Monday, February 10, 2014

The Spanish Casino

Today's post takes us back more than three quarters of a century for a glimpse into island life just prior to WWII. 

In 1935 Stanley Wahab built an inexpensive replica of a Spanish style building on the island, near where the Back Porch Restaurant sits today. Made of plywood strewn with gravel while the earth-colored paint was still wet, the 400 square foot Spanish Casino mimicked an adobe hacienda. The flat roofed structure had extended and crenelated exterior walls with gently curving main sections. Windows were topped with decorative trim, and crosses within circles painted near the roof line suggested a southwestern theme. An open porch on the ocean-facing side was supported by peeled cedar posts, adding to the Spanish motif.

The interior was one large room with a raised platform on the western wall to accommodate a piano and musicians. Benches were placed along the walls, leaving a sizable dance floor in the middle. Island natives, Edgar and Walter Howard, brothers who had moved to New York City to play vaudeville in the 1920s and 1930s, came home periodically to entertain their fellow islanders. The popular music of the day included cowboy and western songs and ballads. Once in a while Edgar's banjo and Walter's guitar accompanied nationally popular entertainers who followed the Howard brothers to Ocracoke. At times, other island musicians played at the Spanish Casino. When live music was unavailable a jukebox served nightly to provide tunes for round dances, jitterbug, and traditional island square dances. 

Although the Spanish Casino is long gone music continues to be an important part of twenty-first century island life.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an account of the 2013 Portsmouth Island Christmas Bird Count. You can read it here:  


  1. Bill Walker4:44 PM

    When did the Spanish Casino close?
    Was it torn down right away?
    Bill Walker

    1. In late 1942 or early 1943 the Spanish Casino, which had already begun to disintegrate, was closed on the recommendation of the commander of the Ocracoke Navy base. Shortly afterwards the building was demolished.


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