Remembering the Nags Head Casino

Throwback Thursday: OBX Style

Nags Head Casino Postcard

Remembering the Nags Head Casino

When you think of the Outer Banks, it’s likely the beautiful beaches are first to come to mind.  A popular attraction for rock and roll musicians is not as likely to be imagined.  But ask any local over the age of 50 about the Nags Head Casino and you’ll be regaled with stories of legendary music acts and dancing the night away.

Originally built as a barracks in the early 1930s for the stonemasons who constructed the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Nags Head Casino was purchased in 1937 by G. T. “Ras” Wescott.  The two-story building housed duckpin bowling lanes, pool tables, and pinball machines on the first floor while a bar and expansive dance floor occupied upstairs.  Ras was known for his special care of the wood dance floor, waxing and buffing it each day.  To preserve it, he asked patrons to remove their shoes and dance barefoot.  With the top-floor shutters open to the ocean breezes and young people grooving barefoot, the Casino was the epitome of summer fun.   

Nags Head Casino Birds Eye View
Bird’s eye view of the Casino. Image courtesy of Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum: www.oldnagshead.org

During the 1930s and 1940s, big band music reigned, drawing crowds of up to 1000 people to the Nags Head Casino!  During this time, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman are a few of the acts who played.  As doo-wop, Mowtown, and rock and roll gained popularity in the 1950s and 60s, bands like The Platters, Fats Domino, The Four Tops, Bill Deal and the Rhondels, and The Temptations entertained.  According to Carmen Gray, founder of the Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum, “anybody who was anybody played at the Casino.”  Until the 1970s, bands continued to make the trek to Nags Head to put on a show.  And on nights when no band played, a Wurlitzer jukebox provided the music.

Nags Head Casino Music Poster for Johnny Alligator

Unfortunately, the fun came to an end when Ras Wescott sold the building in the mid 1970s and soon after, the roof collapsed during a winter storm.   Jockey’s Ridge Crossing shopping center now occupies the site of the beloved Casino.  But Nags Head locals still reminisce about the raucous music, 25 cent PBRs, Wednesday night boxing matches, and walks on the beach after a night of dancing.  For their generation, it truly was the place to be for both patrons and musicians.  Bill Deal, from The Rhondels, remembers that “it was always packed. We never worried about having a crowd.  The Casino certainly opened doors for a lot of groups. If you played the Casino, you’d made it.”  For many, the time, the place, and the music will never be replicated, but the Casino will always be remembered.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

11 thoughts on “Remembering the Nags Head Casino”

  1. Great times with great friends in the early 60’s. I live in Chesapeake, Va from Roanoke Rapids, N.C. and I have a home one stop light from where the Casino was Southridge at Nags Head Post Office. Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. My first trip was when I was 14…. We rode the 70 miles from Engelhard every Friday & Saturday night. If you weren’t at the Casino, you were either dead or dying!!! My best teenage memories are from there!!

  3. I don’t know where the collapse of the roof during a “winter storm” came from – I worked at the Jockey Ridge Exxon at the time and saw it when I came to work one morning – and my boss , Fred Hill noticed a Nags Head Police car parked very close to the building – alongside – not pulled in like parking , almost like he was running radar on the beach rd – he called the dispatcher in Manteo and she finally raised him on the radio – he got out , looked at it and hopped back in his car and left – returned a short time later with Chief Dale . I won’t post the officers name in public because I do not wish to use his name without permission . It was a clear morning with NO wind and as I recall the night before had a small shower pass over – no storm .

  4. AND I SET PINS ON THGE BOTTOM FLOOR IN THAT BOWLING ALLEY FOR 3 YEARS IN SUMMER TIME AND DANCED HOLES IN LOAFERS

  5. Was there many times in the early 60’s. A large time was had, duck-pins and Quizo downstairs, and barefoot dancing upstairs.

    1. Thank you to everyone who read our blog post about the Nags Head Casino and took the time to comment. We’ve enjoyed reading about your memories of that special place!

  6. Does anyone know where I could get a print of the Casino – my husband spent many a night there in his younger years?

  7. Greetings. I am a musician and (unpublished) author writing a novel with the Casino as a setting for the book. The time period will be a single summer in the early 1960s. I would like to know whether Wednesday night boxing was still a part of the Casino in those years, and also the names of specific bands that played during that time period. Were you there during that time? Your help would be much appreciated.

  8. Man, what great memories I have of the casino in the late 60s. We lived in Norfolk, va., and it was about an hr and a half drive down there and we would go in the late spring and summer. My friend Brenda had a vw convertible and she and another friend and I would cruise down there and have the best time. I remember being there when Doug Clark and the hot nuts were playing one night and dancing on that sandy floor. When you went downstairs you could see the dance floor moving and shaking from all the people dancing. Oh, what a fun place. Such a shasme those times had to end and that the building is no longer there. What memories!! I ask now 64 years old. Then, I was 16, 17 and 18 and having the time of my life. Young people of today don’t know what they missed.

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