Originally published in Snow’s Cut Monthly, September, 2009
The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society is posting this article in honor and memory of Larry Bame who died September 10, 2014. Larry was a 3rd generation Carolina Beach Bame and contributed to this article.
By Elaine B. Henson
Starting with a seasonal café and gas station, coupled with big dreams and hard work, J. R. Bame built a small empire making a year round living for himself and some of his eleven children.
This story was originally dedicated to the memory of Ruby Bame Knox who died on August 11, 2009 at the age of 96. Ruby was the last survivor of the eleven children born to J.R. and Mandy Bame and was interviewed for this story in January, 2009. She made her home in Carolina Beach until the year 2000 when she moved to Salisbury to be near her daughter, Joyce.
The images for this story were provided by the author, Doris and Larry Bame and Joyce Knox McLaughlin.
At the beginning of the 20th century James Rowan Bame and Amanda “Mandy” Ludwig Bame began their life together as a young married couple. They lived in Salisbury, North Carolina in Rowan County and later moved to a small nearby town called Barber. There, J. R. opened a general store by the railroad tracks. Some time later he built a cotton gin in Barber and another gin in Bear Poplar which was close by. A few years later he added a café to the general store.
J. R. and Mandy Bame had eleven children born from 1905 to 1929. Summers would find the young Bame family at Carolina Beach visiting Mandy’s parents, J.O. and Laura Ludwig. The Ludwigs had moved to Carolina Beach after J. O. retired as a builder in Salisbury. They operated a rooming house on Cape Fear Boulevard just west of Lake Park Boulevard.
By the mid 20s J. R. Bame decided to open a café and gasoline station at the beach and stay all summer with his family. Improved roads and automobiles or “machines” had replaced the river steamer and train way of coming to the beach. In the season, there were hundreds of autos bringing thousands of beach goers to Carolina Beach and J. R. decided to capitalize on the growing beach community.
An article in the Wilmington New Dispatch dated June 10, 1926 stated:
The dining room of J.R. Bame’s located on Cape Fear Boulevard, Carolina Beach, known as “Bame’s Café” was officially opened during the first of the week, owing to the incessant demands for some dining hall being operated early in the season. Mr. Bame had one of the best locations on the beach and in conjunction with his café operates a confectionery.
His dining room is spacious, neat and screened and conveniently located near the dance casino [Note: The Pavilion]. A complete line of soft drinks, candies, “pop-cycles” and other confectioneries were available.
The only gasoline filling station located on Carolina Beach is owned and operated by Mr. Bame, near the center of the resort.
Ruby Bame Knox, daughter of J. R. and Mandy, remembered the “pop-cycles” well; she said they made by them by putting a scoop of ice cream on a stick and dipping it in chocolate. She also remembered heading to the beach when school was out each summer. Making the trip with such a large family was quite a fete. The youngest children and their parents piled into the large sedan with pull out seats. The older children came in pick up trucks which were loaded with luggage and supplies.
In spite of the Great Depression and stock market crash in 1929, J.R. Bame revealed plans to build a hotel at Carolina Beach in the spring of 1930. Bame’s Hotel was beside his café in the first block of Cape Fear Boulevard and opened in June.
It boasted 33 comfortable rooms with running water, tubs and showers. It was a three- story hotel with a white wooden exterior and was modern in every detail. And with “Miss Mandy” supervising the cooking, the new dining room was overflowing with diners.
According to Ruby Bame Knox, who was a rising high school senior that first summer the hotel opened, most people stayed at least a week or two. Ruby worked at the front desk and waited tables in the dining room. She also babysat for her older brothers and sister who had families of their own by now. She used to take her nieces and nephews under the pavilion (which was on pilings in the front) so they could be in the shade and play in the sand. Her older brother George Bame came every summer to help her parents run the hotel.
By the mid 30s J. R Bame had decided to remodel and enlarge the hotel. The end result was a bricked exterior with 60 rooms.
There was a large paneled dining room in the hotel along with a grill that fronted on the boardwalk. The family stayed in rooms on the first floor during the summer but returned to Barber in the fall for the school year and the family businesses there.
Eventually J. R. and Mandy moved permanently to Carolina Beach. Their first house was on Charlotte Street. For their 50th anniversary the Bames built a large comfortable brick house at 714 Cape Fear Boulevard. Later their son Ernest and his wife Rachel lived there too.
Hurricanes are not the only disasters in Carolina Beach history. A devastating boardwalk fire on the night of September 19, 1940 ranks near the top. The fire began in the pavilion on the boardwalk and swept two blocks south destroying every building in its path including the Bame Hotel. The sprinkler system installed by J. R. Bame was rendered useless when power was cut to the boardwalk area, so the hotel burned to the ground.
“Mr. Jim”, as J. R. was often called, and the other business owners vowed to rebuild and be open in time for the summer season of 1941 and they did. The fact that they were able to rebuild 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 Bame Hotel boasted eighty rooms; sixty five of those rooms had their own bath. The hotel floors were tile on the first level and hardwood on the second and third floors. Red leather chairs graced the spacious lobby. The new Bame also had an elevator, a dining room and a grill that was open extra hours.
SECOND GENERATION BAMES
Some of the eleven Bame children were settling at the beach, raising families and beginning to make their mark. In 1942, Ruby, her husband Jim Knox moved to the beach year round. Ruby’s brother Ernest, who was also called “Tite”, had the Gulf service station across the street from the hotel.
World War II took Ernest away to serve in the Army Air Force and in his absence Jim Knox managed the station. When the war ended, Jim and Ernest became partners and also opened at hardware and appliance store next to the Gulf Station.
[Ernest’s son, Phil Bame, continues the business as Bame’s Ace Hardware on Lake Park Boulevard]
J. C. “Mike” Bame, another brother, ran the Esso (at other times Pure and Texaco) station and grocery store also on Cape Fear between the Bame Hotel and the Greystone Hotel. Juanita Bame Herring and her husband Alan ran the grill at the Fisherman’s Steel Pier and later the restaurant at the Center Pier. Eldest brother, George, continued to come every summer to run the hotel.
Ernest and Mike Bame both served as mayors of Carolina Beach in the 50s and 60s. Mike was also the fire chief, a volunteer position, and had a parking place reserved for the chief in front of his station and grocery store.
Mike’s son, Larry Bame, helped out at the station and store growing up at the beach. He was a soda jerk at the hotel grill and later worked at the Fisherman’s Steel Pier built by his father and grandfather and John Fergus in 1953. The pier was 1000 feet long and located just off the boardwalk south of the Bame Hotel. Larry also remembers a pool room and barber shop in the hotel.
Larry Bame will never forget the morning of October 15, 1954. He rose early and rode his bicycle over the Snow’s Cut Bridge to go squirrel hunting. Soon after, high winds and rain sent him back over the steel swing bridge where he could see the ocean over the dunes…a sight he had never seen before. Upon reaching the family home on Charlotte Avenue, his mother Alice sent him straight to the grocery store next to the hotel to help his father and grandfather get the merchandise off the floor since a hurricane was coming.
Larry remembers seeing the ocean lapping over the steel pier when he arrived and the streets filled with water. They worked furiously to save as much as they could from the rising water which reached a height of almost two feet in the store. Larry, his father and grandfather were never able to go home until the hurricane was over.
Across the street, Ernest Bame and Jim Knox weathered the storm in the Gulf station and appliance store. Ernest’s wife, Rachel Bame, remembers seeing refrigerators and other appliances floating in the store the next day. The Bame’s water damaged hotel and stores were still standing after Hazel, unlike most buildings all over the beach.
But, the steel pier suffered badly and was shortened by 200 feet. Hurricane Hazel, the only category 4 hurricane to hit our area in all of the twentieth century, had come in on a lunar high tide leaving a swath of damage you had to see to believe.
After Hazel’s repairs, a cable car ride was installed at the Fisherman’s Steel Pier called the Skyliner. The Skyliner took riders high in the air over the pier and was a huge success for a few years. The pier was again the victim of hurricanes in the 70s and was finally torn down.
“Mr. Jim” and a partner also built the Center Pier in Wilmington Beach. The pier’s restaurant was a popular place for lunch and dinner meetings for many civic organizations at the beach and was renowned for their seafood.
[In 1996 Hurricanes Bertha and Fran destroyed most of Center Pier and what remains is now the popular Tiki Bar at the Ocean Grill].
J. R. Bame died in 1959. His son George continued to manage the hotel until his death in 1968. The family leased it for a couple of years after that and finally sold to investors from Myrtle Beach in the early 70s.
They tore it down and built a water slide in its place. It marked the end of the Bame Hotel but the family continues to be a part of the Carolina Beach community into the 21st century.
[The hotel and its predecessors were located on what is now the vacant lot between the Marriott and the Gazebo.]