At the corner of Pickens and Gervais streets in downtown Columbia, there stands a Queen Anne mansion. The home is uniquely Victorian with a high turret and cedar-shingled roofline. There are few people in Columbia who, today, would say the house is anything short of beautiful.
If you traveled back in time to 1917 to that same street corner, this building would be one of many Victorian homes. However, as tastes and technologies changed, these homes fell out of fashion. In fact, they were often labeled “tacky” and fell prey to the wrecking ball of “progress”.
If a community tore down every building that fell out of fashion, the built landscape would more closely resemble an Etch-a-Sketch than a city. There is a tendency to preserve only the “best” examples of an architectural style or period. Exceptional structures deserve praise and recognition, yes, but so do commonplace buildings. Preserving the corner store or bus station gives us a better idea of the full context of a community – of all the pieces that make up the whole. The preservation of the grand and the vernacular provides us with this wide span of context.
In June, the City of Columbia’s Planning Commission voted to approve a development plan for eight blocks of Main Street south of the State House. Overall the plan addresses much needed changes to the area; however, in doing so it not only ignores but portrays the demolition of several Mid-Century buildings, which may be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mid-Century was Columbia’s moment. Stepping out of the shadow of the Civil War and into a rapidly-changing world, the city’s attentions turned to modernization—to catching up with the rest of the country. Major Southern hubs such as Atlanta and Raleigh were constructing Modern government offices, higher education facilities, homes and hotels. With the construction of Cornell Arms in 1949 by Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle & Wolff, Columbia stepped into the stoplight of this building boon. Standing at the corner of Senate and Pendleton streets, Cornell Arms was touted as the tallest building between Richmond and Orlando. People took notice of this—they prized the apartments as being the finest, most technically and spatially innovative in the city.
Just down the street from Cornell is the James F. Byrnes International Center. Built in 1957, Byrnes originally housed federal government offices for the region. It was with this building that the government chose to represent itself. Gone were the looming columns and dark doorways. Instead, Byrnes’s lobby is made of glass. It’s literally a transparent government building. There was nothing else like it in Columbia. Nowhere else could you peer through glass and see government officials going about their daily lives—you could see your tax dollars in motion.
The buildings on South Main encapsulate what it meant to be alive during a tumultuous, rapidly-changing point in history. If we lose our Mid-Century landscape, we ignore the importance of this transition and in the process set ourselves on the track to make the same mistakes as those who demolished the Queen Anne homes that once defined Gervais Street. It takes an appreciation of the past, even the recent past, to establish an informed context for the future.
To learn more about Mid-Century Modern architecture in Columbia and to get involved in preservation efforts, visit historiccolumbia.org.
Following the ceremony at a nearby church, Anna and Andrew celebrated their special day against the romantic backdrop of Seibels House & Garden. The reception featured voluminous, elegant floral arrangements, which transformed Columbia’s oldest home into a lush oasis. Stunning mantle vignettes and other flourishes by Cricket Newman lent an elegant air to the interior of the Seibels House. The bride’s gardenia bouquet was echoed through the foliage of the gardens themselves.
After dinner, the party made themselves right at home on the dance floor. The gardens were filled with laughter and champagne late into the evening. When the night was over, the bride and groom made their daring escape in the back of a classic car—a perfect marriage of vintage and contemporary.
Historic Columbia and Richland County have a long-standing partnership in preserving some of the Midlands most significant historic assets, including the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Today, this site serves as the home to A Museum of Reconstruction and explores the racial, social and political landscape of Columbia and Richland County after the Civil War from 1865 through 1877.
As an African American and a member of Historic Columbia’s Board of Trustees, the message of this museum is deeply personal for me. The meaning is doubled when you consider that the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction is the only museum in the country dedicated to telling the story of Reconstruction, a time when our nation began to guarantee basic rights and equality to individuals who were formerly enslaved.
The museum, owned by Richland County and operated by Historic Columbia, closed in 2005 to undergo major structural and curatorial revisions. After an eight-year rehabilitation, this landmark building reopened in February 2014 as a 21st-century museum showcasing the Reconstruction era Columbia and Richland County during the 1870s. The museum explores the time in which formerly enslaved African Americans negotiated with opportunities and obstacles faced as new citizens of the United States. These exhibits address history with remarkable transparency. It is my hope that African Americans will join me in embracing the home for its historical significance and that everyone who visits the home will understand the foundation of what citizenship means to us today.
Since its reopening in 2014, the site has seen more than 17,000 visitors. Of that, 52% of visitors travelled from outside of South Carolina to the site, creating a positive boost to the local economy. And, 34% of visitors reside right here in Richland and Lexington counties.
As a resident of the midlands, I am proud to have this world-class museum located right here in our capital city. While we knew we were creating a special product, the accolades and awards from across the state affirm that the ground-breaking exhibits are unique not just to the state and region, but to the country. Since debuting in 2014, the site has won a variety of awards, including the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s 2016 Preserving Our Places in History Project Award, the American Association for State and Local History Award for Merit in 2015, as well as the highly coveted Heritage Tourism Award in 2015.
Recently, the site was added to the Green Book of South Carolina, a travel guide to the state’s African American cultural sites, as an exemplar representation of the history of Reconstruction and is featured on the site’s “Reconstruction in South Carolina Tour.” I invite you to join me in exploring South Carolina’s heritage and history at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction. For more information and to plan your visit, please CLICK HERE.
Every dish has a story to tell. Even the ones that don’t quite make it on the menu. Harold “Groucho” Miller’s parents immigrated from Russia at the turn of the 20th century. While Miller and his family are known across South Carolina for their popular deli outfit, Groucho’s Deli, there’s one menu item that didn’t quite make the cut. While working as the emcee at a Philadelphia vaudeville theater in the 1920s, Miller befriended a Russian Jewish comedian. Here, Miller learned to make one of his favorite treats—Russian Blintzes.
Blintzes are a time-consuming and labor-intensive dish, but worth the effort. They were available for sale at Miller’s Deli on opening day in 1940. Because of the cooking process, the blintzes had to be cooked at the Millers’ home in Shandon and brought in every day. The sweet treats soon disappeared from the deli’s menu. They remained, however, a Shabbat staple in the Miller house.
Harold “Groucho” Miller, Ethel Miller, John Gottlieb, Minnie Gottlieb, and a member of Miller’s Staff.
Groucho in 1948
Fortunately, Harold Miller’s grandson Bruce, shared his family’s favorite recipe with Kugels and Collards—the new digital repository from the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative. Historic Columbia, in partnership with the College of Charleston’s Jewish Heritage Collection, the Jewish Community Center of Columbia and Columbia Jewish Federation, the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina and Richland Library, has established the Columbia Jewish Heritage Initiative—a multi-discipline project, which will document as well as provide access and awareness to local Jewish history.
Kugels and Collards is a blog devoted to the exploration of Southern Jewish cuisine. The project seeks to preserve and share the history of Southern cooking in Columbia’s Jewish community. Each memory shared can be accessed freely on the Kugels and Collards blog. For Miller’s full Blintzes recipe, and to submit your own recipe and story, please visit kugelsandcollards.org or send an email to kugelsandcollards (at) historiccolumbia.org. Also, be sure to check out the Jewish Heritage walking tour available for free HERE.