U-Boats and the Gulf Front Roadhouse on Panama City Beach

In 1937 Frank Burghduff came to visit the Gulf shores of Panama City Beach. He was so captivated by the beauty of the area that he decided to leave his home state of New York and move to Panama City Beach. He came with the dream to build a beach-front roadhouse that would earn nationwide acclaim. Burghduff began realizing his dream by purchasing beach front property just a few miles west, of then newly chartered, Panama City Beach. He designed and constructed a huge log building made of massive cypress trunks on the snow-white sand. He called his creation the ‘Old Dutch Tavern’, alluding to his Dutch heritage.

Not only did Burghduff have vision and drive, he had talent and capabilities that allowed him to fashion a roadhouse that would, in fact, gain wide spread recognition and fame. The interior was decorated with unusual and interesting curios from all over the world. The centerpiece was a huge stone fireplace that weighed many tons. Frank was ready to open the doors by 1940. The combination of a beach-front setting, warm ambiance and top-flight entertainment made the Old Dutch an instant success. The floor show presented by the Old Dutch on New Year’s Eve 1940 was “Pappy” Neal McCormick and his ‘Hawaiian Troubadours’. It is very likely that 17 year old Hank Williams had joined the Hawaiian Troubadours at the time. The appearance of Hank Williams presaged the quality of headliner entertainers that would grace the stage of the Old Dutch over the years.

Attendance grew steadily during the summer of 1940. The dream, however, almost came to a screeching halt on December 7th, 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, wartime restrictions damped the ability of people to travel. Additionally, there were lights-out conditions all along Gulf beaches. Even though Panama City had more than double the population that it has today, it became a struggle to attract customers to the Old Dutch. Then, things got even worse. Rumors began to be spread about that Burghduff was a Nazi spy and communicated with U-Boats from a secret room in the Old Dutch. In desperation, Burghduff responded to the smear by publishing a  notice in the local News Herald, claiming pride in his Dutch heritage and asserting that he was 100% American.

It can never be known if the rumors hastened the end for Burghduff at the Old Dutch Tavern, nevertheless he could no longer service his obligations and was forced to sell ownership of his dream – the beach-side roadhouse on the snow-white sand. However, this is not the end of the Old Dutch story. In fact, its glory years were yet to come. So, stay tuned, that’s the subject of another blog.

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