‘When it’s gone, it’s gone’: MB grapples with future of historic supper club site

The closed and boarded Fitzgerald Motel on Carver Street is located beside an empty lot that was the home to the legendary Charlie's Place.
The closed and boarded Fitzgerald Motel on Carver Street is located beside an empty lot that was the home to the legendary Charlie's Place. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

Proponents of a plan to renovate the former site of Charlie’s Place, an iconic venue that saw the likes of Little Richard and Otis Redding perform, made a forceful push Monday night for a proposal to preserve the remaining historical structures on the lot.

“You can’t find what we got. And when it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Herbert Riley, the head of the Carver Street Economic Renaissance Corp.

The current proposal for the Carver Street site would first redevelop a central structure where Charlie Fitzgerald, the owner and operator of the supper club named after him, once lived. The interior would be converted into offices and smaller meeting space and bathrooms would be added onto the back.

The second phase of the project would rebuild the single remaining row of motel rooms on the north side, part into museum spaces and part into “business incubators” for small businesses.

But some at the public meeting, held in Myrtle Beach’s Mary C. Canty Recreation Center, argued that the project’s funding could be used for resources the neighborhood has long desired, like a grocer or larger community center.

“The building is 6 foot high,” Jerome Randall said. “I would love to see a nice, pretty two-story structure”

Betty Lance said she was “leery” of the project and that offices would not be the best use of the site.

“I think it’s a little narrow,” she said.

City Manger John Pedersen said the space inside the central building would not be city offices, but would be free for members of the neighborhood to use and to plan events.

Riley, along with City Councilman Mike Chestnut, argued to preserve the remaining structures on the site, saying the historically segregated Booker T. Washington neighborhood needed a draw to pull in at least some of the millions of annual visitors to the Grand Strand.

“I could just see this could be the start of the kickoff for redevelopment of our neighborhood,” Chestnut said.

Riley made the case that the story of Charlie’s Place would pull in visitors if it was represented in the redevelopment.

“We’ve got something that will make them come. This is not just a field of dreams,” Riley said.

While most of the adjacent motel still stands, the supper club has long since come down. In the mid-twentieth century, it hosted a slew of black entertainers that weren’t able to stay in other areas of town.

In the 1950s, it was also the site of a Ku Klux Klan raid that riddled the structure with bullets and left Fitzgerald maimed by members of the Klan.

“Some of your relatives were in there. That’s your history,” Riley said to the audience on Monday.

By the end of the gathering, Cookie Goings, of the city of Myrtle Beach, implored attendees to come to a cleanup event on Sept. 22 to clear the empty part of the site before it hosts the second annual Jazz Festival on Sept. 29.

And she asked residents to close their eyes and vote on the proposal put in front of them to begin work on the central building.

“If you heart and mind is clear that we will move forward with phase one...just raise your hand,” she said.

Every resident’s hand rose.

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ