Tom Poland inspired me. He wrote about the old Ocean Forest Hotel, a magnificent behemoth of a hotel on a Grand Strand beach north of Myrtle Beach, my old vacation stomping ground. The Ocean Forest is gone now, and that reminded me of another iconic Myrtle Beach spot that has also vanished from the earth.
Between 8th and 9th Avenues North, between North Ocean Boulevard and the King’s Highway, there sits a big old empty lot, different from other empty lots only because of the zipline installed in its western end. A smaller, completely empty lot sits across the street between North Ocean Boulevard and the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, which is now made of boards, although for the entire time I knew it, the walk was dirty concrete except for a section in the Pavilion’s courtyard. Didn’t matter to me. I was a hip, cool kid at the age of 3 and even later, when I was a gawky teenager who knew little beyond what I’d learned in books and that the beach was a great vacation spot.
Every year — or every other year if times were lean — my family trekked over the mountains and across the piedmont to Myrtle Beach. It was a long drive, especially in those early days before the interstates — before, in fact, many four-lane roads at all. We’d start well before dawn so as to arrive in the early to mid-afternoon, in time for a first trip down to the beach itself, just a few blocks from our usual motel.
Down on 6th Street North, the Atlantic View, where we stayed once, and the Noel Court — where that lovely pic of 3-year-old me was shot — are still there, although I wouldn’t expect they will be for long. I’m surprised they’re there now, particularly the Noel. The “newer” Lancer that we moved to from the Noel in the mid-1960s is gone, its two swimming pools vanished like the Pavilion and its amusement park, which used to sit on those empty lots just a few blocks away.
That’s where I learned to love snow cones, those paper cups of shaved ice with what amounted to Kool-aid syrup poured over the top — grape for me, thank you. I found those in the cool, cavernous first floor, where the snow cone shops resided, along with funhouse mirrors, a tap-dancing stick man and dime car rides. In the evening, we’d sit on the 2nd floor open-air seating area, watching the waves and people on one side and the amusement park and people on the other while the muffled thump of the bass guitar from the band playing in 2nd floor dance hall kept a steady rhythm going on into the night.
I found out the Pavilion was going away quite by accident, just days before its final day back in 2006. Today, I don’t even remember what clued me in. I do remember a hastily arranged trip to the beach, though, to see this icon of my youth once more before it went the way of “progress.” It did not disappoint.
Across the way, the old amusement park, pretty dramatically changed from how I remember it, still had a couple of pieces left over from my youth. One was the Baden Band Organ, decorated and crafted by Ruth & Sohn in Waldkirch Baden, Germany, for display at the 1900 World Exposition in Paris. The organ travelled Europe before landing at the Pavilion and consists of 400 pipes and 98 keys. It’s 20 feet wide, 11 feet high and 7 feet deep and weighs two tons.
The fantastical Herschell-Sillman carousel, one of 15 working Herschell-Spillman carousels in the country, was still there too. The 1912 carousel features an amazing array of animals — pigs, lions, frogs, zebras, giraffes along with the usual horses.
Both the organ and the carousel are still in use at the massive Broadway at the Beach shopping installation between 21st and 29th Avenues North, I’m told, along with a couple other rides from the amusement park.
It was just a one-day trip. I started early, drove to the beach along interstate highways, checked into my beachfront hotel with the balcony overlooking the ocean. I was pretty far north, so I cruised down North Ocean Boulevard and parked near the famous Gay Dolphin Gift Cove, a multi-level maze of tacky tchotchkas that takes up an enormous space between the boulevard and the Boardwalk. After a quick stop at the Gay Dolphin, I headed on down the Boardwalk to the Pavilion to see what I’d never see again.
Back at my hotel that night, in my ocean view room, I couldn’t sleep. I sat out on the balcony, listening to the gentle surf. I may have a slept a while, but I was up by dawn and walking the beach as far as the pier in front of the Yachtsman, then walked back, catching a pretty spectacular sunrise along the way.
And then I packed up drove to my old Tennessee home, retracing the route I’d taken many times in the backseat of the family Ford.