By Elaine Henson
Many locals will remember the Municipal Building, also called Town Hall or City Hall on the corner of Canal Drive and Carl Winner Drive.
The actual lot had formerly been marshland and part of Myrtle Grove Sound. The sound was dredged and widened in 1939 to make the canal and yacht basin. The dredge spoil added enough land to the north end to make new building lots and a street called Canal Drive.
You can see the large white Town Hall Building at the head of the yacht basin in this picture along with Canal Drive and Carolina Beach Avenue North on the east side of the canal.
Town/City Hall had been on the boardwalk since Carolina Beach was incorporated in 1925, but with WPA (Works Progress Administration) funds available during FDR’s administration, a new one was planned. President Roosevelt approved the town hall project in December of 1939. The WPA paid $20,000 and $24,000 was raised through a bond issue for a total construction cost of $44,000. A building start was delayed several times but finally got underway in September of 1941, giving work to 30 laborers.
The building was 114 feet wide and 132 feet long. It was designed in the Art Moderne style which was very popular in the 1940s and 50s. The outside was covered in white stucco with white plaster walls inside and green woodwork trim. In addition to offices for the town, there was also a large auditorium seating 800 people that was used for conventions, stage shows and community gatherings.
Also, included, was office space for the fire- department, police department, a jail for whites, jail for blacks, kitchen, recreation rooms bathrooms. The Municipal Building was used for all kinds of community activities from bridge parties to church league basketball and also housed a county library branch beginning in 1950.
The building opened with a celebration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday on January 30, 1942. It was held in the auditorium since the rest of the structure was not finished. It was billed as a Birthday Ball and also, as a fund raiser for polio research. Town officials and employees moved in later that year and it remained a town center into the late 1990s despite flooding during hurricanes and storms.
In April of 1989 the Town of Carolina Beach purchased the Blockade Runner Museum and adjoining property in the 1100 block of North Lake Park Boulevard for $398,000 (the museum and other additions are now the present-day town complex). Carolina Beach Town Council had much debate over the purchase even though they were anxious to buy before a possible price increase. Interstate 40 was due to open from Wilmington to Raleigh in June, 1990 and many thought property prices along major highways would go sky high. At first only town officials and employees moved into the new space leaving the harbor master, police, fire, and recreation departments to spread out in the 1942 building.
After record flooding from back to back hurricanes, Bertha and Fran in 1996 and Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, plans were made to move the remaining departments and employees to Lake Park Boulevard. The exception was the fire department which moved to Bridge Barrier Road. Later CBFD took over the former Federal Point Fire Department on Dow Road when FPFD moved to the other side of the Snow’s Cut Bridge.
The old City Hall was torn down in 1999 leaving that space empty. Part of the lot was used to widen and redirect Carl Winner Avenue making more open space in front of the Marina. The remainder was used to create a parking lot on Canal Drive.
Wilmington Star News, March 23, 2000