HOMAGE TO THE OCEAN FOREST HOTEL
People called it The Million Dollar Hotel, The Castleon the Ocean, The Wedding Cake Hotel. Most us locals just called it…The Hotel.
Why should anyone care about the long-gone hotel? Because it was the splendiforous white castle on the north end of town we called… The Ocean Forest Hotel. It loomed large over the beach on a 30-foot-above-sea-level plateau and...
It was much more than just a hotel. It was a spectacular architectural remnant of the most ambitious attempt to “Create the most desirable haven of rest and recreation in the world…the most complete playground ever contemplated.”
Those high-filootin words were the voice of the visionary developers describing their grandiose venture. The venture, called Arcady, was named after a place in ancient
men found peace and solitude in their natural environment. The natural place
they chose for this dream was that ribbon of sand we would know as Myrtle
Beach. Greenville’s John T. Woodside and his brothers were the originators and
constructors of that vision. Greece
The DreamersLand acquired in 1925, the hotel and golf course were finished in 1928. These were the leading actors in a breathtaking 60,000 acre resort and ocean swept production. The founders of this grandiose dream went all in with their lives, money and reputations. The '29 Crash would lop the economic legs off their attempt at creating a coastal paradise.
The Woodsides lost more than their shirt. They lost their six textile mills, (the largest textile mill under one roof in the entire world). They lost their financing, their fortune, their 17-story Woodside National Bank, their magnificent hotel, and their nowhere-else-on-earth dream. They lost the entire coastline of Myrtle Beach, 12 miles of pristine shoreline garnished with 30-ft sea-oated sand dunes, twisted live oaks and windswept myrtles.
Arcady was to be the most ambitious resort haven in the entire country. And it would have. Seventy-five years later nothing touches the concept or the finished product.
The HotelThe main entertainment entrée was…The Ocean Forest Hotel.
This white-brick 10-story sandcastle designed by famed Chicago architect, Raymond Hood, boasted 202 ventilated rooms, indoor & outdoor pools, lighthouse spire, salt or fresh running water, colonnaded marble verandas, magnificent Georgian ballrooms, 20-foot chandeliers crafted by Europe’s finest crystal makers. They offered ocean front dining, outdoor entertainment, men & women's exercise clubs fully-equipped with spa, steamboxes, free weights, pulleys, cables, pommel horse and shake-the-fat-of-your-booty machines. There were maple bowling lanes and an indoor and outdoor Olympic-size pools. Hotel bathrooms offered hot, cold and saltwater baths. The tower offered Myrtle Beach’s 1st radio station as well as gambling rumors. The ground-floor arcade provided men’s and ladies clothing, coffee shop, jewelry store, drug store and hoity-toity salons…The hotel even provided ice water piped into each room.
And this was in the 1920s.
OwnershipWhen completed, control and ownership of Arcady would be turned over to the members. No part of the project could ever be sold. The first 500 family memberships would be sold at heady $1,250, which would give them, “…the privilege to build and occupy homes in a specially favorable and restricted section, if they so desire.”
Ocean Forest Golf Course & ClubhouseGuests and members could opt for use of the Robert White designed 27-hole golf course and stay on premise in the 60-room Georgian clubhouse and inn. The golf layout designer would become the PGA’s 1st President. The all-male golf course would be frequented by actors, politicians and the legendary likes of Sarazen and Snead. A few cigar smokers and gimlet drinkers lounging around that same clubhouse conjured up a need for a magazine dedicated to sports and leisure. They would name the publication Sports Illustrated.
Outdoor AmphitheaterAlso overlooking the ocean, nestled beside the south side of the hotel, they built an acoustically-correct, open-air amphitheater. Locals called it The Marine Patio. You could savor the dance music of all the famous big bands…. Carmichael, Dorsey, Basie, Spike Jones, Harry James, Lennon Sisters, with the silvery ocean in the background. Those who couldn’t afford the ticket, would blanket-sit on the moonlit sand dunes and ogle the comins and goins of snazzy dressed couples sippin illegal cocktails.
When the band kicked in beach-listeners would sand-boogie barefoot to a hip swing tune.
It’s whispered Ayn Rand’s Peter Keating of Fountainhead was based on noted high-rise architect Raymond Hood who designed the Ocean Forest Hotel.
The Architect.The designer of our wedding cake hotel was MIT grad Raymond Hood. He also created the Gothic Chicago Tribune Tower, the Daily News building in New York, the McGraw-Hill building, the black-brick Radiator Building which became the Bryant Park Hotel. Raymond Hood was also the senior architect for Rockefeller Center and the RCA Building.
Outdoor AmenitiesOther play-toys offered were red-clay tennis courts, skeet & trap range, dieticians, Near the golf course was an open-beam-cypress horse stable which housed 40 rent-a-rides. Also on the recreation menu was archery, miles of hiking, hunting, riding trails and of course 14 miles of sailing, sunning and fishing along a pristine ocean front lined with windswept myrtles and cabana’d beaches. And within walking distance, 6 freshwater lakes paralleling the Atlantic were there for canoeing, bass fishing and moonlight trysts.
Amenities which were to come, were a separate golf course for ladies, separate courses for the children, boys and girl camps, nurseries for the infants, beach and bath house, wildlife sanctuary, and Yacht Basin carved out where the current Yachtsman Hotel sits today.Nothing on our Grand Strand or any other strand was conceived quite that grand.
Summer Stock TheaterGreat Gatsby-ish après-theater cocktail galas, glistening with parfait gowns and pastel’d tuxedos capped off the theater productions. The South’s only theater-in-the-round boasted names like Veronica Lake, Sinatra, John Ireland, Tuesday Weld, Shelly Winters, Diana Barrymore, Eddie Bracken, Tallulah Bankhead, Jeffrey Lynn, Zazu Pits. The celebs, pols, and money movers graced the stage, gambled in the tower, sipped perfect manhattans in the Brookgreen Room and prowled the verandas in linens and silk.
For most of my life its fabulousity has never been exceeded. It was our social universe and the biggest, baddest, most imposing structure for 200 miles. It was our Coliseum, our Taj Mahal, our Parthenon. Ask any local yokel directions and the answer went something like…"Be bout a mile past the Ocean Forest."
Marine Patio, Ballroom and Brookgreen RoomMost all us local boys fastened our first cummerbund, ogled our first cleavage, kissed our first bare neck, sipped our first cocktail, heard our first champagne cork pop and danced our first cheek to cheek foxtrot in the Ocean Forest Ballroom or Marine Patio. Twas an elegant brownfaced bowtied bartender served me my first cocktail, a nutmeggy brandy alexander, at age 6 in the swanky Brookgreen Room, while I listened to violin stroller, Eduardo Roy, bedazzled in a Liberace-ish
We were a Baptisty dry state back then but the Ocean Forest was the closest thing we had to royalty so the local constabulary cut them serious slack. My dad said it was painted with invisible paint, the sheriff just couldn’t find it.
Friday the 13th of Sept 1974I never ride past without it looming large over my memory. Imagining it refurbished... seeing linen-garbed, pomaded dreamy couples sipping perfect manhattans on that perfect veranda in front of windswept myrtles on that perfect stretch of cabana'd beach.
50 years after its immaculate construction, on that sunny but tragic Friday the 13th, the last castle of the Woodside brothers’ dream was tumbled into twisted rubble by Hudgins and Company demolition. Fade to black. A perfect implosion…an imperfect ending.
We crouched behind the sand dunes and cried for our Castle on the Sea.Even the head of the demolition company told me the hotel should have been renovated. That it was the finest construction he had seen. They auctioned off the woodwork, crystal and glitter, even the cups and saucers and room keys. They then buried the broken bones of the once magnificent hotel in what is now Cagney’s parking lot.
All that's left of what shoulda been our Breaker’s, our Greenbrier, our Fairmont, our Plaza hotel… are just a few artifacts, some postcards, concrete roads, the Pine Lakes Golf Course and Club House and pangs of what mighta been, coulda been, shoulda been.
In my mind it's still there. Cause I want it to be.
Dino Thompson- Author of Greek Boy- Growing Up Southern