A Century Of Business Opportunities

September 28, 1999

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

A Century Of Business Opportunities

Casino, Ashworth Among Landmarks

By Michael Sharkey, Staff Writer

Hampton Union is just one of a handful of landmark businesses that has grown with the town in the past century. The Hampton Beach Casino is one business in particular, celebrating its 100th year in business this year along with the Union. Ocean Boulevard’s major attraction has undergone many changes over the years, but its purpose has always remained the same: provide food, drink, and entertainment for beach goers. Casino in 1906

The above postcard photograph, which shows what is now
the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom,
was taken around 1906.

Up to 1899, the main portion of beach business was in the Boar's Head area, but all that changed when the casino was built. Wallace D. Lovell, a business promoter from Massachusetts, first built the historic Exeter Street Railway (***) running from Exeter to Hampton Beach, and then constructed the casino. The building contained luxury bedrooms for rent, a dance and entertainment hall, dining room and cafe, pool hall and bowling alley. What is now a massive parking lot behind the Casino was first a baseball diamond and tennis courts.

Local businessman and lifetime resident Stan Brown was born just behind the casino at what is now the Hampton Fire Department on Ashworth Avenue. The 75-year-old said he remembers how popular the casino was, with packed trolley cars frequently dropping off visitors.

"I’ve seen the Hampton Beach Casino transformed," Brown said. "It took a lot of work by a lot of people to keep it running all these years."

Brown shares a massive post card collection depicting just how much the landmark beach business has changed. Time worn hand-colored cards show the casino in its first years, with horses and carriages parked in front, and the ever present trolley. As the post cards progress In photographic quality, so too does the form of transportation. Model-T Fords begin to appear in front of the casino on the postcards. The automobiles continue to advance in shape and size until the trolley disappears. All the while, the face of the casino undergoes gradual changes.

Not long after Brown was born on the beach, Albert Lamie turned an old house on the corner of Lafayette and Exeter roads into a restaurant. Lamie’s, established in 1931, quickly became one of New England’s finest and best known restaurants. Brown recalls the restaurant as having great class. The help was always impeccably dressed, and were very gracious. It was at Lamie’s where Brown met his future wife. Sadly, just nine years after he opened his landmark business, Lamie died in 1940, and the business was sold — it was the outset of World War II.

Brown recalls the difficult period at the outset of the war. All able-bodied men enlisted, leaving the numerous businesses around town short of help. still in high school, Brown went to work at an auto shop, as did many other young men his age. The war continued and when Brown graduated high school, he too enlisted.

"It went from everything being scarce during the war, to every- thing being available after," Brown said

Before WWII, there were not nearly as many automobiles In Hampton, he said. Those with cars could make a fast buck by giving people dropped off from trains at Depot Square, rides to the beach. After the war, nearly every serviceman returned and bought an automobile. Business boomed. The beach continued to grow, and the casino underwent massive renovations, with a completely new modern facade. A survey by the state Planning and Development Commission compared the number of hotels and businesses built on the beach in 1945 and 1952. The numbers in 1952 were 21 percent greater than those In 1946.

Casino in 1955

The casino was modernized by 1955.
{Courtesy photo/Emile Dumont}

Route 1 flowed with traffic from Maine to Massachusetts, and in 1954 Lamie’s changed hands again. Bill and Bob Dunfey, two University of New Hampshire students from Massachusetts, were looking to expand upon their popular beach clam stand. They purchased Lamie’s and stirred things up a bit by securing the first liquor license in Hampton since prohibition. They also started renting rooms, and found the room rental became a greater business than the restaurant.

"The Dunfey family were great businessmen," Brown said. "They really helped bring fame to the town and were very helpful to other businesses,"

The Dunfey's went on to purchase 18 hotels all over New England, including the historic Parker House in Boston. But shortly after the purchase of Lamie’s, tough times again fell on local businesses.

Route I was the main road from Maine to Massachusetts, with massive amounts of traffic passing by Hampton businesses every day. When Interstate 95 was built, the volume of traffic was greatly decreased, and many local businessmen feared for their livelihood.

"Many businesses on Route 1 went downhill," Brown said. "The businessmen decided to get together and really worked hard to promote local business."

Through hard work, and promotions like the Sidewalk Sale Days, Route 1 businesses were able to fight back, and become successful again, he said.

Brown established his own Western Auto Store, at the current site of McDormand’s clothing store. Longtime businesses like Marelli’s Market continued to thrive, while businesses like Colt News were established. Both can still be found in their same Lafayette Road location today.

In 1957, George Ashworth, owner of the long respected hotel on Hampton Beach, was honored when then-Marsh Avenue was renamed Ashworth Avenue. The beach continued to grow and develop, and the casino continued to entertain. By the late 1960s, the Casino Ballroom began hosting rock concerts.

In time, landmark businesses on the beach and uptown changed hands again. The casino was purchased and underwent massive renovations by Fred Schaake and the Grandmaison family, new owners of the Ashworth Hotel. Lamie’s underwent a massive facelift this past year under owner Antonello Rizzi.

Casino in 1999

The Casino as it appears in 1999.
{Staff photo/Tim Cook}

Chamber of Commerce President Glen French said it won’t be long before the face of business in Hampton begins to change again. On the beach, officials are mulling the possibility of changing zoning height restrictions to allow for taller, more modern structures. Uptown, the Route 1 reconstruction project is under way, and in three years there will be wider road ways and sidewalks — new business owners have been waiting to hear for years. But for Brown, it won’t be the businesses that will change the town, but the business owners,

I'm proud of the town and proud of the business people that put it all together," Brown said. "I can’t begin to give enough credit to all the people that made it happen."

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