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The new home of Free Times

Free Times’ new office at the corner of Harden and Gervais streets comes with a bit of history.” — July 3, Free Times

It sure does, and I have to admit I didn’t know that history. But it is significant, and should be widely known in Columbia. Perhaps Free Times moving into the historic structure can foster that awareness.

Here’s more from the story:  

“The 105-year-old building at the Southewest-most corner of the historic Waverly neighborhood started as the People’s Infirmary, a small hospital and pharmacy run by black physician and surgeon Dr. W.D. Chappelle, Jr.”

And a litte more:

“[Historic Columbia] says Chappelle, Sr. likely had the structure built on his property in 1914 for his son’s medical practice, considered the first surgical practice in Columbia run by a black doctor.”

That’s something to think about and something to celebrate. My respect and admiration is unlimited for the African American doctors, nurses and staff who worked to provide both medical care and human dignity to their fellow black citizens, those who could not get that care and dignity at the segregated hospitals of the Jim Crow era.

If I may offer some free PR advice to the boss, Free Times might consider setting up an exhibit in the building with old photos and information about the People’s Infirmary and including it on Historic Columbia walking tours of the Waverly neighborhood area. 

Just as the former Free Times office on Main Street doubled as the much-loved Anastasia and Friends art gallery for over a decade, so could the new Free Times office double as a living history tour site of the People’s Infirmary. Like the art gallery, I think lots of folks would enjoy and appreciate it.

Also, there is no historic marker at the building, and there should be. Historic Columbia could lead the way to get one posted at the corner of Harden and Gervais, a high traffic location.

All of this leads me to discuss another historic black medical facility in Columbia, the Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital. This one I already knew about, with my initial interest having been piqued by its architecture.

Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital, sometimes called “Good Sam” before closing in 1973, was built in the art moderne style.

I love art moderne architecture (also known as international or mid-century modern). Indeed, I once had plans drawn and a model constructed of such a home that I intended to build. While that never got done, I did eventually buy an existing art moderne house and love it.

When first thinking about all of that 25 years ago, I looked at various art moderne houses and buildings in Columbia. One I came across was the Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital, which sadly was sitting vacant even then.  

If you go by there today (2204 Hampton St. adjacent to Allen University), you will see the old hospital, though it’s in rough shape with boarded up windows (but the glass block at the entrance remains, a key element of the art moderne style).

While it’s disappointing that the historically and architecturally significant building has now been wasting away for almost half a century, the good news is it may soon be headed for a renovation and rebirth.

Allen University, which now owns the property, announced a $10 million plan earlier this year to renovate Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital to include an academic center, a telemedicine facility, a South Carolina African-American Hall of Fame and a memorial in the lobby to the Mother Emanuel victims.

Prior attempts to save and renovate Good Sam have failed, but this one seems to be moving forward. Of course, financial support is still needed, and I urge the historic preservation community, the architectural community and the corporate community to get involved and get others involved.

Both the People’s Infirmary and Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital played important roles in Columbia’s history. Let’s celebrate these gone to history but not to be forgotten African-American health care facilities.  

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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