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Hotel served black beachgoers in Jim Crow South Carolina. Here’s how it could be saved

The Pine Tree Hotel was one of the few beach hotels open to African Americans in South Carolina during segregation in the 1960s. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 badly damaged the landmark, and it hasn’t been open since.

The 14-room hotel still sits boarded up on James Island in Charleston, but a new $490,000 grant will help pay to restore the historic site near Mosquito Beach, according to the Historic Charleston Foundation.

During the Jim Crow era, black beachgoers “had to travel great distances to gather socially and enjoy the coastline without restrictions as most beaches were reserved for the white population,” the foundation said. Those spots included Atlantic Beach, known as The Black Pearl, near Myrtle Beach, and Mosquito Beach on the marsh flats of James Island in Charleston.

“After the Harborview Pavilion was built in 1953, Mosquito Beach became an increasingly popular gathering spot and was one of a handful of ‘beaches’ available to African Americans,” the foundation said.

With the increasing popularity of the island spot, the Pine Tree Hotel was built in the early 1960s so people would have a place to spend the night in the Sol Legare community. The Pine Tree had 14 rooms with communal kitchens and bathrooms on each floor.

Pine Tree owner William Wilder said he hopes to turn the former hotel “into an educational and entrepreneurial hub for the local African American community, shining a light on the past while offering economic opportunities for the future,” according to a statement from the foundation.

“Mosquito Beach began to lose its popularity with African-Americans following the desegregation of more popular beaches nearby. Hurricane Hugo damaged the hotel in 1989 and it was closed for repairs, but without customers, it never reopened,” according to Preservation South Carolina.

“Today, the Pine Tree Hotel is in need of critical repairs even as it has proven itself to be as resilient as the community it once served. It has survived several hurricanes including major damage from Hugo. However, the increasing frequency of serious storm and flooding threats (has) escalated the concern for the hotel’s continued endurance,” the foundation said.

The funding is part of more than $12 million in grants recently announced by the National Park Service to help preserve civil rights history.

The African American Civil Rights grants program funded four other projects in South Carolina, including $500,000 to continue restoration at the Historic Trinity United Methodist Church in Orangeburg.

The program is also contributing $50,000 to help collect oral histories from people in the civil rights movement who were with Martin Luther King Jr. at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island in the 1960s.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.
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