Sea Pines clinks one last toast to an old friend that raised the bar

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 16, 2012 

The Plantation Club literally burst onto the scene in Sea Pines in 1966, Bananas "Foster" and Bing Cherries "Jubilee" exploding into flames tableside.

"Charles Fraser told me he was making a big investment ($800,000) in the club and in food service," said Franz X. Meier, a native of Germany who the Sea Pines founder brought to Hilton Head Island to add the wow factor of continental cuisine to his fledgling resort.

"He said, 'We've got to provide some first-class dining on this island. Otherwise, we won't sell any more lots.' "

Meier, of Charleston, was among a couple hundred people who gathered at the club Monday evening to raise a glass one last time and celebrate an island institution that will soon be razed for a new $12 million clubhouse overlooking the Ocean Course and the Heron Point golf course.

Former Sea Pines executive Jim Chaffin said Fraser wanted to prove you could have "a human settlement in nature without compromising on great food, great service and wonderful wines."

Architects Doug Corkern and Ed Wiggins were there, as well as Charles' brother, Joe Fraser, and many others who could remember how important the low-key building has been. It was ground zero for the European invasion of chefs and headwaiters who spread their skills to fine restaurants all over the island.

And as J.R. Richardson pointed out, this was a sleepy place when chef George Weyrmann roared in the door with ice sculptures and Cornish Game Hens "Veronique."

Richardson was a young man at the time, living the life of Huck Finn on a lonely island while his father developed Coligny Plaza. He said, "In those days, Herb was the cop. We'd drive around the circle the wrong way just so he could pull us. It was the only fun he had. We were the only people he saw all night."

But in Sea Pines, landscape architect Ed Pinckney said, "Charles had everybody hustling."

In this case, they were jumping at the direction of the strong-willed Elizabeth Gordon, whom Fraser brought in to design the interior and help form the motif and menus at the 65-seat restaurant and clubhouse with indoor-outdoor pool, conference center and pro shop. Gordon's obituary in The New York Times in 2000 described her as "the influential editor of House Beautiful magazine for more than 20 years, a missionary of taste to the American homemaker and an indefatigable supporter of Frank Lloyd Wright."

Several people spoke at the final celebration, or tried to be heard over the crowd enjoying complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres.

Stan Smith recalled the building as the original home of the Renaissance Weekends that brought some of the big names in America to Hilton Head. It's where Nelle Smith of Beaufort and husband, John Gettys Smith, an early Sea Pines executive, celebrated their 25th anniversary, and where their son, Spencer, had his wedding reception.

Gregg Russell, who has been singing to families under the Liberty Oak at Harbour Town for three decades, joined Sea Pines president Steve Birdwell in saying that Sea Pines is losing an old friend but gaining a new one.

Russell put it this way: A 4-year-old boy wanted to come up and talk during one of his shows. When he got on stage, Russell noticed the little boy had one flip-flop and one bare foot.

"Hey, partner, you lost a flip-flop," Russell said.

"No I didn't," the boy exclaimed.

"I found one."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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Sea Pines Resort eyes new $12 million clubhouse

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