Belles at the Bridge
It was the Cape Fear Garden Club’s flower show that planted the seeds for the first Azalea Festival on April 9, 1948. Founded in 1923 and originally known as the Tuesday Book Club, the garden club was already 23 years old when the festival began. The famous Cape Fear Garden Club tours did not begin until 1953.
The first Azalea Festival queen was Jacqueline White, an actress best known as the star of The Narrow Margin, a film noir involving a detective, strangers on a train, and mob assassins. Thanks to its well-connected organizers, the festival was covered live on ABC Radio News for an estimated audience of 10 million listeners.
In addition to the first Azalea Parade — which had 11 floats, five bands and two military marching units — the festival had recommended garden tours at Airlie, Greenfield Lake and Orton; a song festival at Legion Stadium; and a military band concert at Greenfield Lake. The Coronation Ball was held at Lumina in Wrightsville Beach, where White was crowned Queen Azalea by Gov. Greg Cherry, who (perhaps overserved with Southern hospitality) placed her crown on upside down. — W.I.