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From the early 1900s through the 1960s, the Pawleys Island Pavilion was the place to be for summertime fun
Though there are a number of places of interest on the south end of the Grand Strand, one of the most fondly remembered is one that no longer exists: the Pawleys Island Pavilion. The name alone invokes pleasant memories for many people, so much so that every year a reunion of sorts is held near the site of the building—actually the site of the fourth building known as the Pawleys Island Pavilion. Four and half decades after it burned, crowds gather every spring to celebrate its existence, its music and the good times they shared there.
The building itself was nothing special, not in any of its incarnations. The island’s first pavilion was built in the early 1900s and was simply a wooden structure located among the dunes to the north of South Causeway on Pawleys Island. One of the earliest recorded mentions of this pavilion was in a 1902 edition of the Georgetown paper the Sunday Outlook. Under the heading “Town Topics,” the article stated that J.E. McQuade would open “an up-to-date pavilion” on Pawleys that summer, with “bath rooms and bathing suits, a good dancing floor, ice cream, soda water, cigars, sandwiches and everything to keep one from getting hungry and thirsty.” An article later that summer noted that “every evening the pavilion is crowded with young people and in a couple of hours of fun making and informal dancing they always pass off the time pleasantly.”
In the beginning this first pavilion seemed to be a gathering place for family fun, although the target age group evolved over the next two decades. By the 1920s it seems to have been more of a hangout for college-age young people and older adults, and, in fact, local legend has it that during Prohibition you could get a drink if you had connections and the price was right. Eventually this pavilion was converted to a cottage and a second pavilion was built nearby by Willie Lachicotte in 1925. This second pavilion was every bit as popular as the first, and the Georgetown Times of July 5, 1929, noted the pavilion was foremost among the many things to do in Pawleys Island and that it was a popular place where “dances are held every week” as it was a “well known gathering place for young people.” This simple structure, with wooden floors and no restrooms, was located just north of the first pavilion. Although occasionally bands would play there during the summer, it wasn’t until the third pavilion was built by Fred Brickman in 1935 that bands became an integral part of the nightlife of the Pawleys Island Pavilion.
This third pavilion, built near the South Causeway and known as the Lafayette Pavilion, would be a mainstay of summer activity on the island, even though during World War II it couldn’t open at night due to blackout conditions. Dance contests were all the rage and papers from the early 1950s mention weekly Jitterbug contests. It was after this pavilion burned down in 1957 due to a faulty electrical system that the fourth and most famous pavilion of them all was built in 1960, the pavilion on the marsh at the North Causeway.
This building was funded by a group of locals, and Georgetown Senator James Morrison even had the triangle road that remains today built at the site to provide a location for the building. The large wooden structure with the huge dance floor soon became the place to be on the south end of the coast. Open every night except Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day and on weekends from Easter until Memorial Day, the bar was a haven for locals and out-of-towners alike. It wasn’t an impressive looking building, with a small stage and no air conditioning, but it had a good dance floor and booths around the walls.
One of the most interesting attributes of this building was that customers and bands were invited to sign their names on the building, which explains the ubiquitous graffiti in photographs taken in the 1960s. The pavilion sold memberships and also had a cover charge when it had live music, and, without a doubt, it was the music that really made it a special place. From 1960 until 1970, many bands familiar to aficionados of Carolina beach music played the pavilion. The Drifters, the Monzas, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, the Swingin Medallions, the Catalinas, the Embers, the Esquires and many others drew large crowds who enjoyed good music, cold beer and a safe place to relax.
Not surprisingly, members of the bands who played there remember the pavilion fondly. Linda “Quig” Quinlan James, one of the members of the Monzas of “Hey! I Know You” fame, remembers playing the pavilion well. “I loved it,” she said. “We played there a lot—at least a dozen times and maybe more. It seems like we played every Labor Day from the onset of the Monzas, which was 1962, and I can remember doing it every year up until I quit the group in 1968 or ’69. I remember the place was real open and the people there were always so great. You were right there on the floor with them because the bandstand was only one step up. The bandstand was right off to the left at the end of the building and there was a bar and huge dance floor to the right. It was very rustic, almost like a pier, and graffiti was encouraged. People would whittle on the tables. It was very hot, but they had these big fans that put out a pretty good breeze. But you couldn’t go outside because the mosquitoes would eat you up!”
Looking at pictures from the ’60s, the small bandstand is noticeable, and predictably, the performers who played there remember that as much as anything else. Donald Hobson of Gene Barbour and the Cavaliers said, “I definitely remember that stage. The rails were always problematic and were a pain to load equipment around. Maybe the rails were there to ‘protect’ the bands from the audience, but they didn’t offer much protection! More often than not, they’d lead to a beer bottle falling into some of our equipment. And I remember it was always hot—but of course that was true of almost all beach venues at that time.”
“The stage was a tiny little platform with a wooden railing,” said James. “I don’t know if somebody like the In-Men played there with their big horn section, but they couldn’t have gotten up there. But I kinda liked that stage because people would put their arms up on the railing and you felt close to them. That was OK because the crowd was really well behaved. Sometimes drinking brings out the worst in people but I don’t remember that happening and I’m very sensitive to that. It used to make me nervous when we were somewhere and I felt like someone would get hurt when we were playing. But Pawleys wasn’t like that at all.”
Of course, bands didn’t play there every night and the club was famed for its beach music filled jukebox. James remembers that the Monzas’ biggest hit “Hey! I Know You” was indeed on the pavilion jukebox, and the box showcased a wide range of beach music. Georgetown resident and beach music aficionado Paige Sawyer has done a good bit of research on the Pawleys Island Pavilion, and he has actually interviewed people who went to or worked at the pavilion and talked to many others. Along with Marion Carter of Ripete Records, Sawyer produced a CD with songs that were popular at the pavilion during the ’60s, and he has a picture of the records that were on the jukebox right before the pavilion burned. A close look at the picture shows 45s not only by the Monzas, but also Brenton Wood, The Impressions, Bob Collins and the Fabulous Five, the Esquires and others—classic beach music acts one and all. With a jukebox like that, it’s easy to see why the Pawleys Island Pavilion is known as one of the legendary bars from beach music’s golden period, a venue right up there with the Pad in North Myrtle Beach. As James said, “it had this aura, a special feeling about it that few places other than Pawleys and the Pad actually had.”
In June 1970 an arsonist burned the pavilion down, and many people suspect it was because some area residents feared the pavilion was becoming too popular, and as such was drawing in too many outsiders and starting to attract the “wrong crowd.” Though there were plans to convert a nearby structure into what would have been a fifth pavilion, some area residents who had apparently had enough of the crowds and traffic bought that structure and razed it.
Other than the empty lot, the most vivid reminder of the pavilion is an annual spring festival that celebrates the summers spent at this last pavilion. This year’s reunion will take place May 7 at the North Causeway and proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity. But there would never be another Pawleys Island Pavilion after 1970, and so the festival is probably the closest most of us will ever get to knowing what it was like to walk over to the pavilion for a cold beer and to listen to some good beach music.
For more information about the reunion, go to www.facebook.com/PawleysPavilionReunion/
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF LINDA QUINLAN JAMES, GARY BARKER, JOHN AND BOBBY TOMLINSON, DONALD HOBSON, JOHN MCELRATH AND THE GEORGETOWN COUNTY DIGITAL LIBRARY, RICK SIMMONS, PAIGE SAWYER, LYNN PIERCE PHOTOGRAPHY