Social Life: The Beach in Transition
HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
Back to previous section -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents
Chapter 4-- Part 2
On the north shore, at the east end of Winnacunnet Road, Henry Dupuis in August 1950 opened the area’s first shopping center, "fashioned after places along the Gulf Coast .... [providing 20 stores] for North Shore residents who are usually cut off from the main beach by weekend traffic congestion." Just across the street from the shopping center was Dupuis’ Holiday Shores Motel, one of the first motels at the Beach.
Vaudeville acts on the beachfront opposite the Casino had been popular for decades. For 1950 Carnival Week, headliner Bruno Zacchini, the human cannonball, a former circus performer, was shot into a net twice a day from his cannon. The performances also included a high-wire act, magic, tumbling, and acrobatic routines.
A highlight of the 1952 season was an August campaign visit by Senator (and vice-presidential candidate) Richard M. Nixon. Speaking from the bandstand, he addressed a crowd of 10,000 as he opened the eastern swing of the Republicans’ successful national campaign. After the season, the Ashworth was sold again, this time by Ralph Moulton to Carl E. Pinkham.
A 1953 state survey revealed the importance of the Beach to the state’s tourist business. A survey by the state Planning and Development Commission compared 1945, when there were 1,166 seasonal residences in the town, to 1952, when there were 1,741. Hampton in 1945 had 10 motels and cabin colonies; in 1952, there were 53, and the number of hotels and inns had increased by 21 percent. The valuation of seasonal residences in Hampton in 1945 was $2,407,150; in 1952, it was $3,881,050. Sixty-one percent of Hampton’s taxable property was labeled recreational property. The mention of motels (short for motor hotels) was an indication of the rising popularity of this type of accommodation. As the 1953 season opened, Tucker reported that nine new motels, with 114 rooms, had opened in Hampton. Among the new motels were Harris’s Sea Ranch Motel, the Seascape, Sun & Surf, and the Town and Beach on Lafayette Road. Each motel room, of course, had its own modern bathroom, something that could not be said for many of the Beach’s older hotels and rooming houses.
The 1954 season opened with a new type of local public transportation. LeRoy W. Leonard of Moulton Road received permission from the Public Utilities Commission to operate what he called a bus-mobile. Running on a continuous basis from the state bathhouse to the Coast Guard station, the 28-passenger shuffle service became a Beach fixture under various owners until the 1980s, when trolley-look-alike vehicles were used. The trolley’s expanded route included the Village and a factory-outlet shopping center in North Hampton.
Longtime Beach businessman Armas Guyon also gave the Beach something new in the summer of 1954—another shopping center. Situated on the marsh side of the Rocky Bend curve, behind Boar’s Head, the five new, large stores complemented Guyon’s service station. Guyon had been involved with Hampton Beach business since 1902, when as a youngster he ferried water from Hampton Falls to the workers on the Mile Bridge. Years later, wearing his long johns, Guyon successfully dynamited an ice jam that threatened to carry away the bridge. He built the Beach’s first swimming pool and was known as an innovative contractor, one who could get the job done when no one else could.
The year 1954 also saw the beginning of another Beach institution: Wimpy, a papier-mache replica of the hamburger-eating pal of cartoon character Popeye. Built by Howard (Woody) Woodward and placed on a bench outside his coffee shop at the Hotel Cavalier (the original Cutler’s Cafe building), the life-size dummy contained a speaker through which Woody spoke to, and often startled, adults and tickled children. Off the beach, vacationers were treated to the first performances of the Hampton Ski Gulls, America’s first ocean-based water-ski club. Beverly Brindamour, Phil Toppan and his daughter Wanda, Ken Tobey, and Jay Kelley were among the local people who performed with the club. One Sunday exhibition featured Bill Elliot, fully dressed in a business suit, who responded to a dare from onlookers. Some people said he would then become known as the "Skiing Cop."
The 1954 season closed with a roar as Hurricane Carol crashed through the seacoast on the weekend before Labor Day, causing flooding, destroying boats, overturning trees, cutting electric power, and causing extensive property damage. Although the summer season was termed "the slowest since pre-war years," the Town’s parking lot income was up 22 percent to $17,289. Just 10 years earlier, the lots had netted only $584, but that figure jumped to $3,168 in 1945 and increased regularly each year thereafter. The parking fee was only 25 cents, but in 1955, the Ocean Boulevard lot fee was increased to 50 cents, matching the State’s parking fee. Town parking revenues took a major drop in 1956 when the State’s new parking meters were first used.
In 1957, Marsh Avenue was renamed Ashworth Avenue in honor of longtime hotel owner George Ashworth. During the Precinct’s 50th anniversary celebration, Stan (Zip) Bond performed his act of diving "flame" from a 65-foot tower into a small tank of water. As an added feature, Bond announced that his wife had agreed to do the same stunt before him to make the event a "double thrill."
In 1958, Filley’s Marina opened in the marsh on the Taylor River, off Lafayette Road, the first facility of its type in the Hampton River estuary. That same year, a government-surplus amphibious "duck" was bought by the Town for $100 to be used for lifesaving efforts. Smith and Gilmore began to build the Hampton Beach Marina in 1959, at the time the largest facility of its type north of New Jersey. In December 1959, real estate developer and motel owner Ralph Harris announced a $500,000 project to build 100 cottages on filled-in marsh west of Ashworth Avenue and south of Bragg Avenue. The Beach had long since used up available "high" land, and during the 195Os and eariy 1960s a concerted effort was made to fill marsh west of Ashworth Avenue to construct cottages and motels. Hundreds of structures were built and the destruction of marshland was only halted by the passage of stringent state wetlands laws.
In 1960, the old MacKenzie Arms Hotel (earlier Mrs. Irving Brown’s Taybury Arms) at the foot of High Street, owned by Kenneth Langley, was renamed the Spindrift Resort Motel and remodeled into a three-story motel for 200 guests. After changing hands, the property eventually was destroyed in a 1981 fire and was replaced by the Ocean Crest Condominiums.
Jonnye McLeod of Lafayette Road, Hampton, was named Miss Hampton Beach 1962, the first local girl to be awarded the honor since a new series of contests began in 1947. Just two years later, Sheila Scott of Hampton Beach became the first Beach resident to win the crown. In 1967, Sheila went to Atlantic City as Miss New Hampshire, where she was selected as Miss Congeniality. Peggy Spellacy of Hampton, Miss New Hampshire in 1976, was featured in the town’s United States Bicentennial Parade that summer.
In 1965, beach lifeguards, who had been paid by the Town but served on the State-owned property, came under the State payroll. To pay for the $12,000 cost, the State denied the Town revenue from the Ocean Boulevard parking lot, which brought in a like amount. Since the State could have taken back this revenue at any time, the Town benefited by not having to be responsible for the lifeguards (the Town still pays the State for lifeguards on three sections of the lower beach) nor to maintain the parking lot.
There were a number of changes at the Beach for the 1966 season. In June, Bill Elliot resigned as executive secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, a position he had held for the previous 12 years. Long one of the best-known individuals at the Beach, he first won a talent show there in 1925 and almost constantly thereafter was before the public eye. Surfing also became popular at this time. In response to the surfers, who had been banned from the beach, a two-block section of North Beach, between 14th and 16th streets, was reserved for their use.
In 1970, the Town instituted Monday-through-Friday free parking at the Island Path parking lot for town residents, a move the lot manager said would cost the Town $20,000 in lost revenue.
The 1970s brought more important changes to the Beach. For many years, the Beach had been an inexpensive place for people to stay in the winter. Many winter rentals were available at monthly rental fees that often were the same amounts paid weekly in the summer. For the property owners, the winter rentals were a good source of off-season income; for the Town, the practice has often caused problems, especially in the schools. Lower-income people have often moved to the Beach in late September or October, when the rates were low, and entered their children in school. Often these people moved before the school year was over because the Beach rents went up again in the late spring. For school administrators, the seasonal fluctuation has made planning difficult. In 1970, for example, 50 students were enrolled in Hampton schools without advance warning.
Often the so-called winter rentals have not been properly winterized, being partially insulated or uninsulated motel rooms or cottages with space heaters, creating the potential for serious fires. While the space and floor heaters were adequate to raise the temperature of a summer cottage from the 60s on a cold morning, these heaters were inadequate to keep a family warm when the temperature dropped during the winter. In December 1970, in response to an increasing trend toward winter rentals, Fire Chief Paul Long recommended the passage of a fire-prevention code that would include the requirement for a winter occupancy certificate. The ordinance passed easily on a 1971 town meeting referendum ballot.
The winter rental business got another boost from construction workers at the Seabrook nuclear power plant. The Beach was the nearest source of housing, and many construction workers, who earned high hourly wages, rented in the winter and remained for the summer, despite the higher rates charged in the vacation season. The response by many landlords was to update the quality of their rentals, through remodeling or new construction. The owners of more substantial motels with heat and other amenities found that their season was becoming longer than just June through August; the season was being extended from April through September and into early October, and for some businesses, year round.
One of the major Beach businesses to adapt to this trend was the Ashworth. During 1970, the hotel remained open until December, then closed for two months and reopened in March. The hotel was refurbished that winter, and since 1971 it has remained open all year, a trend that John G. Cutler began in 1885 at his Sea View House. The 1971 season also saw expansion by John Cardarelli, who remodeled the 10-room Greystone into the modern 24-room Ocean Squire Motor Inn, complete with a Class A restaurant and a liquor license. The Lincoln House and the Hollingworth Motor Inn also received restaurant liquor licenses. Norman Royal opened two motels and a store, which received the Beach’s first beer license.
Youthful exuberance nearly turned to violence at Hampton Beach in the summer of 1971, when an estimated 3,000 youths tried to force their way into the Casino for a Jethro Tull concert. Four thousand tickets had been presold for the concert, and the ticketholders began lining up for the evening concert at the rear of the Casino and out to Ashworth Avenue before midday. Joining those who had already paid for tickets were thousands more who wanted to hear the popular rock group. When the doors finally opened, the "hot, tired, and bedraggled" youths surged to enter the building, climbing over the railings and scaling gutters, and some went up onto the roof and down through a skylight to the main floor of the dance hall.
Police called for reinforcements to contain the unruly crowd, and assistance came from Seabrook, Exeter, North Hampton, Portsmouth, the Rockingham County Crowd Control Unit, and the state police. Casino and fire department personnel used mechanical counters to make sure that only 4,000 people entered the building. After 45 minutes, the doors were closed and the windows shut, as a requirement demanded by nearby residents and businesses in order to quiet the loud music.
About 3,000 youths were massed outside the front entrance of the Casino, blocking one lane of the boulevard. Finally, the police got control of the crowd and moved them around to F Street, which was "wall to wall kids." There the youths were allowed to remain, although some continued to attempt climbing the Casino walls to get into the concert. The show ended at 11:30 P.M., and with few other difficulties, police were able to disperse the crowd outside and the concertgoers. Selectmen and a shaken John Dineen credited the police with remarkable restraint in dealing with the potential riot.
Selectmen, police, and Dineen immediately sat down for a meeting. At 1 A.M., Dineen announced he was canceling five other rock concerts for the summer and would never have another at the Casino. The following year, the Casino, with a newly acquired liquor license, returned to the type of entertainment Dineen knew best -- big-band music. Ted Herbert, who with his orchestra had been a Casino regular for some 15 years, returned with a vocal group. Tickets for the entertainment and a buffet were set at $7 for weekends; $2.50 was charged for the entertainment only.
After a half century of involvement with the Casino, John Dineen and his family sold the property for a reported $1 million in September 1976 to James Goodwin, Sr. and Jr., of Haverhill, and Fred Schaake, Paul Grandmaison, and Sam Waterhouse of Hampton. Selectmen proclaimed September 1 as John Dineen Appreciation Day, in honor of his long-standing commitment to the Beach and the Chamber of Commerce.
The Casino’s new owners soon announced their plans for their property. After an October auction, the 75-year-old Ocean House was razed and three other buildings on D Street were moved behind the Mainsail Motel. Replacing the old hotel was the first seasonal McDonald’s hamburger franchise. For a few years, the rest of D Street was used as a parking lot. Preliminary plans were discussed for a large hotel there that would be built as an inducement to making the Beach a convention center again. Since 1985, however, the parking lot also has been the site of a large water slide.
Inside the Casino, the bowling alleys were replaced with a mini-mall of shops and games, while the dance hall upstairs became Club Casino, offering a variety of popular entertainment from rock and roll to country, folk to comedy. The new owners originally planned to remodel the exterior of the Casino to reflect its 1930s appearance, but those plans changed and a more "contemporary" facade was constructed.
Farther north on the Beach, another construction project was begun on the site of the original Leavitt’s Hotel and the old Dance Carnival: the Rocky Bend Condominiums. The development was the first "condo" project on the main beach, and it signaled a major change for Hampton Beach. As late as 1976, the Town reported more than $1 million worth of expansion at the Beach, and most of the money was spent in motel expansion. With the Rocky Bend project leading the way, however, motels and cabin colonies have been razed and replaced with sets of three- to four-story condos. In just the past decade, the beachfront, from the corner of Winnacunnet Road south to nearly the site of the old Cutler’s, new condos have replaced most other types of buildings. Several newer motels have been converted to condos as well. On North Beach, from the foot of High Street north nearly to North Shore Road, condos line the highway, and others are being built along Cusack Road. Not since the resurgence of the Beach as a result of the street railway has Hampton Beach changed so quickly. Aggravating the growth problem, in the eyes of many people, was the Business Seasonal Zone at the Beach, which permitted construction to within four feet of the lot lines. Partly as a result of flood-plain zoning restrictions, new construction now features parking on the ground floor and residential condo units above; most of the lots are completely covered by buildings.
Now being planned is a six-story hotel (although only the first three floors can be used until the sewer expansion has been completed) at the Beach, and it probably will be only a matter of time before the trend toward high-rise hotels and condos begins to take over the Hampton Beach Improvement Company section of the Beach. Here many old buildings remain, some dating to the turn of the century. Constructed first as family summer homes, most of these buildings are now boardinghouses offering relatively inexpensive vacation rentals for less affluent tourists and for Beach business employees. The change to condos -- which, when used as rental housing, demand high rates -- seems likely to have an impact on the future of transient tourism at the Beach. As Beach property becomes more valuable, some economically marginal businesses such as small shops and take-out food stands also may be converted to residential units, possibly depriving services to day-trippers, who have long been a staple of the Beach economy. Revere Beach in Massachusetts, once an amusement-park rival of Hampton Beach, has been changed primarily to a residential section.
The concern about condos was expressed by the Planning Board in July 1979, when owners of the Spindrift property presented a proposal to convert the seasonal hotel at the foot of High Street to condos. Members discussed the "exceedingly intense use of the land." Board member and Beach businessman Donald Suprenant complained, "The Beach is going year-round and it was intended as a seasonal thing." In November a Union editorial called for a study of the impact of condo conversion.
In 1982, the Planning Board rejected a zoning amendment proposed by 30 signers, including Fred Schaake of the Casino. The amendment would have established a Beach recreational zone where no condominiums would be allowed. At a hearing, Schaake said the amendment was "obviously to stop condominium development at the main beach." He argued that hundreds of motel and hotel units had been lost to conversion of, among other places, the Yankee Village Motel and the Spindrift. Real estate agent (and State Senator) Robert Preston argued against the zone, claiming that tourists in recent years had been asking for accommodations with kitchens and living rooms. The proposal failed to win Planning Board approval, but, in 1985, a Planning Board-sponsored zoning amendment passed, bringing the multi-family regulations in effect elsewhere in town to the Business Seasonal Zone. This regulation required a 40-foot setback on a parcel when more than two dwelling units were to be built. Since most of the zone’s lots were only 50 to 70 feet wide, the condominium construction stopped creeping toward the main beach and the Casino. Later zoning changes increased the square foot requirements of hotel rooms and mini- apartments, permitting those structures to have the four-foot set-back from lot lines. One plus for condos is that they are mostly new construction, built under more stringent codes, reducing the possibility of fire. In May 1987, there were an estimated 550 condo units on the main beach and 125 more on North Beach.
A prominent contrast to the trend toward condos is the Ashworth. Owned by the Grandmaison family, the venerable structure was expanded in 1978 with a four-story, 64-unit addition, with a second-floor pool, a lounge, a large banquet room, and an underground parking garage. These new facilities allow the hotel to host small conferences and conventions, especially in the off-season.
Since the coming of the automobile, parking has been at a premium at the Beach. The Town has parking lots on Ashworth Avenue, Island Path, and Church Street. Since 1983, through an agreement with the Diocese of Manchester, the Town has leased the parking lot of St. Patrick’s Church. In 1983, C and J Limo began its trolley-bus service, using motorized replicas of old-fashioned trolleys. This service was taken over by the Chamber of Commerce in 1989. Beach businesses reported 1983 as one of the best economic years ever (Town parking lots generated $224,000, twice what had been estimated), but, even with the new parking lot, the traffic problems continued. A Town-sponsored traffic survey did little to help the situation. Traffic consultants said the Beach had only about 2,500 parking spaces and needed 5,300 more to "maximize beach utilization." Conceding that few options were open to the Town, the consultants suggested operating a Beach shuffle service from an uptown parking lot. They also called for the purchase of Beach property in order to raze the buildings so that dead-end roads to Church Street and Brown Avenue could be opened to through traffic.
Unsuccessful proposals in 1984 called for a 450-car parking lot at the intersection of Landing Road and the expressway (now designated N.H. Route 51), and the construction by the Town of a $6.4 million, 1,000-vehicle parking garage, an idea proposed by the Casino and the Chamber of Commerce. Adding to tourists’ parking woes in 1984 was the State’s decision to increase its meter fees from 25 cents per hour to 25 cents per 24 minutes. This change provided income of $385,000 -- an increase in meter revenue of $123,000 for the 1984 season compared to 1983.
In December 1984, Charles W. (Sandy) Hussey purchased from his grandfather, Warren Cann, Sr., several Beach properties, including the Devon Hotel on H Street, possibly the Beach’s oldest continuing family business. It had been begun 65 years earlier by John and Bessie Cann, who had a boardinghouse. Warren Cann remembered his parents providing a room and "three darn good" daily meals for $17.50 per week.
In the mid-1980s, Hampton Beach was making headlines as such questions as the closing hours for restaurants, traffic and parking, shortages of service labor in the hospitality industry, the selling of pornographic T-shirts, alcohol and drug abuse, and problems with "rowdies" continued to concern Town officials, business owners, and the police department. Many of these problems, which have been part of the Beach for decades, seem likely to remain, for as the Beach continues to grow in popularity and as the growth of New Hampshire, especially in the Merrimack Valley, increases, people seek a place to spend weekends and holidays. Hampton Beach offers the most accommodations and day facilities within an easy drive, so peak weekend crowds of 200,000 are not uncommon. As a "summer city," the Beach has to deal with many situations that are common in urban areas throughout the country. But the town as a whole is growing too, and problems with traffic, crime, and drugs are not just Beach problems. Since the turn of the century, Hampton Beach has been and remains the town's industry, offering not only employment, entertainment, and relaxation for residents as well as nonresidents, but also the payment of a substantial portion of the town’s property taxes (not to mention the revenues generated for the State through parking meter revenues, liquor licenses, sales of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and lottery tickets, and the seven percent rooms and meals tax). While the Beach requires the Town to spend large sums for both police and fire protection, Hampton as a whole is better protected because of the size, professionalism, and equipment the two departments provide.