MYRTLE BEACH — The hurricane-mangled facade of the Palace Theatre no longer mars the stretch of U.S. 17 leading to Broadway at the Beach.
Once the crown jewel of the bustling shopping and entertainment complex, the 2,700-seat theater was deemed unfit for occupancy in January by the city. Given the option of doing repairs or demolition, its owners, the Chapin Company, chose to tear the building down.
In its 21 years, the 350-acre Broadway at the Beach complex along U.S. 17 Bypass has seen plenty of attractions, shops and restaurants come and go.
But tearing down the Palace Theatre is among many recent changes at one of Myrtle Beach’s most popular destinations.
Gone are Planet Hollywood and the high-energy Revolutions Nightclub. The Mexican eatery, Carlos’ n Charlie’s, closed in 2015 to make way for the two-story Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, which opened in June to crowds that continue to line up daily for the storied cook’s Southern specialties.
Among the most ambitious changes at Broadway is the makeover of the French Quarter-ish Celebrity Square to what is now called The Avenue, a strip of entertainment venues and eateries with a hip, warehouse vibe.
To pull off the re-do, the Hard Rock Café pyramid came down to make way for the 40,000-square-foot Dave & Buster's that anchors the section. Hard Rock got updated digs and is now situated near the entrance.
“We're pleased to unveil this new name and welcome everyone to The Avenue,” said Chad Carlson, executive vice president for Broadway owner Burroughs & Chapin. “It was our vision to create a place that builds upon the magic and vibrancy that makes Broadway at the Beach so special.”
Other new businesses along The Avenue include the hamburger eatery Wahlburgers, which replaced Club Rodeo, and American Tap House, a gastropub offering craft beers on tap.
“I like the changes, though I miss the Hard Rock pyramid — it was a landmark,” said Bev Cookson of North Myrtle Beach. “I still look for it when I drive through the parking lot."
The razing of the Palace Theatre, which began in April, recently ramped up. The regal dome of the once-opulent showplace is gone, and the building has been reduced to rubble. It’s a sight that brings sadness to some Myrtle Beach visitors.
“It was the landmark that told us we were at Broadway at the Beach,” said Evans Johnston of Charlotte. “The kids would get excited when they saw the dome. Years ago, I took my family there to see a Le Grand Cirque — it was a really nice theater. I hate to see it gone.”
Hurricane Matthew ended the theater's run.
"Based on the damage, the cost to repair, the age of the building and the tenant ceasing operations, the owner had no viable choice other than tearing the building down” said Douglas Zayicek, an attorney representing the Chapin Company.
Delays in making repairs to the theater created even more issues, some of which were too far gone to reverse.
“The wind created a large hole in the exterior cladding,” said Mark Kruea, a spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach. “The hole was not covered or patched, which resulted in further damage to the interior by being exposed to the elements for approximately six months. During the winter, the city issued a repair-or-demolish notice to the property owner.”
When it was determined repair costs would exceed the value of building, he said the property owners opted for demolition. While the total value of the building is listed on the demolition permit at more than $5 million, Kruea said that amount came from county property tax records and was not necessarily reflective of its final worth. There are no plans in the works to use property where Palace Theatre stood.
“The city is not concerned about the now-vacant site,” said Kruea. “It’s part of the larger Broadway at the Beach complex and is in a desirable location. We expect that the property owner will seek a suitable use for that corner.”
What that use might be is still in question.
“My client is exploring several options, and is in process of getting the site cleaned up for future use,” said Zayicek.
Final curtain calls
The Palace is not the only theater taking a bow at Broadway at the Beach.
In August, AMC’s BIG D Theater, formerly IMAX, closed its doors.
AMC has no replacement place, said theater chain spokesman Ryan Noonan. “We’re exploring our options in terms of renovations at that location but have nothing specific to share at this time,” Noonan said.
Indeed, things are looking a bit dismal these days near the closed movie theater.
Adjacent to the Big D is the shell of a building that once housed MagiQuest, an interactive fantasy adventure that closed in 2015. The building is still emblazoned with images of smiling children wielding magic wands.
A small bungee amusement positioned in front of the locked doors serves as a hint no wizardry is being played out in this once vibrant spot. Across from both abandoned buildings, ribbons of yellow caution tape crisscross the walkway, creating a safety zone around another demolition area — one of the two courses at Dragon’s Lair Fantasy Golf.
“A portion of Dragon’s Lair Fantasy Golf Course is being removed to accommodate future offerings at Broadway at the Beach,” said Lei Gainer, a spokesperson for Burroughs & Chapin. “Broadway at the Beach will announce those new tenants once finalized."
While the down-sizing isn’t a welcome turn-of-events for Dragon’s Lair fans, even more disconcerting is the loss of a beloved familiar presence: the 30-foot dragon that once lived in the course’s tower.
“I miss having two courses to choose from, but the dragon was the best thing about this place,” said local Kylie Jackson as she oversaw her toddler on the greens. “I remember coming here when I was a teen and loving it when he popped up from the castle tower.
"His voice was kind of scary, but it made the whole experience a lot of fun and more different than any other mini-golf around here. It’s not really ‘Dragon’s Lair’ without the dragon, right?”
Still as part of Broadway's changes, the complex added new amusement rides, including the 118-foot-tall Ferris Wheel with 24 open-air gondolas in Pavilion Park West.
“As we complete this important milestone and first step in our multi-year transformation at Broadway at the Beach, there is still a lot more excitement to come,” Carlson said.