Director to put fresh twist on preservation

Evan Thompson, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, wants to add younger members to the group and document the environmental benefits of preservation.

Talk architecture with the new executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston and he's as likely to mention the restaurants Taco Boy and Fuel or the new Hope and Union Coffee Co. on St. Philip Street as he is to talk about Rainbow Row.

That's partly because Evan Thompson's goals include expanding the local preservation movement beyond the lower peninsular borders of the city's Old and Historic District -- beyond the Charleston buildings built in a grand style or those built before the Civil War or those built South of Broad.

"We are more effective the more we know about buildings and the built environment," he says. "There's a lot more research to be done, especially north of Calhoun Street and north of the Crosstown Expressway."

"There's also a lot more restoration to be done, especially north of Calhoun Street and north of the Crosstown Expressway," he adds.

A relatively young former lawyer who interned at the Historic Charleston Foundation several years ago and later got his first full-time preservation job with the Historic Beaufort Foundation, Thompson arrived here earlier this summer.

And he's already got a long list of goals, including expanding the society by adding new, younger members, like those who often eat at Taco Boy, which converted a nondescript hull of a Huger Street building into one of the city's most colorful and lively dining spots.

Also, Thompson wants to help document the beneficial environmental effects of preservation -- a goal he shares with Stephanie Meeks, the new director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

For instance, the restaurant Fuel on Cannon Street is cool because it celebrates the building's former life as a simple gas station -- but less is known about how much energy was saved by recycling that rather odd building as opposed to tearing it down and building something new there.

Meanwhile, the Preservation Society also is engaged in one of the biggest downtown debates of the moment: how the city and State Ports Authority can ensure that cruise ships complement rather than congest downtown.

"While there are certain benefits that come with tourism, they also come with costs," Thompson says. "How much is too much?"

Also, he thinks more could be done to clarify what the city expects in new architecture built in a historic context.

"I think it's unclear to me what the expectations are," he says. "You go into an art museum and you don't expect to see galleries of Leonardo's work and copies of Leonardo's work

"What's appropriate 21st century architecture? I think it's unclear to me what the expectations are," he adds.

Finally, while Thompson is all about trying to expand preservation's reach both geographically and demographically, he wouldn't be a good fit for the job if he didn't also pay attention to the past -- particularly to those who have helped make the city what it is.

After all, Thompson is acutely aware that the society he now leads was founded 90 years ago.

"Charleston didn't preserve itself," he says. "We can't lose sight of what has been accomplished, particularly as we're losing that generation."

So Thompson clearly has an ambitious agenda, and it probably will help if he stays well-caffeinated.

Maybe that's why he also mentions Hope and Union Coffee Co.

Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 or by fax at 937-5579. His e-mail address is rbehre@postandcourier.com, and his mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403.