Shades of a 'lurid' double standard

Vivid hues attract considerable attention to this row of houses on East Bay Street. But are they "lurid colors"?

What are "lurid colors"?

You be the judge.

But if you file a design application for a new building in Charleston's Old and Historic District or Old City District, the Board of Architectural Review will be the judge.

Those districts, combined, extend from the Ashley River past Line Street. They didn't, however, reach the Money Man Pawn on upper Meeting Street back in 1997 when it was painted a not-so-mellow yellow.

That cultural crisis inspired the city to stretch its aesthetics-enforcement reach a bit further north.

And lest you dismiss this "lurid colors" warning as a stretch of logic, review this subsection of the zoning ordinance authorizing the BAR's dominion over construction plans within the aforementioned districts:

"Among other grounds for considering a design inappropriate and requiring disapproval and resubmission are the following defects: Arresting and spectacular effects, violent contrasts of materials or colors and intense or lurid colors, a multiplicity or incongruity of details resulting in a restless and disturbing appearance, the absence of unity and coherence in composition not in consonance with the dignity and character of the present structure (in the case of repair, remodeling or enlargement of an existing structure) or with the prevailing character of the neighborhood (in the case of a new structure)."

Hey, some nitpickers detect "absence of unity and coherence in composition" in some newspaper columns.

So are shocking pink, fire-engine red and neon yellow "lurid colors"?

How about the orange and purple worn by not just the Clemson Tigers but their fans - at times in overalls?

At least Clemson University's design for its architecture center downtown is neither orange nor purple. It's sort of white.

Yet that proposed Spaulding Paolozzi Center is also, in the view of many experts, much too big and clunky for the corner of Meeting and George. Lots of non-experts, including some Clemson grads (including me), share that perspective.

So why did the BAR give that design preliminary approval on June 25?

If only school officials had heeded my innovative appeal, printed in this space nine months ago today, to model the building after a beloved just-off-campus Clemson landmark: Bob's Esso Club.

A structure capturing that iconic edifice's rustic ambiance would have delivered a welcome country-boy counterpoint to the Holy City's more urban architectural tradition.

It also could have, as Bob's Esso Club once did, featured a bait shop to conveniently serve anglers on their way to casting for fresh fare from Waterfront Park or the Battery.

Another Spaulding Paolozzi snag: The Historic Charleston Foundation, Preservation Society of Charleston and Charlestowne and Historic Ansonborough neighborhood associations filed suit against the city and Clemson on Wednesday.

They charge that city staff arbitrarily changed the BAR rules, creating a short cut for preliminary approval of the Spaulding Paolozzi design and depriving the public of sufficient input.

Folks from those plaintiff groups persuasively pitched their case Thursday during a visit to this newspaper.

Back to "lurid colors":

You can already see plenty of them downtown, as confirmed by these findings from my investigation conducted Friday:

Garish green trim taints a house on Columbus Street.

A distasteful mustard tint atop a glaring brown casts Market Hall in a bad light.

A single block of King Street is marred by an unseemly palette of orange, yellow and aqua - and that's south of Broad.

Where are we, anyway, Miami Beach?

Most jarring - and "lurid" in any honest assessment - is the driver-distracting spectacle of a bright purple house with gaudy, greenish-yellow shutters on Felix Street.

What happened to the shutter-shudders deterrent?

Recall the local lore about a man who painted his shutters "grape" before learning that the city had actually approved "gray"?

Space limitations preclude a fuller listing of the "lurid colors" detected during my exhaustive excursion.

But their prevalence must be especially galling to those whose design applications were rejected on "lurid colors" grounds.

Yes, our special city's special architectural legacy demands vigilance against not just oversized structures but "lurid colors."

Still, objective standards on building design - and permissible hues - are needed.

After all, one gentleman's "lurid color" is another gentleman's perky color.

Please, though, no return of "gentlemen's clubs" - as in strip joints - in the Old and Historic or even Old City districts.

No strip malls, either.

Meanwhile, when, why and how were the "lurid colors" of the houses in the picture above approved?

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is