The former regional headquarters of a major oil company would seem an unlikely gathering spot for Charleston's thriving creative class, but time can change a lot.
The former Standard Oil Co. building at 1600 Meeting St. was built around 1926, and its three stories and dramatic concrete wrap-around porch have made it the Neck Area's premier landmark (not that there's a lot of competition).
Despite that, the building has stood largely empty for a long time until Lindsay Nevin with the real estate company Flyway was able to buy it, lightly renovate it and lease it to more than a dozen established entrepreneurs.
The exterior changes are so minor that many might not even recognize them as changes.
Architect Blake Middleton says modern codes required a few window openings to be converted into doors onto the wrap-around porch, and there's a new metal stair installed opposite Meeting Street.
"The biggest issue was taking an old building and trying to make it code compliant," he says.
From the street, the biggest change may be removing the overgrown shrubs and weeds and replacing them with a neat landscape.
The project's roots began about six years ago, when Nevin and his wife, Kate, heard a presentation about the city's growing creative community.
"It dawned on us that there was no bricks and mortar space to house these kind of creatives," he says.
It took years to negotiate and close on the 1600 Meeting property, but the upside was that Flyaway had fully leased it before it closed. It has 19 tenants in spaces ranging from 250 to 3,500 square feet.
The Middleton Group Architecture, which designed much of the Half Mile North project about a half mile south of 1600 Meeting, is among the new tenants.
Middleton says the goal with 1600 Meeting was "to keep everything as original as possible, to keep that industrial feel that it has."
As much of the building's concrete, masonry and plaster as possible were left alone. New ductwork and electrical conduits were run along ceilings and on walls, not in them, partly so as to not disturb the building, partly because running them thought solid concrete walls would have cost a lot of time and money.
"There wasn't a whole lot of creativity involved," Nevin says of the work. "The building is what it is."
Nevin says the building's structure is in great condition, with just a few hairline cracks that may stem from a lack of expansion joints in the concrete.
While the work included some new paint, it also involved stripping off old floor tiles and polishing the concrete underneath.
The bare-bones approach sets off the striking art inside, such as the stuffed fox that lunges from the ceiling at those entering the front door (a piece of art by Becca Barnet, who also did the large-scale honeycomb work on the ceiling of the Butcher & Bee restaurant).
Some subtler but still cool wall decorations are the original 1926 blueprints of the building.
The project also included two rear buildings, one leased by Lowcountry Local First. Middleton says the original building was L-shaped but is now more square after a largely glass addition.
Lowcountry Local First's building also has a newly planted green roof. When viewed from the upper piazzas of the main building, the roof makes an interesting juxtaposition with the oil tanks in the distance.
It remains to be seen how all these creative enterprises will interact and change their neighborhood and the broader community, but it's clear they've already played a role in a restrained yet playful effort to revive a great building.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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