Stay true to preservation goals
As heart-wrenching as it was, the Charleston Board of Architectural Review's decision Wednesday to protect a fire-damaged house on Smith Street from demolition by a grieving father was the right one.
It illustrates the city's unswerving dedication to preservation that has made Charleston one of the country's most beautiful cities and popular destinations.
The BAR's mission is clear. It is the preservation and protection of structures that are historic. The single house was built prior to 1888.
But the house was also completely renovated about 25 years ago, leaving little of the original building. And a raging fire on Jan. 1 damaged what was still there.
It is understandable that Paul Saylor would want to tear it down. His daughter perished in the fire, and he wants to honor her memory with a walled garden on the lot.
One can imagine that Mr. Saylor, a businessman, would be busy with planning details for the garden by now if the property were in Atlanta where he lives.
But Charleston is unlike most cities. Here, old buildings are valued for their historic and architectural worth, but also for their worth as part of a neighborhood -- "visible reminders of the historical and cultural heritage of the city, the state and the nation" (BAR mission).
So while a garden would be lovely, it would not fill the role that the house does in defining that neighborhood's heritage.
Robert Gurley of the Preservation Society was on target when he reminded the BAR that "Charleston has always rebuilt after tragedy."
He noted that Mr. Saylor's structural engineer said the house is still structurally sound enough to be repaired.
The BAR has been making tough decisions for decades, such as insisting that a roof be replaced with the same expensive tile, not asphalt shingles, or denying a request to enclose a porch on an old house that could use another bathroom.
It has made for some contentious meetings and some frustrated homeowners.
Mr. Saylor is one of them. Indeed, he said he is not inclined to repair or sell the house.
There are lots of reasons people like Olivia Saylor move to Charleston. Her father said she loved the city, loved her neighborhood and loved her house.
As painful as it is to deny a grieving father his request, the BAR's decision helps retain an element of Charleston that she loved -- an element that helps make the city uniquely Charleston.