117-year-old Battery landmark sold for $3 million

The Villa Margherita, at one time an inn, was designed by the same architect who came up with Manhattan’s famous Flatiron building. Brad Nettles/staff

The Villa Margherita, a Charleston landmark fronting one of the city’s most public places, is changing hands for only the third time since it was built 117 years ago.

The $3 million sale price of the imposing Italian Renaissance Revival mansion at 4 South Battery is not a record for downtown, but it marks a new chapter for one of the city’s grandest homes built after the Civil War.

The building also served as a prominent hotel between 1905 and 1953, one that served three U.S. presidents and famous figures from the business, literary and social worlds.

Preservation Society Executive Director Evan Thompson said the property at Church Street and South Battery is more than a grand house.

“In a way, its history as an inn encapsulates the history of Charleston in the 20th century, as it evolved into a world-class tourist destination,” he said. “It served that function in a neighborhood that was a birthplace of preservation” — the society was born just a few doors down, at 26 South Battery.

Neither the buyers, Stephen and Mary Hammond, nor the seller, Mary B. Wilson, commented Thursday on the sale, which closed last month.

The Hammonds have hired architect Eddie Fava and others for an anticipated renovation or restoration. One of the home’s most prominent features, its Corinthian column capitals, have crumbled over the years.

Fava said Thursday he would have more information on the renovation and restoration plans in a few months.

“The prospect that this great landmark can be restored and some of the features that have been lost over the years through storms and other events can be put back on the building will only strengthen the character of White Point Garden and really set a good example for stewardship,” Thompson said.

Designed by Frederick Dinkelberg, the New York architect who designed Manhattan’s famous Flatiron building, the house was constructed for $200,000 in 1895 for bank president Andrew Simonds.

Its structure is brick coated with cement, and it includes balconies on three of its facades.

The interior includes an atrium surrounding a marble pool, and the house once had a decorative balustrade and cupola on its roof. Its frieze was made by Morrison Brothers, the same firm that made decorations for Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The Villa Margherita acquired its name during its conversion to an inn, and it briefly housed military officers during World War II.

In 1945 the home was run by the United Seaman’s Service, and it briefly lodged 43 merchant seaman who survived a torpedo attack. The group took a mass bath in its swimming pool.

The inn shut down in 1953, and the property was sold to Wilson’s parents, James and Mary Wilson, eight years later, shortly after a demolition permit had been sought by the previous owner, according to newspaper accounts.

Stephen Hammond also faces a civil suit related to the sale. The William Means Real Estate LLC claims Hammond is obligated to pay the company a 6 percent commission on the deal. Hammond’s attorney, Rutledge Young III, filed a response this week denying the allegations.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.