Each year, the Preservation Society of Charleston honors what it considers the city’s best recent renovations and new architecture.
This year’s crop of winners are less notable perhaps for what they are, which is the usual interesting mix of homes and businesses, than where they are.
Almost half are outside the purview of the city’s Board of Architectural Review. In fact, one of them, Quarters C at 1300 Navy Way on the former Charleston Naval Base, isn’t even in the city of Charleston.
In other words, almost half were done correctly and admirably, at least by the society’s estimation, even though no one in government was looking over the owners’ shoulders.
Some examples include the handsome but modest houses at 191 Sans Souci St., 306 President St. and 6 Elmwood Ave.
And other winners were properties that were reviewed by the city’s Board of Architectural Review but that still are outside the Old and Historic District and relatively far from the trafficked tourist areas, such as 142 Spring St., 6 Amherst St. and 18 Hanover St.
This northward migration of the society’s Carolopolis awards, metal medallions that are about the same size as a salad plate and that have been given out since 1953, underscores a few trends.
Most obviously, it’s yet another sign of Charleston’s current prosperity, as more and more people arrive either to visit or make this their new home.
Most importantly, it shows how the city’s preservation ethic is spreading faster than local ordinances to protect historic buildings.
Kristopher King, the society’s president, says this year in particular the Carolopolis program is recognizing a lot of renovations in neighborhoods farther up the peninsula.
“We get incredibly encouraged by that,” he says. “The owners clearly recognize the positive contribution that preservation can have on the value of their properties and the quality of their neighborhoods.”
If age is an important indicator of historic value, then a new wave of buildings becomes historic each year, but local ordinances don’t change nearly as often.
What struck King and Assistant Director Robert Gurley is that these homeowners did thoughtful restorations because they wanted to, not because they had to.
“We hear a lot about the economic challenges of preservation, but when you see a lot of private efforts like this, it shows that there’s a direct and indirect return on value for doing good preservation,” King says.
Some might think that this good renovation work also lessens the need for more city oversight in its relatively newer (20th century) historic neighborhoods. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Or if it’s getting fixed right, don’t fret about it.
But Gurley and King are not inclined to agree. Just last week, the Board of Architectural Review had to stop demolition of a home at 25 Piedmont St. Homes on St. Margaret and Congress suffered partial demolition.
King says the city should, at the very least, consider expanding its National Register Historic District northward. Such a move would not automatically lead to BAR protection, but it would make it easier for homeowners to qualify for the state’s income tax break for significant exterior renovations on historic homes.
“From our perspective, having a level of review and protection is tremendously positive,” King says, and this year’s Carolopolis winners shouldn’t lessen the argument for that.
“I would argue what they’re showing is that it would be complementary to the efforts going on up there,” he says.
The call for more recognition and protection will continue to grow if there are more bad examples, but for now, it’s refreshing to recognize the good ones.
Other Carolopolis award winners include buildings at 105 Broad St., 282 King St., 513 King St., and the Woolfe St. Playhouse in the old Meddin Building at 32-34 Woolfe St.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.