Life lessons from ‘Cremo College’

Cigar Factory on East Bay Street

In the Oct. 21 Post and Courier I read with great interest, bringing back fond memories, of what’s going on with the old cigar factory or Cremo College, as it was nicknamed when it was making Cremo cigars long ago.

John McDermott did an excellent job of reporting current and some of the past events, but evidently he was unaware of what happened between its closure as a cigar factory and its strange sale by the American Tobacco Company. That involved me. And as I may be the only principal still living, I need to tell the tale.

In 1973, my little company was finishing the renovation of the Faber House, which we had bought from the Historic Charleston Foundation. As we were down there a lot, we ate lunch at Manos’ Diner on Meeting Street just below Line Street. Mickey and George Manos ran it and it was a fun place at noontime. Many local politicians ate there, and the conversations were always lively and humorous.

We were often joined by the gentleman left in charge of the closed cigar factory. His job was to show the property to anyone interested in buying it and sending offers to New York where the American Tobacco Company had their offices. One day he told us that no one had ever made any offer. In jest I said, “Well, I’ll offer you $250,000 for it.” He replied, “If you’re serious, put it in writing and I’ll send it to New York. It’s the only offer we have.”

So, with many wisecracks from the group, I wrote on a napkin,” I ____ hereby offer $250,000 to the American Tobacco Company for all the property they own in Charleston, S.C.” I signed and dated it and gave it to our friend who put it in his pocket. We then returned to politics.

About two weeks later I got a phone call from an executive with American Tobacco in New York. He said he had a strange offer to buy the cigar factory written on a paper table napkin. Was I the man who signed it and was I serious? Because, if I was, they’d take the offer.

I told the gentleman that I didn’t have any money but if he would send me an acceptance letter, I believed I could raise it. When I got his letter, I took it down to David Verner at South Carolina National, told him the story and asked him to finance the purchase. As Mr. Verner knew the property well, he replied, “Yes, Arthur, we’ll do that.” My, how bankers and banking have changed.

The tobacco factory was good to me. We called it the World Trade Mart and leased areas to some interesting people and businesses. After several years it helped me through a rough financial period when I sold it to a local gentleman. It was good to him also and he sold it to a local group for whom I understand it was also good. Mr. McDermott’s article picks up from here but I must mention one more thing.

When my office West of the Ashley burned, I moved into the office space of the factory. It was a dreary place so a friend of mine suggested that I ask a young lady by the name of Linda Fantuzzo to brighten it and she did. Of course, she is now a shining star in the art world.

Arthur Ravenel Jr.

Wittenberg Drive

Mount Pleasant