The Casino: 88 And Growing
By John Grady
New Hampshire Seacoast Sunday
June 28, 1987
Fred Schaake, president of the Hampton Beach Casino, Inc., a group of four men who owns the six-acre complex, knows well the value and traiditons of this 88-year-old landmark; he worked there as a teenager through the 30's and 40's.
"We could cut it up overnight, and turn it into year-round condos for the quick buck," say the developer, who's been in real estate ever since he got out of the University of Massachusetts in 1950. But he won't.
"This is the industry of the area. Going for the quick buck would have a devastating effect on the economy of the area. It's the only commercial beach in New Hampshire; everything else is residential. To take that parcel of six acres and not do something enterprising for the whole region - it would be wrong."
Schaake points to the trend in Salisbury and other beach areas has been from hotels and summer rentals to year-round residences, leaving the beach with mostly day visitors. Schaake, and fellow Casino owner Norman Grandmaison, who also owns Ashworth By The Sea hotel, are moving strongly in the other direction -- towards extended stay tourists.
This season, Schaake, Grandmaison and Sam Waterhouse, another Casino co-owner, built and opened a new 51-unit beach hotel, the Hampton House. Renovations and more rooms have been added to the Ashworth, as well.
The natural beauty and soft white sands of Hampton Beach has kept it a favorite summertime destination for many generations.
Amid the cotton candy, carousel and bikinis of Hampton, the Club Casino presents an overstocked musical smorgasbord all summer long.
"This is our biggest season ever," says Bob Houle, Club Casino marketing director. "A million dollars in talent this summer." Last summer Club Casino had 66 shows, this year there will be more than 80.
Now in its 11th season, the 1600-seat Club Casino has developed into the premier Seacoast concert hall, drawing top talent to New Hampshire. At the same time, the Club Casino corporation continues to grow through Casino Concerts, a new arm of the organization that is producing shows at larger halls like the Lowell Auditorium in Massachusetts and the Civic Center in Portland, Maine.
The Hampton Beach Casino was originally built in 1899. The ballroom, added in 1927, hosted classic stars for decades, including everyone from Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby to the big bands of Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington. The present Club Casino was created in 1976.
The line-up today (1987) is as diverse, and as professional, as can be found anywhere, particularly in New Hampshire. Country stars like Waylon Jennings or Mickey Gilley will appear this summer the same week as a Las Vegas style star Wayne Newton or a hard rocker Southside Johnny.
Diversity is the key to Club Casino's success. "If I booked only the music I liked, I wouldn't be here more than a year," says Jim Goodwin, the club's owner. And goodwin enjoys the Club's diversity. "It's something different everyday, different challenges," he says kicking back in shorts in his club office, surrounded by autographed photos of the many stars who have appeared there.
"We had Cardinal Madeiros in here one night, with a group celebrating the 100th anniversary of a church in Amesbury. The night before we had some hellfire rock n' roll singer. It was amazing -- the next night, the Cardinal's blessing the crowd."
Instrumental in the beach's development as a tourist attraction was the Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway. This trolley car company ran lines around the Seacoast and flourished at the turn of the century, right before Henry Ford put the country in cars.
The trolley company did everything it could to promote the beach as a destination. It built the bridge from Seabrook to Hampton Beach and, by most accounts, initiated the Casino's construction.
A report on the grand opening in July of 1899 was published in the Exeter News-Letter on that Saturday, July 15. Its description is not all that different from the way the place is today:
"By night, the casino is brilliantly illuminated by electric lights, which, viewed from a distance, make a spectacle of striking beauty. The second story is utilized for the great dancing and entertainment hall and for the spacious dining room, with a handsome open fireplace of sea stones and shells at its end. Much of the lower floor will be devoted to billiards and bowling...."
Over the next few years, beach improvement included a new hotel, the "Ocean House" (connected to the casino by a bridge over "D" street), a bandstand across the street and an athletic field in the rear. A merry-go-round was put in and the finest in vaudeville and specialty shows went on. In 1901, a large "Opera House" was added.
In 1916, John J. Dineen of Lawrence bought the Casino. By 1927, the large ballroom, site of the present day Club Casino, was built.
"CHECK DANCING" was the format for the wide-open room through the 40s. There was no alcohol anywhere in Hampton Beach in those days and the place was simply one giant dance floor. Upwards of 5,000 people would crowd in to hear bands like Glenn Miller. When you found a partner you went through the gate to dance afer handing in one of your "checks."
"It was all singles, five dances for a quarter. The house orchestra was Bob Pooley or Ted Herbert. There was no jitterbugging and you had to wear a coat and tie," recalls Schaake.
Dineen's adamancy made the nightspot secure. William J. O'Brien told the Boston Globe in 1976, "The ballroom was the only place where mothers would let unescorted girls go becuase they knew how well policed it was. You got away with nothing, believe me."
And so it went, right through the 50's. The list of bands who played there is long, and reads like a who's who of classic jazz - Ted Lewis, Glenn Gray, Lester Lanin, Artie Shaw, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and many more.
In the 60's, rock 'n roll started to creep in with acts like the Supremes, the Four Tops and the Four Aces. Plus there were folk acts like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Gradually, louder bands were added to the schedule -- The Beach Boys, the Fifth Dimension, the Who, the Lovin' Spoonful.
"The biggest day we ever had was the day we had Chicago," Dineen is quoted as saying about a late 60s show. "That day we grossed $65,000."
Finally, on July 8, 1971, at a Jethro Tull concert that attracted an extra 4,000 ticketless fans, a "disturbance" occurred.
The police were called in to break up the crowd and the incident made headlines. Dineen ruled out rock after that.
In 1976, Jim Goodwin and his father, along with Fred Schaake, Sam Waterhouse, Norm Grandmaison and Grandmaison's son John, bought the complex.
As Goodwin developed the Club Casino, he sold out his portion of the building to the other partners.
"We paid a million dollars in 1976," says Schaake. "And we've put in twice that since then." The extensive double-decker front porch was removed and replaced. It's had new roofing, wiring and plumbing.
Since then, the group has built the popular water slide. Jake Fleming, the Casino complex manager, has been overseeing the creation of a whole new mini-golf course inside.
"We're getting a 50-year old carousel," says Fleming. There will be other new rides for the kids too.
An audio and video recording studio opened in the complex this year. It offers props, equipment and backdrops for you to go in and lip-synch your own MTV music videos.
With all that's going on at the Casino in 1987, it's no wonder Fleming is upbeat as he says, "We're ready for a great summer."