It is interesting to see the recent exuberances of some of the self-appointed guardians of Charleston’s architectural history. A great number of their calls to arms appear to lie somewhere between the prevailing attitude behind the fable of the boy who cried wolf and the dire predictions of the end-of-the-millennium cyber meltdown.
The predictable outcome of such brittle and too, too sensitive attitudes is opinionated hyperbole, which in the long run does little to serve the cause of preservation and, at length, can even be destructive to the cause.
There are, to be sure, legitimate preservation issues open for the examination of experienced inquisitors; however, a habit of substituting one’s own opinion and one’s own particular taste for another’s has resulted in the prickly path now being trod through the courts by the homeowner groups and private preservation organizations. One example of descriptive exaggeration spoke of “adulterating” a traditional carriage house on Murray Boulevard, describing it as “highly visible.” The complaining columnist does not mention the fencing and classically designed garden now under construction, which will “soften” the perspective from the sidewalk. He does not mention that the building is set way back in the lot and is clearly not highly visible unless one pauses and stares at it through the fence long enough to find some detail which does not conform to a personal aesthetic. Besides, Murray Boulevard is not exactly a model of architectural consistency.
Many, if not most, old houses in the city were added to many times over the years to reflect the contemporary needs and tastes of their current owners. Space needs and personal tastes did not end in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the other Board of Architectural Review approvals, which the columnist scorns, appear to be in the home owners’ back yards where most of the older accretions have occurred, areas not meant for tourists to see, but improvements, in the estimation of the home owner, designed to add to the quality of his life.
I must ask why the opinion of the columnist is any more valuable or learned than those Charleston people who serve on the BAR, who with years of experience must make those decisions in the public interest. Back when I served on the Preservation Society board, we were more concerned with people coming to town and tearing things down, not insisting on a place at the table to dictate each little decision every time a homeowner wants to improve his property.
Ben McC. Moise