Bringing back 'historic' Myrtle Beach: How Doo Wop motels could make a comeback

The Suntide motel welcomed visitors in Myrtle Beach more than 50 years ago.
The Suntide motel welcomed visitors in Myrtle Beach more than 50 years ago.

Nestled between towering hotels and the bustling Ocean Boulevard sits a small piece of Myrtle Beach history — the Waikiki Village Motel.

Built in 1963, the Waikiki Village Motel embodies what the Grand Strand looked like during the mid-century time period when the streets were lined with Doo Wop motels — mid-century buildings that stood out with their large signs and carefully designed balconies.

The 7 Brothers Motel was once known as the Suntide Motel.

Now, a South Carolina group is working to restore to motel back to its former glory.

"What we want to turn it into is what it was in 1965," said Robert Lewis, a partner of Retro Hotel Waikiki 1 LLC. "There’s been some additions, there’s been some aging to it, but it will basically be, it will retain the original newness that it had in 1963, 1965. So we won’t change that much of the appearance, but we’ll change the experience that you have there. It will be all new, although it’ll appear to be a 1963 motel."

Lewis said the group has already restored three rooms, upgrading the amenities, but keeping an older feel to the historic building.

Now, walking into the motel guests will be met with bright blue and yellow walls lining the balcony. Once inside, the rooms have a retro feel, lined with wallpaper, warm colors and artwork.

Photos of a restored room in the Waikiki Village Motel. Photos provided by Robert Lewis.

"Things that are so simple such as the shape of the walkways, some of the trim, the ironwork, the fencing, everything about it, it’s just fun," Myrtle Beach Planning Director Carol Coleman said. "These are attractions. There are people that look for this. There are people who travel specifically and go to these places. So the potential is there."

But the restoration of the Waikiki Village Motel could just be the start for Myrtle Beach.

With the help of historic tax districts, areas that provide financial incentives to developers, the restoration of more Doo Wop motels could soon be underway. Lewis said by the end, his team would like to transform 200 rooms along the Grand Strand.

"I was born and raised in Conway and remember well the 'feel' of the Grand Strand in the 1960s and early 1970s," Lewis said. "That was a simpler more optimistic and fun time. My partners and I hope to recreate that simpler, optimistic feel of the 1960s starting with our historic restoration of the Waikiki Village Hotel.

"Our market research shows that the younger generation wants their hotel stay to be a unique experience — something new and out of the ordinary rather than staying in a hotel room that can be found in any city across the USA. The generation in their 50s and 60s also want something different but they want the nostalgia of returning to their roots. They want to recall what it was like to be 'at the beach' in their youth. Waikiki will deliver that.

"This is going to be a new experience for the Grand Strand and we hope to do several cool historic motel restorations along Ocean Boulevard in the next two to three years. "

What could Doo Wop motels look like in Myrtle Beach?

While many mid-century motels in the city have been torn down, there are a handful that can be restored, Coleman said.

"We’re already ahead of the game," Coleman said. "If we can pick out the ones we think are worth saving and work with the owners and bring in some of those potential tax credits. I’m not talking about every single one, but we don’t want to lose all of them."

During a presentation to the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Authority, Coleman referenced Wildwood, N.J., which has a historic Doo Wop district. The area is run by the Doo Wop Preservation League.

In New Jersey, Coleman said the Doo Wop motels have become a destination. Her hope for Myrtle Beach is to create an area for people who don't necessarily want to stay in a big hotel.

"It’s really significant and it’s really disappearing and most of the ones that we’ve got, most of them are in a state of disrepair and you hate to see that, but there really is a market for those types of hotels for people who want to come here but they don’t want to stay in one of the big hotels, or they don’t want to stay in a big condo tower or whatever," Coleman said.

Lewis said the motels often attract interest from millennials, as well as people into their 40s.

"I think that we want to target the better demographics and see if we have a more boutique hotels that will certainly be better for us than for that target then for leaving the motels as they are, which is what is happening," owner of The Gay Dolphin Buzz Plyler said. "The market isn’t large enough yet to build a lot of new hotels and so we need to fix up what we got."