Bay Shore Hotel was a popular attraction for African-Americans from 1898-1973.
Giving new life usually is reserved for Thomas Nelson’s EMS and nursing students. However, in Cece Wheeler’s Digital Video certificate program, four students are giving new life to the famed Bay Shore Hotel in a 20-minute documentary that will be shown Feb. 13 in conjunction with the College’s Black History Month celebration.
“What I love is it’s very timely. There’s a big culture of African-Americans that are trying to hold on to the history of it,” Wheeler said. “It’s not just an isolated event that (the students) picked out of anywhere. There’s a whole culture there.”
The hotel opened in 1898 as a four-room cottage for African-Americans. It was on about six acres, with 100 yards of beachfront, adjacent to Buckroe Beach, which was for whites only. By the late 1920s, it had grown to a 70-room hotel with a dance pavilion, restaurant and conference rooms. The area also included a private beach, boardwalk, fishing pier and a roller coaster.
After being destroyed by a hurricane in 1933, the hotel was rebuilt and continued as one of the main entertainment and vacation destinations on the East Coast for African-Americans into the 1960s. The hotel eventually closed in 1973, about two decades after desegregation eliminated the need for separate beaches and hotels for blacks and whites.
But in its 75-year existence, the Bay Shore was the site of national conferences, sporting events and concerts, and attracted big-name entertainers including Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.
The documentary, called “Bay Shore Beach: The Forgotten Line in the Sand,” attempts to revive the memory of the iconic venue.
Bobbie Moore, the student leader of the documentary, said several “fortuitous” events led to the project. She remembers walking on the beach a few years ago with her “adopted family,” who told her stories of visiting the Bay Shore as children. When it came time to decide on a project for her eight-week summer course last year that would complete her Digital Video certificate program, she recalled that stroll on the beach and the stories.
The next fortuitous event was the class coincided with the City of Hampton’s dedication of a historical marker at Buckroe Beach where the fence used to separate the two beaches.
“That’s how we began,” Moore said.
Moore and her peers working on the project– Jerrelle Ocampo, Zion Payton and Carl Daniels Jr. – attended the June 23, 2018 dedication ceremony with cameras and microphones in tow.
“When we went there and started engaging folks, there were a lot of people who wanted to tell the story,” Moore said. “And it just went from there.”
The people they talked to referred them to other people, who pointed them in the direction of others, and so on and so forth. They talked with people who worked there, including a lifeguard, and people who stayed there or performed there. And some of the students, none of whom knew about Bay Shore before the project, learned family members used to frequent the place, also.
While that led to getting so many perspectives, which was a highlight for Moore, it also posed a small problem.
“When we started the project, I think we were looking at a 5- to 10-minute video,” Moore said.
“They just really dug deep into it,” Wheeler said.
And, just as their interviews led them down more paths, the more they learned led to another problem.
“The hardest part was once you had so much of the story, how much of the story could you tell?” Moore said.
The group decided the documentary would tell the story of the hotel after the hurricane.
“1933 seemed to be the good place to start because you start the documentary with the question: You have this beautiful building, it’s destroyed, so what happens now?” Moore explained. “Then we go on to tell that it did survive, and here’s the history of the people who remember it from that time forward.”
After the students presented the project in Wheeler’s class, her reaction was “this needs to go outside the classroom. We need to screen this somewhere.”
Since it was a student project, she thought it would fit perfectly with Black History Month. There will be a reception in Templin Hall on Feb. 13 starting at 6 p.m. The documentary screening will start between 6:45-7 p.m. in the Dr. Mary T. Christian Auditorium, followed by a panel discussion featuring the students who developed the project and some of the people they interviewed.
Moore hopes people who see the film develop an appreciation for Bay Shore and its historical significance.
“We do a good job of Civil War history, Revolutionary War history here, Marine history, a little bit on the African-American history,” she said. “But there’s such a diverse African-American history.”
She admitted, even with a 20-minute presentation, the documentary gives just a taste of what it was like. There are many more stories to tell.
“There are all of these beaches out there … very few of them exist like they were, and that’s a good thing in some respects,” Moore said. “But it’s the idea that there’s this place that was central to the community. All of them have a little bit different history.”