Take a Step Back In Time
The following is, for the most part, an anecdotal history of the Beach Club. We wish to thank Dr. Herbert Underhill, Jr. and Mrs. Lee Listro, both of whom provided so much of the history which is presented herein.
Development of Bonnet Shores started as a summer residential community by the Belton Corporation. The original plans proposed a 9-hole golf course between Camden Avenue and Bonnet Shores Road.. Some house lots originally sold for $500. By 1935, 64 cottages had been built. The Beach Club history began in 1928
Between 1928 and 1938, Beach Club life was split between two locations. The Bonnet Shores Clubhouse and its attending social life were at the corner of Bonnet Shores Road and Colonel John Gardner Road. This was the center of Bonnet Shores social activities. The beach across the street from the then Clubhouse was called the Clubhouse Beach.
Prior to 1938:
The Clubhouse Beach (presently called Little Beach) was a sandy beach and was designated for still water bathing. Daily swim instruction was given here. In addition, a children’s day camp was run in this area. Moreover, horse stables were located at this Clubhouse location and one could rent horses to ride on designated trails.
The Hurricane of 1938:
Ended the social activity at the Clubhouse location at the corner of Bonnet Shores Road and Col. John Gardner Road. The Clubhouse itself sustained heavy damage, but two parts of the building survived and they remain to this day as two separate houses. In addition, the hurricane eroded the sand at the Clubhouse Beach to such an extent that it became the rocky beach that Little Beach still is today. The other location was where our Beach Club presently sits. This area was called the Bonnet Shores Private Beach. This second location had a pavilion with a main deck and the beach here was designated for real surf bathing.
1929 Stock Market Crash:
The facility at this location began with the construction of 71 bathhouses. But the stock market crash of 1929 stopped all construction, both at the Beach Club and in Bonnet Shores itself. Construction eventually resumed, including the addition of 46 live-in beach cabanas at this second location. The main deck at this location provided an area for sitting in the shade. A long and sturdy canopy was built on the deck under which were three rows of benches that ran the full length of the canopy.
The building and the deck at this location also sustained heavy damage as a result of the Hurricane of 1938, but, unlike the Bonnet Shores Road location, the building at our present location was rebuilt following the hurricane. The canopy was also heavily damaged in the hurricane, but was rebuilt and remained on the main deck into the 1950s.
The Beach Club was acquired by the Narragansett Development Co. Inc. The principals in the corporation were Frank Crook and J. Howard McGrath. McGrath was a former Rhode Island Governor (1940 – 1945) who would go on to become a U.S. Senator (1946 – 1949) and the U.S. Attorney General (1949 – 1952). Harry Bodwell served as the Beach Club Manager for these two gentlemen. Interestingly, Bodwell had been one of the original developers of Bonnet Shores back in 1928. In addition, he had been a member of the RI House of Representatives (1914 – 1921) as well as a RI Senator (1928 - 1937).
1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s:
Life and construction continued at the Beach Club. New construction included the addition of four bowling alleys, a restaurant, and a 44’ x 60’ function room, all on the west side of the pit. The function room was used to show movies and to hold dances and other activities.
During this time, in addition to bathhouses and trays, there were a number of live-in cabanas that were rented by the season.
The Beach Club held bowling banquets in this function room. In the 1950s, duck pin bowling leagues were very popular at the Beach Club. Children’s bowling was held during the day. Teenage Bowling was held on certain evenings, as was Men’s Bowling and Ladies Bowling. The bowling allies were run by Charles Moss, a Warwick High School Teacher. The pin boys, who were all under Mr. Moss’s supervision, actually lived on the property in what is now the back live-in building (the Quonset Hut with the four units). It was well known that the hottest job at the Beach Club, even hotter than that of a life guard, was the job of a pin boy in the bowling alleys.
This room was also used for Fire District meetings in view of the fact that the Community Center had not yet been built. Indeed, the social life of the Fire District took place mainly in the function room (which was commonly referred to as “the Recreation Room”) because most of the Fire District belonged to the Beach Club. Many functions were run by the Bonnet Shores Woman’s Club; these functions included Fashion Shows, Dinner Dances, as well as afternoon Ladies Bridge Club parties.
The restaurant was a fine dining room where men wore jackets and ties and ladies wore dresses. By the 1950’s, the restaurant area had become an eating area for the Snack Bar, which at that time was called The Spa. The life guards also lived on the property. They were housed in the area of the present cabana #229. The life guards and the pin boys also ate all their meals in the Spa.
The pit was always the open air area that it is now. In the distant past, one could find there a children’s ball game which was called tether-ball and which was enjoyed by many a youngster. The game consisted of a tall pole with a ball that was attached to this pole by a long rope. The goal of the game was to strike the ball so that it would wind around the pole in an upward direction. The winner of the game was the person who could make the ball wind around the pole all the way to the top.
At the northern end of the pit, there was a volleyball court. Volleyball games in the pit were very popular among young male adults; they attracted not only players but scores of spectators. Shuffleboard was also played in the pit but was eliminated after the Hurricane of 1954.The Office used to be in the area where cabana 243 currently is. The area where the Office presently is formerly housed the trays from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The term “tray” refers to a relatively inexpensive way in which one could be a member of the Beach Club. A member would report to the business counter in this area and would receive a “tray” (which was originally a wooden box); then the member would proceed to a large area behind the counter which housed unassigned bathhouses (which were actually changing rooms) and public showers. Keeping in mind the etiquette of the day, the members were completely segregated by sex in this area which was then called the tray house. The men used the bathhouses and showers on the right side of the area and the woman used the bathhouses and showers on the left side. The member would utilize one of the bathhouses to change clothes and then would place his clothes in the “tray”, which he returned to the counter where it was stored. At the end of the day, the process was repeated.
An umbrella shack existed at the Beach Club for decades. Initially, the shack was on the beach and was where one could store one’s own beach umbrella, beach chair, or similar items for a fee of $2 per item per season. Then, upon one’s arrival at the beach, an umbrella boy would set up the umbrella and the chair on the beach. But the umbrella shack evolved also. In 1961, it was decided to build an umbrella hut to rent out umbrellas for the day. This was located in the area under the main deck where the two main deck ramps currently meet and where the walkway from the beach to the pit currently is found. It lasted only two seasons because the area would become over-topped with sand. The umbrella shack then moved to another location where it remained through the 1970s.
The Narragansett Development Corporation was bought by a group of shareholders. The group was made up of Dr. Herbert Underhill, Jr., Cliff Hall, William E. Edgerley, Lloyd and Bill Broomhead (who each held ½ share), Frank Iafrate (who designed the current BSBC logo as well as the Sea Bee logo), Sandy Fern, Walter Snizek, Ralph Lewis, a Mr. Johnston, a Dr. Ferrara, John Kane, John Brock, and Frank Christoff. In 1975, six of these men - Underhill, Lloyd Broomhead, Brock, Lafrate, Fern, and Kane --- bought out the others and took on two more partners: Sam Butera and Peter Wiechers. This new group of men ran it – with Cliff Hall as their sometime manager – until 1985.
The Beach Club had 537 bathhouses, 106 cabanas, and a membership of about 1500. The following is quoted directly from a 1976 Beach Club brochure. It is provided here as an interesting overview of the cost of Beach Club membership decades ago.
The ultimate in bathing pleasure! A completely private 2-room cabana for your family’s use during the daytime and early evening hours. Accommodations include a private shower, use of a spacious lounging deck and the services of the Club’s cabana staff. Two parking passes are provided with each cabana membership, both of which provide parking privileges in the special cabana area. Individual cabanas are rented by the season to one household only, a maximum of four adult persons and unmarried children of the one immediate family only.
Cabana East - $750; Cabana West - $525
1 Household: Mother, Father, unmarried children; Additional Membership Cards for cabanas: $30 ea. Additional Parking Pass - $10; Refrigerator - $25
Provides the family with a private shower and a separate, spacious dressing room, and one parking pass is included. Limited to Mother and/or Father and six persons of the same immediate family (5 years of age or older). No charge for children of one household under five.
1 Household --- Mother, Father, unmarried children - $275 - $315. Additional Membership Cards for Double Bathhouses - $25 ea. Additional Parking Pass --$10
Includes private family bathhouse with shower privileges and one parking pass. Limited to: Mother and/or Father plus two persons of the same immediate family (5 years of age or older). No charge for children of one household under age five.
1 Household --- Mother, Father, 2 unmarried children - $140. Additional Membership Cards for Bathhouses - $25 ea. Additional Parking Pass - $10
Includes separate bathing trays for adult members of same family and use of dressing rooms and showers. One parking pass.
1 Household --- Mother and/or Father and children of family under age five - $100. Additional Membership Cards for unmarried children - $15 ea. Additional Parking Pass - $10. Single Person Membership - $55
PAVILION MEMBERSHIP - Limited Number Available
For those who reside in Narragansett and who wish to come to and from the beach in their bathing attire (no shower or changing facilities allowed with this type of membership). One Parking Pass.
1 Household --- Mother, Father, and children of family under age 5 - $75. Additional Membership Cards for unmarried children - $15 ea. Additional Parking Pass - $10
Real estate developer Paul Roiff, in conjunction with Anthony Mansolillo, bought the Beach Club for $2.4 million. Following the purchase, he made $7 million worth of improvements, including the addition of the in-ground pool and the addition of the entire second floor of the pavilion around the pool and extending both east and west of the pool with three quadrangles. Mansolillo also initiated a plan to change the contour of the beach. Previously, the contour of the property was perfectly flat from the area north of the pavilion, through the pavilion, and to the sea. The result of this flat contour was that the pit and the parking lot would often become over-topped with sand during storms. In order to avoid this, the contour of the property was changed in 1986 so that the beach was made to slope downwards from the main deck toward the sea.
Mansolillo decided to transform the Beach Club into condos and the Bonnet Shores Beach Club Condominium Association was born. Sometime thereafter, Roiff and Mansolillo did business as Seaside Realty. Eventually, Mansolillo faded from the picture. The Beach Club somehow managed to survive, albeit with damage, four major hurricanes. In addition to the damage it suffered from The Hurricane of 1938, the Beach Club sustained heavy damage from the Hurricane of 1944, from Hurricane Carol in 1954, and from Hurricane Bob in 1991, the last of which resulted in $1.7 million in repairs.
Seaside offered to sell the remaining development rights to the Condominium Association for $1.4 million. The issue of the development rights was indeed an important one. Mansolillo had obtained a building permit in 1987 which allowed him to continue to expand to a maximum of 1,069 units within 20 years. Accordingly, if the condominium association wanted to stop expansion, those development rights had to be obtained. However, the $1.4 million offer was considered too high and was refused. When the responsibility of the management of the Beach Club reverted from the developer to the condominium association, it was managed for several years by an off-site property management company.
The condominium association became self-managed. The operation of the Beach Club is overseen by an elected Board of Directors, consisting of seven owners. The day to day operation is directed by five full-time managers who supervise a seasonal staff of 100.
The BSBCCA bought out Roiff’s remaining development rights for $400,000. The number of units is capped at 930; the development rights of the remaining 139 units were formally dissolved. The units are divided in this manner: 2 deluxe live-ins, 4 live-ins, 285 cabanas, 26 double bathhouses, 206 mini-double bathhouses, and 407 bathhouses.
The membership has remained consistent for several years at about 4500. The south-facing beach is bordered to the east by Kelly Beach and to the west by Wesquage Beach, both of which are small, private beaches. Kelly Beach is reserved for the residents of Bonnet Shores; Wesquage Beach is reserved for the residents of the Bonnet Terrace Association and of the Wesquage Association.
Membership in the Beach Club is dependent upon ownership of a unit. All sales are handled privately between seller and buyer. Ownership of a bathhouse or of a mini-double bathhouse entitles the owner to four memberships, of a double bathhouse to six memberships, of a cabana to eight memberships, and of a live-in or of a deluxe live-in to ten memberships.
The Beach Club season typically runs from the weekend prior to Memorial Day to the last Sunday in September. The food services were run as a concession for decades; in 2003, the condominium association assumed the operation of the food services. The Beach Club currently has a full-service restaurant as well as a snack bar and a grille. The snack bar is open seven days a week and the restaurant serves dinner Thursday through Sunday.
The pit is the location of not only the 75 foot 85,000 gallon pool, but it is also the location of the sand bar and grill, where food and beverages are served on a daily basis. Live musical entertainment is offered under the pit’s 60’ x 60’ tent every Saturday night and every Sunday evening throughout the summer season.
The Beach Club prides itself on the family atmosphere that it fosters. Swim lessons as well as tennis lessons are offered. Each season sees two family movie nights under the stars as well as a children’s sand sculpture contest. The Fourth of July fireworks display is a season highlight. The Bonnet Shores Beach Club continues to be the envy of beach enthusiasts all over the state. The Beach Club’s 28 acre property with 1700 feet of waterfront is truly a treasure by the sea.