Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy Birthday Virginia Beach

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Virginia Beach, once known as the World's Largest Resort City, turns 100 today.

In the early 1900s, well-to-do tourists in wool and mohair bathing suits frolicked by the ocean at the elegant Princess Anne Hotel, the four-star attraction of its day. The four-story hotel, advertising fine dining, a grand ballroom, bowling and golf, stretched from 14th to 16th streets . It's gone now.

Stately brown-shingled cottages, the summer homes of some of Virginia’s most prominent families, stood to the north and south of the hotel among rolling sand dunes at the edge of a pine forest. Most are gone now.

The Boardwalk, barely six blocks long, was made of boards, not concrete. It's gone, but it's been replaced by 42 blocks of concrete boardwalk and a paved bike trail.

Atlantic Avenue was a dirt road, Virginia Beach Bloulevard and Shore Drive didn't exist. Day-trippers and out-of-town vacationers arrived from Norfolk by electric rail cars on a track that ran along present-day Pacific Avenue.

That’s about all there was to Virginia Beach when, on the evening of March 15, 1906, the first mayor and council of the newly incorporated resort town gathered inside the Princess Anne Hotel for their swearing-in ceremony.

And then it all changed, and it changed quickly.

On Wednesday, those with an interest will gather to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that day at the 31st Street Hilton – one of the Oceanfront’s modern stars.

It's hard to catch more than a glimpse of the early beach these days. Between all the souvenier shops, t-shirt stores, high-rise hotels and copycat vinyl sided homes, you have to look pretty close to see the charm of those early days.

Places like the Virginia Beach Dome and the Peppermint Beach Club, once famous for attracing world-class mu

Eighty-eight years of memories were demolished when the Peppermint was razed to make way for a parking lot.

Long a watering hole for the fun-loving old and young, the Peppermint once offered premier national musical entertainment such as Fats Domino, Roy Orbison and Joey D and the Starlighters. In more recent years some of the best Punk and New Wave bands played this venue. It's been recreated in a hotel this year, but memories made in the new Peppermint will never match those created in the early years of the original Peppermint.

The Dome, like the Peppermint, became renowned for the entertainers that passed through its doors in its early years.

Names like Louie Armstrong, Blood Sweat and Tears, Hendrix, the Stones, the Beach Boys, Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis lit up the Dome marquee in those days.

The Dome too bit the dust to make way for an expansion of an existing parking lot.

From the Virginian-Pilot:

Historians and longtime residents say only two buildings of that era have escaped developers’ bulldozers as the resort strip has grown into a $700 million industry attracting 3 million visitors a year.

The buildings are anachronisms amid the resort’s glass and concrete landscape. One of the survivors, known as the deWitt Cottage, was built in 1895 by B.P. Holland, a businessman who later became the town’s first mayor. The two-story brick building, topped with a distinctive cupola, sits on the Oceanfront between two hotels that tower over it at 12th Street. It now houses the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum.

The other, a former station for the U.S. Life-Saving Service – the forerunner of the Coast Guard – stands on the Oceanfront 12 blocks north at 24th Street.

Built in 1903, the station has been converted into a museum with artifacts from the two maritime services, including a rusted piece of engine from a steamship that wrecked off the coast in October 1906. The station’s dormer windows, lookout tower, steep-pitched roof and cedar-shake exterior walls are architectural details common to the resort cottages built in that era.

When the town was formed, the station’s surfmen still walked beach patrols. They also ran life-saving drills along the shore – a popular tourist draw.

I hope she's happy with her face-lift. I've lived here since the start of the 60s, and I have seen many of the changes. Some are good, and some have sucked out every ounce of her character. Once a fun-loving city, now just a way for the city to collect more and more taxes. I guess they call it progress.

Happy Birthday Virginia Beach.

dena at 6:40 AM



at 3:15 PM Anonymous Michel said...

I love Virginia Beach...lots of fond memories from there. When my Dad use to take us to visit my Aunt in Norfolk we would all pike in the care, walk the boardwark and eat seafood until we bust.

at 5:44 PM Blogger Dirk the Feeble said...

Damn, I've never been there and now it's ALL GONE!

at 6:26 PM Blogger Chatty said...

Growing up in Virginia we never went to Va Beach. Odd huh...always Ocean City or Bethany Beach. I've always wanted to go. Your Peppermint Lounge section had the lyrics, "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot..." in my head.

at 6:12 AM Blogger The Mistress of the Dark said...

I've never been there either :( In fact I just made it to Atlantic City for the first time 2 years ago, and that was the first visit I had to the ocean in my entire life.


at 7:27 AM Blogger kenju said...

Dena, you sure bring back memories with those 2 pics. I spent a lot of time in the Peppermint Beach Club when I was college, it was a great place for someone who loved to dance. I saw Louis Armstrong in concert at the Dome on my 2nd anniversary - 7-2-66. That was a great show!

at 8:21 AM Anonymous Claude said...

I've never been to Virginia Beach, but based on what you wrote, one gets the same feeling from the Jersey Shore. Atlantic City is definitely not what it was many years ago, although that's a mixed blessing (the city was just so run down before the casinos came in). Wildwood, Point Pleasant, Seaside Heights, all of them struggling with that balance between yesteryear's charm and today's potential for income through new building.

I think Coney Island is about the only place which still has a feel similar to that from decades ago.

at 9:52 AM Blogger yellojkt said...

Despite living in Hampton as a kid for three years, my family neve went to Virginia Beach. My wife and I went once a few years back and really enjoyed biking the boradwalk.

It's always a shame to see beloved landmarks fall.

at 2:29 PM Blogger sage said...

Sorry about your city, but that seems to be the case for most places near the water--I've lamented in the past about where I grew up along the North Carolina coast.

I may have shared this before, but I was once in VB--about the time you were there--probably in 64 or 65. We were living in Virginia for a few years, but in 66, we moved back to NC and never made it back there.

at 9:38 PM Blogger Carmi said...

The sad truth is that society has little appreciation for history. But cities have LOTS of appreciation of developers and the tax dollars that they bring.

When we were in Florida over Christmas, I found myself staring at a little house just off of A1A. It sat in the shadows of massive, new and garish condo buildings and luxury hotels. It was almost defiant in its age and perceived dowdiness.

Yet I thought it was the most beautiful piece of architecture there, because it was simply real.

There isn't enough of that anywhere anymore. And we all lose in the end.

Some birthday present.

at 10:06 PM Blogger Jill Monroe said...

I couldn't help but smile when I saw the picture of the dome building. Oklahoma City has one, too. It has to be the EXACT same architect - it's just too similar. Ours is gold.

The dome is not looking as good as it once did, and it's empty. A lot of talk about tearing it down, which brought out a lot of protest. It's been bought by a developer now - hopefully they can restore it to its former glory. So sorry about your dome.

at 10:54 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

My two favorita places in Virginia Beach were Grumpy's and the Peppermint Beach Club. It's been 30 years and I can still remember the sweet taste of those Budweisers and Chips.

Frank, Girard Ohio


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