by Rebecca Taylor
After World War II Carolina Beach business owners worked hard to present the beach as a “family friendly” resort. The resort continued to attract large crowds, and on holidays cars might line the road as hundreds of black patrons walked along the main highway to Carolina Beach. Sometimes on weekend nights in the summer, Seabreeze music was audible for miles, and sometimes Carolina Beach officials and residents pressured Seabreeze business owners to lower the volume.
In 1951, Frank and Lulu (Freeman) Hill sold their New York residence and returned to Seabreeze to invest their life savings, building a restaurant, beach pavilion, bathhouse, and a paved parking lot on Lulu’s inherited land – now part of Freeman Park. They called it the Monte Carlo by the Sea.
They came by bus, by cars, and whole churches. The Monte Carlo drew groups from all over North and South Carolina. “We had a lot of groups who came up even as far as South Carolina…We had them come up in busses,” said Frank Hill who was proud of the Monte Carlo and believed it was the best beach facility available in North and South Carolina.
“The black people didn’t have any other place to go…there was that place down in Atlantic Beach, down in South Carolina, but I think they only had about half a block space that they could be on.”
The Wilmington City Directory of 1955 listed the following businesses at Seabreeze Beach: The Hotel Faison, the Daley Hotel, owned and operated by Richard Daley who also owned the Breeze Point Pavilion; the Edgewater Cafeteria, The Breeze Inn, and the Tavern, owned by Bruce and Bill Freeman. The Tavern was a lunch room but also had dining, dancing and facilities for private parties.
The heartbeat of Seabreeze was its many juke joints. At one point there were as many as 31 juke joints where jukeboxes (known as piccolos locally) supplied the “race music” that spawned not only rock-and-roll, but also the Shag, and Beach Music.
Those who vacationed there remember it well. Booker T. Wilson, who lives in Bolton, visited Seabreeze regularly as a young man. When asked what he remembered most about the place, Wilson promptly replied, “The dancing!” His favorite style of dance? “Swing. All of it,” he said.
The music of Seabreeze drew people from miles around as live bands and jukeboxes exploded with the sounds of swing, soul and rhythm and blues brought to life by the voices of Little Richard, James Brown, the Platters and others. The area became known as a music mecca. Seabreeze’s music was so distinctive that many locals called the beach strand “Bop City.”
Recipes for clam fritters were closely guarded family secrets, and fritters varied from one eatery to the next. It would be safe to say that the basic recipe included eggs, milk, flour, and clams. Every restaurant specialized in seafood, fried fish, oysters, and soft shell crabs all gathered from the crystal clear sound shallows. Among the most famous was Sadie Wade’s place where hundreds of diners enjoyed the nickel apiece clam fritters; the recipe is still a guarded secret of those with Seabreeze in their heritage.
Arthur Ross once put together the batter for the cakes. He estimated they sold 3,000 of the 6-inch- wide cakes made up of clams, green peppers, onions, flour and other secret ingredients before being deep-fried. The ocean breezes that blew through Seabreeze were no doubt infused with the smell of palate-pleasing dishes. Restaurants in Seabreeze served a diverse selection of food, but were renowned for their fresh and local seafood.
On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel came ashore west of Seabreeze, along the Brunswick County Coast. The Category 4 storm, with 140 mile-per-hour winds and an 18 foot storm surge wreaked havoc all along the North Carolina coast, but hit Seabreeze with a blow that it would never recover from.
Because Freeman Beach was not listed as a Wilmington-area beach, it did not receive aid to rebuild.
When the storm departed, residents and property owners were tasked with cleaning, clearing and rebuilding. People who held land in common with other relatives found the job particularly daunting, as they were deemed ineligible for disaster relief loans.
Without financial assistance, many could not afford to rebuild. Those who were able, however, worked hard to bring Seabreeze back to life. Music, food and laughter did return; but the Seabreeze that once was, would be no more.
Frank Hill remembers, “It had taken away everything.” The severe erosion caused by Carolina Beach Inlet and Hurricane Hazel destroyed the majority of the sound side and ocean side businesses and homes. Few people at Seabreeze had insurance and though many salvaged what building materials they could and tried to rebuild, Hazel was followed by two category storms the next year; Hurricane Connie and Hurricane Ione.
Frank Hill continues, “We survived until that last one [Hurricane Alma] came through in ’62, and by them opening the Carolina Beach inlet it made it impossible because the beach was eroding so bad and it just put us out of business for good.” This damage was exacerbated by the Carolina Beach Inlet Development Corporation’s establishment of an inlet from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway claiming it would make access to the Atlantic Ocean easier.
Beach Music/Birth of the Shag
The R&B, soul, and beach music that played was notorious for drifting down streets and into other neighborhoods. Prominent musicians such as the Bobby Blue Band and Bo Diddley performed at Seabreeze. Accommodations were also plentiful for overnight visitors, who by law, weren’t allowed to stay at hotels reserved for whites. Famous entertainers like Fats Domino, James Brown, and Ike and Tina Turner played for white audiences in Wilmington, but slept at the 25 room Loftin Hotel.
By the 40’s you had whites in their teens and 20s coming to Seabreeze to listen to the music. Then they’d go back to Carolina Beach and tell the club owners what was hot. Music at Seabreeze was a bit different from Wrightsville and Carolina Beach because it was black swing, rhythm and blues—in short, everything the white race rioters had so greatly feared a couple decades earlier. The dance moves seemed suggestive and the volume was cranked up to a level that could be heard for miles around.
The legend of Malcolm Ray “Chicken” Hicks is a local favorite. Hicks was a teenager in 1941 when he visited Seabreeze and picked up on the R&B music and dance, which he already knew from his upbringing in Durham. Jukeboxes, which were called piccolos, were in every jump joint, and Hicks had an appreciation for what was then called race music.
Hicks also had a connection with a fellow named Parker who loaded up the jukeboxes at both Seabreeze and Carolina Beach, and was able to persuade Parker to put some of the same records he would have heard in Seabreeze into the jukeboxes in Carolina Beach.