The recent transformation of 359 King St. has revealed a great building that few knew was even there.
For decades, its storefront was dark and a bit cramped. The big blue awning of The Sportsman’s Shop further shaded its metal and glass door, the only source of daylight for the interior.
Also, the pressed metal cornice was blown off in Hurricane Hugo and never replaced.
Architect Glenn Keyes oversaw the renovation with architect Reggie Gibson and developer Anthony McAlister. The three-story granite-face building recently reopened as a Williams-Sonoma store with offices above.
“It was a handsome building, but with it losing two of its most major features — the storefront and the cornice — it was a building you never thought twice about when you walked by it,” Keyes says. “We didn’t really know it was so cool until we started doing some research.”
The renovation is being held up by the city of Charleston as an example of how to do things right.
City Architect Dennis Dowd says the nicest aspect of the project is its details.
“They respected preservation, but at the same time, it’s fresh but very retro,” he says.
For instance, the height of the “Williams-Sonoma” letters is limited to about two-thirds the height of the frieze or sign band.
“You can see it looks comfortable,” Dowd says, adding many businesses push to make their signs as large as possible.
And the new copper-clad storefront not only has abundant windows but reveals the newly restored ceiling height, almost double what it was.
“It’s like many of the historic ones on King Street,” Keyes says, adding he and Gibson walked up and down King to find the oldest, most original storefronts.
The second big change was restoring the pressed metal cornice. Keyes says that design was based not only on old photographs but also on a section of the old cornice salvaged after Hugo and stored in a warehouse.
“We were able to find enough pieces of it to replicate it new,” Keyes says. “It’s very accurate because we had pieces of it and we had good photographs of it.”
The cornice is nearly identical except for the McAlister name.
While the city at first resisted the move, it seems at peace with it now.
“If you put this kind of money into a building, it’s yours,” Dowd says.
One final nice detail is how the restoration left the remains of several metal hooks on the second floor that once supported a large awning.
Dowd says he’s glad these remain, and Keyes agrees. “I always like to leave that stuff,” he says. “It just tells a story, and it’s not hurting anything. It’s an interesting relic from the past.”
Mayor Joe Riley is among the fans of the renovation, saying, “It shows when you restore a building in many respects, you create something that you never knew was there before.”
What’s also special about the building is how dramatically different it looks than its red-brick, Romanesque neighbor to the north, even though both cornices show they were built in the same year, 1891.
“That’s such a great thing,” Dowd says of the different styles. “One of the issues we’ve had with the new buildings on Meeting Street is they look too much alike.”
The city’s 2013 design awards also were given to two projects already featured in this space: a public realm project and a new building outside a historic district.
The city gave itself an award for the recent landscaping to the Septima Clark Parkway, also known as the Crosstown Expressway, a project designed by DesignWorks.
And it gave a design award to the Charleston ENT Clinic & Headquarters, 2295 Henry Tecklenburg Drive in West Ashley, designed by Stubbs Muldrow Herin Architects, Inc.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.