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Structure Gone but Memories of Entertainers Still There

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, October 1, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

People are sad to see the old Seashell Stage torn down but are glad that a new and improved version will be built.
[Ioanna Raptis photo]

HAMPTON — For the last 48 years, the Seashell Stage was the home of nightly entertainment seven days a week during the summer at Hampton Beach.

Thousands of acts of graced the stage over the years — from Hampton’s own “singing cop” Bill Elliot to nationally known acts such as The Drifters.

And for those who attended the shows, memories were made to last a lifetime.

On Wednesday, demolition of the stage began to make room for new state-of-the-art facilities as part of a $14.5 million redevelopment project at Hampton Beach.

“It really is the end of an era,” said Precinct Commissioner June White. “It’s sad but exciting at the same time.”

While those interviewed said they were excited for what is coming, there was also sadness watching what they called the “shell” being taken down.

Beach resident Linda Gebhart said her favorite memory of the shell involved the late Jack Knox, who performed on the stage almost every Wednesday night as the lead singer for the Continentals.

“I remember being at one of their concerts with my two grandchildren,” Gebhart said. “Jack was singing ‘YMCA’ and I was trying to teach my grandchildren the movements. All of sudden, Jack grabbed my hand and brought me on stage. Next thing you know I’m doing the Y-M-C-A in front of everybody.”

Memories of Knox were common as he was not only a singer but he was also the person who booked the entertainment at the shell for the last two decades.

“I’d have to say my favorite moment occurred this year when we did a Jack Knox memorial show,” said Robert Houle of the Chamber of Commerce. “We had 10 performers who were friends with Jack and they just sung their hearts out in honor of Jack.”

Houle said he also remembers the time when the Beach Boys were performing at the Casino.

The Continentals, he said, were playing that night and did all covers of the Beach Boys.

“I have to say, I had just as much fun watching the knock-off,” Houle said.

Bob Donovan of Reading, Mass., said it was bittersweet seeing the old stage come down.

His family has been vacationing at the beach for the last 20 years.

“That is the place where I had my first slow dance with a girl,” Donovan said.

Others met the one they ended up marrying at the shell, including 1998 Miss Hampton Beach contestant Michelle Russell.

John Kane, marketing director, said his favorite memory was the Tops in Blue performance back in 2007.

The U.S. Air Force’s premier entertainment band was the biggest show to ever hit the stage, he said.

“I also enjoyed just looking down and seeing the grandparents and grandchildren dancing at the stage,” Kane said. “To me, that is what is was all about.”

When pictures of the stage being demolished were posted on Facebook, numerous people chimed in about how sad it was to see it go.

“Wow, so many memories of my teenage years were at the stage,” said one. “All the kids would get together in the early 80s with their boom boxes and have break dance competitions on that stage after the bands were gone for the night.”

“The beach as I’ve known it all my life is gone,” posted another. “Hopefully the ‘new one’ will be great.”

The Seashell complex was built in 1962 for $200,000, replacing what was then called the Band Stand.

Over the last decade, officials said the complex no longer met the needs of today’s tourists and started to show its age.

In 2006, state officials were forced to remove both wings of the Seashell Stage after the concrete roof of the right side wing began to collapse from underneath.

“I know it’s sad but the new facilities will offer better customer service for our guests and new memories will be made,” said Brian Warburton of the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

The new complex roughly incorporates a similar overall “footprint” of the existing one, with the main stage at the center, with smaller pavilion buildings that house state park and visitor service functions north and south of the main building.

The main stage will be located at the center of the main building with an adjacent seating area for 750 people.

The new complex is slated to be completed by November 2011.

Gebhart said the precinct intends to sell bricks from the flagpole at the old Seashell Stage during its Harvest Moon Festival during Columbus Day weekend.

The precinct received permission to sell the bricks from the state as keepsakes.

Gebhart said the money raised will go toward a future nature center at the beach.

“It’s a piece of history,” Gebhart said.

Demolition of the Seashell Stage is part of a $14.5 million redevelopment project at the beach.
[Ioanna Raptis photo]

The Seashell Stage in Hampton Beach is being torn down this week.
[Ioanna Raptis photo]

Worker from New Hampshire Demolition walks past the Seashell Stage on Wednesday as it is being torn down to make way for a new stage. [Department of Parks and Recreation courtesy photo]

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