A facade worth saving BAR denies outright demolition of Rainbow Market, saying it ‘expresses history of the street’

A 50-room hotel is being proposed at the site of the Rainbow Market in downtown Charleston.

Developers of a proposed hotel in Charleston’s historic district will have to incorporate the facade of a 111-year-old building into the project if they want to move forward.

The city’s five-member Board of Architectural Review on Wednesday denied outright demolition of the Rainbow Market retail shops at 44-46 N. Market St. in a 3-2 vote over the planning staff’s recommendation to raze the structure.

Charleston-based Gramling Brothers Real Estate and Development wants to tear down the pink building and replace it with a three-story, 50-room hotel.

The board indicated it does not have a problem with a hotel on the site, but a majority agreed the facade is part of the historic fabric of the City Market area and should stay.

“I’m generally against demolition,” said BAR member Janette Alexander.

She added the site once operated as a produce market and has a “complete connection to the Market area. It’s a typical turn-of-the-century warehouse structure. I think it should remain.”

Alexander also said no evidence of the building’s structural integrity being compromised was apparent.

“We don’t have a reason to tear that building down,” she added.

Board member Jay White said an argument can be made for why the building fits in with the streetscape.

“To me, this reflects the way the market was before it was a tourist destination,” he said. “This stepping, single-story storefront is worthy of being preserved. ... The facade expresses the history of the street. ... Once you lose something, you can’t get it back.”

Alexander suggested saving the north and south facades and integrating them into the hotel’s design.

The site once housed a three-story, brick Sailors’ Home that was damaged in the earthquake of 1886 and then replaced. At some point it was demolished and the existing structure or parts of it were erected around 1905. Photographs from the late 1800s show it as the home of the Charleston Port Society and a Seamen’s Chapel.

“This is a case where the historic building was not preserved and an inferior building was put in its place,” said Stephen Ramos of the architecture firm LS3P & Associates, which is working on the project for Gramling Brothers.

Richard Gowe, also with LS3P, called the proposed inn “a better opportunity” for a structure that doesn’t have the integrity of many old buildings in the downtown area.

“This is a case where demolition of the old building is acceptable,” Gowe said.

The architects recommended saving the historic columns and beams which most likely date back to around 1905, but said the rest of the building should be dismantled.

BAR member Jerome Clemons called the building’s design “inconsistent with other buildings in that block. The interior has some tight quarters and does not give a good flow.”

The Preservation Society of Charleston and the Historic Charleston Foundation said the craftsmanship of the building diminished its significance and asked the developer to perform an archeological survey of the site if the building is razed.

City planning staff member Dennis Dowd said the building is not architecturally significant and doesn’t contribute to the streetscape. He recommended demolition.

Clemons moved to demolish the structure and warehouse the salvaged historic parts.

He was joined by board member Bob Faust to tear down the building. Those voting against the move included Alexander, White and William Applegate. The panel agreed unanimously to consider a hotel plan that includes the facades.

“This is an opportunity to save some of the historic fabric of the area,” Alexander said.

Mikell Harper of Gramling Brothers called the ruling unfortunate.

“We feel like a significant multistory building that resembled the previous building should be located there,” he said. “The Sailors’ Home was a very significant building that had a lot of meaning and occupied an important position at the terminus of State Street.”

The developer said the board’s decision does not kill the plan, but it does present a challenge.

“We have very difficult marching orders from the board to try to make something of the facade,” Harper said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.