BEHRE COLUMN: An elegant old gate motif graces new place

The original Sword Gates at 32 Legare St. were fashioned by ironworker Christopher Werner in the 19th century, likely for city Guard House, or police station. Buy this photo

It may seem unlikely that a football stadium would draw inspiration from an elegant home on lower Legare Street.

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But it’s just the most recent example of how Charleston’s architectural past continues to shape its future.

It’s also a story of how one college can help a very different one.

Those attending The Citadel’s homecoming game against Elon Saturday probably walked past a new memorial to the members of the Class of 1962, the newest ornament to the pedestrian plaza outside Johnson Hagood Stadium.

If the flanking wrought iron pieces seem familiar, they should be.

Drew Reynolds, a recent graduate of the American College of Building Arts, carefully patterned the 5-foot square panels after Charleston’s Sword Gates.

Those 19th-century gates provided the namesake for the mansion at 32 Legare St. and were made by ironworker Christopher Werner.

Werner apparently made them by mistake while completing a similar pair for the (now demolished) Charleston Guard House at Broad and Meeting streets, according to Jonathan Poston’s “The Buildings of Charleston.”

These gates were hung outside the Legare Street home by 1850 and have become one of the most famous pieces of wrought iron in a city with more than its share of it. Their elegant curls frame a pair of horizontal swords at arm’s level.

The Citadel’s idea of drawing inspiration from these gates is far from new: The sword motif also is present at The Citadel’s existing Lesene and Summerall gates where the school abuts Hampton Park. They were installed in 1955 and 1958, respectively.

Also, the window grilles behind Grimsley Hall were made by Werner in the 19th century, for the Guard House, the city’s police headquarters destroyed by the 1886 earthquake. The grilles were reused on a later Guardhouse and eventually were acquired by The Citadel and moved to its 20th-century campus.

The latest aren’t gates but panels (those wondering if something similar will be created in the matching recesses on the opposite side of the stadium’s entrance can ask the S.C. National Guard, which shares the building with The Citadel and has control over that space).

With the ironwork set just a few inches from the backing stucco, the panels’ appearance can change pretty dramatically as the sun moves around the sky, creating different shadows.

The gate panels are part of a larger, $100,000 project to landscape the space between the football stadium and Hagood Avenue — a space dedicated in memory of the fallen members of the Class of ’62. The survivors gave the school more than 10 times that amount, most of which will be used for the school’s greatest needs.

American College of the Building Arts President Lt. Gen. Colby Broadwater says Reynolds’ work is just one of many examples of how his college collaborates with the wider community to create beautiful and lasting things.

The new gate panels give an elegant hand-fashioned touch to a stadium whose own design and construction underscores how much that kind of craft is missing in modern buildings today. “Those gates are every bit as good as any that Christopher Werner put out and Philip Simmons put out,” Broadwater says. “We’re just continuing on in their tradition.”

Of course, Reynolds spent about a year and a half and more than 600 man hours fashioning the pieces.

Citadel President John Rosa said the school already has received a lot of positive calls about the gates. “They said, ‘They look like they came from Charleston,’ ” Rosa said. “I said that was the point.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.

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