Preservation After Tax Reform

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By Sean Stucker, HC director of facilities

As the dust settles on the tax reform of 2017, preservationists are taking stock of what was won and what was lost.

Following five years of advocacy by a coalition that includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, and the Historic Tax Credit Coalition — as well as countless state and local organizations and individual preservationists—the historic tax credit (HTC) survived the most massive rewrite of the tax code in more than 30 years.

Bolstered by this advocacy and by support from business leaders and other stakeholders across the country, longtime HTC supporters in Congress worked with the House Historic Preservation Caucus to make sure the HTC remained a part of the tax reform conversation.

As a result, an amendment to maintain the HTC at 20 percent was introduced. Notwithstanding the “revenue positive” history of the HTC, holdouts against the amendment insisted the “cost” of the program be offset, which was achieved by requiring the HTC be taken over five years instead of in its entirety the year a rehabilitated building is complete.

The fate of other associated tax credits was a bit of a mixed bag. The 10 percent historic rehabilitation tax credit for pre- 1936 non- historic buildings was eliminated, and, while the nine percent and four percent low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) and the new markets tax credit (NMTC)— which faced elimination in the original House bill—were retained.

The final version did eliminate the ability for NMTCs to offset the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT), which means investors may have less incentive to use these credits since they cannot be used to offset other tax liabilities elsewhere.

In the end, advocacy won the day. With their decision to preserve the HTC, Congress affirmed what all preservationists already know: incentivizing historic property redevelopment makes good economic sense.

Moreover, it was affirming to see one of South Carolina’s own senator Tim Scott as a cosponsor of the amendment showing he understands the value of our built history.

To find out how you can support Historic Columbia’s preservation efforts and for more reasons why #PreservationMatters, visit historiccolumbia.org.

This piece was first published in The Columbia Star.

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Historic Districts are Working for You

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Sean Stucker, Director of Facilities

There has been recent concern over local historic district regulations in certain Columbia neighborhoods. Specifically, some Columbia citizens are concerned over the process owners must follow to renovate or make changes to their historic properties.

Historic Columbia understands how certain regulations might be seen as challenging in the short term, but when dealing with historic properties, it’s important to focus on the long-term benefits.

One major advantage for historic places is property value, plain and simple. National and local studies have shown that properties located in designated historic districts have values above average for their corresponding market. Since the value of your home is directly proportional to the value of your neighbor’s home, following consistent guidelines holds everyone to a higher standard.

There is a savings value as well. For example, repairing existing historic wooden windows is a more cost effective and environmentally-friendly way of maintaining your home.

While vinyl windows are guaranteed to begin failing within 20-30 years after installation, wood windows can be repaired and maintained, and as a result, can last for hundreds of years.

In addition to the value arguments, historic societies and districts have a positive community impact because they give us a unique “sense of place.” Old neighborhoods and their buildings, serve as the tangible backdrop for stories and memories. There is a reason people fall in love with these kinds of places. There’s a reason Soda City Market started in one historic building (701 Whaley) and moved into the heart of a historic district where it (and its home district) has thrived.

The idea people don’t like being told what they can and cannot do with their property has a long history in the Unites States, but the practice of regulating property and its uses has an equally long history. Take, for example, zoning. Most of us think it is a good idea to designate certain property uses away from or in relation to others, and as a result, almost all urban areas in this country have some form of zoning regulations.

There’s also the matter of homeowner associations. HOAs are permitted to place restrictions on things ranging from pet ownership to the types of flags owners can fly outside their homes, from what colors homes can be painted to how tall grass is supposed to be. HOAs can also play a role in the determination of which additions should be made to a house.

Every investment has pros and cons and should be considered through the lens of a cost-benefit analysis. In the case of our built and cultural heritage, the evidence favors preservation.

Check out some images of successful preservation projects in Shandon, Hollywood Rose Hill and Melrose Heights. Also look out for Historic Columbia’s Preservation Workshop series coming up in the spring.

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.

 

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For Sale! Maltida Evans House – 2027 Taylor St.

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Historical Overview
The house at 2027 Taylor Street was once the residence of Matilda Arabella Evans, the first female African-American physician in Columbia. Built sometime between 1910 and 1919, the vernacular house went through a myriad of early owners, most of whom were employees of the nearby Southern Railroad Company, before the Evans family occupied the residence (1). In 1928, the Evans family moved from their home on Two Notch Road to this location and descendants owned or occupied the home until 2005. For years, the Matilda Evans House was the center of African-American medical and philanthropic life in Columbia (2).

Located in a predominately African-American neighborhood and a block west of Benedict and Allen Colleges, this property has played an important role in Columbia and South Carolina’s African-American culture since its association with Evans in 1928. However, from its construction until its purchase by the Evans family, the house was home to many predominately white families that earned their livelihood working on the nearby railroad and in local shops. During that period, these residents worked in occupations such as hostler, freight agent, and secretary master for the Southern Railroad.

The Evans family moved from its previous residence on Two Notch Road to 2027 Taylor Street when Matilda Evans’ niece, Jessie L. Hill, purchased the property. From 1928 to 1935, Columbia City Directories listed both Hill and Evans as primary residents of the home. After Evans’ death in 1935, Hill continued to own the property until 1997, when it was deeded to Hill’s niece, Etta Trottie. In 2005, Trottie’s nieces and nephews sold the property to Robert B. Lewis, a Columbia attorney with experience in adaptive use of historic properties.

Dr. Matilda Arabella Evans

A physician and philanthropist known to both Columbia’s black and white communities, Dr. Matilda Arabella Evans was born in Aiken, South Carolina, in 1872 and formally educated at Oberlin College and the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania with specialties in obstetrics, gynecology, and surgery. Evans was Columbia’s first African-American woman to practice medicine and the second African-American woman to practice medicine in the state of South Carolina (3). In 1901, Dr. Evans established the Taylor Lane Hospital, which was both a hospital and training school for nurses. Undaunted when the building was destroyed by fire, Evans started another, larger hospital facility, St. Luke’s Hospital and Training School for Nurses. St. Luke’s closed in 1918 allowing Dr. Evans to serve in the Medical Service Corps of the United States during World War I (4).

Dr. Evans’ role in Columbia’s history goes beyond medicine. Evans founded a weekly newspaper, The Negro Health Journal of South Carolina, to educate families throughout the state on proper health care procedures. She was instrumental in the establishment of Linenwood Park, a park for African-American children that boasted a swimming pool and recreational center located at the corner of Two Notch Road and Beltline Boulevard. Dr. Evans also served as the President of the Congaree Medical Association and the Palmetto State Medical Association.

Dr. Evans used her property as a medical clinic until a hospital could for Columbia’s African American citizens. She also attended to white female patients at this clinic who wished to keep their medical problems private and outside their social circles. With the fees Evans received from her white patients, she built clinics and gave free care to African Americans, especially children.

By the 1930s, 2027 Taylor Street had become a meeting place for black business, religious and community leaders to discuss problems associated with segregation. These meetings promoted the creation of the Columbia Clinic Association.

Architectural Overview
Located on the north side of Taylor Street only feet from the sidewalk, 2027 Taylor Street is a simple vernacular-built two-story home that reflects the Colonial Revival style of late 19th/early 20th century homes. Originally, the front elevation consisted of a flat porch roof supported by three round Tuscan columns—which also served as the second-story porch (as seem in the mid-1920s picture taken by local photographer Richard Samuel Roberts), a brick porch foundation, and a round pediment over the porch stairs that marked the entry of the house. Today, a hipped asphalt roof has replaced the original porch roof.

The house is predominately rectangular shaped (as shown in the 1919 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map at right) with an asphalt-covered, clipped-gable roof and a bargeboard gable facing south. The structure is two bays wide at the south/front elevation and five bays deep, with an enclosed two-story porch on the north/rear elevation. The siding is the original wood clapboard that has been painted white. Throughout the house the windows are double-hung two-over-two with green shutters. The foundation is clay brick piers and the chimneys are also constructed of clay brick. The front door is a four-panel recessed wood door with decorative glass transom. By the time it was purchased from the family in 2005, the house was suffering from disrepair and covered in white vinyl siding. Under Lewis’s ownership, the siding was removed and many of the original features were preserved.

  1. Columbia City Directories, 1910-1914.
  2. Kathryn Silva. National Register of Historic Places nomination; Evans, Matilda Arabella Home. Written October 29, 2006.
  3. Darlene Clark Hine, “The Corporeal and Ocular Veil: Dr. Matilda A. Evans (1872-1935) and the Complexity of Southern History,” The Journal of Southern Medicine, (Vol. LXX, No.1, Feb.2004) 23.
  4. Palmetto Leader, Columbia, SC. March 22, 1930.

This property is now for sale. It is a local landmark, so the Bailey Bill tax abatement is available, and it is potentially eligible for state and federal tax credits. Contact the listing agent: Charles Adams, at Osmium Realty, 803.800.1145 for more details.

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Urgent Action Needed: Advocate for a 20% HTC in Final House/Senate Reconciled Bill

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Senate Passes Tax Reform Bill with a 20% Historic Tax Credit, HTC Eliminated in House,
Urgent Action Needed: Advocate for a 20% HTC in Final House/Senate Reconciled Bill

Early on Saturday morning, the United States Senate passed its tax reform bill on a vote of 51-49, moving the legislation to a House and Senate Conference Committee to reconcile the two versions of tax reform. The Senate bill restores the 20% Historic Tax Credit (HTC) with a provision that it will be claimed over five years.

Background

In November, Senate Finance Committee legislation eliminated the pre-1936 10% non-historic “old-building” credit and reduced the 20% HTC to 10%. HTC advocates were successful in working with Senator Cassidy (R-LA), and other Finance Committee Senators, to support a provision to restore the HTC to 20% for historic buildings. As a cost saving measure, the “Cassidy Amendment” provided that the 20% credit will be released over the 5-year compliance/recapture period (or 4% per year). The Finance Committee approved the provision, which was included in a Manager’s Amendment, on a party line vote.

The House passed a tax reform bill on November 16th. The House version of the bill eliminates both the 10% pre-1936 non-historic “old building” credit and the 20% HTC. With House Republicans highly motivated for a legislative win, few Republicans voted against the bill.

Next Steps

House members will still have an opportunity to voice their continuing support of the HTC when the House and Senate negotiate the final tax package. Many House members and supporters of the HTC have encouraged House Leadership to accept the improvements in the Senate bill and advocates are encouraged THIS WEEK to continue sending this message to their Members of Congress.

While advocates are disappointed they could not fully restore the 20% HTC to current law and prevent the elimination of the 10% pre-1936 rehabilitation credit, they are standing their ground, insisting on the Senate provision and that no further erosion takes place.

Your immediate ACTION is needed!

 

Please consider joining Historic Columbia to voice your opposition to the elimination of the Historic Tax Credit. Contact your Representative and let them know that we will be watching their vote on this important issue that has moral and economic ramifications for communities across our country.

For a robust preservation advocacy toolkit including talking points and statistics developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, please CLICK HERE.

In Columbia, we are represented by Congressmen Jim Clyburn and Congressman Joe Wilson. You can find your House member HERE.

Congressman Jim Clyburn

Chief of Staff: yebbie.watkins@mail.house.gov

Legislative staff: craig.link@mail.house.gov

Congressman Joe Wilson

Chief of Staff: jonathan.day@mail.house.gov

Legislative Director: taylor.andreae@mail.house.gov

Legislative staff matt.blackwell@mail.house.gov

It is also not too early to contact Senator Graham and Senator Scott.

Senator Tim Scott

Chief of Staff: jennifer_decasper@scott.senate.gov

Legislative Director: charles_cogar@scott.senate.gov

Tax Legislative Asst: shay_hawkins@scott.senate.gov

Senator Lindsay Graham

Chief of Staff: Richard_perry@lgraham.senate.gov

Legislative Director: matt_rimkunas@lgraham.senate.gov

Tax Legislative Asst: nick_myers@lgraham.senate.gov

Taking action won’t take long and is important for building the groundswell we will need to save the Historic Tax Credit.

Thank you for helping Historic Columbia shine a light on this important issue.

Great HTC #TBT from Cola Today

More on the HTC from The Columbia Star

Call-to-Action

Call (during office hours) the offices of your Members of Congress. Ask to speak to tax staff, your staff contacts in offices or ask for email addresses of tax staff.

A suggested outline of your email message or phone call:

1. Introduce Yourself as a Constituent

Republican House Members: Say “I am extremely concerned that the House eliminated the Historic Tax Credit, an important community redevelopment incentive available to revitalize our main streets, towns, and cities and preserve our heritage. Will you please work with House leadership to include the Senate’s 20% Historic Tax Credit provision in the final tax package when you work out the differences in the House and Senate bills?”

Contact info: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Republican Senators: Say ““I would like to thank the Senator for supporting a tax reform bill that includes a 20% Historic Tax Credit in Senate tax reform bill. This is a significant improvement compared to the elimination in the House bill. Please communicate to Senate Republican Leaders and Chairman Hatch (R-UT) that they must not weaken important protections for the Historic Tax Credit when they reconcile the House and Senate bills.”

Contact info: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

2. Explain why you value Historic Tax Credits, and that the redevelopment of historic buildings will not get done without the HTC.

3. Let them know some previous and future HTC projects in your state/district (Link to State HTC Map and Project List under Advocacy Resources below).

4. Touch on why these historic buildings are so challenging but important to our communities.

5. If your Member of Congress has agreed to help, please remember to thank them and tell others about their support!

It is extremely important to keep all Capitol Hill communication constructive and respectful.

 

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Options open up as VARO heads to auction

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By Lois Carlisle

If you’ve been looking for the chance to buy into Columbia history, this is your chance. The former Veterans Administration Regional Office Building at 1801 Assembly Street is up for auction.

Built in 1949 and designed by Stork & Lyles (later known as LBC&W), the Veterans Administration Regional Office Building ( VARO) was one of the flagship Modernist buildings in Columbia. ( What’s more, it stands beneath celebrated Modern architect Marcel Breuer’s Strom Thurmond Office Building—one of his final works in the United States.)

With its sleek horizontal lines, innovative building techniques, and incorporation of contemporary structure, the VARO was unlike anything Columbia had ever seen. It now stands empty, ready for its second life.

More and more, mid-century structures are being successfully restored and adapted for new use. In cities like Savannah and Charlottesville, mid-century offices, warehouses, and shopping centers are being adaptively reused as theaters, upscale condominiums, retail space, and event venues. Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood has especially embraced its utilitarian modernism and upcycled spaces into doggy daycare centers, bakeries, bike shops, boutique storage facilities, bars, and an ever-growing number of breweries.

In Charleston, the former Federal Building on Meeting Street (also an LBC&W project) underwent a careful renovation and is now a luxury hotel. Known as The Dewberry, the former office space boasts a bar, restaurant, and retail spaces, all highly styled in Scandinavian Modernism. The hotel has attracted national attention, appearing in Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, the Chicago Tribune, Thrillest, and the New York Post . The Dewberry embraces its Modernist heritage and makes the past new again.

A similar outcome is now possible in Columbia with the sale of the VARO. Its panoramic views of downtown and the river front, proximity to Main Street and the Vista, and easy access to both I-26 and 277 all make this a desirable area to live. The building’s window patterns and floor layouts are also highly compatible with residential use.

The VARO’s potential as an apartment space or boutique hotel is immense. Perhaps a sleek rooftop bar could find itself opening in Columbia’s original Modern gem.

For those interested in touring the property, open houses will be held December 6 from 1– 4 p. m. and December 7 from 9 a.m.–12 p.m. For more information, visit the GSA website.

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Take Action Now! Save the Historic Tax Credit

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**UPDATE – Nov 22, 2017**

Last week was a tense time for the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) as the Senate Finance Committee considered hundreds of proposals to amend the Senate tax reform bill. As you recall, the Senate Finance Committee had included the 20% HTC but had cut it in half to 10% in their version of the tax reform bill two weeks ago. Thankfully, our own Senators Scott took action and shepherded the proposal through the process referencing Drayton Mills (link) in Spartanburg, which he said was “an old factory that has benefitted from vision that has brought new life back into an old community.” Because of the work of Senator Scott and his fellow Senators, the HTC has been restored to 20% in the Senate version of the tax reform bill. The bill is expected to be voted on by the full Senate after the Thanksgiving holiday recess. It is incumbent on those who value preservation in our communities to stand up and speak loudly when these kinds of issues emerge. Thank you to Sen. Scott and all those folks around the state who made their voice heard. #historyiscool #preservationmatters

 

Followers and members of Historic Columbia know the emphasis we’ve put on preserving important structures and stories around Columbia for more than 50 years. Clear evidence exists of the effectiveness of these efforts and the economic impact they deliver to the capital city. From the revitalization of the Vista and Main Street districts to the preservation of the historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar and Palmetto Compress Building, when historic structures are restored and reused, good things happen for our city and its citizens. Central to these preservation projects is the ability for developers to utilize tax incentives that were first established in the 1980s. Last week, the new Tax Reform Bill introduced in the House of Representatives eliminates the Historic Tax Credit. This is a drastic proposal that will have an incredibly negative impact on the rehabilitation of historic properties in South Carolina and across the country.

The Historic Tax Credit (HTC) provides a 20% tax credit for eligible costs of rehabilitating historic properties. Many states, including South Carolina, provide additional state tax credits that add to the HTC to make otherwise uneconomic historic redevelopment projects feasible. The credits offset the higher costs involved in rehabilitating historic properties.

Please consider joining Historic Columbia to voice your opposition to the elimination of the Historic Tax Credit. Contact your Representative and let them know that we will be watching their vote on this important issue that has moral and economic ramifications for communities across our country.

For a robust preservation advocacy toolkit including talking points and statistics developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, please CLICK HERE.

In Columbia, we are represented by Congressmen Jim Clyburn and Congressman Joe Wilson. You can find your House member HERE.

Congressman Jim Clyburn

Chief of Staff: yebbie.watkins@mail.house.gov

Legislative staff: craig.link@mail.house.gov

Congressman Joe Wilson

Chief of Staff: jonathan.day@mail.house.gov

Legislative Director: taylor.andreae@mail.house.gov

Legislative staff matt.blackwell@mail.house.gov

It is also not too early to contact Senator Graham and Senator Scott.

Senator Tim Scott

Chief of Staff: jennifer_decasper@scott.senate.gov

Legislative Director: charles_cogar@scott.senate.gov

Tax Legislative Asst: shay_hawkins@scott.senate.gov

Senator Lindsay Graham

Chief of Staff: Richard_perry@lgraham.senate.gov

Legislative Director: matt_rimkunas@lgraham.senate.gov

Tax Legislative Asst: nick_myers@lgraham.senate.gov

 

Taking action won’t take long and is important for building the groundswell we will need to save the Historic Tax Credit.

Thank you for helping Historic Columbia shine a light on this important issue.

Great HTC #TBT from Cola Today

More on the HTC from The Columbia Star

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After a Flood | Recovery of Important Documents

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This article was written by Fielding Freed, Historic Columbia director of historic house museums, after the 1000-year flood in South Carolina almost two years ago. With the devastation in Houston and the impending arrival of Irma, we think it is very relevant today.

Every time a hurricane approaches the South Carolina coast, residents are reminded to put important papers in a readily accessible, waterproof box to make it easier to grab on the way out the door during an evacuation. Most Columbians who were victims of the recent flood did not have that luxury. For those whose irreplaceable family papers, photographs and artworks were waterlogged, there is a limited amount of time for successful recovery. Even though we are more than two weeks after the flood, if you have waterlogged papers, photographs, or artwork that have not been cared for yet there are a few things you can still do:

  • Freezing can buy you more time. A freezer with a “frost-free” setting can, over months, dry out items (“freeze-drying”), which can be preferable to air drying.
  • If a stack of family photos are stuck together, you can use distilled water to re-wet them then slowly ease them apart for air drying. Soak them in the water if needed.
  • Mold and mildew can be removed if it has already begun to bloom, but do not use chemical cleaners. Mild soap and water will work.
  • Avoid drying wet things in direct sunlight if possible.
  • Use paper towels to blot off excess water. Newspapers can rub ink onto other paper.
  • Un-frame works of art or photos behind glass if wet.
  • Many water-damaged items can be repaired or conserved—do not be too hasty in throwing them away.

One way to think about the situation is that the photographs and papers contain information that we want to preserve. Sometimes we just cannot save the originals. So, even if your family photos or papers were badly damaged, you can still take a digital photo of them which can be digitally corrected and printed later. You can then dispose of the originals, especially if they become a health hazard. No matter where we live in South Carolina, having those important family papers and photographs duplicated electronically and stored safely before a natural disaster is a lesson we can all learn from the floods caused by Hurricane Joaquin.

Beth Bilderback, Visual Materials Archivist at USC’s South Caroliniana Library, assists David Fulmer with dozens of flood water damages renderings drawn by his late father, preservation architect William Fulmer. The South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects sponsored the salvage of the collection.

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In Defense of Mid-Century Modern

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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.

By Lois Carlisle, Historic Columbia

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.

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Turning Heads: Columbia’s First Mid-Century Masterpiece

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By Lois Carlisle, Historic Columbia
At the northwest corner of Assembly and Laurel streets stands one of the earliest examples of Modern architecture in Columbia. The Veterans Administration Regional Office Building (VARO), with its sleek, horizontal lines and use of innovative building techniques, was the first of its kind in the capital city. At the time of its construction in 1949, the VARO would have featured prominently on the city’s shifting skyline. Imagine looking up from the bottom of Arsenal Hill and seeing such a building—one whose design linked it with that of other major cities in the United States –Atlanta, Raleigh, Richmond, and most importantly with Washington DC. Satellite or regional offices for Federal agencies were new at the time. To generate a sense of authority, the VARO’s architects aligned its design with that of the newest additions to the nation’s capital.

One of the most distinct features of the building is the granite relief sculpture at its entrance. Edmond Amateis, a Beaux-Arts trained sculptor for numerous War Memorials and works for the Department of Commerce Building in DC, completed the piece in 1952. The work depicts an agricultural allegory in South Carolina with Dr. Thomas G. Clemson, the prominent farmer, instructing scientific agriculture. The work depicts symbols and images that represent equal rights and opportunity African Americans amidst South Carolina crops and agriculture.

Previously the Veterans Administration offices were located outside of the city at Fort Jackson. By building the VARO in the heart of downtown’s commercial district, it became easier for veterans to access healthcare, military benefits, and housing services. The location of the building itself allowed for increased visibility not only with clientele, but also with the general public. This building was proof that the federal government not only had a presence in South Carolina, but a vital one.
The VARO’s architects were LaFaye, LaFaye, & Fair and Stork & Lyles—the latter being the precursor firm for Lyles, Bisset, Carlisle, & Wolff (LBC&W). The Columbia-based LBC&W was one of the most prominent architecture firms in the Southeast, with a prolific body of work that shaped South Carolina skylines for decades. (If you’ve seen Cornell Arms, the Palmetto Club, Russell House, Claire Towers, Thomas Cooper Library, or the VARO’s neighbor, Columbia’s Main Post Office, then you are familiar with the firm’s body of work. If your house sits in Forest Acres, then you might live in an LBC&W original.)

The VARO Building holds significance for its function as a pivot point for federal architecture in Columbia. Prior to the VARO’s construction, the city’s government buildings were executed in the Renaissance Revival Style. LBC&W veered from the traditionalist mode of construction and opted for a sleek, linear form which reflected the contemporary, dynamic values of the federal government’s new post-WWII agencies. In other words: the VARO was sexy.
Currently, this ground-breaking, style-shifting, emblem of a generation stands empty. In 2015, upon learning that the General Services Administration (GSA) was calling for the building’s demolition, Historic Columbia requested that the State Historic Preservation Office consider VARO as eligible for National Register status. Once determined eligible, GSA decided to offer the building for sale. This iconic mid-century modern building, located at the cusp of the key commercial district, now has the opportunity for new life.
May is National Historic Preservation Month. Visit HistoricColumbia.org to learn more about its role in advocating and preserving historic sites like the VARO.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Star on May 26, 2017.

Veterans Administration Building_1 Veterans Administration Building

 

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Lost Landscapes

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By: Robin Waites

In 1961 the Ansley Hall Mansion, the Robert Mills-designed residence at 1616 Blanding Street, was under threat of demolition.  The call to preserve this landmark building turned into a rallying cry that led to the formation of Historic Columbia Foundation.  When we give tours of the property, known today as the Robert Mills House & Gardens, visitors are astounded that this regal, 1820s building was targeted for demolition.  At the time, the potential for new development on this four-acre lot blinded some to the significance of the existing building, which is now a major draw for tourists and a defining feature of local architectural and cultural history.  Unfortunately, many of our character-defining places have not been granted the same reprieve.

Before the adoption of the National Preservation Act in 1966 and subsequent establishment of the local Landmarks Commission (today’s Design Development Review Commission) the demolition of significant buildings went unregulated.  Although review guidelines have been in place for more than 50 years, we still experience the loss, particularly of those structures that may not be perceived as mainstream historic sites.  Over the last decade some of the unique buildings lost in this community include the Richland County Jail (SW corner of Hampton and Lincoln streets, George Elmore’s 5&10 Store (2317 Gervais Street), the Susannah Apartments (NE corner of Hampton and Bull streets), the Abbott Cigar Building (1300 Main Street) and several early 1900s residences along Devine Street.  While perhaps not as iconic as the Robert Mills House, each of these sites represented a time period, building style and/or historic event and provided context to our fast-changing built environment.

Just last week we watched an 100-year-old building on a central commercial corridor fall to the wrecking ball.  The structure at 1401 Assembly (NW corner of Washington and Assembly streets) stood at the entry point to the once-teeming Black Business District that centered around Washington Street.  By 1916, in addition to housing the blacked-owned Regal Drug Store on the first floor, upstairs were offices for two African American physicians and a lawyer, Nathaniel J. Frederick, who was an educator, lawyer, newspaper editor and civil rights activist.  Frederick argued more cases before the Supreme Court of South Carolina than any black lawyer of his day.  The building stood as a touchstone for the story of Frederick and many others, but also as one of fewer than 10 buildings remaining that were part of this early 20th century district.

1401 Assembly 1401_assembly_02 IMG_9534

When we walk through thriving historic districts like the Congaree Vista or Cottontown it is clear that the preservation of our built assets can serve as an economic engine as well as providing context for who we are as a community.  At Historic Columbia, we work actively to gain protections for endangered buildings and districts; however, key partners in this effort must include property owners, developers, real estate professionals, elected officials and the general public who reap the benefits and suffer the blows of the choices made in our built environment. Join our mission to save Columbia’s built history and get involved with Historic Columbia today. Become a member, join our volunteer force, make a donation, attend our events and follow along on social media. Visit historiccolumbia.org to learn how you can get involved.

 

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