In Charleston, a most unusual party where ‘Byzantine Phoenix’ meets ‘New Orleans creepy’

George Holt invited guests to dine at his Charles Street home which burned three months ago. Guests mingle by candlelight in his drawing room, which still has its architectural character, if not its roof.

Just three months after George Holt’s house burned — before city fire inspectors issued their final report or his insurance company stroked a check — he made the unusual decision to host a party.

But even though his house lacked electricity and sported a red “Unsafe” tag on its front door, Holt dwelled on the bright side.

“It doesn’t look as terrible as it did,” he said of the 7 Charles St. home he designed and built, “but it still looks pretty astonishing.”

Several dozen guests arrived for hors d’oeuvres, punch and wine inside what remains, undeterred by a lack of electricity, bathrooms and running water.

Dressed in a sport shirt and blazer, Holt welcomed them all with a candlelit smile. His good cheer was helped by clear skies and balmy temperature — his home also lacks a roof.

His guest list included several architects, architectural writers and academics who could appreciate the home’s eclectic design, one meant to recall the Gothic, Romanesque, Byzantine and Islamic influences of Charleston’s mid-19th century buildings.

They could also appreciate a good ruin.

Holt did what he could to spruce things up. He pressure washed the plaster walls so guests wouldn’t get soot on their clothes if they brushed up against one. He also removed about 8 feet of rubble from his drawing room to make room for a bar, a table with food and the guests themselves.

The signature pool in his entrance foyer still was full of caulk tubes, ashes and other rubble, so Holt made sure his party would end relatively early in the evening — before a guest might accidentally fall in (as two firefighters did while trying to put the fire out).

Stella French, a neighbor who helped with the party preparations, was among those who felt the house as a ruin had its own charm. Holt’s library was so waterlogged the books were wedged into the built-in shelves.

“When it’s dark, it’s very New Orleans creepy,” she said. “We’re calling it the Byzantine Phoenix rising from the ashes.”

December’s fire here was big news. While no one was injured, the early morning blaze could be seen by motorists on both the James Island connector and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Three fire departments helped battle the blaze. The city’s initial report concluded the fire started in or near the refrigerator, possibly from butane containers.

Holt, a partner with New World Byzantine, which designs and builds homes, said he plans to rebuild, he’s just not sure when.

And while his party in the ruins might have been a bit unconventional, part of it harkened to a traditional Lowcountry entertainment option.

“It’s al fresco,” he said.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.

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