A look back: Luxurious hotel helped shape early history of the Grand Strand

A look back: Luxurious hotel helped shape early history of the Grand Strand
Published: Jul. 28, 2017 at 2:44 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2017 at 8:38 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Some locals might have seen signs around the Grand Strand for Arcadian Lakes, Arcadian Towers, or condos called The Arcadians.

They might know where Arcadian Shores Golf Course is, or maybe know people who live in the Arcadia Ridge neighborhood.

But the name "Arcady" may be unfamiliar to many Myrtle Beach residents.

In fact, Arcady is the name of a planned development that might have changed the face of the Grand Strand had it ever been built. If some of the first developers of this area had succeeded in their plans, Myrtle Beach might be a much different sort of place—an exclusive, upscale gated resort community that is more along the lines of Hilton Head or Kiawah Island than the Grand Strand residents and visitors know today.

In the early 1900s, Myrtle Beach was home to just a few hundred people and a handful of inns. Other parts of South Carolina were much more developed.

Across the state, in Greenville, the Woodside brothers were making money in the booming textile industry of the era, running the largest cotton mill under one roof in the world. There they also built the 17-story Woodside Building in 1919, the tallest building in South Carolina at the time, along with the Poinsett Hotel, which still stands in downtown Greenville.

"And then one day, a man from Myrtle Beach, Mr. Holmes Springs, decided that he would invite those bankers to Myrtle Beach in 1924," said Jack Thompson, a well-known Myrtle Beach photographer and local historian. "[Springs] brought them to Myrtle Beach, showed them the wonderful paradise that we had. And ironically, they fell in love with Myrtle Beach and they called a meeting with the Burroughs family and bought Myrtle Beach. In 1924, the Woodside brothers from Greenville bought Myrtle Beach."

According to Walter Hill, the director of the Horry County Museum, the property purchased was known as Burroughs and Chapin at the time.

In fact, the Woodside brothers bought 65,000 acres from the ocean to the Waccamaw River. For comparison, the entire city of Myrtle Beach right now is just over 10,000 acres.

According to Thompson, the Woodside brothers realized that Myrtle Beach was almost exactly halfway between the Big Apple and Miami — two hot spots for the rich and famous of the day.

It was here their plan for the opulent Ocean Forest Hotel was born.

"They opened the doors to the world at the wonderful, magnificent Ocean Forest Hotel, which was incomparable to anything between New York and Florida," Thompson said.

Hill said the first part of their plan was the construction of what was called "the million dollar hotel."

"It was a big, throbbing center there of cultural diversion for the wealthiest of the wealthy," he said.

The Woodside brothers spared no expense when it came to construction of their beachfront hotel.

Dino Thompson, a long-time Myrtle Beach resident and business owner — no relation to Jack —remembers the famous hotel well.

"A lot of people don't even know this, but the person who designed the Ocean Forest Hotel was Raymond Hood," Dino Thompson said. "You can Google him. He was one of the finest high-rise architects in the world."

Hood, in fact, is the designer of many of the most famous art deco buildings in the country, including Rockefeller Center and the Radiator Building in New York, and the Tribune Building in Chicago.

His design for the Ocean Forest Hotel included a main 13-story tower flanked by five-story extensions on each side, with around 300 guestrooms. The interior was just as fancy.

"The Ocean Forest had ice cold running water in every room," said Dino Thompson. "It had a salt water pool, it had a gymnasium bigger than this area here. They had a five-lane bowling alley. You could take a salt water bath in the Ocean Forest. It was a spectacular place."

The hotel opened on Feb. 21, 1930.

"They had a grand opening that would make Hollywood look bad," recounts Jack Thompson. "Had a grand opening, all the guests from New York and Chicago and Wisconsin — Mr. [Simeon] Chapin's hometown in Racine, Wisconsin. Five hundred people came to a black tie grand opening at the Ocean Forest Hotel."

Dino Thompson, who founded Dino's House of Pancakes in his 20s, owned Cagney's for over three decades, and now owns and runs Flamingo Grill, actually worked at the hotel as a kid.

"I bellhopped for Tuesday Weld, and I fell in love with her immediately. She was only about 15, and I was 10-and-a-half. I actually thought I had a chance, which was ridiculous. She was a gorgeous little thing. I waited on John Ireland, I bellhopped for Veronica Lake, who was an absolute beauty. She was the one that used to have the hair in front of her eye. I took room service to Diana Barrymore, who was a serious drinker."

Dino Thompson has plenty of other stories about the famous hotel.

"I had my first drink there when I was 6, a Brandy Alexander. My dad told the cocktail waitress, 'Give the boy something with milk in it.'  She brought me a Brandy Alexander, so every time we went, she'd look at me and said, 'Can I bring him a soda?' and I'd say 'No I'll take a Brandy Alexander.' After a while I said 'Hold the nutmeg.'"

The outdoor amphitheater at the Ocean Forest, called the Marine Patio, was one of the most popular features of the hotel.

"Glenn Miller, Tex Beneke, Tommy Dorsey, all the major bands found their way to the Ocean Forest Hotel simply because it was halfway between New York and Miami," Jack Thompson said. "And they would stay over, provided they would play in the outdoor amphitheater, which was called the Marina Patio, which was located on the ground next door to the hotel."

Dino Thompson remembers the Marine Patio was an "acoustically correct amphitheater which seated about a thousand people."

They had all the big bands, [Tommy] Dorsey, [Glen] Miller, Spike Jones, Harry James came a few times, they came there. They had, inside the Ocean Forest, they had summer stock theater. It was one of the few theaters in the round in the U.S., and in their beautiful ballroom was theater in the round. Many great actors and actresses came. John Payne, John Ireland, Tuesday Weld, Veronica Lake, Diana Barrymore, Burt Lair was in The Wizard of Oz. I could name 50 more if you gave me a few minutes, but a lot of great actors came."

The Ocean Forest wasn't just a place to stay; it was a destination in itself.

"You mention the Grove Park and you mentioned the Homestead, these are destination hotels," Dino Thompson said. "We don't have a destination hotel but if the Ocean Forest was here that would be a destination. People would come just to stay there, not exactly to come to Myrtle Beach, just to stay there. Just like I went go to the Grove Park not to go to Asheville, but to stay there."

But the Ocean Forest Hotel was just the beginning of the Woodside brothers' original plans.

"The Arcady Project had been developed to have, branching out from there, to have horseback riding and hunting and tennis and golf," said Hill.

They built Pine Lakes Golf Course, still called "the Granddaddy" of golf here in Myrtle Beach. However, the Woodside brothers' original grand plans for Arcady extended much further.

"Several thousand acres of the project were going to be a gated community," Dino Thompson said. "I didn't even know they had gated communities in the '20s. And in order to build in the gated community, you had to be a member and you had to pay $1,250 family membership. This is in 1925, '26, '27. A lot of people didn't make that much a year, so it was obviously going to be a very elite project. You and I probably wouldn't have been allowed here."

So what happened to this magnificent hotel? Why isn't it still standing and attracting tourists to the Grand Strand today? Also, where is that elite Arcady development?

"That prospectus was being shown to potential investors in 1927," Hill said.

The hotel opened just four months after the stock market crash of 1929, at the beginning of the Great Depression. The Woodside brothers soon lost their fortune and defaulted on the Ocean Forest Hotel.

"Before it ever got its feet off the ground, the stock market crashed in 1929, brought everything to a halt," Hill said. "And those concepts, those ideas, never got built … except the golf course and the hotel."

The Woodside brothers lost everything in the Great Depression, including their vision for Arcady.

"They actually died penniless and their vision ended with that," said Dino Thompson. "Somebody took over the Ocean Forest, somebody took over the Pine Lakes Golf Course, but the rest of the 66,000 acres died on the vine. They were going to have a yacht club there where the Yachtsman Hotel is, so none of that ever happened."

But museum director Walter Hill had an interesting take on the failure of the project.

"I like to consider, just to imagine, what would Horry County be today if Arcady had happened? And, would we want that?"

If gated communities and exclusive neighborhoods were the foundation of Myrtle Beach, would the same number of families still flock to the Grand Strand today?

"You know, we have become Horry County and Myrtle Beach's 'everyman's beach,'" Hill said. "And it's an affordable, beautiful tourist destination that people can bring their entire families to, and middle America can come enjoy a beach resort vacation."

If Arcady has succeeded, would the Grand Strand still be the place we know now?

"It would have been more like Palm Springs or Beverly Hills," Hill said. "Not just anybody could afford to go spend some time there at that beach."

So did Arcady have to fail for Myrtle Beach to be what it is today?

Hill isn't sure.

"We might be sad that we missed the glamour of the '20s and the potential of what could have come about what we lost in the Great Depression, but it definitely wouldn't be everybody's common beach that we see today," he said. "We all have a Myrtle Beach experience because it's available to us."

Download the WMBF News App and see video of Dino Thompson's interview, where he talks about Hollywood's Golden Age. It can be found in App Extras.

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