Two of my pet peeves — modernist architecture in the historic district and the I- 526 beltway — remain very much in the news these days.

Concerning the former, I enjoyed Tommy Thornhill’s recent letter to the editor excoriating the revised proposal for the Clemson Architectural Center, this time on the corner of Meeting and George Streets. Plan 1 was shouted down about five years ago. Plan 2 (this one) appears to be just as bad –maybe worse.

I love the scenario painted by Mr. Thornhill (a Clemson grad), who attended a recent luncheon in Charleston hosted by Clemson leaders. The head architect for the Architectural Center project showed numerous pictures of classic Charleston scenery — gates, houses, streetscapes, gardens and so forth, and then boldly proclaimed that the new design would pay aesthetic tribute to all of it.

When the new design was put up on the screen, Mr. Thornhill reported he heard audible gasps of disbelief. Conversations after the luncheon left him certain there would have been “a lopsided tally” against what was on the screen. During the presentation there was no offer to ask questions or discuss. Here it is — take it and like it.

I once again remind readers that a 1931 city of Charleston ordinance still in effect today (Section 54-23) describes a number of essential qualities relating to preserving the city’s history including the “continued construction of buildings in the historic style and a general harmony as to style, form, color, proportion, texture and material between buildings of historic design and those of modern design.”

It therefore behooves the BAR to reject overt modernism within the historic district. In a way, it’s almost a moot argument, because many of these glassy, thin-walled buildings are poorly constructed and/or eventually fall out of favor (if they were ever really in favor), precipitating a relatively early end — as clearly shown by the old Charleston County Library on King Street.

I can’t think of the right word to describe the actions of Clemson architects, whose latest proposal for the Architectural Center appears to be as egregious a violation of ambiance within the Historic District as was the first. Perhaps they think their ideas are too good to ignore or — worse — can’t be troubled by the intellectual confines of tradition, even though without it there would be no such thing as “Historic Charleston.”


Re I-526: there is a certain entertainment value to reading Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor’s recent comments (paraphrasing) about getting the beltway started and building until the money runs out. A more serious question is whether Councilwoman Anna Johnson mistakenly cast a huge swing vote in last year’s Council decision to proceed with the beltway.

The councilwoman was criticized for her decision to vote for I-526 by some of her constituents, who claimed that she campaigned for her seat as an opponent of the project. Johnson explained her vote at the time by saying she didn’t like the parkway plan for the road, known as Alternative G, but could live with it given certain changes. One of her amendments requires county staffers to provide Council with a report on the “potential diminution in value to any residence within 1,000 feet of the proposed alignment of the MCE.” It also requires “the county to make “a good faith effort to evaluate and consider claims made by residents for compensation due to the impact of the Mark Clark Expressway on their property.”

At a council meeting last December, Johnson was quoted as saying that “residents believe their property values will be adversely impacted. The residents would like to be compensated for this decrease in value without having to pursue any inverse condemnation action in court. In other words, they shouldn’t have to go to court to get compensation for this. We should consider this ourselves.”

Pryor was quoted in a Sept. 26 P&C article as saying the county wouldn’t be sending checks to residents who already have submitted claims for loss of property value. “How can you say you lost value when it hasn’t been built yet? That’s an assumption, not a fact.” Pryor did say that after construction begins people can submit claims if they feel their property has been damaged. He also contends “Councilwoman Johnson never said anybody was going to get a check.”

Well, what does Councilwoman Johnson now say about all this? Recently, she’s refused to say much of anything on the subject.

Johnson refused an interview on I-526, according to reporter Diane Knich in a P&C article earlier this week. She also declined to answer a direct question on whether by compensation she meant financial compensation. “I have nothing new to say on this,” she told the reporter.

Johnson is not just avoiding answering the reporter’s questions. A number of her constituents, including supporters, were quoted in the article as saying she hasn’t answered their calls.

Councilman Dickie Schweers, an opponent of the project, said in an article last month that he’s certain that Johnson meant people would be paid for any drop in property value, as did Robin Welch, one of the founders of the opposition group Nix 526. “Any sane and rational person can read her amendment and know she wasn’t talking about sound walls,” she said.

Most reasonable people would interpret Johnson’s intent as one of financial compensation. Either way, it’s worth a re-vote. Why? Because if the councilwoman’s vote was linked to financial compensation, it’s now appears invalid — unless she’s changed her mind, which is always a lady’s prerogative, but one that we need to know about in the interest of clarity.


A quick word of sympathy for the grieving family of William Apps, shot in the head and murdered on the Ravenel Bridge, allegedly by a 19-year-old assailant test-driving Apps’ truck after he and a second suspect, responded to an ad on Craigslist. Authorities have said the alleged triggerman dumped the body in a wooded area in Mount Pleasant and then drove to Beaufort to party with some friends, using Apps’ credit card to buy food at Taco Bell and Wendy’s, a pair of sneakers, gas and to shop at a Beaufort-area Walmart.

According to our report, the suspect’s Facebook page says he’s a graduate of James Island Christian School. He played football there as well as at Crown College, a Christian school in Minnesota.

And now his life seems over too. What happened? And why?

And to think that—for certain criminals—the value of a human life is essentially nothing.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@