NOW HERE IS some disturbing news: The city council of Myrtle Beach, S.C., has just approved a sign control ordinance under which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of commercial signs and displays there will have to come down. Understand, this isn't just any old city having an attack of "good taste." Myrtle Beach, at the heart of a 60-mile-long seaside strip, has an array of signs that is truly spectacular - not in a league with Broadway or Las Vegas, perhaps, but outstanding for a resort town of its size.
Few places can boast of a single highway with 924 free-standing signs in a 13-mile strip. And you can get a good idea of the variety by considering what the new ordinance will ban: most flashing signs, most blinking signs, most animated signs and everything over 25 feet high. About one-third of the 150 billboards will have to go. Some exceptions have been made, but there seems to be no hope for landmarks such as the 40-foot-high orange neon clown.
So Myrtle Beach has made its choice. The local economy probably won't suffer; the billboard owners and neon-benders should even be busy concocting smaller but equally eye-catching signs. And the new policy may pretty up a town described by its own city manager as "one of the tackiest places around." Still, record tackiness is a record. And it is also worth recalling that preservation groups are making strenuous efforts right now to recreate some typical 19th-century small-town Main Streets here and there. Surely some day late-20th-century tourist towns will be regarded as historic, too. Then, anyway, if not before, they may lament the latter-day cost of recreating neon-nostalgia and tacky-chic.