Myrtle Beach says goodbye to historic inn, will be replaced by mini golf and restaurant

dbryant@thesunnews.comJune 13, 2012 

  • Tour the building When | 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday Where | Chesterfield Inn, oceanfront at Seventh Avenue North in Myrtle Beach Items for sale The owners are selling chairs, doors and other pieces of the Chesterfield Inn. When | Walk-through sale starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday and continues until everything is gone Where | Chesterfield Inn, oceanfront at Seventh Avenue North in Myrtle Beach
  • One last look Locals and visitors can walk through the historic Chesterfield Inn one last time before it’s demolished to make way for new development. WHEN | 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday WHERE | Chesterfield Inn, oceanfront at Seventh Avenue North in Myrtle Beach Snag a piece of history The owners are selling chairs, doors and other pieces of the Chesterfield Inn. WHEN | Walk-through sale starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday and continues until everything is gone WHERE | Chesterfield Inn, oceanfront at Seventh Avenue North in Myrtle Beach

— One of Myrtle Beach’s oldest oceanfront inns will be torn down in the coming weeks to make way for a mini golf course and Southern-style, rooftop restaurant.

The Chesterfield Inn – a quaint, three-story brick building that has stood on the oceanfront at Seventh Avenue North since the 1940s, with earlier versions dating back even further – has outlived its time as a go-to place to stay, its owners say, overshadowed by the trendy high-rises with modern amenities such as lazy rivers and in-room kitchens that weren’t even thought of during the Chesterfield’s heyday.

Renovating the relic, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, just wasn’t economical, so the owners looked for something unique to fill that prime oceanfront spot in the heart of Myrtle Beach’s tourist hub, and the mini golf and restaurant idea was born.

“It’s going to be something different that the downtown area doesn’t have,” said Karon Mitchell, who co-owns the property with husband Kyle Mitchell and her relatives in the Rabon family.

The $1 million to $1.2 million redevelopment has been in the works for about two years, but the owners ran into snags with the down economy and the tight lending environment.

“It’s been a little lengthy. Just the economy, working through the process,” Karon Mitchell said. “Banks weren’t loaning any money.”

Work is now set to begin, with two weeks of asbestos removal starting later this month and demolition on tap to start the first of July. The hotel closed in September.

The restaurant and 36-hole, nautical-themed mini golf course will likely open in March.

But before welcoming the new development – which supporters say could help spur more improvements at businesses south of the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park – tourists and locals are saying goodbye to the historic hotel, a throwback to Myrtle Beach’s tourism roots.

The Chesterfield has kept its 1940s charm with its original hardwood floors, clapboard ceilings, bathroom tiles and louver doors on the 27 guest rooms in the main building, where rocking chairs routinely lined the second-floor oceanfront porch and the brick exterior set it apart from other hotels. An old piano still sits in the lobby, which years ago was a popular gathering spot for the inn’s guests, who also would eat together every night, lining long tables in a ground-level, wood-paneled restaurant.

Steven Chapman of Chesterfield built the hotel in 1937, and for years it was operated by the Brittain family. The current inn was built in the 1940s, with the 21-room hotel building added in 1965. The property ran into financial trouble in the early 2000s, and the Mitchell and Rabon families bought it in the mid-2000s.

Loyal customers, and a growing business in hosting weddings, kept the inn buzzing, Karon Mitchell said. But it took a hit in 2009 after Myrtle Beach approved strict rules aiming to push the bike rallies outside the city limits – including a controversial helmet law that was eventually overturned, she said. What once was some of the busiest weeks of the year turned into one of the worst, with only eight of the complex’s 48 rooms booked, Karon Mitchell said.

With that big piece of business gone, the owners started considering something new. The property needed some TLC, and because of its history, the Mitchells aimed to see how to move forward with it somehow, but it just didn’t make good business sense, they and other officials said.

“Just no one could come up with anything that could make economic sense,” said Dave Sebok, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corp. “It was just hard to find a feasible way to make it meet today’s customers’ needs. That was just hard to do and make economic sense.”

Only four of the rooms in the original building are oceanfront, a prime view many tourists today demand, and none of the rooms had balconies.

Locals and visitors will get one last chance to walk on the Chesterfield’s hardwood floors and potentially snag a piece of its history.

An open house is set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. And folks wanting to buy one of the original lobby chairs, the floors, doors or any other piece of the property they can cart away can attend a walk-through sale starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“We want to make sure that everybody who never got to see it or who have memories here can see it and reminisce,” Karon Mitchell said.

By next year, folks will be sitting at the oceanfront rooftop restaurant – where the porch is now – chomping on southern staples with a twist, such as lobster reubens, lobster BLTs, a grouper sandwich and spinach and feta burger. The mini golf course will wrap around the Ocean Boulevard side of the property, with some holes twisting through an existing basement in the 1960s hotel building. Crews will cut off the top of that building, with the remainder used for some of the mini golf course.

The new development will add a unique offering and will open up desired ocean views, Sebok said.

“It’s something that doesn’t exist along the oceanfront anywhere along the Grand Strand,” he said. “It will clean up a property that has been struggling with its physical condition and hopefully it will spur on some more redevelopment.”

Some new work already is underway next door to the Chesterfield. Crews have renovated the rest of the block, with four shops – including a pizza parlor, yogurt shop, souvenir store and Internet cafe – expected to open in the coming weeks. The Eighth Avenue Tiki Restaurant and Lounge also will open there before the summer is out.

The boardwalk, which opened in 2010 and winds oceanfront by the Chesterfield and the new shops, which will have boardwalk entrances, have helped prompt the redevelopment, officials said, adding that they expect to see even more improvements in that area.

“This is a transitional area that is beginning to change,” said Stokes Graves, president of Core Commercial who leased the new store and restaurant spaces. “Anything that is there with old age is prime for redevelopment.”

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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