June 15, 2013

Myrtle Beach Pavilion was the hangout for a generation

You ask almost any one of a whole generation of Myrtle Beach natives and they’re likely to tell you that the Myrtle Beach Pavilion was the place where they had their first puff of a cigarette, their first sip of beer or their first kiss.

You ask almost any one of a whole generation of Myrtle Beach natives and they’re likely to tell you that the Myrtle Beach Pavilion was the place where they had their first puff of a cigarette, their first sip of beer or their first kiss.

“It was just having fun,” Cheri Howard recalled her time at the Pavilion during the 60s. “It was someplace you could go without your parents.”

Janice McDonald said that the thing to do in her day was to ride in cars through a circuit from the Gay Dolphin to the Pavilion time and time again. It was such a popular pastime with locals and visitors that it took about an hour, but that didn’t discourage the traffic.

“If you met somebody at the beach (during the day),” she said, “you’d say meet me at the Pavilion at such and such a time. Somehow, you’d find each other.”

McDonald has since become, with Lesta Sue Hardee, the co-author of “Myrtle Beach Pavilion,” a book that encompasses decades of memories associated with the former Myrtle Beach landmark.

Hardee is leading a year-long retrospective of the area, “Remembering Myrtle Beach,” at Chapin Memorial Library to mark the city’s 75th anniversary. Saturday’s presentation on the Pavilion, which attracted Howard and 14 other people, was one of those. Others are to be presented the first and third Saturday of every month.

On June 6, Hardee said, the topic will be music and radio and the guests, two area deejays. On June 20, the daughter of Myrtle Beach’s first telephone operator will tell stories about growing up at the center of the city’s earliest electronic communications system.

McDonald said the first beachfront pavilion was built to give visitors to the Grand Strand’s first hotel, the Seaside Inn, something to do.

“It was wood,” she said, “and of course it burned down.”

So did the one after that and the one after that.

Eventually, the people of Myrtle Beach decided to have an architect design a pavilion that could withstand fire as well as the hurricanes that swept through the area periodically. McDonald said the construction of that pavilion, the Pavilion, was put off because of World War II, but that it finally opened in 1948.

Four years later, Hurricane Hazel hit Myrtle Beach square in the face with 140 mph winds, and McDonald said the owners of the Pavilion opened the doors to the building and let the storm-pushed sea surge through the building. It survived numerous other storms and uncountable numbers of teenage memories in the next 58 years, before Burroughs & Chapin made the decision to close the Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park in 2006.

Rich Hair, who was the general manager for years before the closing and left the property just a few years before it closed, was among Saturday’s guests, and those in the audience seemed to be most interested in what led to the closing.

“There were reasons for it to come down, but they’re not for public consumption,” Hair said at first.

But then he said that the park just ran out of people who knew how an amusement attraction should be managed.

As a result, he said it lost money.

Hair said the park’s gross income in his last year was $17 million. The next year it was $12 million and even less the next year. It came down to make way for the new Myrtle Beach, and no decision has been made yet at what will rise on its 11 oceanfront acres.

“The Pavilion was really the center of Myrtle Beach,” said McDonald, who explained that she and friends used to walk to the Pavilion down the beach from her house on 29th Avenue. “Myrtle Beach grew up around it.”

She said she used to wish that the ferris wheel in the amusement park would stop at the top when she rode it. There wasn’t a better place on the Grand Strand to see the full moon, she said.

Terry Layton, another audience member at Saturday’s presentation, said he used to hang out at the jukebox at the Pavilion in the summer in the hope of picking up girls.

The Pavilion was a building, but to the generation that aged as it did, it was so much more. There were wrestling matches there, there was an outdoor organ that was made in Germany, there was a grandstand to watch the Sun Fun Parade, and there were the rides and the carnival food.

It had a reputation with an edge to it, Howard said, so when she and her friends went to the Pavilion, they would tell her mother they were going to ride the rides. And somehow, they’d find their way to the action.

But that full moon, she said with wistful eyes, “Unforgettable.”

“I loved the Pavilion,” she said. “It was our hangout.”

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