Past Times

Bridge from mainland made Atlantic Beach a seaside resort

The Atlantic Beach Hotel still graced the oceanfront many years after it opened in 1932.
The Atlantic Beach Hotel still graced the oceanfront many years after it opened in 1932. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Atlantic Beach opened as a seaside resort in 1928, complete with a beauty pageant featuring “Beautiful girls at North Carolina’s most beautiful beach.”

Beautiful girls, blondes, brunettes and those in between gathered here today, coming from the mountains to the sea to make the first annual beauty pageant of Atlantic Beach. The pageant this year is the original one, but next season and during the years to come it will become an institution as well as one of the most elaborate events to be staged at this coastal resort.

Miss Jessie Sumerel has charge of the contestants and by noon today she had more than a score of beauties groomed in their prettiest beach makeup and bath suits.…

At 1:30 o’clock today the participants in the contest left the pagoda aboard automobiles and decorated floats to parade the towns of Morehead and Beaufort. This parade was made possible through the efforts of Seth B. Baugham, well-known club-man and sportsman, who is acting as master of ceremonies and review marshal. The parade included syncopation, because Al King and his Kings of Rhythm, mounted on a truck, played their best and hardest, passing through the streets of Morehead and Beaufort. Thousands thronged the sidewalks to see this newest of annual events.…

This is the first day of the event and tomorrow there will be another day crowded with entertainment. The beauties go on review both afternoon and evening of the two days on a specially constructed stage with marine scenic effects. The N&O Aug. 11, 1928

But the festivities of 1928 were short-lived. It was front page news the next summer when a massive fire destroyed nearly all of the oceanfront property and caused the second annual beauty pageant to be canceled.

The Pagoda by the Sea and the other building, bath houses and concessions on Atlantic Beach, with the exception of the ferris wheel, were destroyed by a fire which was discovered at 3:30 this morning. The loss is estimated as being between sixty and seventy thousand dollars, only partly covered by insurance.

On account of the phone at the beach being out of order, the alarm was not given promptly. A night policeman at Morehead City saw the blaze and gave the alarm in both Morehead City and Beaufort. The fire departments of both cities responded, but the buildings were so nearly destroyed they could not be saved.

Included in the loss were the instruments of Kellogg’s band, valued at $15,000. There was no insurance on the instruments.

The blaze started from an undetermined cause in the Pagoda central building of the resort. Several employes (sic) were sleeping in the building at the time, but none knew how the fire started. All escaped.

Last season was the first for the resort, the beach having been made much more accessible than it had ever been before by the erection of a bridge and causeway connecting the beach with the mainland.

Last season was pronounced a success in every way and the resort had entered upon what promised to be an even greater success this season.

Owners of the resort plan to rebuild as soon as possible. The N&O July 21, 1929

Work soon began on the new Atlantic Beach Hotel, which was completed in 1932. It was to feature long sloping Dormer windows with cupolas at either end, a sun parlor facing the ocean, and an oceanfront dining room that for many years carried the slogan “The seafood we serve today slept in the ocean last night.”

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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