It’s withstood destructive hurricanes such as Hazel and Hugo, and survived the oceanfront high-rise redevelopment craze of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But on Wednesday, the historic Chesterfield Inn in Myrtle Beach bit the dust.
The stately, three-story brick building at the corner of Seventh Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard -- where vacationers have made memories for more than 66 years -- was turned into a pile of rubble in a matter of hours, a victim of visitors’ ever-evolving lodging preferences, demolished to make way for a miniature golf course and restaurant.
“It breaks my heart. God, I can’t stand it,” said longtime Myrtle Beach resident Sharon Penny as she watched the final corner of the historic building being torn down, bummed that she didn’t have a camera to capture the moment and determined to snag a brick from the rubble as a souvenir. “It’s part of our past. I hate it.”
The owners have talked for several years about the estimated $1 million redevelopment of this property, saying the Chesterfield had outlived its time as a go-to place to stay as vacationers increasingly demand amenities such as lazy rivers and in-room kitchens that weren’t even thought of during the Chesterfield’s heyday. Crews have been working for weeks to prepare the property for demolition and get the site ready for the redevelopment, with the mini-golf course and restaurant planning to open in February.
But Bud Hunt, 85, who was likely the first lifeguard on the beach by the Chesterfield in 1947, never thought he’d see this day. The Chesterfield wasn’t just a building for Hunt, but where he met his future wife Dottie that summer in ‘47. The couple, who live in the Charlotte area and still regularly visit the Grand Strand during shagging conventions, will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary in December.
“Well, there’s a lot of memories there,” Bud Hunt said, reminiscing how he knew he wanted a date with Dottie the moment a friend introduced them in 1947. “I didn’t think it would ever go.”
The owners said it wasn’t economical to renovate and update the inn, which was on the National Register of Historic Places. The inn had kept its 1940s charm, with original hardwood floors, clapboard ceilings, bathroom tiles and louver doors on the guest rooms in the main building, where rocking chairs routinely lined the second-floor oceanfront porch. Despite that charm, it didn’t have today’s amenities vacationers demand, said Karon Mitchell, whose family bought the property in the mid-2000s.
“It just became something somebody wanted to look at but not stay in,” Mitchell said.
Some area residents say Myrtle Beach should preserve some of its history such as the Chesterfield Inn, adding that the area should have learned a lesson when other local landmarks came down, including the Ocean Forest Hotel and the Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park, which was torn down after the 2006 season.
“I think that is a complete disgrace,” Myrtle Beach area resident Carole Clark said of the Chesterfield. “That is a historic place. It’s such a beautiful old building...It just doesn’t make any sense what they’ve done to Myrtle Beach.”
Crews will continue to haul away the Chesterfield rubble for the next few days, then construction will begin on the 36-hole miniature golf course and oceanfront restaurant serving southern staples with a twist, such as lobster reubens, lobster BLTs, a grouper sandwich and spinach and feta burger.
Mitchell was among those shooting video and snapping photos of the demolition Wednesday, kicking around an idea of displaying it somehow for the first year or so the golf course and restaurant are open. Though she was excited work on the new development was finally moving forward, she couldn’t help but get a little nostalgic about all her family birthdays, weddings and graduations that were celebrated in the Chesterfield.
“It’s been bittersweet,” said Mitchell, wearing a hard hat and orange construction zone vest. “I didn’t know how I was going to feel. We’ve had a lot of memories in there. But this is a new chapter in our life. It’s a challenge that we are up for.”
The demolition was the main entertainment Wednesday for vacationer John Dicks, a Ohio resident who has visited Myrtle Beach for 25 years. He’s not surprised to see the small hotel come down - he’s watched so many others face the same fate along the oceanfront and expects more to follow -- but still wishes there was some way to save these kinds of historic structures.
“Yeah, it’s kind of a landmark,” Dicks said as he watched heavy equipment claw through the Chesterfield’s brick exterior. “It’s still a shame that they have to tear it down.”