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Above the BAR: Preservation efforts branch up Charleston's peninsula

When English Kuhne Drews and husband Stephen Giebner embarked on renovating a century-old, family-owned home in Hampton Park Terrace, they never envisioned taking a historic preservation journey that would take on a spiritual nature and be honored with a prestigious award.

“We’re still in shock that we did this,” says Drews, whose great-grandparents, Julian and Henrietta Kuhne, moved into the then-new house in 1915. “It (doing a historically sensitive restoration) wasn’t in the original plan, but we’re so happy we did it.”

The couple, who worked closely with architects Lauren Oller Sanchez and Tim Maguire and contractor Marc Engelke, gave the house at 1 Wesson St. an overhaul that should make it last another century.

In a nutshell, the couple and their team returned the house, which had been rented duplex, to a single-family home without sacrificing the character of the structure or the neighborhood. They removed an incompatible, “non-historic” rear addition and added a more historically sensitive one and repaired original, 12-inch-wide columns, among an array of efforts in dealing with extensive termite and moisture damage.

“It was a hot mess,” says Drews of the condition of the home, which an appraiser had recommended they tear down.

63rd Carolopolis Awards

For their efforts to restore the property, the Kuhne Drews house will be one of 12 structures that will receive a coveted Carolopolis Award this year from the Preservation Society of Charleston. The honor will be bestowed at the 63rd annual Carolopolis Awards at 6 p.m. Thursday at the historic Riviera Theatre.

The award, which includes a plaque for the property, recognizes “extraordinary private and public efforts to maintain the historic character of Charleston and the Lowcountry.”

The only other publicly known recipients so far are the Gibbes Museum of Art downtown and the Eternal Father of the Sea Chapel at the former Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard. As is the tradition for the awards, other recipients will not be revealed until the presentation.

Society Executive Director Kris King says the celebration is an important event for the society.

“It’s a fun night. It’s all positive. We’re celebrating incredible investments by local homeowners and business owners. Many don’t have to do this (take extra steps to preserve historical integrity), but they choose to do it,” King says.

Advance tickets for the event cost $50 for society members and $75 for guests. At the door, ticket prices increase to $75 for members and $100 for guests. All proceeds from the event go to the society’s mission to recognize, protect and advocate for the Lowcountry’s historic places.

Finding dimes

For Drews, her effort to restore her family’s home came after the death of her father Rupert “Rupie” Drews on Nov. 6, 2014, nearly 100 years after her great-grandparents purchased the lot, part of the Allan Tract.

Based on research by neighborhood historian Kevin Eberle and family documents, the house was passed from Drews’ great grandmother to her grandparents (Henry and Helen Drews), her father and then to Drews in the winter of 2015.

She and Giebner, who lived in the Hibben section of Belle Hall subdivision of Mount Pleasant, took a few months to assess what needed to be done and admitted that connecting with Lauren Sanchez and Marc Engelke helped them see what could be done to make the house whole again.

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As that effort progressed, Drews adds, they also seemed to be guided by the spirit of her father, partly symbolized by the couple finding dimes during the process.

“My first memory of my father was when I was 5 and my father was a football coach. One of his football players found a dime and he gave it to me. My Dad told me, ‘I’m going to take you to the store and we’re going to buy some Mary Janes but you’re going to have to give the player some of the candy,’” recalls Drews.

“That was my first memory: That if you get something you still have to give some back.”

She told that to the minister who conducted her father’s funeral and he used the story in the service.

Then they started finding dimes.

“There were moments when we weren’t certain, or were worried, or questioning whether we were doing the right thing, and these dimes would start showing up,” says Drews, adding that even when she went to Ellis Island to research her family history she found a dime.

“When we were worried about (Hurricane) Matthew and I was worried about what to do with the house, I pulled something out of the dryer and a dime fell out.”

Giebner adds, “We found like 150 dimes in less than 18 months. It’s a little spooky.” They have saved all the found dimes and keep them in a small glass vase in the kitchen.

Beyond the “historic district”

Conventionally, Charleston’s historic district is below the U.S. 17 Crosstown, but both the Preservation Society and Engelke see great value in bringing the ethics beyond that boundary.

In fact, Engelke focuses his contracting work on the Hampton Park area and has served as the contractor on 11 area structures that have already won Carolopolis Awards. He’ll add three more, including 1 Wesson, on Thursday night.

He likes the Hampton Park area, which does not fall within the historic district restrictions of the city’s Board of Architectural Review, because he lives in the area and finds the residents to be “great to work with.”

Drews and Giebner, he adds, are like many he has worked with who grow to understand the importance of restoring a house in a historically significant way. Most of those efforts cost more and take more time.

The society’s King says more than half of Thursday’s awardees are located outside of Charleston’s historic district, under the purview of the BAR.

“They aren’t required to do anything. That’s something we find is hugely interesting and important,” says King of a trend in recent years.

“It’s proof that the market supports preservation. People who are moving in recognize the interesting and unique character and value of these houses ... They understand that preservation creates a more interesting and dynamic neighborhood and they seem to understand more commonly is that it’s the best way to increase the value of your property.”

Contact David Quick at 843-937-5516. Follow him on Twitter @DavidQuick.

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