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What is Lumina?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

The name pops up often in the Wrightsville Beach area. The original, however, was a giant pavilion, completed at Wrightsville Beach in 1905. It remained a beach landmark until its demolition in 1973.

Lumina (locals NEVER referred to it as “The Lumina”) got its name from the Latin word for “light.” Its developer, Hugh MacRae, also happened to own Wilmington’s electric utility (renamed the Tidewater Power Co. in 1907 and much later merged with Carolina Power & Light). In its early years, the exterior of the building was festooned with more than 600 tungsten lights, including a large sign on the roof spelling out the illuminated letters “L-U-M-I-N-A,” visible to ships at sea miles away. (As a high school student, one of future newscaster David Brinkley’s part-time jobs was changing the bulbs in that sign.)

The pavilion stood at Station 7, the last stop on the electric trolley or “beach car” line that MacRae had conveniently built from Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach. Until World War I, beach car rides were free; afterward, the toll was 35 cents, which included admission to Lumina. The trolley line continued to run until 1940.

MacRae’s company bought the lot for the pavilion in 1903 for a total of $10. Construction of the three-story, 12,500-square-foot Lumina complex cost a little bit more: $7,000.

Opened on June 3, 1905, the pavilion immediately became a tourist mecca and underwent two subsequent expansions.

In the early days. Lumina offered changing rooms and lockers where visitors could change into swimsuits. Amenities included an upstairs restaurant and downtown lunch service (changed into a snack bar in later years), a large promenade, or porch, a bowling alley, a shooting gallery and arcade-like amusements, including slot machines.

Its huge second-floor ballroom, with its acoustic shell and high ceilings, could accommodate hundreds of dancers. Before and during World War II, Lumina drew dozens of the era’s top big bands, including Kay Kyser, Guy Lombardo, Cab Calloway, Paul Whiteman, Tommy Dorsey and Stan Kenton. Early Azalea Festival events were often scheduled there, and beauty pageants, dance contests and beach games were part of its routine

In the 1920s and ’30s, a large screen was erected on poles about 50 feet in the surf in front of Lumina, so that movies (mostly silent) could be shown at night to patrons on the promenade or on the adjacent beach.

Built of heart pine, Lumina survived Hurricane Hazel in 1954, but thereafter began to show its age. Some rock concerts were scheduled there in the 1960s, and surf equipment was sold there for a while. In 1973, the building was razed to make way for development. Today, a condominium complex next to the Oceanic Restaurant, 4 Marina St., Wrightsville Beach [Map this], stands on Lumina’s former site.

The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History periodically celebrates “Lumina Daze,” a party in memory of the pavilion.

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