The Casino's origination was for anything but a nighttime adult entertainment center, for it was built as a barracks for the road crews building the beach road and the Currituck (Wright Memorial) Bridge and the Baum Bridge to Manteo. That was a massive government works project job designed to make the Outer Banks accessible and it was the beginning of the development of the beach as a family vacation center. That work was carried out in the early 1930's time frame, but when the road and bridges were completed, the building lay dormant, but not for long. When Ras Wescott decided to turn it into a entertainment facility, he outfitted it with bowling lanes, pinball machine games, a watering hole and a grand dance hall which was upstairs with a beautiful floor that was waxed almost daily. It was an instant hit and it wasn't long before he was attracting people from all over North Carolina and Virginia looking for a good time on a Friday or Saturday night. In it's prime days from the late 1930's through the mid-1950's, a drive by the place on a summer weekend evening brought the sounds of band music beckoning from the open upstairs shutters. Young lovers of age would enjoy the bands and then often take a walk up Jockey's Ridge on a moonlit night for a romantic view of the beach and ocean below. Many and elopement ended at Nags Head and a celebration at the Casino. It was right at the foot of the dunes until the bypass road was built which separated them.
So, what did this mean to a young teenager who saw the place from the outside but wasn't allowed inside? Well, it made us think about sneaking in just to see what it was all about. After all, we enjoyed our evenings not far up the road at the Nags Head Recreation Center where the girls were our age and pretty and we all had a good time. But there is just something about trying to go inside a place where you are forbidden just to say you did it. And I had an older boy who influenced me in my eventual decision to try. He was a friend of my older brother who successfully made it in and out on several occasions, only to ultimately be caught and driven home to our cottage where he was visiting us and turned over to my mother who, well, let's just say, was visibly upset.
He was a master of getting into any place he wanted and in this instance he used a disguise. He could copy voices and accents and with his limited knowledge of French, he put himself in the costume of a French sailor and just walked in, authentically talking like he was speaking French to anyone who didn't have a good knowledge of the language. Finally, however, the off duty deputy after seeing him before had a light bulb go off in his head. Why would a French sailor, obviously in port in Norfolk, go all the way to Nags Head for some fun? It just didn't make sense and so, he was finally stopped, identified and put in the squad car for delivery to my mom. It was not a happy reunion when the poor fellow was delivered to Mom and she addressed him sternly and told him to think about it over night. I doubt that he got much sleep that night but thereafter there were no such problems. Why? Because back in those days children, not even a teenager trying to test his flight wings would dare talk back to an adult. It's just the way it was.
Fast forward a few years and at the beginning of the summer before my senior year in high school, Mom said we would be late going to the beach. I asked Mom if I could go with a friend early and, knowing who would be going with me, she said yes as long as we got there on our own but with no car for us to use. I reluctantly agreed and a few days later we departed from Newport News on the Greyhound, switched in Norfolk to Carolina Trailways which dropped us off on the beach road at our cottage in route to its destination, Manteo. My Uncle Hal dropped by and took us to get some groceries and he reminded me that Aunt Sylvia, one woman I loved and would never upset, would be over later.
After her visit, we were going to go the the Recreation Center but my friend, ever the one to stretch his luck, talked me into trying to get into the Casino. We both looked old for our age and got inside, but later, when up in the adult dance hall and dancing with some older girls, we were singled out by a bouncer and that same off duty deputy was summoned. When we got into the back of the car, he looked back at me and told me he knew who I was and he would take us home. For effect and to embarrass us, he left the overhead lights blinking and when we turned into the driveway, the next door neighbor who was almost like a father to me watched as we got out of the car. He said a word to the deputy on his way out and then approached. He gave me some wise advice and a break.
He smiled and said, "Son, I was young once and I know you fellows like to try out your wings. But remember when you do, it usually doesn't work out to well for you aren't ready yet. You didn't get in trouble but if you were there too long at your age you would have. Don't worry, I will not tell your mother or Sylvia, but let's not do it again."
All I could say was "yes, sir," and he was off and I realized the next morning that it hadn't been worth doing for what it might have caused later. But a few years later, during a summer when home from school, I did visit the Casino and of age and checked things out. It was fun but not as much fun as I thought and the bands and audience had changed. The bad storm in the spring of 1962 had damaged it severely and it never was the same after that. But it was the place to go for many back in those "Summers of Old Nags Head" and it was a right of passage to say you had gotten in, even if you did get caught being underage. I'll bet many who read this are now shaking their heads and chuckling,having done the same thing themselves. My mom always did say if you could live through the raising of teenagers, you would live a long life. Mom survived three of us and made it to ninety-one. Oh, the memories of those good old days.