If These Walls Could Talk... and They Do

April 2024
Written By: 
Paul Grimshaw
Photographs by: 
Paul Grimshaw; Carl Kerridge & courtesy of Franklin G Burroughs-Simeon B.Chapin Art Museum

Art Museum celebrates the 100th anniversary of its Heart & Soul

The number of locals and visitors who remember the famed Ocean Forest Hotel gets smaller every year. The hotel was built by textile giant John T. Woodside and designed by Raymond Hood, the architect behind the Rockefeller Center in New York City. The hotel’s construction began in the late 1920s and it opened for business in 1930, at the height of the Great Depression. In 1974, having been closed for decades (and in disrepair), the grand hotel was unceremoniously razed with a few sticks of dynamite, a move that in hindsight many wish they could undo. Billed as the “Million Dollar Hotel” it was once the jewel of the mid-Atlantic region and even more so of the Grand Strand.

During the hotel’s brief but illustrious heyday in the 1930s, it had a much smaller but equally beautiful next-door neighbor, a home that would eventually become the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum. A substantial 7,000-square-foot two-story beach home pre-dated the hotel and was built in 1924 along the 5400 block of N. Ocean Blvd. An anomaly at the time, the home was the first beach house constructed well north of the established Myrtle Beach oceanfront district. It was built by J.M. Lawton’s Southern Builders of Florence and Myrtle Beach, and designed by architect W.H. Peeps of Charlotte, N.C.

The home was first owned by the Cannon family of North Carolina as a summer retreat and called the Cannon Beach House. The Cannons owned Cannon Mills, once the largest textile mill in the world, for a time manufacturing 300,000 towels every day. In the mid-1940s Elliot White Springs, a highly decorated World War I flying ace and owner of another textile giant, Springs Cotton Mills in Fort Mill, S.C., purchased the home everyone called “The Springmaid Villa.” The histories of these families could fill volumes with their far flung adventures rivaling any world traveler’s. The Benton family (C.L. Benton & Sons) of Myrtle Beach, offering building and construction services in the area for some 90 years, is connected to the Springs family as well. Elizabeth Benton chaired the museum’s board for a number of years.

“People often say Myrtle Beach has no history,” says Patricia Goodwin, executive director of the Art Museum, “but we’re sitting in it.” Goodwin and retired special projects coordinator Karen Olson took a few moments to share some of the history of the Art Museum and its importance to the arts community and place in Myrtle Beach lore.

Long before the Villa was moved intact in 1984 to eventually become the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, its owners, occupants, and visitors in the 1920s and 30s enjoyed proximity to the Ocean Forest Hotel’s oceanfront amphitheater. Sitting on the Villa’s open-air porch they listened to world-class entertainers Tommy Dorsey, Count Baise, Spike Jones, and many others. They played golf at the nearby 27-hole Ocean Forest Country Club (now Pine Lakes Country Club). The Villa/Art Museum represents a bygone era, the end of the roaring twenties, with its jazz, prohibition, affluence, and opulence. The hotel and resort dream, once called Arcady, and the money required to sustain it, all came crashing down beginning in 1929, but the Country Club and the Villa survived…barely.

Famed local watercolor artist Gaye Fisher, then the president of the Waccamaw Arts & Crafts Guild, worked with area businessmen and the third set of owners, the Cox family, to save the Villa in 1983. It had been virtually abandoned and unused for years and was at risk of demolition, like its long-lost hotel neighbor. The guild needed a home to display its members’ artwork and the Villa seemed like the perfect host representing an important piece of Myrtle Beach history.

“Gaye Fisher just loved the home,” recalls Olson. “She knew that saving it, saving our Myrtle Beach history was so important. She did not want to see the house destroyed.”

Fisher was at first unsuccessful in her attempts to persuade Mr. Cox, but after having painted a picture of the home and presenting the artwork to Cox, he was moved to donate the house to the Guild. A plan was set in place and land donated near the Springmaid Pier. After months of careful planning and much fundraising, the Villa was ultimately saved by a donation from the Cox family and offered a new permanent home, but moving the massive beach house came with its own set of challenges.

On May 2nd, 1984, the J.R. Altman House Moving Company put its plan into action. A team of workers and their cranes began to lift and load the 150-ton house onto the beds of two large trucks. The Villa would undertake the eight-mile journey to its current home, a one-acre site adjacent to Springmaid Beach at 3100 S. Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach. An army of volunteers, public works employees, utility company linemen, engineers and proud members of the Guild both preceded and followed the painfully slow progress of the intact Villa as it traveled along Ocean Blvd., and U.S. 17 Bus. The trip would take three days. Large crowds watching from the sidelines created a celebratory atmosphere in Myrtle Beach as the spectacle was the talk of the town for years to come. Some 41 years later we’re still talking about it.

Though the Villa was originally built just three or four feet off the sand, federal flood regulations required it to be lifted substantially on the land donated by Myrtle Beach Farms (later to become Burroughs & Chapin), and that was just the beginning of the work required before the Art Museum would display its first piece of artwork.

Thirteen years later… In June 1997 the 10,000-square-foot Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum was named for the original founders of what is now the Burroughs & Chapin Company. The Art Museum opened to the public with great fanfare and has remained the premier museum in the area, and the only museum dedicated solely to the arts.

“We were a great team,” recalla Goodwin, smiling at Olson across the table in the museum’s small conference room. “Every idea I suggested to Karen she enthusiastically said “Oh yes! Let’s do it!” and everything she suggested to me I said “Oh yes! Let’s do that!” 

Over the years and through countless storms and even a tornado, the Museum has embraced its role as protector and promotor of the visual arts and stands as an important addition to the culture of the Grand Strand as one of the oldest structures still standing in the Myrtle Beach area. Though its future is uncertain, it seems the Museum and its large additions, classrooms, ground floor pottery workshop and gift shop, will live on in some new way.

The museum’s board and the City of Myrtle Beach have agreed in principle to one day move the Art Museum to the downtown Arts & Innovation District, leaving the future use of the current house/Museum unknown.

“We don’t know when the move will happen. Maybe five, six or seven years?” says Goodwin, a little wistfully, though she generally supports the idea of the move. “It makes sense,” she adds. “A lot more people will see it and the district must have an art museum.” The City of Myrtle Beach owns the building and the museum is operated by a non-profit 501 (c)3 organization.

With spectacular ocean views, a tea room with comfy chairs and large ocean-facing bay windows, and some 11 galleries of art to view and enjoy, the Art Museum is as important as ever and stands proudly as a piece of authentic Myrtle Beach history. Ringo the Octopus, a clever metal cephalopod filled with plastic and trash collected from the beach, greets visitors to the museum. The artwork was created in 2019 to launch and bring attention to an all-important ocean plastics exhibit. Other galleries inside the museum feature rotating exhibitions featuring a wide variety of art, changing every 12 weeks. Historical maps, juried art exhibitions, upcoming exhibitions from Richard Segalman, Paul Yanko and many others are all slated for the rest of the year. A variety of classes are available catering to all levels of artists in many disciplines.

“One of the reasons people love to visit the museum, is because of this Villa,” notes  Goodwin. “This wonderful building is 100 years old, the Art Museum is 27 years old, and I foresee a long life ahead for both.”

Around 4 B.C. Seneca, the ancient Roman stoic philosopher and tutor to emperors, wrote “Every new beginning is some other beginning’s end,” and so it will go with the fascinating centurion, the Springmaid Villa Art Museum. Happy Birthday!

The Franklin G. Burroughs – Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum is located at 3100 South Ocean Boulevard, Myrtle Beach. Closed on Mondays, the Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free; donations are accepted and appreciated.

For more information, please visit myrtlebeachartmuseum.org or call (843) 238-2510.