President’s Message – November, 2020

By Elaine Henson

Mr. A.W. Pate and the Greystone Inn, Part II

In addition to being president of the New Hanover Transit Company, Mr. Alexander W. Pate was also in the hotel business. He owned a hotel in Florence, SC, two in Augusta, Georgia, and decided to build one in Carolina Beach. It would not only be for tourists, but also for the company’s salesmen.  He wanted them to have a grand place with a dining room to host prospective lot buyers.

In February of 1916, construction began on the Greystone Inn.  It was on Cape Fear Boulevard, 300 feet from the Atlantic Ocean with a large covered veranda in front. The exterior was blocks made of Carolina Beach sand with plastered walls and ceilings in the interior rooms. A 30×30 lobby had a large fireplace. The beautifully appointed dining room was also 30×30.

Behind the lobby and dining room was a two-story bedroom section with 30 rooms. Each room had all the modern conveniences including telephones, electric lights and steam heat.  In the summer, windows were opened to let in the cool ocean breezes.

By the 1930s, the Inn was managed by A.W. Pate’s son, Waddell Pate.  Just in time for the summer season of 1933, the Greystone opened a roof garden on the expansive flat roof over the front porch, lobby and dining room.

That summer Cliff Smith and his Ohioans were engaged to play at the Inn. The band consisted of 3 trumpets, 3 saxophones, a piano, brass horn, tuba, guitar and drums.  The Ohioans vocalist was Cliff Smith’s wife, Betty. Cliff and his band designed the roof garden like an outdoor nightclub.  They placed the bandstand on the part of the roof next to the two-story bedroom wing, the dance floor on the right and tables and chairs on the left.  There was a white lattice railing around the perimeter of the roof and they made it look like a garden with lots of potted palm trees and colorful tropical plants.

The food was light fare, mostly sandwiches with soft drinks, beer and sets ups for brown bagging*. The attraction was dancing under the stars to a live band near the ocean.  It was a huge success and by the next summer they had added a portable awning used to cover the roof garden on rainy nights. Eventually, the roof garden had a permanent roof of its own.

A June 20, 1935, article in the Wilmington News described the beach opening with the first dance of the season at the Greystone Inn with Bob Hubbard and His Philadelphians.  The Pavilion, which also had live bands and dancing nightly, had not yet opened.  The article reported on that night, 300 couples were turned away from the Greystone’s Roof Garden because they were full.

During the years of WWII, the Greystone was converted into a USO, serving the hundreds of servicemen who frequented the beach during the war years.

It continued to be a popular attraction into the 1940s and 50s. It had survived the devastating Boardwalk Fire of 1940, being just two buildings west of the Bame Hotel. The Bame burned to the ground along with two blocks of boardwalk buildings and businesses. But, in the wee hours of April 12, 1958, the Greystone became the victim of a fire of its own.

Waddell Pate had been at the beach supervising repairs and painting of the Inn for the upcoming summer season.  He left that Friday afternoon for his home in Augusta, Georgia, stopping over in Florence, South Carolina, for the night. Early the next morning, he got a call about smoke coming from the Greystone. Firemen from Carolina and Kure Beaches battled the fire from about 5am to 7:30 am, when they finally got it under control.  It was believed to have started in a closet where paint and solvents were stored.

Pate decided to have the remainder of the building torn down and planned to rebuild.  Instead, he opted to have a Greystone Motel on the top floor of the former Mrs. High’s Dining Room and Mack’s building that was just torn down last month (Oct. 2020).

After the demolition of the Greystone building during Oct. 2020, the site of the former Greystone building is currently (Nov. 2020) a vacant lot.

 

The Greystone Motel over the Mack’s Store and Mrs. High’s Dining Room on Cape Fear Boulevard c. 1950s

In those days you took a bottle of spirits in a brown bag to a restaurant and bought set ups, such as a glass of ice and a mixer and made your own drink at the table.  New Hanover County did not adopt ‘Liquor By the Drink’ until January, 1979.