Arts venue proposed on St. Philip

The former Masonic temple at 145 St. Philip St. in Charleston might become an arts venue that would include a music school, theater company and violin shop.

A former synagogue turned Masonic temple that is now vacant in downtown Charleston could soon become a new arts venue.

The property owners of 145 St. Philip St. want to transform the three-story building into a music school, live theater space and violin shop.

Nothing has been approved and no one has officially signed on, but the tentative plan calls for the Charleston Academy of Music, now on Rutledge Avenue, to occupy the second floor while Pure Theater would take over the third floor, said Jeff Roberts, managing partner of the property owner, 145 St. Philip St. LLC.

A violin-making and repair shop, under owner Chris Gawlik of Greenville, N.C., would be housed on the ground floor.

"They all want to be in the building so they can be economically viable," Roberts said.

The corporation bought the 14,500-square-foot building in 2009 from the Temple Association, a Masonic organization of several African-American groups that acquired the building in 1951.

They are constructing a new building in North Charleston. Before 1951, the site was home to a synagogue, according to Roberts.

The corporation originally intended to use the property as rental housing for college students but now wants to transform it into a center for arts education.

Roberts said the music school has outgrown its space, the theater company is looking for a home, and the violin professional already provides services to several Charleston schools as well as the music academy.

"He's highly interested in coming to Charleston," Roberts said of Gawlik. "There's already a symbiotic relationship between him and the music school."

Charleston Academy of Music director Eunjoo Yun said the school has occupied its current space for three years, but it would like to be in a place where lessons can be taught earlier in the day.

"We love where we are," she said. "But it's above a doctor's office, and we can't use the space before 3:30 (in the afternoon)."

She said some students want to come in earlier for lessons but can't. The lease expires on the school's Rutledge Avenue site in July.

Roberts said the second floor of the St. Philip Street property would require about nine sound-proof studios for the academy to teach music lessons.

The upper floor would require minimal upfitting for the theater group, he said.

Pure Theater artistic director and cofounder Sharon Graci said the nomadic group that has bounced around to different venues since leaving the Cigar Factory in 2007 is looking for a home to teach, rehearse and perform and is hoping it can afford the St. Philip Street location.

"We are interested in that space," Graci said. "It is not definitive that we will go there, but we would have a home if we could afford it."

A use-variance request for the property will go before Charleston's zoning appeals board on Jan. 4. It was supposed to be taken up earlier this week, but the board wanted to make sure the arts facility has its overflow parking plan in place with the city, Roberts said.

"We don't think the outcome will be impacted," he said.

Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524.