It’s unlikely many have passed 79 Alexander St. without giving it a second or third look. It’s a house that piques your curiosity, then holds your interest. While not nearly as old as many structures nearby, it just may be an exercise in building on the past that few can hold a candle to.
If you go
What: 66th Historic Charleston Foundation’s Festival of Houses and Gardens.When: March 21-April 20. Where: Historic District, downtown Charleston.Admission: House and Garden Tours are $50. Prices and details for the festival’s guided walking tours of public sites, visits to fine art galleries, a gospel brunch and other events can be found on the Historic Charleston Foundation’s website.more information: www.historic charleston.org or 722-3405.
This year, the house and its manicured gardens are part of Historic Charleston Foundation’s 66th Festival of Houses and Gardens, providing an opportunity for many to satisfy their curiosity. The residence, beautiful and accessible, is featured on the foundation’s Charlotte Street tour.
Show features 17th- to 20th-century furnishings
The 10th annual Charleston Antiques Show will feature nearly 30 dealers of English, European and American period furnishings.Dealers from across the country will sell 17th- to early 20th-century antiques at the event, sponsored by the Historic Charleston Foundation.In addition to providing an opportunity to purchase antiques, the show, being held March 22-24 at Memminger Auditorium, seeks to educate visitors about them, says Melissa Nelson, director of marketing and communications for the Foundation. That includes providing information on incorporating antiques into modern decorating schemes. Through the show’s educational and entertainment events, collectors can see everything from exquisite furniture and fine art to rare maps, jewelry, posters, prints and quilts offered by some of the finest dealers in the country, Nelson says.The show’s Preview Party on March 21 will feature cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and entertainment amid antiques dealers’ booths. On March 22 in the “Behind the Scenes Tour: In the Company of Experts,” guests can meet dealers one-on-one before the show opens. The March 22 luncheon lecture with Gil Schafer, classical architect and author of the new book “The Great American House,” is sold out.For additional information on the show, including individually priced events, visit www.historiccharleston.org or call 722-3405.
About 80 percent of what those touring it will see — walls, windows, floors and so much more — is the result of work performed by the homeowner, Gene Brown.
Brown, a retired Charleston County zoning administrator, bought the house in 1984, and has made it a home with a nod to the Georgian Revival style of architecture. It has a symmetry that provides a welcoming, even calming feeling to those who step through its door. And while much of the work done on it is relatively recent, the property certainly has its place in Charleston’s history.
The festival, which runs March 21 to April 20, showcases more than 150 private homes and gardens in addition to 79 Alexander, says Melissa Nelson, Historic Charleston Foundation’s director of marketing and communications.
It includes guided walking tours of public sites, visits to some of the city’s art galleries and a gospel brunch. The festival kicks off along with another Historic Charleston Foundation event, the 10th Charleston Antiques Show at Memminger Auditorium, March 22-24. The show will feature late 17th- through early 20th-century furnishings, jewelry, silver and textiles. The two events will draw about 15,000 people to Charleston.
This 66th festival marks the first time there has been a Charlotte Street tour since the early 1990s. Ten properties, including a mixture of houses and gardens, a home built by a free black woman and a church, will be on the Charlotte Street tour being conducted April 9-13.
The tour, which features Brown’s home, visits houses and gardens in Mazyck-Wraggborough, an area north of Boundary Street, which became Calhoun Street, and outside Charleston’s old walled city. The area was laid out in the early 1800s.
That area had not had the history of fires that older parts of the city had seen, and many of the buildings there were constructed of wood, says Katherine Pemberton, Historic Charleston Foundation’s manager of research and education. They also had different roof structures and more spacious lots than found in the earlier neighborhoods, she says.
The first to move into the area were wealthy people trying to escape the noise and hustle and bustle of the older parts of Charleston, Pemberton says. They thought the area, considered the suburbs, was healthier and that breezes were better there.
Streets there are named for the members of the Wragg family — John, Judith, Mary, Ann, Charlotte, Elizabeth and Henrietta. In addition, the Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood is the site of the Liberty Oak, where the Sons of Liberty met before the American Revolution.
The diversity of the neighborhood also is marked by the Victorian structures added in the third quarter of the 19th century.
“It’s a wonderful neighborhood with a great diversity in the sizes of building and in ownership,” Pemberton says.“Charlotte is one of my favorite streets. (It) is shady and picturesque and extremely walkable.”
The Historic Charleston Foundation, which owns the Aiken-Rhett House there, has been interested in the area for a long time. It has various covenant properties in the community.
Among the work that has been done on structures and at sites in Mazyck-Wraggborough by those interested in preservation is that at 79 Alexander. The building has seen many lives, uses and configurations and has been given yet another new life.
Brown purchased it in 1984 and moved in with a mattress to sleep on and a will to transform the place. He has no construction training.
“Everything has evolved over time,” Brown says of his 2,000-square-foot house.
While he took his inspiration from books on historic houses, it definitely speaks to his own tastes, he says.
Earliest records indicate that sometime just after 1872, a two-story wooden structure sat where the one-story, cinderblock home now is. By 1902, a carriage repair shop was there, and by 1941, only a brick foundation along the property’s perimeter remained.
The Junior League of Charleston built the cinderblock structure in 1952 and housed the Charleston Speech and Hearing Clinic. The building later belonged to the Southeastern Film and School Supplies Co., which gutted the interior, removed its windows and used it as a warehouse.
Today, the home has furnishings that came from Brown’s parents and other pieces he picked up while shopping in Europe. One piece, the living room fireplace, began life in a Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone. Brown made a chandelier in his game room from a collection of pieces, including other lighting fixtures.
Those who visit the house, where all but the great room flank a central hall, will see pediments over doorways, pilasters, columns and more.
A tabby walk meanders through boxwoods and is bordered by ligustrum and other vegetation. It guides visitors in the backyard, where there are statues representing the four seasons, a pineapple foundation and a pergola with a bench for resting. An environmentally friendly misting system keeps the mosquitoes at bay.
Nelson said every tour changes from year to year, and many visitors return to tour year after year. “We always try to vary them. Our houses and gardens are in the Historic District, and that’s what people come to see.”
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.
The gardens are an important part of what makes the home such an attractive residence.×
Brown collects pieces he’s drawn to, such as this clock.×
The pergola in the backyard provides a welcome respite for reading and relaxation.×
Gene Brown designed this chandelier in his great room. It is made of pieces from other lighting fixtures.×
This home at 79 Alexander St. will be part of the Historic Charleston Foundation’s Charlotte Street tour.×