Options open up as VARO heads to auction

Posted on by

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.