Two downtown homeowners will test the limits of what can and cannot be done to Charleston piazzas when the Board of Architectural Review meets Thursday.
Both proposed alterations involve enclosed sections of second-floor piazzas where bathrooms were added. One home is a Charleston single, a defining feature of the Holy City, and therefore deserves close scrutiny by the BAR.
One request is for the Branford-Horry house at 59 Meeting St., a Georgian mansion built about 1750 with front and back piazzas added on the second floor about 1825. The owner wants to replace part of a shutter facade on an enclosed section of the back piazza with windows that face the abutting property.
The Preservation Society of Charleston, which has a preservation easement on the property, worked with the owner and the architect to approve the design and will recommend that the BAR do the same, Kristopher King of the society said.
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The BAR generally doesn’t look kindly on piazza enclosures but, in this case, the exterior columns and matching balustrades were preserved when the work was done some 30 years ago. So replacing the shutters with windows shouldn’t detract from the home’s overall look.
Shutters certainly say Charleston, and they will continue to do so facing Tradd Street. But if the owner wants to replace them with windows on the side facing the next-door property, we have no objection.
At 40 Hassel St., a brick three-story Charleston single house built about 1840 in Ansonborough, the owners want to extend a second-floor piazza enclosure down to the ground floor.
The home originally had both upper and lower piazzas, like a proper Charleston single house, but at some point, probably in the 1960s, most of the upper piazza was torn down except for a rear-facing enclosure containing a bathroom, and the supporting columns were extended down to the ground floor, according to Jacob Lindsey, Charleston’s director of planning, preservation and sustainability. That left some bathroom plumbing exposed on the underside.
Now, the owners propose to smooth over that alteration by extending the enclosure to the ground floor to make the never-should-have-happened addition appear to be a seamless part of the home.
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Extending the bathroom structure to the ground floor would include tearing into the home’s original exterior masonry, Mr. King said. That gave both the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society great concern. Plus, the Preservation Society didn’t feel that filling in the lower section would do much to improve the situation. The house had already suffered from “poor treatment” over the years, Mr. King said.
For those reasons, the Preservation Society and HCF will recommend that the owners find another approach.
Ideally, the owners would rebuild the second-floor piazza and tear out the bathroom. But the BAR can’t foist restorations on owners; it can only permit or deny alterations and work with owners to find mutually agreeable solutions.
Again, it’s a shame the home — otherwise a fine example of a Charleston single — was altered in the first place. We applaud the owners’ attempts to right the wrongs done to the home, but we encourage them to go back to the drawing board.