Gone for 45 years: The story behind a glitzy Myrtle Beach hotel from the Roaring 20s

About a half-a-dozen explosion noises shook the ground — and that was all it took to make the million-dollar hotel come crumbling down 45 years ago Friday.

The Ocean Forest Hotel was one of the first landmarks in Myrtle Beach — before Myrtle Beach was incorporated, when Kings Highway was still a dirt road and before the coast was lined with hotels and restaurants.

The Great-Gatsby-era hotel was like the Grand Central Station of the area, filled with who’s who, classy belly dancers after dinner, magicians, ice sculptures, sometimes a stop for Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey, historians say. It was, indeed, a half-way point between New York City and Miami.

But the day it was imploded in 1974 — on Friday the 13th — was a sad day for those who grew up photographing the hotel, used it as a lighthouse while at sea and adored the rich history of how the hotel came to be.

“It was like tearing my [own] house down,” said Jack Thompson, a local photographer who spent evenings as a teenager photographing visitors and after-supper entertainment at the Ocean Forest.

“I stood on the sand dune on the ocean side, waiting for the explosion, hoping and praying that someone like the mayor, the governor, even the president would show up at the last minute and stop this demolition of a magnificent historic structure,” Thompson said. “But no one did ... it took six years to build and six seconds to bring it down.”

The Ocean Forest Hotel, built in 1929 and demolished in 1974, was known as the “million dollar hotel.” City of Myrtle Beach

Built in the roaring ‘20s, the Ocean Forest was part of the Arcady project by the Woodside brothers of Greenville, South Carolina. The project, similar to what would be a modern-day timeshare, failed in 1933 due to the Great Depression, said Horry County Registrar of Deeds Marion Foxworth.

“It was hard to get people to invest in a [vacation] club,” Foxworth said of the time after the stock market crashed. “Had that project reached its pinnacle, it’s safe to say Myrtle Beach would have been a completely different entity.”

Myrtle Beach was later incorporated in 1938.

The hotel, built 10-stories high with five-story wings, was located where the Ocean Forest Villas now stand on North Ocean Boulevard, near the roundabout on Porcher Drive. The villas were built after the hotel was demolished and have been the only buildings to occupy the land since.

Still standing since the Arcady project are Pine Lakes Country Club and the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, a beach house that was moved from just north of the Ocean Forest Hotel to a spot near Springmaid Pier.

The Ocean Forest wasn’t just a hotel — the spot hosted the Sun-Fun Ball, plays, Miss Universe pageants and masquerades. The brick hotel was painted white, but years later sandblasted to show its red brick.

“When I first went in the hotel was in ‘52 and it was overwhelming. It was mind boggling,” Thompson said. “I thought I was in another world.”

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Jack Thompson

‘End of an era’

The last owners of the Ocean Forest, Niles “Sonny” Stevens and Dexter Stuckey, bought the hotel in 1973 for an “undisclosed price,” a Sun News article states. The 10-acre property, excluding the hotel, was appraised at $7.5 million at the time, the article states.

The owners held a public sale to sell beds, chandeliers, crockery soup bowls, pine balustrades and other mementos from the hotel before the building was demolished.

Pieces from the hotel are scattered around the Myrtle Beach area and beyond — a lighthouse that was once at the top of the hotel stands at Family Kingdom Amusement Park, mirrors and mantels are featured in area homes and other decor remains in Myrtle Beach restaurants.

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A June 1974 Sun News story details the “end of an era” and announced the hotel’s closing and plans to be torn down. “Plagued by rising costs, the 10-story hotel will be torn down and rebuilt because it is unable to meet the requirements of its insurers, according to Albert Oliphant, hotel sales manager,” the article states.

The demolition was upsetting for locals, Foxworth said.

“It was kind of our flagship property,” he said . “Even commercial fisherman used it almost like a lighthouse when they were at sea. The property was old, the rooms were small ... [the hotel] was too valuable to let it sit there and deteriorate.”

After the demolition, a Charlotte Observer columnist, who was a former resident of Myrtle Beach, wrote that she drove 1,000 miles to a funeral.

“Ultimately, it is said, there was no way to save the Ocean Forest,” columnist Frances Moore wrote. “The memories may, in fact, survive better without the wraith of reality to interfere. What will not survive, however, is a town’s memory of a dream.”

The Sun News Reporter Hannah Strong is passionate about making the world better through what she reports and writes. Strong, who is a Pawleys Island native, is quick to jump on breaking news, profiles stories about people in the community and obituaries. Strong has won four S.C. Press Association first-place awards, including one for enterprise reporting after riding along with police during a homicide. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Winthrop University.