Green Means Go


By Vicki Brown


I recently read an article stating that Myrtle Beach was one of the most dangerous beaches in the nation. Its nickname is “Murder Beach”! I was absolutely shocked…and saddened.

When I was 13, we moved from Pennsylvania to Sumter, SC. Everyone around us talked about going to Myrtle Beach for vacation, and since we had met a friend who had a small house for rent in Surfside, we decided to go. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. We went every year after that.

In the 70s, Myrtle Beach was an exciting place. Everywhere you looked, there was something to do, buy, or eat. In the daytime, we would get up, eat breakfast, then go to the beach. I remember laying out in my bathing suit and smearing baby oil mixed with iodine all over me for the perfect tan. I burned to a crisp every summer.

But the highlight of the trip was always at night when dad would take us to downtown Myrtle Beach at the Pavilion.

I loved the lights, the busyness, the sun-drenched pedestrians with pink faces, and the smell of fresh popcorn, pizza, and cotton candy in the air. My favorite place was the Pavilion, a two-story concrete monstrosity with flashing neon lights outside and arcade games inside. On the first floor, the sounds of pinball games with accompanying bells and pings were noisy enough, but beneath it all you could hear the rhythmic thuds of drums coming from the second story teen dance club. Teens smelling of suntan lotion roamed about in flip flops and tank tops, ready to see and be seen. Parents had no need to worry…we were perfectly safe.

I always loved going to the second story of the Pavilion where a huge porch was located next to the teen dance club. One side of the porch faced the ocean, and the other side faced the street, or “main drag” as we called it back then. I would always rush up to grab one of the benches facing the road so that I had almost a bird’s eye view of the street, pedestrians, and the Amusement Park across the road.

Taking up perhaps 7 - 9 city blocks, the Amusement Park was a wonder. Every ride you could imagine was there and families crowded into the park when it opened at sundown. There were rides for even the smallest child as well as stomach clinching rides for thrill seekers. I got the biggest kick out of listening to the screams of customers who climbed aboard the “Pirate Ship” which swayed and dipped like a pendulum from left to right.

But the biggest show was actually located in the street itself.

Depending on what vehicle was popular in a particular year, the cruising would entertain us for hours. Vehicles would start to cruise down the street, and similar ones would get in line behind like models. Before you knew it, 15 to 25 similar cars, vans, or bikes would be in a line, showing off to spectators. One year, motorcycles were everywhere. Not your Harley Davidsons, but the Honda and Suzuki motocross bikes with knobby tires. Another summer Pontiac Trans Ams lined up and cruised down the highway. The next summer Corvettes made the rounds. But the best summer of all was probably when the song “Chevy Van” came out and everyone who could afford it was sporting a colorful and artsy Chevrolet Van. They were actually beautifully and professionally painted, some covered with zodiac signs, flames, psychedelic swirls, mountain scenes and seascapes. It would take almost an hour for the vehicles to get to the end of the road, turn around, and make their way back. It was worth the wait to watch them.

Next door to the Pavilion was the Bowery, a bar whose claim to fame was that the group Alabama played there. In front of that was a rather nasty looking diner that is still there. Further down the street was the Gay Dolphin shop, which touted 5-6 levels of any and everything a shopper could possibly be interested in. It’s still there, too (along with stuff for sale that has been sitting there since the 70s).

But the Pavilion and the Amusement Park? They are gone.

Someone had the bright idea of creating a lot of “green space”. I guess traffic was heavy, so to fix the situation, they tore down the Amusement Park and the Pavilion, planted grass, added a few paved walkways, included some ornamental grasses and a flagpole.

Guess what happened.

Families stopped going downtown, they also began staying in hotels closer to entertainment and amusement venues or resorts that had waterslides and extravagant pools. All parents want entertainment for their kids. When families stayed away from downtown, downtown began to die, and a criminal element came in. Hoteliers need business, and they will take whoever will pay, and that includes people who drink too much and have too little self-control. To make matters worse, the “green space” is now home to the homeless, another troubling trend.

Well, throughout the 70s and 80s, Myrtle Beach was THE place to be. It’s the innocent place and time I enjoy reminiscing about the most, especially when I hear a song or see photos from that time period. And the greatest thing about my memories? At least they won’t change to make room for “green space”.