was actually his extremely short wife in a darkened setting that only revealed her head. He also ran a candy store and a small circus and mounted an impressive snake display.

Summers were especially busy when church groups packed buses for a day’s amusement along the waterfront, then turned the beach over to the juke joint crowd at night. Farmers from inland counties would ride dozens of their field hands, on flatbed trucks, to Seabreeze for a day off. Seabreeze was so well known that it even attracted people from all over North Carolina and South Carolina. Some years people would even come on buses from Philadelphia and New Jersey.”

seabreeze-cabinsDuring segregation, Carolina Beach police refused to allow Seabreeze visitors to pass through the town to visit the ocean side of the Freeman property, known as Freeman’s Beach, so the family bought a boat to haul people there, letting them off in the marsh leading to the beach. You had to walk over the marsh lands – get mud in your feet and everywhere else.

Later Captain Rick Wilson – who later became the first black party-boat operator to get a slip at the Carolina Beach marina – ran a speedboat out of Seabreeze, offering rides for 50 cents a head.   Others, including Margaret Green, ran ferries to take visitors across the sound to the ocean beach on the outlying barrier  island. As the local economy recovered from the Great Depression, the Seabreeze community and its’ recreation area were fully developed.

Bruce’s Tavern was a two-story restaurant and dance hall with a fishing pier owned by Bruce Freeman. There was also Daley’s Pier with a restaurant and pier for fishing and crabbing. At Barbecue Sam’s, the proprietor raised pigs, butchered them, and smoked them on premises. Several bathhouses existed that seabreeze-womanallowed people to come out of the ocean, take a shower, get dressed, and go to the pavilions to dance.

There was a row of vine covered cottages which were used for overnight stays for people unable to drive and even an unofficial community jail. Photographers’ shops, where visitors could have their pictures taken as mementos of their summer visits to Seabreeze were scattered throughout the area.

William Freeman who was born in 1941 and grew up in Seabreeze says, “It was fun, it was fun, it was fun. For black people to be able to come to a place like this, they came and danced and kicked up and had fun the whole weekend. That had to be a great thing for us psychologically. All these places, blacks owned it all. It was far more valuable than we realized it was.”

WWII
In January of 1942 a meeting was called to inform “all negro citizens“ of the Sea Breeze area and to organize civilian defense units. The meeting was held at the Freeman church and Sheriff C. David Jones and the Mayor of Carolina Beach were the invited speakers.

In April 1942, the Federal Works Agency (FWA) allocated $12,800 for the construction of a bath house for the military. It included showers, locker rooms, and a lounge area.

In 1941, Camp Davis opened in Holly Ridge. It rapidly grew to include as many as 100,000 soldiers being trained in a variety of assault specialties. One section trained black soldiers in anti-aircraft artillery while an auxiliary base called Montford Point became the first training base for black Marines. wwii-marinesAs the war intensified the military presence became notable.

Black servicemen stationed nearby headed to Seabreeze on leave. There were even some training maneuvers that took place in the waterway. One long time resident reports that there were rumors among the residents that even the FBI trained along the undeveloped beach.

Black soldiers from the Fort Fisher training base would come up to Seabeeze. Some of the Freeman girls married some of the guys that used to be down at Fort. Fisher.

By the summer of 1943 a special “Jim Crow loading zone” was set up at the main bus terminal in Wilmington to handle the large crowds of black servicemen coming to Wilmington on leave. Another group was drawn to Carolina Beach, as well. Suddenly boys too young for the draft, but too old for parental supervision, flocked to Carolina Beach to work in the busy restaurants and hotels. White teenagers had learned to dance to ‘race music’ from blacks in the Hayti district of Durham.

While both Carolina Beach and Seabreeze owners were glad to cash in on the war boom, both beaches gained a reputation as somewhat “unruly.” As one white woman who was a teenager during the war remarked; “there was a general feeling that these boys were facing the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country and therefore deserved to cut loose before being shipped out.” 

From the President – October, 2016

By Elaine HensonHazel CB

Sixty-two years ago on October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel slammed into our area as the only Category 4 storm to hit the Carolinas in all of the Twentieth Century or since.  It came in on a lunar high tide which added to the flooding damage with winds at our beaches clocked at almost 100 miles an hour.  It was possibly the most devastating hurricane to ever hit the NC/SC border.

This picture shows what is now the 200 block of Carolina Beach Avenue North with the two-story Sessoms’ Rooms and Apartments (on the right) after Hazel.  It was pushed over with the bricks formerly covering the exterior tumbled on the sand.

This post card (below) shows what Sessoms’ looked like before Hazel.  It is not postmarked, but the Ford parked next to the building is a 1952 model.  So, this card could be 1952, 53 or even 54 since Hazel hit in October and the photo could have been taken earlier in that year.

On the porch sit several aluminum chairs with webbing which were very popular in the fifties. You entered through a screen door with an aluminum floral design also popular mid-century. All the windows have screens to let the cool ocean breezes in.  You can also see a parking meter by the curb showing that at one time Carolina Beach had meters along that stretch of Carolina Beach Avenue North.  Do you think the guests parked in the sand lot cordoned off by the chain?

sessoms CBSessoms’, 52 Carolina Beach Avenue North, address was before the center of town was moved 2 blocks north which would put it in the present day 200 block.  It was owned by Edger and Novella Sessoms who also owned another Sessoms rooms and apartment. across the street.

Their niece, Carol Sessoms Ford, used to live in the white 2-story building in the Hazel picture. It was purchased by the Sessoms in the late 1950s or early 1960s and still remains at 236 Carolina Beach Avenue North, now part of Surfside Motel.  Carol stated that the Sessoms’ brick building was torn down to make room for a three-building modern motel with a pool in the center which is still there, and also, a part of Surfside.

 

Island Day – 2016

Island DayThis year’s Island Day celebration will take place on Sunday, September 25. 

It’s a time for locals to let down from the Summer rush and meet and greet neighbors and friends. 

We will have a table giving out information about the Society and our current activities. 

If you can help for an hour or two, please call Rebecca at 458-0502.

 

 

 

Zach Hammer, Producer of ‘Summers at Seabreeze’

by Nancy Gadzuk

zachZach Hanner spoke at the July 18, 2016 monthly meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.

Zach was the creator of the informative and entertaining musical production, Summers at Seabreeze, produced in 2015 at TheatreNOW, a performing arts complex in Wilmington featuring dinner theater.

Zach is Artistic Director of TheatreNOW, as well as being a driving force in many other artistic ventures in the Southeast.
summers-seabreeze-2Zach talked about his personal experiences that led to the creation of Summers at Seabreeze.

He’d been given the opportunity as a free-lance writer for the Wilmington Star-News to write an article about Seabreeze, the African-American beach community just north of Carolina Beach. But with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns as his role model, Zach wanted to do more than write a single article for the newspaper. And in 2014, he began to do just that.

He read existing writings about the community, including a UNCW master’s thesis on Seabreeze, and contacted about half a dozen former Seabreeze residents who were willing to share their experiences with him.

He learned about the ferry driver on the small ferry running between Seabreeze and Carolina Beach who would “whop rowdy passengers over the head with a cane,” presumably from one of those rowdy passengers. By the time Zach had interviewed three or four people, he said, “I knew I had a show.”

He combined the oral histories of his interviewees with other sources of local history to tell the story of Seabreeze during its heyday in the 20th century as an African-American resort.

Since both food and music were major components of life in Seabreeze, telling its story through a dinner theater production made perfect and delicious sense, with musical greats like Fats Domino visiting Seabreeze and enjoying their famous clam fritters.

Summers at Seabreeze

Summers at Seabreeze

I had the good fortune to enjoy Summers at Seabreeze when it played in Wilmington last summer – although as a long-time New Englander, I have to say that clam fritters are supposed to be round spheres, not pancakes like the ones served in Seabreeze.  But they were delicious!

While some of the actors in Summers at Seabreeze were seasoned professionals, some were not, and part of the experience, from Zach’s point of view, was to expand and grow all the participants.

Zach would like to stage another, perhaps larger scale, version of the play and hopes to explore that possibility in the future.

Those who saw Summers in Seabreeze last year certainly hope he does.

 

From the President — August, 2016

By Elaine Henson

Judy Cumber Moore

Judy Cumber Moore

Our Bathing Suit Exhibit will be open through Labor Day.  If you haven’t been by to see it, we encourage you to do so, Tuesday, Friday and Saturdays, 10-4.

In keeping with that theme, we want to showcase two Carolina Beach bathers that are also members of FPHPS.

Judy Cumber Moore was a teenager when she posed for this photo on the rock jetty in front of the boardwalk.  She is wearing a one piece suit with straps removed for a bare shoulder look.

Judy spent summers at Carolina Beach since her family owned Cumber’s Cottages near the lake. We know her now as Judy Moore, wife of FPHPS board member, Byron Moore.

Byron was a Carolina Beach lifeguard and taught swimming lessons to beach children at the Nel-El Motel pool. Judy and Byron were high school sweethearts now married for 57 years.  He later became an orthodontist and he and Judy raised their family in Winston-Salem.  Fortunately for us, they now mostly live at Kure Beach with monthly trips back to Winston-Salem.

Long time Carolina Beach resident Fran Doetsch sits on a blanket in front of the wooden boardwalk in 1956. She is wearing a trim one piece suit with straps over the shoulders and a kerchief covering her hair. If the sun got too hot, you could get some shade “under the boardwalk”.

President's Letter

Fran Doetsch

Fran’s family moved from the Sea Gate community of Wilmington to Kure Beach in the early 1930s when her step father, Dawson Mosley, took a job at the Ethel-Dow plant.

Like most teenagers at the beach, she loved spending time at the boardwalk.  She met her husband, Bob Doetsch, there and took him home to meet her mother the very night they met. Bob was in the Army during WWII and stationed at Fort Fisher.  They married December 1, 1943 and were married for 64 years when he passed away in January, 2008.

Bob worked for many years with the Army Corps of Engineers and served on the Carolina Beach Town Council as does their son, Gary Doetsch.

At 95, Fran remains a lively lady with an outgoing personality well known to residents of Carolina Beach.  She is also a wonderful resource on our history at Federal Point and always glad to share it with others.

Thank You – Towns of Carolina Beach & Kure Beach

August, 2016

Resolution:

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society would like to thank the towns of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach for their generous donations to be used for the operation of the Federal Point History Center which is a function of the Society. 

We appreciate their continued support of our mission to preserve, protect, and promote the rich history of the Federal Point area.

 
 
 
 

Vintage Swimwear: a well-suited retrospective

By Anne Rose | Cape Fear Living Magazine

Vintage Swimwear: a well-suited retrospective

Give them beaches, and they will come, with a parade of swim attire that reveals a decade-by-decade slice of life.

Covered up, cut-out, lowered down or raised up – even emblazoned with seaside bathhouse rental insignia – the vintage swimwear in this captivating local collection illustrates both the story of Wilmington’s connection to its nearby beaches, and snippets of cultural and social history.

The swimsuits and other memorabilia, which belong to Elaine Henson, are on display through the end of August at Federal Point Historical Society. Elaine undertook the challenge of collecting vintage bathing suits when she retired her effort adding to her thousands of postcards and advertising artwork featuring the seashore, seaside tourist attractions, and swim fashions.

On the August cover: Photographer Waverly Leonard captured our cover models in vintage swimwear from the collection of Elaine Henson, currently on display at the Carolina Beach History Center. Wyatt Bear graces a private yacht in a 1940s yellow woven rayon and Lastex two-piece suit with a bra top with straps that tie and trunks with a modesty panel. Karli Owens is ready for the beach in a 1960-70s dark aqua polyester gabardine one piece suit with straps that button, cotton lined bust, a back zipper, modesty panel and white cording detail. The models were photographed on location at Port City Marina, in downtown Wilmington.

On the August cover: Photographer Waverly Leonard captured our cover models in vintage swimwear from the collection of Elaine Henson, currently on display at the Carolina Beach History Center. Wyatt Bear graces a private yacht in a 1940s yellow woven rayon and Lastex two-piece suit with a bra top with straps that tie and trunks with a modesty panel. Karli Owens is ready for the beach in a 1960-70s dark aqua polyester gabardine one piece suit with straps that button, cotton lined bust, a back zipper, modesty panel and white cording detail.

The models were photographed on location at Port City Marina, in downtown Wilmington.

It seems a natural progression: the vintage swimwear brings Elaine’s 2-dimensional art collection to life.

This historical retrospective is particularly well-suited to the beaches – from Carolina to Wrightsville – lined up like a swimsuit competition for “Best in Nostalgia.” The exhibit includes 23 suits, and includes women, men and children’s suits and a pictorial display highlighting Carolina Beach beach life and swim fashions over the years.

Each suit evokes a mini history lesson. For example, the circa 1920 men’s one piece suit was a rental, stamped with the letters S A M, the initials of the bath house, in gold. When railroads began to crisscross the country in the late 1800s, beachside towns were suddenly accessible to people who had never been to the shore. Making a train trip to the seashore was a “spa” experience: saltwater and fresh ocean air were purported to be therapeutic to the skin. Going to the beach for the day was not just a recreational experience, it was a health pilgrimage.

People from around the country came to Wilmington and the beaches for the weekend, hitting the sand in rented suits. This “midwinter surf-bathing” was not an athletic outing; bathers waded into the waves and held onto straps that hung from heavy lifelines secured to poles sunk deep into the sand along Wrightsville and Carolina Beach.

(l to r) Lank Lancaster, Jimmy "Boggie" Myers, Jerry Wilkins and Coley Brown, sitting on the Carolina Beach life boat, which was a Simmons, in the summer of 1961

(l to r) Lank Lancaster, Jimmy “Boggie” Myers, Jerry Wilkins and Coley Brown, sitting on the Carolina Beach life boat, which was a Simmons, in the summer of 1961

Other highlights of the collection, after the early “swimming costumes” that bear more resemblance to overcoats than swimwear, are the 1930s cotton “Velva-Lure” lady’s pale jade one piece suit with crisscross self-ties in the back and Jantzen swim girl logo, a 1940s yellow woven rayon and Lycra lady’s two piece suit with bra top, and a 1970s red and white polyester check lady’s one piece suit with boy short legs and bust boning.

vintage swimwear“I’ve had a collection all of my adult life,” Elaine says, explaining how the swimsuits evolved from her vintage postcard collection. “I have almost 2000 postcards of Wilmington, Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach, and a whole collection of bathing beauties in vintage advertising art. I was just captivated by the gorgeous images, and then a suit would come up in my search, and I thought I might use them as beach house décor.”

Elaine curated the current vintage swimwear exhibit, adding postcards, historical narratives, vintage photographs and memorabilia to the display of swimsuits. The history is fascinating, she says, from the bathing suit companies’ cutting-edge use of fabrics to the evolution of sexy, body-baring swimsuits that foiled earlier generation’s attempts at modesty. Jantzen and Catalina, fashion and advertising vintage swimwearpowerhouses, are important components of the swimwear story, she notes.

“There needs to be a stopping point with every collection,” Elaine suggests. “Now that I have the swim dresses, I’m done … I have a whole century represented in the swimsuits – after I’ve added mine from the 80s and 90s, I’m done.”

She hesitates. “Yes, I’m done,” she reiterates, with the wistfulness of a dedicated collector.

Visit the exhibit!   Vintage Bathing Suits 1900-1990

View the Swimsuit Collection:
Now through September
Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 10-4
Carolina Beach History Center next to Town Hall on Lake Park Blvd