Nearly everyone who has even the slightest bit of history on the Outer Banks has heard about the Nags Head Casino. But few know about the blue collar beginnings of the building that housed the coastal dance hall.
The building itself was first constructed at the foot of Jockey’s Ridge in 1930. The wooden two-story building was a temporary residence for the men who built the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and it later housed transient laborers stationed in Kitty Hawk with the New Deal Works Progress Administration. It also reportedly served as a popular curbside market for local produce, crafts and a number of church bake sales during the day.
Things changed quickly when Moncie Daniels bought it to open a dance hall, but the Casino didn’t officially take root in people’s minds until G. T. “Ras” Westcott purchased the building in 1937 and, after some expansions and remodeling, reopened the following year.
Under Westcott’s eye, the Casino quickly rose to fame with residents and visitors alike. Though it was once billed as “the largest dance floor on the coast,” the Casino provided a variety of other entertainment for almost four decades, including bowling, boxing and bingo.
Overall, the Casino was undeniably best known for its second-floor nighttime revelries. Patrons were encouraged to take off their shoes before entering the dance hall there — where the floors were rumored to have been polished with bowling alley wax and the windows were almost always propped wide open to let in the breeze — and they were often greeted with standing-room-only crowds on big-name band nights.
From Glen Miller and Duke Ellington in the 1940s to Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong in the ‘50s, Westcott had a knack for bringing some of the most sought-after names in the music business and for changing with the times as the craze shifted from swing to rock ‘n roll.
Though the Casino continued to draw crowds from all over well into the ‘60s, Westcott had a harder time coming to terms with the larger cultural shift. Refusing to allow long-haired men inside his club, he partitioned off a space for them to hang out behind the Casino and dubbed it “Monkey World.”
The Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 was perhaps another sign of the beginning of the end for the Casino. Though the building ultimately weathered the storm, it was left with massive structural damage that took weeks to repair. Westcott eventually sold the Casino in the early 1970s, and its roof collapsed not long afterwards during a nor’easter — the Casino’s final death knell.
Be that as it may, the Casino undoubtedly lives on in people’s memories. In an article written shortly before the building was demolished, many people shared stories of their memories there: seeing a ship torpedoed from the upstairs during WWII, of repeatedly forgetting their shoes until the next day, and of jumping out the second-story windows to avoid being thrown out by the bouncers if Westcott blew his whistle at them for being unruly. To this day you can ask virtually anyone who’s lived here long enough, and chances are they’ll have a story (or several) to tell you about the old Nags Head Casino.