Past Times

First Azalea Festival happened 66 years ago

Governor Gregg Cherry crowns the first ever “Azalea Queen” in 1948.
Governor Gregg Cherry crowns the first ever “Azalea Queen” in 1948. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library

In the spring of 1948, Dr. W. Houston Moore of Wilmington was finally seeing his dream realized as the city hosted its first Azalea Festival. Hugh Morton was the first festival president, and actress Jacqueline White was its first Azalea Queen. N&O readers got an extensive report on the festivities.

Beauteous Jacqueline White, Hollywood starlet and Wilmington’s first azalea queen was the toast of the town today as she began a three-day reign under blue skies and sunshine.

The California lass began a whirlwind round of festivity this afternoon after arriving at 12:30 o’clock where the azalea festival’s reception committee headed by Mayor E. L. White, Dr. W. Houston Moore, and J. Holmes Davis officially welcomed her to Wilmington.

A Hollywood welcome for the movie starlet greeted her on arrival as hundreds of Wilmingtonians flooded downtown streets and the railroad station to get a glimpse of the first queen of azaleas.

Miss White, traveling from Mullins, S. C. in a private car of the Atlantic Coast Line, was ushered through long lines of onlookers by the reception committee and whisked to the Cape Fear Hotel with police escort.

Followed by the crowd, newsmen and photographers, Miss White symbolized the city’s first azalea festival as she received a rousing welcome and replied it was a thrilling time for her.

“I have looked forward to this,” she said in a brief radio appearance over WGNI from the lobby of the Cape Fear.

She was escorted to the hotel through downtown Wilmington with Mayor White, and her personal escort while reigning as queen, Stanley Rehder, who joined Jacqueline in Whiteville, where she was also met by newspaperwomen and photographers.

In the best festival custom, the blonde, blue-eyed beauty smiled and waved gaily to the assembled citizenry who poured from office buildings and stores to view the queen.

Perched nimbly atop the rear seat of a new Oldsmobile convertible, the 23-year-old shapely starlet from movieland personified the beauty for which the city’s festival stands.

Queen Jacqueline, who said she had enjoyed every minute of the four-day train trip from California, was dressed simply in a “new look” Navy✔ crepe dress with white pique collar and cuffs.

“And my hose are red, too,” she assured her companions who questioned the shade of the flimsy stockings which she wore with Navy✔ blue platform shoes.

And then, in true feminine fashion, she asked, “Has my dress arrived yet?” The white and lavender gown with its hooped skirt was shipped by air express from Hollywood. The queen herself carried only a modest wardrobe consisting of two suits, several cotton dresses, a ballerina dinner dress, and an evening gown.

Jacqueline said this is her first trip to the “real” south, although she has been to Florida for the filming of pictures. The N&O 4/9/1948

Once the festival got underway, N&O writer Jane Hall took over the report.

With flags flying, bands playing, and a multitude of colorful floats decorated with pretty girls, Wilmington’s mile-long azalea festival parade this morning moved through thronged streets, delighting the eyes and ears of thousands.

Governor Cherry joined the more than 75,000 spectators – the largest crowd assembled here in many years – viewing the parade.

Seated with the Governor in the bunting-draped reviewing stand erected in front of City Hall were members of the Sate Board of Conservation and development,✔ who have been holding their spring meeting here; Mayor E. L. White of Wilmington and other city officials; officials of New Hanover County; and members of the Azalea Festival Committee.

Climax of Wilmington’s first annual production of the azalea festival, the parade was composed of two “queens,” elaborately decorated floats, five bands, Marines from Camp Lejeune, Coast Guardsmen from the Mendota, members of the New Hanover High school ROTC, and National Guardsmen.

The festival, which began Friday, ended tonight when Governor Cherry crowned “Azalea Queen” Jacqueline White, RKO movie starlet, at a ball given in her honor at the Lumina at Wrightsville Beach.

Also present was Wednesday’s “Queen for a Day,” Mrs. Barbara Randall of California and her husband, Ed Randall; Ted Malone of radio fame, who broadcast his program here at the festival’s opening on Friday; and Carl Goerch of Raleigh, publisher of “The State” magazine, who served as master of ceremonies.

Tomorrow will be given over to tours of the famous gardens at Orton and Airlie plantations and Wilmington’s Greenfield Lake and park.

Attracted by the 1,000,000 azalea blooms in the Wilmington area and the gala festival, hundreds of visitors, many from extremely distant points have filled the city.

Hundreds have crowded the flower show, visited the famous gardens, participated in last night’s song festival, attended today’s military band concert at Greenfield Park, and goggled at the two festival “queens.”

Highlight of today’s parade was Jacqueline White’s float. She was wearing a handsome white and lavender lace gown, with tightly fitted bodice and hoopskirt. “Queen” Jacqueline was acclaimed by the thousands of spectators as her float passed by. She carried an arm bouquet of tiny white orchids mixed with stock.

A court of six pretty Wilmington girls, three wearing pink and three wearing lavender, surrounded the queen.

The “Queen for a Day” and her husband participated in the parade for a short while. Then they took their seats on the reviewing stands to watch the march pass.

A unique feature of the parade was the Anheuser Busch contribution – eight fine Clydesdale horses drawing a handsome red wagon containing kegs of beer. The horses and equipment were shipped here from St. Louis especially for the parade.

Seated in the reviewing stand and smiling happily was the man, who more than any other, was responsible for Wilmington’s first annual azalea festival – Dr. W. Houston Moore. For 16 years, Dr. Moore has lived, thought, and dreamed azaleas. His is the principal figure in the development of Greenfield Lake and park, Wilmington’s beauty spot.

Both festival “queens” have been entertained extensively; both have made hits with Wilmingtonians; and both have been besieged with autograph hunters wherever they went.

A slim, trim blonde, “Queen” Jacqueline White is just as friendly and eager to meet Wilmingtonians as they are to meet her. She has been whirled from one party to another since her arrival here. Miss White was featured in the movie “Crossfire,” and has parts in two films which are as yet unreleased, “Mystery in Mexico,” and “Return of the Badmen,” with Randolph Scott.

This afternoon she entertained the members of her court at a luncheon at the magnolias and presented each maid with a gift. Just prior to the luncheon, the “Azalea Queen” tossed her parade bouquet to the members of her court. The one catching it to be the maid or matron of honor – depending upon her marital status – at next year’s festival. The N&O 4/11/1948