President’s Letter – May, 2018

By Elaine Henson

This summer we are planning to conduct guided historical tours of our boardwalk.  They will be on a weekday morning, last about 40 minutes and include the history and pictures of the ten to twelve historic buildings/businesses we will feature.  We are also planning a new Boardwalk exhibit at our History Center.

Looking at the definition of the word “boardwalk” the dictionary says: “1. a wide sidewalk, usually made of boards, near the water at a shore resort:  The boardwalk at Atlantic City is a famous promenade2. any sidewalk made of boards.  They enabled early beach goers to walk without getting bogged down and their shoes filled with sand.

Carolina Beach began as a resort in the summer of 1887.  Captain John W. Harper had been taking steamers from downtown Wilmington to Southport and back for many years passing the Federal Point peninsula along the way.  He had the idea to build a pavilion, a hotel, and a restaurant near the ocean for excursionists.  They would ride the steamer down the Cape Fear River to a dock then board a little train that would carry them over to the sea beach. The tracks followed present day Harper Avenue.

The picture above is a vintage post card of Captain Harper’s pavilion with the train pulled up to the back where the passengers would step down onto a boardwalk to enter the pavilion. The front faced the ocean and also had a boardwalk that connected to the Railroad Station Restaurant and the Oceanic Hotel that first year. Later there were bath houses, amusements, and houses connected by boardwalks. Notice the board from the track over to some marsh grass. The pavilion burned in 1910 and was rebuilt opening the next year.  Both were designed by Wilmington architect Henry Bonitz who also designed Wrightsville’s famed Lumina.

The photo to the right shows the later pavilion during the 1920s with three lovely ladies standing at the end of a boardwalk with a fourth, in middy attire, standing on the sand. Hans Kure had several businesses and a summer home at Carolina Beach in the early 1900s.

 

 

This is a photo of his Ten Pin Alley and Bar with a banner advertising Trap Shooting.  Alongside the railroad track is a boardwalk which connected all the buildings there in those early days.

Next Month: The Boardwalk, Part II

 

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.

 

President’s Letter – March, 2018

By Elaine Henson

The Breakers Hotel, Part III

After the Ethyl-Dow lease of the Breakers Hotel ended in 1934, the hotel was once again open to the public.

This ad from the Sunday Star News, dated May 27, 1937, shows a couple dancing in the moonlight and boasted surf bathing and fishing from the surf in front of the hotel.  Strangely, it also mentioned that they had hot and cold water. The hotel was operated on the American Plan which means that all three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided with the room rate.  The manager that summer was L. Gurkin.

The Breakers Hotel remained open during the war years that followed in the 1940s. During WWII, the coastal areas and 20 miles inland complied with blackout rules and regulations. Along our beaches residents used blackout shades in their homes, painted the top half of auto headlights black and the like.

We are fortunate to have an account of a stay at the hotel during war time.  In July of 2010 we had an inquiry at the History Center about the Breakers Hotel. I happened to be volunteering that day and took a call from Betty Jinnette Williamson asking about the hotel’s history.  After a little research from our archives, I emailed her a brief overview and she replied thanking me and giving an account of her family’s stay at the Breakers during WWII.

This is part of her reply:

This is wonderful! — how kind of you to give me such details about The Breakers Hotel history. My sister and I were there with our parents during W.W.II. Our mother had just recovered from virus pneumonia. The staff would bring a cot out on the sand in the mornings so that “Mother” could get her needed sun for healing.

Many officers’ wives lived there with their families during the war. I was a child and so enjoyed playing with the other children and sitting on the porch at night in the dark because of the “blackout.” It was also quite grand to eat in the huge dining room with a soaring ceiling. There were early seatings to insure enough light to see by. I recall either a kerosene lamp or perhaps a flashlight used to climb the staircase later at night – to our bedrooms on the upper floors.

You have really filled in the empty spaces in our memories regarding very special summers. Now we know where it was located! We came to Carolina Beach every year smiling in anticipation. However, when we had to leave it was hard to hold back our tears.

Mrs. Williamson graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 1957 and moved to New York City after that and was living in Norwalk, Connecticut at the time of our email exchange in 2010. She was visiting her sister in Fayetteville that summer and they came to Carolina Beach for the day to “put our toes in the warm southern ocean”. They began reminiscing about their summers spent at the Breakers and wondered where it used to be located so they called the Town of Carolina Beach who referred them to us.

Not only were her emails wonderful pieces of information for our files at FPHPS, they were also an affirmation of how much our work is appreciated by our community and those who have visited our beach towns over the years. It also affirms how important it is for us to be here.

Next month:  Breakers Hotel Part IV

Presidents Letter – February 2018

By Elaine Henson

The Breakers Hotel, Part II

The Breakers Hotel opened for its second summer season under the management of Forrest Smith.  An article in the Wilmington News Dispatch dated June 5, 1925, stated that he planned for the hotel to remain open all winter that year. It is not known if the Breakers did stay open year round, but we do know that the golf course, tennis courts, Great Atlantic Pier, two smaller piers and other plans did not materialize. Most likely a lack of capital was the reason and the Great Depression of 1929 was certainly a factor.

The economy at Federal Point beaches experienced an upturn in 1931 when the Dow Chemical Company bought a 310 acre tract in Wilmington Beach. They planned to build a pilot plant for extracting bromine from sea water on the mile wide tract of land. It stretched across Federal Point from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean for a mile just south of the Breakers Hotel.  By 1933 Dow Chemical and Ethyl Gasoline Company formed the Ethyl Dow Corporation.

In August of that year, Ethyl Dow announced that they were building a $3 million permanent facility that would employ over 350 workers. The Breakers Hotel, then owned by Mainland Beach Corporation, was leased for one year as a private hotel for upper management, superintendents, foremen, and technicians.  It was redecorated and refurnished for the Ethyl Dow employees.  John S. Divine was the manager of the Breakers during the lease period.  He was formerly the manager of the Seashore Hotel at Wrightsville Beach and the Orton Hotel in Wilmington.

Breakers Hotel as it appeared when Ethyl Dow leased it 1933-1934, the sign near the end of the second floor porch says “EDCCO Club”.  Photo from FPHPS’ Collection.

Monroe Shigley came to the N. C. Ethyl Dow plant from the Midland, Michigan Dow Chemical plant in 1933 and was plant manager from 1936-1941. Mr. Shigley recalls the Breakers Hotel in an oral history interview by Ralph Buell who was also employed by Ethyl Dow.  In part of that interview he stated:

Monroe Shigley

The hotel, during our residence had a big dining room, named the EDCCO Club, where everyone ate.  The number 1 table fed the top people: the Beutels, the Bransons (head of construction), the L.J. Richards (chief engineer) and the Willard Dows and Ethyl bigwigs when they came.  That table had finger bowls and the services of William Polite, a distinguished black headwaiter who wore formal dress.  The second table had some of William Polite’s time but no finger bowls.  Of perhaps ten tables, I and some others were at the last table.  More business was certainly done at the top tables but at ours, we had more fun.”  

Monroe Shigley was a Harvard graduate with a degree in engineering. He went to work for Dow Chemical in 1930 and retired in 1970 after a 40 year career. He worked at their plants in Michigan, North Carolina and Texas. He and his wife, Mary Graham Shigley from Wilmington, spent their retirement years at the family apple and cherry orchard in Freemont, Michigan and later lived in Yakima and Tacoma, Washington. He died in 1999 and she in 2008; they are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Lansing, Michigan.

The Shigley interview was submitted by Howard Hewett in September of 2014 along with other documents and photographs and is part of FPHPS archive on Ethyl Dow.  It can be accessed here on our website.

Next month:  Breakers Hotel Part III

 

President’s Letter – January, 2018

By Elaine Henson

The Breakers Hotel,   Part I

Breakers Hotel   photo courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library, Louis T. Moore Collection

The Breakers Hotel opened in May of 1924 at what was then known as Wilmington Beach.  It was a three story brick hotel with 50 rooms, 40 with a private bath.  A second story veranda ran the length of the building which faced the ocean. The Breakers was located on what is now South Lake Park Boulevard between North Carolina Avenue and Ocean Boulevard.  Sea Colony Condominiums are there now.

The Breakers’ story began with an article in the Wilmington News Dispatch on July 6, 1913, about the newly formed Wilmington Beach Corporation and their plans for development.  The investors were C.E. Freenamyer, C.C. Chadbourn, L.W. Davis, Jr., J.J. Hopkins, D.N. Chadwick Jr., F.P. Jackson and S.V. Bowden; their vision was for Wilmington Beach to become the Atlantic City of the South. The corporation’s property ran for one mile fronting the ocean and west across Federal Point to the Cape Fear River.

They planned for a macadam [crushed gravel compacted and often topped with water, oil or tarvia] boulevard one mile long running north to south and 50 to 90 feet wide avenues lined with building lots. The crown jewel was to be a large modern hotel on the ocean with a hundred feet in length and  25 feet wide boardwalk in front.  There was to be a pavilion and large garage for parking near the hotel.

Also the plans called for a Great Atlantic Pier in front of the hotel with smaller piers on the northern and southern ends of the property. The piers would each have refreshment parlors similar to ones at the Seashore Hotel Pier, 1910-1920, at Wrightsville Beach.

They hoped to have the hotel open year round with a golf course and tennis courts, hunting and fishing.   Ocean bathing was to be the main outdoor activity with a life guard on duty and a life line of rope in the sea for bathers to hold onto.  A bathhouse was to be in the basement (surely the first floor) with private shower rooms for the guests. The unsurpassed cuisine would center on fresh catches of fish, crabs and clams all served with other delicacies in the expansive dining room with tall ceilings.

An orchestra was to provide after dinner dancing music throughout the season and perform Sunday afternoon concerts in the spacious lobby for the public.  That 1924 summer opening featured an orchestra under the direction of Jack Cohn.  The Southern Collegians from the University of North Carolina were booked for the 1925 season, playing after luncheons in addition to after the evening meals.  There were also plans to have a railroad serving Wilmington Beach and Carolina Beach, connecting them to Wilmington and the Atlantic Coast Line trains.

(Next month:  Breakers Hotel, Part II)

 

President’s Letter – December, 2017

by Elaine Henson

During WWII our busy bus station was inside the Carolina Beach Drug Store on the corner of Lake Park Boulevard and Harper Avenue.  Long lines of soldiers would line up along the sidewalk waiting for buses to take them back to Fort Bragg, Camp Davis, Camp Lejeune and other military installations.

In May of 1947, Hal Love, manager of Queen City Coach Lines, announced that a new bus station was to be built across from the drug store on the corner of Lake Park Boulevard and Raleigh Avenue.

The new station, of masonry construction, opened on July 30, 1948, with several dignitaries from Queen City Coach Lines, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wilmington and New Hanover County in attendance. At the grand opening, Mr. Love declared, “This terminal was built for the benefit of the people of Carolina Beach and for the thousands of visitors to this popular resort.”

It had a spacious waiting room with terrazzo floors, three comfortable benches, roomy telephone booths, and rest rooms. There was a separate waiting room for blacks reflecting the Jim Crow era of our history in the South. In that same vein, the soda shop with sandwich bar and soda fountain was for whites only.

The terminal was heated in the winter with gas heaters and cooled with big fans in the summer months. The Queen City buses provided local service from Fort Fisher into Wilmington with several stops in between as well as service to major cities and connections beyond.

They served Carolina Beach for many years until car ownership was the norm, bus travel declined and the terminal closed.  After that it became home to the Battery Restaurant.

In 1982 Carolina Savings and Loan Association purchased the property and hired architects Ballard, McKim and Sawyer to draw plans for renovation.

The building and loan institution moved into the former bus station/restaurant in 1983 making the Carolina Beach branch their fifth location in southeastern North Carolina.  Today the property is home to BB&T Bank at 7 North Lake Park Boulevard.

 


 

From the President – November, 2017

By Elaine Henson

This month we will take one last look at the empty lots at the boardwalk that are home to the rides each summer.

The empty corner lot at Cape Fear Boulevard and Canal Drive used to be the site of the Bame Gulf Station.

The station was managed by Ernest “Tite” Bame whose parents, J.R. and Amanda Bame, owned the Bame Hotel diagonally across the street. World War II took Ernest away in the early 1940’s to serve in the Army Air Corps so he asked his brother-in-law, Jim Knox, to manage the station while he was gone.  Jim and Ernest’s sister, Ruby Bame Knox, had recently moved to Carolina Beach to live year round.

At the end of the war Jim Knox and Ernest Bame became partners and also opened an appliance store next to the station.  It was housed in the bottom floor of a two story white building next to the Gulf station as seen in the photo above.  Cooks and other employees of the Bame Hotel lived upstairs during the summer season.

Ernest’s wife, Rachel Bame, talked about the businesses and Hurricane Hazel (October 15, 1954) in an oral history for FPHPS:

Hurricane Hazel. It really took my husband’s business – the Gulf station and the appliances.
During Hurricane Hazel, he stayed down at the business. I was living at the corner of Hamlet Avenue at the time. I wondered why he didn’t come home…. During the height of the hurricane the ocean and the canal were almost ready to meet. And it did eventually.
And he was trying to save the appliances. He had just put in a car load of GE appliances. And they stayed down there and tried to save those appliances until it just got hopeless. The building was almost demolished. That’s another reason they had to get rid of the hotel later – so much water came in. All that area just flooded something awful.”

After Hazel Jim and Ernest decided to move their business to the 1000 block of North Lake Park Boulevard. They also decided to go into the building supply/hardware and furniture trade erecting a building large enough for both in 1955.  Ernest and Rachel’s son, Phil Bame, still runs Bame Ace Hardware in that block today.

 

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

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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.