Sitting along the coast boasting valuable beachfront properties and battling destructive hurricanes has enabled Myrtle Beach to constantly evolve since it was incorporated in 1938.
The city will celebrate its 75th birthday on Tuesday and in the years since Myrtle Beach was incorporated, private companies, natural disasters and changing demands have caused many of the buildings that once stood to be removed, replaced or relocated, according to local historians.
“It’s such an interesting place in that respect,” said Barbara F. Stokes, author of “Greetings From Myrtle Beach: A History, 1900-1980.” The book was commissioned by the Chapin Memorial Library and the Chapin Foundation and was published in 2007.
Stokes, a Texas native, said because the beachfront property is so valuable, the economy often drives the need or desire for structural changes making it difficult to preserve certain things.
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“Myrtle Beach is about nothing if it isn’t change,” said Wayne Aiken, who runs the website www.MyrtleBeachRemembered.com.
Aiken lived in Myrtle Beach in the 70s and 80s and left the area in 1985. Living in Raleigh, N.C., now, he said he still has family along the Grand Strand and visits frequently. His fascination with Myrtle Beach history began when a Myrtle Beach landmark was being demolished.
“I heard the Pavilion was being torn down,” he said. “That really was the center and the focus of Myrtle Beach ... That was something I never thought would happen.”
Aiken said he came back to Myrtle Beach for the Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park’s final season in 2006 and began to find it hard to locate most of the things he remembered from visiting and living in the city.
“A lot of the things were either gone with an empty lot or a T-shirt shop,” he said. “I was just amazed at how few places there were.”
Always a tourist town
In 1881, the Burroughs and Collins Co. of Conway – then a turpentine manufacturing company and now known as Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. – purchased much of the land that would become Myrtle Beach.
In 1900, a feasibility study was done to determine best uses for Myrtle Beach, according to lifelong resident Mavis Anderson.
“The study said they should have a fish cannery here,” she said. “Tourism was never thought of.”
Anderson said that was because it was so difficult to get to the area. There was no railroad, no bridges and the Intracoastal Waterway had not yet been built.
According to the Burroughs & Chapin website, Franklin G. Burroughs envisioned Myrtle Beach as being a place that could rival famous resort towns in the northeast. Though he died in 1897, his vision of connecting Conway to Myrtle Beach became reality when the first train ran to the beach, giving workers a place to vacation.
The company built the area’s first hotel, Seaside Inn, in 1901.
For those who couldn’t afford the train, the first road from Conway to Myrtle Beach – a dirt road – was built in 1914. Between the train and the road, the ability for those who could to vacation in Myrtle Beach became a reality.
Luxury hotel puts Myrtle Beach on the map
For Anderson, the pivotal landmark for the area predated the city.
“Ocean Forest Hotel was completed in 1930,” she said. “It was opulent by all means.”
Anderson taught a course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Coastal Carolina University last fall called “Before We Were the Grand Strand.”
Ocean Forest was known for its wealthy guests and the celebrities who performed on its stage. Anderson said the hotel was constructed as a stopping point for the wealthy who traveled to Palm Beach, Fla. Stokes said the hotel billed itself as being halfway between New York and Florida.
“It was fabulous,” Anderson said, who added she visited the hotel before it was torn down in 1974. “At the time it was right in the middle of nothing in Myrtle Beach.”
Stokes said the hotel promoted the city in a very important way, especially during the Great Depression.
“Once Ocean Forest was built, there was national attention,” she said. “The advertising that they did for it and the way they promoted it brought attention to Myrtle Beach that they may not have gotten in other parts of the country.”
Anderson said Myrtle Beach was a destination for the wealthy mostly because the everyday man couldn’t afford to travel. Vacations weren’t something most people took.
She said that as people and their families began to travel, things began to change in Myrtle Beach.
“The world changed for the every day,” Anderson said. “TV, phones, leisure time … People began to be able to afford things that only the rich could.”
Another turning point for historical buildings in Myrtle Beach was when Hurricane Hazel hit the area hard in 1954.
“Hazel came through and took Myrtle Beach with it when it left,” Anderson said.
Hazel left a path of destruction behind it.
“[Hurricane] Hazel came through right at Little River,” Aiken said. “That tore up an awful lot of stuff. It caused them to tear down a lot of stuff and replace a lot of stuff in the 1960s and 1970s. Pretty much anything that’s wooden, you’re not going to find much of it.”
Stokes said the hurricane wiped out much of the first three blocks of buildings along the waterfront.
“After Hazel, it was about rebuilding, reshaping and making sure the rest of the country knew that Myrtle Beach was still here,” she said.
In her book, Stokes wrote that the devastation of Hazel cleared the way to transform Myrtle Beach from a quiet summer colony to a national resort destination.
“Myrtle Beach’s transformation was well under way before Hazel,” she wrote. “The hurricane only accelerated the process.”
The future of history
In December, crews demolished an old boarding house on Ocean Boulevard that had been used as a beachwear store to make way for a new candy and ice cream shop. And in August the historic Chesterfield Inn, built in 1946, was torn down.
In many cases, the buildings are privately owned and as long as they are handled according to city code and zoning ordinances, owners can tear down and rebuild how they choose, said Diane Moskow-McKenzie, senior planner with the Myrtle Beach Planning Department.
Stokes said in recent years there has been a desire to try to hold on to some historic landmarks, pointing to the Myrtle Beach Train Depot, the Myrtle Beach Colored School and the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.
Moskow-McKenzie said residents who have concerns about public structures or are able to get private owners to join preservation efforts typically present a case before City Council. If council agrees to look into preserving a building, a committee is created and works with a staff member from the planning department.
For instance, Mary Canty, a former student at the Myrtle Beach Colored School, approached the city about preserving the school that educated black children from 1932 to 1953, Moscow-McKenzie said. Moscow-McKenzie worked with Canty and the committee to reconstruct and relocate the school, turning it into a museum and education center in 2006.
“Some in the city have been trying to harness some of that feeling of preservation of the past,” Stokes said. “I’m wondering if the next generation is valuing [history] or not.”