Who Remembers The Beacon?

The Beacon as it stands today.

When longtime Cape Codders are asked to name the icons of the restaurants industry in history the majority will likely put Thompson’s Clam Bar at the top, or near the top of their list. However, many years before Thompson’s Clam Bar became the standard bearer of popularity among Cape Cod restaurants there was another spot which for a time matched what the legendary Harwich establishment would do in the latter half of the 20th century. It was called The Beacon Restaurant and was located in the West End section of Hyannis. Long before the Cape Cod Melody Tent, and nearly twenty years before there was even a West End Rotary, The Beacon attracted visitors to Main Street. It was one of the patriarchs of all the major restaurants that followed along with The Mayflower located just up the street.

This lesser known giant of the restaurant industry on the Cape was created by Edward Kneale in 1936. He came to Cape Cod after retiring from the manufacturing business in New York City looking for a new venture. Kneale would summer in Oyster Harbors and winter in Florida. The spot he chose was land which was once owned by famed 19th century sea captain Alvin S. Hallett who had once sailed from Boston to San Francisco in 104 days and then sailed back again.

Before it was even built The Beacon was being hyped as the ‘best restaurant on the Cape’ by local newspapers. Architectural plans called for the structure to be set far back from the road to allow room for ample parking. Kneale would erect a large white building which would immediately catch anyone’s eye passing by, especially due to the fact that Hyannis in the 1930’s was nothing like what it looks like today. It would seat 75 people and have five dining rooms, unheard of in a time when many restaurants were little more than a counter and a few small scattered tables.

The success was immediate. In April 1936 two dinner parties would be held to celebrate the opening of The Beacon. On each night nearly 100 people from Hyannis and then Osterville would have the inaugural meals at this grand establishment. On each night more than 200 requests for reservations had to be declined due to the capacity of the restaurant.

The first year saw The Beacon open in late April as a seasonal restaurant. Patrons dined on simple favorites like hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken pie, fish chowder, Beacon rolls, and homemade ice cream. One item though needed to be changed and that was the clam chowder. Being from New York City Mr. Kneale brought with him the idea of Manhattan clam chowder which is tomato-based rather than cream based like Cape Codders were accustomed to. The restaurant’s popularity was immediate and overwhelming to the point that Kneale had to do something to allow more people access to his establishment.

Kneale would add The Beacon ‘Snackerie’ due to the high demand for seats at his establishment. This outdoor dining area next to the main restaurant would accommodate up to 150 people and was adorned in blue and white. It would open in July and become another instant hit. The restaurant would close in late September after serving as many as 1800 people per day in its first season rivaling the peak of Thompson’s Clam Bar.

A postcard depicting how The Beacon looked in the 1940s.

So successful was the ‘Snackerie’ idea at The Beacon that Kneale opened a sister spot at his winter home in West Palm Beach, Florida in time for Christmas of 1936. The follow year saw The Beacon become a year round establishment and Kneale become a year-round Cape resident. He and his family would rent out a cottage on Long Beach in Centerville. A new enclosed dining area at the ‘Snackerie’ allowed for up to 200 people to be served at once. Business was only helped by the addition of a full-service Gulf gasoline station directly across the street. The two would work in conjunction with customers having their cars worked on going across the street to dine at The Beacon while they waited.

The Beacon had become the biggest name in Cape Cod dining after only two years and they would not let go of that mantle easily. In 1938 Kneale would begin to offer special breakfast, lunch, and dinner combos beginning at 15, 30, and 45 cents respectively. Friday nights became all out dance parties at the ‘Snackerie.’ Music would be pumped out from The Beacon through loud speakers and folks could dance, if the urge should come that is. Business would increase by a third ironically in the third year. In 1940 Kneale would open The Beacon Junior located in Sagamore near the bridge. His imprint established Kneale would leave The Beacon in the capable hands of his son Edward Kneale Jr. and head up to Boston to run the Hotel Puritan in the early 1940’s before ending up back down in Florida in the early 1950’s.

The Beacon would continue to serve loyal customers into the 1960’s. By then many new restaurants and attractions had come to claim some of the pie that the originator once dominated. Once things changed in Hyannis they would change quickly and often. In 1968 The Beacon would cease to be. In the time since the property would become The Brass Nail, Slade’s of Boston, MD Armstrong’s, Cranberry Boggs, and the Hyannisport Brewing Company. Sadly today the property which housed the original king of Cape Cod restaurants lies vacant.

By Christoper Setterlund

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