111 years ago The Casino stood alone

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Fond memories of big names, silhouette lady, and meeting under the clock

By Jayne de Constant

Hampton Union, Friday, July 16, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

[Editor's note: The following history comes to us courtesy of the Web site Rye Reflections.]

"Let's go down to Hampton Beach, Hampton by the sea,
Let's go down to Hampton Beach, that's the place for me."

It is difficult to picture the Hampton Beach Casino as it was 111 years ago. It stood almost by itself looking across the road at a brilliant blue sea and white sand dunes.

The Casino was two and a half stories high with porches running around the building at ground and second floor levels.

On Saturday, July 15, 1899, the Exeter News-Letter wrote of the grand opening: "Excellently supplying a need long felt by visitors to Hampton Beach. Upon any pleasant afternoon or evening, crowds may be seen resting upon its piazzas. They are 14 feet broad and to travel their entire length requires a walk of more than a fifth of a mile, which amply indicates the immensity of the building. By night, the Casino is brilliantly illuminated by electric lights, which viewed from a distance make a spectacle of striking beauty. The fact that the first order of 500 chairs was found to be not half enough attests to the Casino's popularity. Much of the lower floor will be devoted to billiards and bowling with an equipment of one billiard and two pool tables and two alleys."

The popularity of the Hampton Casino prompted an enlargement of the property. In 1901, an addition called "The Opera House" was added to the southern end. There were two towers drawing attention to the front of the addition.

The same year the Ocean House Hotel was built next to the Casino on the corner of D Street. This was a 57-room hotel with a beach-facing porch. The hotel was up-to-the-minute with running water and electricity. It was connected to the Casino by a suspended walkway passing over D Street. This was removed in 1915.

In 1915, there was a devastating fire at the beach. The Casino was spared as a strong wind blew the fire away from it.

In 1899, there were no houses close by the new attraction. Two years later it was in the heaviest populated area on the beach.

And how did all the people get to the popular Casino? Initially a horse and buggy did the trick.

The Trolley era started in 1897 and continued until 1926. Construction of a street railway had begun in 1897. The Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway Company ran from the Hampton Depot to the Casino. Two years later the trolley line was extended south to the river and to North Beach. An excursion train would leave Portsmouth for Hampton where 10 street cars would be waiting to take people to the Casino. They would return visitors to the depot to meet the 10 p.m. train to Portsmouth. One trolley still exists as part of a house on Mill Road near the Hampton/North Hampton line. My son lived in it a few years ago.

By 1915 the trolley system was experiencing financial difficulties. As the years passed, early automobiles took to the road and made the Hampton Casino more accessible to the public.

People flocked to Hampton Beach to enjoy the entertainments provided by the Casino. The Union newspaper said: "Hampton Beach can offer two hours of the best vaudeville entertainment in a well-ventilated theatre at the cost of an ice cream cone."

In 1927 the Casino Ballroom opened and presented popular bands and performers, charging 10 cents a dance, four dances for a quarter. In July 1930, Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees orchestra played dance music to a large group of fans. Before the dance Vallee and his group broadcast their weekly radio program from a temporary studio at the Ocean House Hotel. This was big time for the Casino as Rudy Vallee was an immensely popular entertainer.

Over the years the facade of the Casino has changed. In 1939, it took on an art deco style with a tower on the north end. The Opera House towers were gone. After World War ll more remodeling occurred in an art modern style. The various towers and dormers were no more.

There are so many Casino memories that those of us who visited still have: The penny arcade; hot dogs at the "Dog Cart,"Lillian Clark, the silhouette lady"; Kampoin's, a great men's store; sneaking into the movie (Oh! oh!). Take five and think back. What are your memories?

"Whether you go in the day or the night,
everything there is just sure to be right."

My fondest memories of the Casino are of the years just prior to World War II and into the early 50s. I remember the blackout when the Casino was dark; all doorways and windows were covered with heavy black drapes. The Coast Guard patrolled the beach with dogs and made sure no lights shone through from the buildings along the beach front.

We were older, and some of my friends took summer jobs. My good friend became the popcorn girl right in the center of the Casino boardwalk and charmed the tourists into buying lots of popcorn. I had a boyfriend who worked in the frosted malted stand who was not loath to favor me with a free treat.

"Meet you under the clock" was a common phrase, and we would gather and walk up the ballroom staircase with shining eyes, drawn to the music we could hear playing above us at "the dance." We were lucky to be teenagers during the Big Band Era, and we danced often and well to the music of the Dorseys, Gene Krupa, and any big band that turned up at the Casino. Occasionally, there would be a "Midnight Dance" which would end about 5 a.m. and you really felt special when you were lucky enough to be invited. Our favorite local band was Bob Pooley's. I still remember their rendition of "Penthouse Serenade," a song nobody every heard of. Pooley's special beat made you want to dance.

A favorite memory is attending a radio broadcast of the Glenn Miller Band, led by Tex Beneke. I went with a friend who had been given two tickets to it by people she had waited on in one of the beach restaurants. The attendees were mostly town father types, who had been invited to the special event held before the dance started. We were the youngest people attending the broadcast, and the band played to us. When it was over, we had our tickets autographed by Tex and walked on either side of him down the ballroom staircase and the whole length of the Casino with people standing back to watch us pass. We had dates waiting for us at the foot of the staircase, but we held our heads high and walked right past them.

Those were the days ....

I had a good conversation with Carole Shine Simard, who shared her memories of the Casino. Carol's father, Arthur Shine, worked at the main office of the Casino for 42 years, and Carole started at the paper stand when she was about 14 years old.

Carole had great stories about the foolish tricks played on each other and the general public. She also remembers waiting on Diana Ross; being taken to the Ocean House by her Dad when she was 6 years old to meet Julius LaRosa, who kissed her cheek. This caused Carole to say she would never wash her face again. She watched Liberace have his hair cut at the Casino barber shop when she was 12. She met Peter, Paul and Mary, Louis Armstrong, Guy Lombardo, Patti Page, and so many other stars of past years who came to perform at the Casino. What a wonderful childhood!

"So let's go down to Hampton,
Okay, Let's go, go, go!"
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