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Remembering Myrtle Beach's first high rise, the Ocean Forest Hotel

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - When you look at the coastline of Myrtle Beach, it looks like a tourist's dream.

There are dozens of high rises lining the shore with pools, workout centers and beachfront access. But what you won't see is Myrtle Beach's first high rise - the Ocean Forest Hotel.

Louise Springs Crews remembered, "The hotel was right on the ocean and that's where they had fancy things. They had the ballroom and things like that."

Ms. Crews and her brother, Wilson Springs, were young kids when the Ocean Forest Hotel was in its prime. "It was beautiful when it first started. Called it the million dollar hotel," Crews said.

It got that name because it literally cost a million dollars to build back in the late 1920s. The Ocean Forest Hotel officially opened for business in 1930 and even by today's standards. It was magnificent.

Wilson Springs explained, "The idea was to bring in the rich people from the north."

The hotel was described as "one of the most beautiful in America" and "elegantly and tastefully furnished." It stood ten stories tall and had 202 guest rooms, many that offered fresh and salt water baths.

The Ocean Forest Hotel also had a beautiful ballroom, dining room, convention room and a theater. Many locals visited the hotel for parties, conventions or a night out.

"We'd go up there dancing. They had on the outside, the south side of the building, they had what you call the Ocean Forest Marine Patio," Springs recalled.

Wilson Springs remembers in his twenties, he and other young couples would enjoy some of the best entertainment in Myrtle Beach at the Ocean Forest Hotel on an open air dance floor. "We'd get three or four couples and go up there when they had main entertainment; the only one I remember right now is Nancy Sinatra.

Louise said Myrtle Beach was known for hosting conventions and their father, HB Springs, would welcome them all to the Ocean Forest Hotel with a sense of humor.

"He welcomed all the Methodist preachers one time. I remember he told the preachers when they had their meeting down here in our church he said 'you all complain about Myrtle Beach being a sinful place, but you think about it now, it's your congregations coming down here doing all this!'"

Built right on the shore of the sparkling Atlantic, Wilson said the stately structure was a beacon for off-shore fishing trips that were mostly dependent on unreliable compasses. "When you got within six to eight miles, you could see this big, white monument up on the shoreline. We knew exactly where we were and could direct our heading accordingly. Coming in, if you did not see that big white building up there, you knew you were in trouble."

Through the years, more and more high-rises went up along the Myrtle Beach coast. They were bigger, newer and offered more amenities than the aging Ocean Forest Hotel could.

"I think everyone enjoyed coming, looked forward to coming, talked about it. People thought it was wonderful," Louise said.

But it couldn't be saved. And in 1974, Myrtle Beach's famous hotel came down in a matter of minutes.

"They tried and tried to figure out some way to preserve it, but the engineers all said to bring it up to city code, your plumbing and your wiring, they said it was almost impossible," Wilson sighed.

The hotel was reduced to rubble to make way for condos, and the future of the myrtle beach tourism industry.

"That was the first hotel. There was a time when there was nothing but cottages, beach houses and the Ocean Forest Hotel," Wilson smiled.

There are still signs of the Ocean Forest Hotel around town. In fact, the hotel developers built the first golf course in Myrtle Beach. It was eventually renamed Pine Lakes.

And the roundabout so famously pictured out front of the hotel is still a part of the city's streets, but now in a residential area with homes built around it.

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