Long ago, Charlie’s Place in Myrtle Beach attracted a big, diverse crowd - it can again

By The Editorial Board

Music often has been a racial unifier of sorts, and that was the case in another time at Charlie’s Place in Myrtle Beach - a potential tourism attraction today.

Potential is a key word here, because the former supper club itself was demolished and only a painted sign – “Future site of Charlie’s Place” – suggests the rich jazz history in the 1400 block of Carver Street.

In the 1950s, when black musicians could not be lodged at the venues where they performed, they stayed in a small motel next to the building where Charlie Fitzgerald resided, and another building for the club named after him. According to the South Carolina History Trail website, the famous performers includes the likes of Lena Horne, Cab Callaway and Duke Ellington. Many nights, white club patrons outnumbered blacks.

The Carver Street Economic Renaissance Corp. has a proposal for the city-owned site that would first redevelop the Fitzgerald residence into offices and meeting spaces, and a second phase would rebuild the remaining row of motel rooms, creating museum space and “business incubators.” The plan was presented last week at a meeting in the city’s Mary C. Cantry Recreation Center. The offices in the central building would be for use of neighborhood residents.

Some at the public meeting suggested the city could use federal community block grant money in more expansive ways than preserving the structures. Herbert Riley, head of the Carver Street corporation, and Councilman Mike Chestnut, favor the preservation approach, noting that the Booker T. Washington neighborhood needs a tourism attraction to draw in some of the area’s millions of annual visitors.

The story of Charlie’s Place could be a powerful pull to Carver Street, Riley noted.

“We’ve got something that will make them come. This is not just a field of dreams,” Riley said, alluding to the motion picture presenting the idea that people will come to a baseball field, no matter its location.

In addition to the attraction of the famous musicians who performed at Charlie’s Place, the supper club was raided in 1950 by the infamous Ku Klux Klan. Hundreds of bullets were fired into the club. Fitzgerald was attacked and maimed by Klan members.

“Some of your relatives were in there. That’s your history,” Riley told the audience at the Aug. 28 meeting.

Indeed, Charlie’s Place, opened by Fitzgerald in 1937, is an important element of the area’s rich musical and entertainment history in entertainment. The city has owned the site since 2015. Councilman Chestnut told the audience he sees the preservation plan as “... the kickoff for redevelopment of our neighborhood.”

Riley made another significant point about preserving and rehabilitating the remaining structures. “You can’t find what we got. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

At the close of the meeting, Cookie Goings of the city asked residents at the meeting to raise a hand “If your heart and mind is clear that we will move forward with phase one.” Everyone raised a hand.

While the 1950 KKK raid is part of the Charlie’s Place story, the far bigger one is the club itself and the famous musicians who performed there over many years. It’s a significant part of Myrtle Beach’s rich entertainment history, and it deserves to be preserved for prosperity.

Development of Charlie’s Place as a tourism attraction has cultural diversity as well as jazz history potential well beyond Carver Street in Myrtle Beach.

Jazz Festival, site cleanup

The second annual Jazz Festival will be Sept. 29 on the cleared portion of the Charlie’s Place site on Carver Street in Myrtle Beach.

In preparation for the Jazz Festival, a site cleanup will be held on Sept. 22. Booker T. Washington neighborhood residents are asked to participate in the cleanup.