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

 

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