President’s Letter — March, 2019

By Elaine Henson

FPHPS 25th Anniversary, Gazebo/Picnic Shelter

This month we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.  The organization was incorporated on March 28, 1994.  In those early days the Society met at various places including Fort Fisher State Historic Site, but after a few years they were eyeing the gazebo/picnic shelter next to the Town Hall complex in the 1100 block of North Lake Park Boulevard.

The Town of Carolina Beach had purchased the former Blockade Runner Museum in 1989 to remodel and expand into the present day town complex.  The property included a replica of a 19th Century open air public market which was used as a picnic shelter for school groups and visitors to the museum.

In the late 1990s, FPHPS approached the town about converting the picnic shelter into a meeting space.  After a couple of years, the town gave the go ahead and the fund raising and gathering of materials began.

There were generous donations from many individuals from the Federal Point area, Wilmington and New Hanover County.  Many donated money, materials, services, talents and man hours.  Just to name a few, the HVAC was donated by Taylor Heating and Air; M & M Plumbing donated their labor and got a vendor to donate fixtures; EWE Electrical donated their labor; Hanover Iron Works donated the shingles and Lowes gave a discount on all the building materials and other purchases.

Many organizations donated their time such as the Junior Sorosis who donated and installed the ceiling tiles and the North Carolina Aquarium employees who helped with the display cases.  FPHPS members, their families and other volunteers worked tirelessly to complete enclosing the picnic shelter and adding a 16-foot addition to the back to make the almost 1600 square foot History Center.

Upon completion they held a grand opening celebration on March 30, 2001.  The guest speaker was Lisbeth Evans, Secretary of North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

 

President’s Letter — February, 2019

By Elaine Henson

Last month we featured the 1942 Municipal Building or Town Hall on Canal Drive.  It included offices for the town staff, police and fire departments plus a large auditorium, jails and other spaces.

At some point a second floor was added on top of where the Fire Department had been.

A new garage for the fire trucks was attached next to it as seen in this 1985 photo.

Compare it with the vintage post card from the 1940s.

 

 

 

Another renovation involved the 800-seat auditorium.  The space was converted to hold a gym and a room for council meetings.

The gym got lots of use with church league basketball and other activities for youth and adults until flooding over the years rendered the building unusable. It was torn down in April of 1999.

 

 

Below is an image from the Island Gazette showing the demolition which was halted due to asbestos in the floor tiles used in the second floor addition.

 

 

 

President’s Letter – January, 2019

By Elaine Henson

Many locals will remember the Municipal Building, also called Town Hall or City Hall on the corner of Canal Drive and Carl Winner Drive.

The actual lot had formerly been marshland and part of Myrtle Grove Sound.  The sound was dredged and widened in 1939 to make the canal and yacht basin.  The dredge spoil added enough land to the north end to make new building lots and a street called Canal Drive.

You can see the large white Town Hall Building at the head of the yacht basin in this picture along with Canal Drive and Carolina Beach Avenue North on the east side of the canal.

Town/City Hall had been on the boardwalk since Carolina Beach was incorporated in 1925, but with WPA (Works Progress Administration) funds available during FDR’s administration, a new one was planned.  President Roosevelt approved the town hall project in December of 1939. The WPA paid $20,000 and $24,000 was raised through a bond issue for a total construction cost of $44,000.  A building start was delayed several times but finally got underway in September of 1941, giving work to 30 laborers.

The building was 114 feet wide and 132 feet long.  It was designed in the Art Moderne style which was very popular in the 1940s and 50s.  The outside was covered in white stucco with white plaster walls inside and green woodwork trim. In addition to offices for the town, there was also a large auditorium seating 800 people that was used for conventions, stage shows and community gatherings.

Also, included, was office space for the fire- department, police department, a jail for whites, jail for blacks, kitchen, recreation rooms bathrooms.  The Municipal Building was used for all kinds of community activities from bridge parties to church league basketball and also housed a county library branch beginning in 1950.

The building opened with a celebration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday on January 30, 1942.  It was held in the auditorium since the rest of the structure was not finished.  It was billed as a Birthday Ball and  also, as a fund raiser for polio research.  Town officials and employees moved in later that year and it remained a town center into the late 1990s despite flooding during hurricanes and storms.

In April of 1989 the Town of Carolina Beach purchased the Blockade Runner Museum and adjoining property in the 1100 block of North Lake Park Boulevard for $398,000 (the museum and other additions are now the present-day town complex).  Carolina Beach Town Council had much debate over the purchase even though they were anxious to buy before a possible price increase.  Interstate 40 was due to open from Wilmington to Raleigh in June, 1990 and many thought property prices along major highways would go sky high. At first only town officials and employees moved into the new space leaving the harbor master, police, fire, and recreation departments to spread out in the 1942 building.

After record flooding from back to back hurricanes, Bertha and Fran in 1996 and Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, plans were made to move the remaining departments and employees to Lake Park Boulevard.  The exception was the fire department which moved to Bridge Barrier Road. Later CBFD took over the former Federal Point Fire Department on Dow Road when FPFD moved to the other side of the Snow’s Cut Bridge.

The old City Hall was torn down in 1999 leaving that space empty.  Part of the lot was used to widen and redirect Carl Winner Avenue making more open space in front of the Marina.  The remainder was used to create a parking lot on Canal Drive.

 

 

Wilmington Star News, March 23, 2000

President’s Letter – December, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Once again, we are asking our members for help. This is a postcard of the Guilford Cottage.

It was a guest house operated by Mrs. S.R.Jordan and was “in the center of all social activities” according to the information on the back.

It was postmarked August 9, 1940, and was sent to Mr. Howard R. Fields in Glendale, California, from his mother.

She was inquiring about when he was coming home or if he had plans to stay and also implored him to write and let her know. She also asked him if the picture of the Guilford cottage meant anything to him. Perhaps the family had stayed there on a beach vacation in the past.

Do any of you remember this cottage and where it was located? Did you know Mrs. S.R.Jordan? I seem to recall reading about a Dr.S.R.Jordan who had a medical practice at Carolina Beach, but can’t remember where I read it.

If you have any information, please call the History Center at 910-458-0502.

 

President’s Letter – November, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part VII

Even though the future looked bleak during the dark days of 1993, our boardwalk story does have a happy ending.  From the mid-1990s into the new twenty-first century, many successful building blocks for boardwalk revitalization were laid.  All of the mayors and council members we’ve had since then have been dedicated to restoring it to its former glory.

Some used our building and fire codes to clean up buildings in need of repair.  There were committees like the Carolina Beach Citizens for Progress, Carolina Beach Boardwalk Preservation Association, Pleasure Island Merchant’s Association and Paint the Town Group formed with government and citizens working for the goal.

Perhaps the biggest shot in the arm was the announcement of a new Courtyard by Marriott Hotel to be built on the boardwalk.  The ten story 144 room hotel, which opened in 2003, came at the perfect time and provided a catalyst for further development.

The next few years saw several big projects planned, some of which materialized and others that went belly up in the recession of 2008.  But, there were new boardwalk businesses such as Wheel Fun Rentals, the Fudgeboat, the Blackhorn Restaurant and the Island Ice Factory added to the old standbys like Frank’s Pizza and Britt’s Donuts whose opening in 1939 holds the record of being the longest continuous business and mainstay, constantly drawing visitors to the boardwalk.  With its long lines of devoted fans coming back year after year and being the recipient of many awards, Britt’s remains a number one boardwalk destination.

In the Fall of 2007, the Boardwalk Makeover Group was formed by then councilman, Dan Wilcox, and business owner, Duke Hagestrom, and others which really got the ball rolling.

Council kicked in $53,000 to fund the improvements in 2008, which included new landscaping, public bathroom upgrades, colorful planter boxes, trash cans, ashtrays, benches and bike racks.  There were attractive directional signs and banners hanging from new lamp posts.

They extended the Chamber of Commerce’s Thursday night fireworks shows, begun two years earlier, with live music at the Gazebo.  The excitement was real as others joined in to help and contribute monetarily like the Chamber and private individuals.  Then in 2009, when the carnival rides returned to the boardwalk, it was the icing on the cake.  The family friendly atmosphere was back.

Elaine Henson leads FPHPS Historic Boardwalk Tour

But there was more to come!  In the fall of 2013, a $1.5 million-dollar boardwalk makeover was announced to be funded by grants and tourist revenue.  It opened in 2014, with an all new 750-foot-long, 16-foot wide boardwalk along with swings, gazebos, shade sails, showers and five ADA accessible walkways combined with available beach wheelchairs.

Then in 2016, the new Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton opened at 1 Harper Avenue, in the same spot as the Ocean Plaza which was torn down in 2006.

The 106 room, 8 story hotel is located at the beginning of the 875-foot boardwalk extension going all the way to Pelican Lane.

The new and improved family friendly boardwalk prompted FPHPS to launch a Historic Boardwalk Tour in 2018 every Tuesday, during the summer, at 10 am.  It was a huge success and will be back next summer.

 

 

President’s Letter — October, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part VI

The summer of 1978 opened without the iconic rides that had long been an integral part of the boardwalk’s charm. Looking back, many believe this was the beginning of a decline that led to dark days for the Carolina Beach landmark.

The 1980’s boardwalk was filled with many vacant stores and properties in various states of disrepair.  By the latter part of that decade there were 14 bars in a two block area which made for many problems.  The town spruced up Cape Fear Boulevard with new paving, landscaping medians and built the Gazebo.  In the early 1990’s they built a wooden boardwalk over the dunes, added new landscaping and lighting.  The town assigned a police officer to patrol the boardwalk and enforce ordinances nightly.

By 1993 there were 16 bars, two of them, Honey Bares and Roadies, featured topless dancers.

But the most troubled establishment was the Longbranch Saloon where on April 8, 1993,a fight broke out over a pool game that ended with one man being stabbed to death.  A few months later on September 22nd,a construction worker was hit with a chair at the Longbranch and died two days later.

A third death happened at the saloon that year when a man was beaten to death in a fist fight on November 20th.  The bar closed by November 30th after the landlords did not renew the lease. Dark days were here indeed.

 

 

Next month:

Boardwalk Part, VII

 

President’s Letter — September, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part V

After WW II, life on the Boardwalk got back to normal.  Beachgoers were walking the wooden boards enjoying the arcades, bingo parlors, miniature golf, amusements and rides along with salt water taffy, snow balls, donuts and great short order food.  There were still soldiers, most from nearby Camp Lejeune, who came for some rest and recreation.  For soldiers that might have a little too much R & R, there was the steady presence of Military Police on the boardwalk that continued for many years.

Dancing was still an important part of boardwalk life with many establishments having juke boxes providing music to dance by.  There was also the Ocean Plaza, built in 1946, with a ballroom on the second floor to replace the pavilion and its dance floor that burned in 1940.

Hurricanes always brought damage that had to be repaired time and time again. Hazel was the worst being the only Category Four hurricane to hit our area in all of the 20th Century to the present day. It destroyed over 300 homes at Carolina Beach along with most of the boardwalk businesses.  But changes were coming.

The 1960s and 70s brought beach erosion concerns. They were addressed with berms of sand planted with sea oats that made the beach wider.  As a result you couldn’t see the ocean from the boardwalk which was now made of concrete.  Beach goers had to walk on ramps over the berm to get to the sand and surf.  Some of the boardwalk charm was gone.

In 1972, Mayor Richard Kepley proposed tearing down the boardwalk and replacing it with a three story complex.  There would be parking on the bottom, an entertainment mall on the second floor with a hotel on the top.  The proposal was not well received by boardwalk owners and town officials and soon faded away.

But, in 1977, another proposal became reality. Seashore Amusement Park announced that they would reopen in 1978 on Lake Park Boulevard as Jubilee Park leaving the boardwalk with no rides.

Next month Boardwalk, Part VI

 

President’s Letter – August, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part IV

The May 19, 1941 edition of the Wilmington Morning Star reported 10,000 people at Carolina Beach over the weekend with most of the boardwalk businesses rebuilt after the tragic fire the year before.

By the official opening of the summer season on June 6th, the new Hotel Bame and Palais Royal Hotel were open along with the new Wave Theater.  The midway had more rides, more concessions, larger stores and wider and longer boardwalks lined with benches.  The “South’s Miracle Beach” had indeed recovered and was on the way to even busier days and nights with the advent of World War II.

Wilmington and the surrounding beaches swelled with people during the 1940s, especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

New Hanover County’s population went from 42,000 to over 100,000 with the NC Shipbuilding Company, defense workers and military personnel.  Soldiers from Camp Davis, Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and Fort Fisher flocked to our area on weekends when they had leave.

Many soldiers camped out with their regiments on the north end where Freeman Park is now. The Greystone Hotel on Cape Fear Boulevard became a USO and the boardwalk was filled with soldiers and military police, a trend that would continue even after the war years.

Carolina Beach Postmaster, W.H. Blair, reported an average of 25,000 cards a week were mailed in a 1941 article in the Carolina Beach Sun.  He said “I trace the main reason for this to the visit of many soldiers …. they send mail to every state in the union.” 

The August 2, 1941 issue of the Carolina Beach Sun shows an article on the 1,000 soldiers from Fort Bragg’s 36th Regiment that camped out on the north end of Carolina Beach.  Another article is about the 40, 000 visitors at the beach the previous weekend and another on the 25,000 post cards mailed from the resort.

Next month: Boardwalk Part V

President’s Letter – July, 2018

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part III

By 1940 the Boardwalk was truly the Carolina Beach town center.

Not only were there hotels, eateries, bingo parlors, arcades, bath houses, the pavilion, a movie theater, bowling alley, amusements and other summer businesses, but also, essential services that were open year round. Beach residents shopped for groceries at the boardwalk A & P and spirits at the ABC store.

City Hall was located there along with the police station and the fire department.  At one time, the grammar school was on one side of City Hall separated by a sheet from those who conducted the town’s business.

In this Louis T. Moore photo from the NHCPL collection, the back of the pavilion is on the left with a new fire station and fire truck on the right.  Behind the fire station is City Hall.

But, all that was to change. In the early hours of September 19, 1940, a fire in the pavilion was discovered by CB Police Officer Mosely on his nightly rounds.

The pavilion, near the northern end of the boardwalk and Harper Avenue,  was described in a Wilmington Morning Star article as  “Old, unpainted, dried and fattened for the kill by 30 odd summers in the sun, the structure exploded with uncontrolled furry before police Officer Mosley, who discovered the fire, could turn in an alarm.”  A fierce wind blew the fire in both directions but mainly toward the south. It swept down two blocks of the Boardwalk destroying everything in its path ending at the Bame Hotel.

The Bame was located just south of the present day boardwalk gazebo area on the vacant lot where some of the summer rides are located. So, the fire covered the area between today’s Hampton Inn and Marriott Hotel.

 

This photo from the boardwalk looking west shows some of the devastation caused by the fire.  In the left background is the blue building that faces Cape Fear Boulevard in front of the Gazebo.  Photo from the collection of the late Bob and Fran Doetsch.

Undaunted by their losses, the business owners vowed to rebuild in time for the 1941 summer season and they did.  Having accomplished that, Carolina Beach was billed as “The South’s Miracle Beach” on post cards published after the fire and rebuilt.

 

Next month:  Boardwalk, Part IV

 

President’s Letter – June, 2018

 

By Elaine Henson

Boardwalk, Part II

 

 

By the 1920s the boardwalk at Carolina Beach stretched along the strand north of Harper Avenue South to Cape Fear Boulevard connecting to bath houses, concessions and other businesses.  The pavilion, called casino in this post card, remained the centerpiece of beach activity located just a few feet south of Harper. The boardwalk connected it to the Ocean View Hotel built in 1929.  The Ocean View is left of center in this photograph with the pavilion on the right.

 

By 1925 the town was incorporated with Robert Plummer as the first mayor.  His home and general store were on Cape Fear Boulevard bordering the boardwalk and across from the Greystone Hotel built in 1916.  The wooden Bame Hotel was built in 1930 next door to the Greystone.

In the 30s the boardwalks were replaced and extended as a post-Depression project by the WPA.

 

The three story Bame Hotel and Greystone, with its roof top dance floor, are seen on the right on the postcard below of Cape Fear Boulevard.  Plummer’s Store, which also served as an early post office, is across the street behind the pavilion. West of Plummer’s is an early miniature golf course.  Both sides of Cape Fear are lined with boardwalks.

Next month:  Boardwalk, Part III