The sun had yet to rise and a mystic fog wrapped around the canopies of live oaks as I knifed my way from Highway 17 to the beach on Calhoun Road. The familiar traffic circle, where Calhoun, Poinsett Road and Porcher Drive meet, lay just ahead. Weary travelers from up and down the east coast once disembarked from the round-about into a rather magical castle.
I’d timed my walk to arrive at the beach when it was just light enough to see fossils — my destination, a little over a mile southeast of my pad on the north end of town. Both street and porch lights were diffused in a milky shroud covering the coastal neighborhood. Everything, even the outlines of homes, looked indistinct in the thick fog. It was an eerie morning, but I always get chills when I near that traffic circle. That locale.
The Ocean Forest Hotel stood from February 1930 until its demolition in 1974. Anchored by a ten-story main tower with five-story wings on either side, the hotel and the planned development around it was the vision of Greenville textile magnate John T. Woodside. The Ocean Forest Country Club and an accompanying golf course were also part of that vision. The club (now the Pine Lakes Country Club) was built two years prior to the hotel.
Here’s an excerpt from scencyclopedia.org describing the Ocean Forest:
“…Together with the gardens, pools, and stables, the hotel occupied thirteen acres. Amenities such as marble stairways, Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers, Grecian columns, faucets that dispensed salt water to the 202 ventilated bathrooms, oriental rugs in the marble floored lobby, the grand ballroom, and dining room all attested to the Ocean Forest’s inclusion among an exclusive list of world-class hotels. High standards of etiquette were the rule. Gentlemen never entered the dining room without a tuxedo. Ladies wore evening gowns. By the 1940s and 1950s, patrons altered their lifestyles and the Ocean Forest Hotel changed with the times. “Resort attire” was accepted, and in the late 1940s, Governor Strom Thurmond played volleyball in his swim trunks.”
I remember Thurmond as an older man, so the image I have of him in swim trunks is disturbing, but otherwise the Ocean Forest sounded like a pretty cool place to hang out, don’t you think?
Renowned bands and thespians performed there, attracting locals as well as tourists. The late, great Mickey Spillane, who lived in Murrells Inlet, really liked the joint. It had to have been a swell place to socialize and have a few adult beverages.
Anyway. Fate dealt Woodside a pretty cruel hand. He lost most of his moolah in the stock market crash of October 1929 and was unable to make his mortgage payments. A bank foreclosed on his property, including the hotel, country club and land in between.
The hotel went through a series of owners and by the 1960s much needed maintenance was neglected. In June 1974 the Ocean Forest was closed and on Friday, September 13, 1974, it was razed with explosives. That’s right. Friday the 13th. Cue “The Twilight Zone” theme.
So, there I sat on that gloomy, early October morn, my rear parked on the damp curb of the traffic circle — all that’s left of the grand ol’ dame. With a few minutes till dawn, I looked along Calhoun and Poinsett, which from that perspective form a vee heading west to Highway 17. It wasn’t hard for me to envision classic cars heading in my direction. To feel tuxedo-clad and gown-wearing ghosts fixin’ to throw a fit because their favorite haunt had been replaced by condominiums. The same offshore wind pushing the fog out to sea blew a light mist in my face and it was time for me to exorcise a few demons. That is, in part, why many of us go to the beach.
An hour later I was standing under blue sky in the surf hunting sharks’ teeth. A thin ribbon of clouds loomed well out over the horizon. It occurred to me that many Myrtle Beach landmarks have disappeared.
Gone. Like the fog.