Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Comedic And Equally Heart-Wrenching Pilgrimage--"She Kills Monsters"

Rise up out of your dungeons all you once upon a time nerds and geeks of D and D. Rise up to unabashedly revel in your freedom and independence. Yes, rise up to celebrate your impact on "the social and intellectual structure of our world" with the Flowertown Players presentation of Qui Nguyen's comedic and equally heart-wrenching pilgrimage into the part real and part imaginary She Kills Monsters now showing at the James F. Dean Theatre. Hey, girls can be nerds as well as super heroes.

Qui Nguyen is a playwright, TV writer, pop-culture nerd, and a professed geek presently working for Marvel Studios. He is the Co-Founder of the OBIE Award-winning Vampire Cowboys of New York City. He is known for his innovative use of pop-culture, stage violence, puppetry, and multimedia. Branded as a break-the-rules writer, Nguyen produced the script for She Kills Monsters in 2011.

Set in 1995, Agnes Evans was making preparations to leave her childhood home in Ohio. Her parents and only sister were killed in an automobile accident. While packing her sister's belongings, she came across a notebook containing a Dungeons and Dragons quest written by Tilly. It was a world unfamiliar to Agnes.

While growing up, Agnes had nothing in common with her nerdy little sister--their dissimilar interests took them on different paths. As a result, she was now painfully confronted with the realization she knew nothing about Tilly, leaving a distressing void in her heart and a aching need to fill it. With hopes of filling the regrettable void, she seeks out and finds a "big where it counts" teenage Dungeon Master named Chuck to guide her through the D and D escapade. Together, they rolled the multi-sided dice to the discomfort of Agnes' insecure boyfriend.

Tilly comes to life onstage as "healer of the wounded and the protector of lights" Tillius the Paladin, an armor clad teenage heroine wielding a big sword. She is accompanied by a pointy eared she-elf named Kaliope and a bitchy warrior demon named Lilith. Needless to say, Agnes' initial introductions to Tilly's comrades in arms is contentious and bewildering as to why her sister would choose such companions, but she is driven by the need to understand. Agnes joins her sister's quest.

Along the way, the four of them hook up with a rude, cheese eating, TV watching demon lord named Orcus sporting horns and wearing brown, furry leggings. Set to rock music, they battled bugbears, a nasty winged fairy, an assortment of beasts, a gelatinous green cube, and blood-sucking demon vamps wearing cheerleader outfits by the name of Evil Tina and Evil Gabbi.

As Agnes moves between the real, her life as a teacher at the school attended by her sister, and the imaginary, the D and D quest, she discovers the companions and combatants of her sister's role playing fantasy have real life counterparts. The eye opening revelations are at times unsettling but also enlightening as she comes to know the geeky sister she avoided growing up.

I never had an interest in playing the game Dungeons and Dragons. I don't even recall being aware it was a board game that you played with dice. Adding to that, it was my first exposure to She Kills Monsters and its creator. So, when the play began, I was somewhat in a chilled fog. I didn't begin to warm up to the play until I became tuned into its unfolding poignant social message.

The plays successfully functional stage and props, dominated by misty laden greenish rock walls and accented by a changing array of colorful lights, set the necessary moods as the players fought and transitioned between the real and the imaginary. The wide variety of fanciful costumes skillfully designed and engineered by Nicole Harrison visually enhanced the fantasy and aided in the believability of the characters and their relevance within the story line. The numerous choreographed sword play and battle scenes set to the sounds of rock music were entertaining, but at times, a tad over dramatized.

Emma MacMillan was without a doubt emotionally committed to her character Tilly Evans and it showed at the end when the appreciative audience gave a standing ovation for a performance well done. Equally inspiring, Amanda Campeau as Agnes Evans was engaging, entertaining, and a pleasure to watch. Tilly's two cohorts, Kaliope and Lilith, were played by Jenny Aubrey and Michelle Jones. Lilith was by far the most intimidating of the quest characters both in dress and persona and Michelle projected that well, while Jenny projected Kaliope's softer side of female super power with grace.

As personalities go, Erik Brower was the perfect choice for the cheese consuming, testosterone driven, hairy-legged Orcus. Margaret Nyland superbly handled the plays narrative and as the in-your-face, cruelly honest Vera, audaciously charming. Ethan Goodman fit the bill as the perplexed Miles and cracked me up as he strutted around the stage as the gelatinous green cube. Zach Rettig was the paradigm of a Dungeon Master and Robert Venne played Steve, who appeared from time to time for no apparent reason. As for Evil Tina (Rebecca Sims) and Evil Gabbi (Minna Schubert), they were just plain evil.

Director Josh Bates and Crew get a thumbs up well done venture.

She Kills Monsters is a D and D themed play filled with comedic one liners and jaw dropping references wrapped up in a slice of cheese served on a silver platter of love, loss, regrets, acceptance and closure. I leave you with this warning: if you tend towards the emotional, you just may shed a tear after all is said in done.

Get your tickets for She Kills Monsters now showing through February 4th.

Friday, January 19, 2018

History of Charleston's Northern Barrier Islands And Their Bridges

Today, Charleston's string of barrier islands extending north from its harbor are covered with beautiful expansive vacation homes. Their sparkling shorelines are host to throngs of visitors and local beach goers spreading their blankets and chairs across their sandy beaches. With that familiar picture in mind, it would be unusual to imagine one of these pristine barrier islands with a Ferris wheel rotating in its ocean skyline, a merry-go-round spinning in its sands, and a Cony Island style roller coaster called The Steeple Chase thundering over its landscape.

In the early colonial days of Charleston and its northern barrier islands, a plank bridge built on barrels connected what is now known as Mt. Pleasant to Sullivan's Island at Cove Inlet. After arriving on Sullivan's Island in 1827 aboard the Waltham and serving as a company clerk at Fort Moultrie, Edgar Allen Poe characterized the island in unflattering yet colorful terms. He wrote in The Gold Bug, "The island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the main land by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort for the marsh hen. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant, or at last dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of the western point, and line of hard, white beach on the seacoast, is covered with dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle." Of course, we must remember Poe had a unique and dark literary prowess.

Around the same time, Charleston architect Robert Mills had a more complimentary take when describing Sullivan's Island. He wrote in 1826, "This island forms the summer retreat for pleasure and health of all or any in the city that choose to visit it. During the summer season the boats ply constantly between the two places, the distance scarcely exceeding four miles. The village here laid out is called Moultrieville..It contains about 200 houses, all of wood, and which are occupied sometimes to excess during the summer. Moultrieville has a handsome appearance, particularly on entering the harbor; the greater some of the houses (for more than a mile) front the beach, which extends the whole length of the island, a distance of three miles. This beach at low water is very firm and wide, affords a delightful ride or walk, where the delighted visitant may inhale the pure and bracing sea breeze, which wafts health and vigor to the system."

The old floating footbridge stretching across from mainland Mount Pleasant was the only access to Sullivan's Island and stepping stone to the uninhabited 6-mile stretch of sand beyond Breach Inlet called Long Island, aside from boats. During the Civil War, the H. L. Hunley crew crossed it on their way to Breach Inlet where destiny in the form of a metal submersible awaited their arrival.

The Town of Moultrieville gave land to Robert Chisolm for the purpose of building a hotel. Located around Station 22, the New Brighton Hotel was completed in the mid 1880's, later called the Atlantic Beach Hotel. It boasted three beach cottages in addition to the main hotel structure.

Atlantic Beach Hotel

It was in 1897 the vague stretch of sand beyond Breach Inlet, inhabited only by the Atlantic surf, began to be noticed. Dr. J.S. Lawrence built a public amusement and beach resort on the island. With no beach cottages or hotel as of yet, the central gathering spot for visitors was the Pavilion. There was a restaurant that served a meal for 50 cents. Attractions included a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, and a roller coaster style ride called The Steeple Chase. The Steeple Chase consisted of five mechanical horses where the riders could race each other around a U-shaped course. The Ferris wheel was originally built for the Chicago World's Fair in 1892 and was used by the Cotton Congress in Atlanta and Coney Island in New York before coming to South Carolina. The beach amusement park became so popular it was dubbed the "Play Ground of the South." The Isle of Palms was born.

In 1898, the planked-bridge was replaced by a trolley bridge designated the Cove Inlet Bridge or the Pitt Street Bridge (before electricity, the earliest trolleys were horse-drawn, and crossed on wooden rails that were known to shift in the sand beds).

Around this time, the electric street car was introduced into the City of Charleston. In July of that same year, the Seashore Road opened. The local paper reported on July 26th, "A great event for the city, the Seashore Road formally opened yesterday. When the Commodore Perry left the new dock of the Charleston Seashore and Railway Company at 9 o'clock yesterday afternoon her spacious deck was crowded with people, all anxious to be among the first to visit that, as yet, unknown country, stretching vaguely behind the familiar shores of Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island. The Sappho, her deck also crowded with people, and the Pocosin, not so well patronized, steamed out of their docks just a moment before."

After arriving in Mount Pleasant and departing their ferries, the passengers were loaded unto trolley cars and crossed through Mount Pleasant onto Sullivan's Island via the Pitt Street Bridge towards Breach Inlet to journey across to Isle of Palms. The very first home was constructed by Nicholas Sottile in 1898 at 807 Ocean Boulevard. A fifty room hotel was built in 1906 called the Seashore Hotel and a second hotel was constructed in 1912 called the Hotel Marion by the Sea.

Tragedy struck the Atlantic Beach Hotel on Sullivan's Island. It, along with one of the cottages, burned on January 9, 1925. It was rumored a bootlegger attempting to locate his whiskey in the bushes alongside the hotel lit a match to try and find the whiskey in the dark and thus sparked the destructive flames. A hotel would never be built on the island after that catastrophe.

The Pitt Street Bridge was widened in the 1920's to accommodate vehicular traffic and a draw bridge was added. In 1926, the trolley trestle over Breach Inlet was converted into a bridge, allowing automobiles to cross over from Sullivan's Island. Trolley service to Sullivan's Island ended in 1927.

Up until then, Mount Pleasant and the islands were only connected to Charleston by ferries. In 1929, a cantilever bridge was built across the Cooper River. The Grace Memorial Bridge now made both islands accessible by automobile from Charleston. The Pitt Street Bridge finally closed to traffic when the drawbridge was moved to a new location and the Ben Sawyer Bridge was built in 1945. The bridge rotated on a center axis to allow boat travel along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Remains of the Pitt Street Bridge
Development on the islands increased. On the Isle of Palms, 1,600 acres were purchased by the Finch family in 1972 and they developed the land into a resort known as the Isle of Palms Beach and Racquet Club. As it expanded, it was renamed the Wild Dunes Beach and Racquet Club, and after being sold to new owners in 1984, it became just Wild Dunes.

The Ben Sawyer Bridge became famous on September 22, 1989, when Category 4 Hurricane Hugo struck Sullivan's Island just after midnight and severely damaged the bridge. Pictures of the bridge tilting into the Intracoastal Waterway made the national news. The swing-span portion of the bridge was replaced in 2010 and outfitted with modern technology, but retained the appearance of the original.

With the growth of Wild Dunes and the island in general, plans were drawn up to construct a new bridge that would connect Isle of Palms directly to the town of Mount Pleasant. The Connector or the Clyde Moultrie Dangerfield Bridge was completed in 1993. A storm surge from Hurricane Tourism flooded the island and the rest is modern history.

Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island have long been my favorite beaches. You will likely find me fishing the fast moving currents of Breach Inlet on any given sunny day or leisurely sitting on the rooftop of the Boathouse Restaurant tending to a cold beer and watching the inlet's resident dolphins cruising the quiet backwaters with the brilliant colors of the setting sun lighting their way. Other times, you will catch me reclining on the nostalgic upper deck of Coconut Joe's enjoying the island sounds of a Reggae band or mounting a paddleboard at the bustling IOP Marina on Morgan Creek for a serene paddle on the island's marine rich estuary waters. Sullivan's Island is the perfect seacoast setting to photograph a flock of kite surfers catching the brisk Atlantic breezes or strolling the sandy stone barriers of Fort Moultrie watching huge container ships entering and exiting the harbor. And after all has been said and done, I invite you to join me for some light conversation and shared companionship at the tavern named after the island's famous resident author, Poe's.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Let The Light Through--A Piece Of Charleston's French Heritage

French is considered to be "le langage de l'amour." So, one may ask: What is it about French that qualifies it to be called "the language of love?" One reason, French is very euphonious. The tone of the spoken words tend to be more delicate sounding to the ears. Also, vowels and consonants are well distributed resulting in more harmonious phrases. Finally, the need to conjugate verbs makes it ideal for writing poetry and music.

Take for example, the French phrase "claire-voie." Attempting to pronounce the phrase in English, a person may be inclined to say it as if it were pronounced "clairevoyee," when actually the correct pronunciation, as if it were spoken in English would sound like "claire-vua" in proper French. You would have to agree, it is more "poétique."

I first came across the phrase "claire-voie" while researching the history of Charleston's wrought iron legacy for a recent article. It was listed along with such items as nails, boot scrapers, horseshoes, balconies, locks, and latches, which were used by colonial Charlestonians. To me, it seemed to be out of place.

When I looked up the translation of the phrase, I discovered it to mean "let the light through" or more literally an "openwork." A "claire-voie" is typically achieved with hedging or it can be an ironwork screen, openwork fence, gate, or grille placed in a wall through which a vista can be enjoyed. One of the most famous examples of a claire-voie is a round opening in a hedge of the White Garden at Sissinghurst Garden Castle in England.

I have strolled the wrought iron rich streets south of Broadway many times and never realized the grated openings in residential walls allowing passersby a peek into the beautifully landscaped gardens beyond had a name. So, armed with my newly acquired information, I packed my camera and headed for the downtown peninsula of Charleston to search out examples of a claire-voie. I found them to be everywhere. This is a small collection I gathered on my excursion.

The French language is no stranger to Charleston. There has been a French influence in the city since its early colonial days. The Hugenots, French Protestants fleeing persecution and seeking religious freedom, came to Charleston in 1680 to start a community. The early congregation was made up of these Hugenot refugees sent by King Charles II to establish themselves as artisans and tradesmen. Within the original walled city, the district became known as the now famous French Quarter. Preceded by two other churches, the still standing Gothic Revival-style French Huguenot Church, located at 136 Church Street, was completed in 1845. It was the first building of this style constructed in Charleston. Wealthy French merchants established a business presence and built homes. Legare Street is named for goldsmith Solomom Legare "the Hugenot," who built the first house at 32 Legare Street.

Like a surging Atlantic tide, peoples of varying cultures spilled into a river fed inlet of a distant new world and washed unto the shores of an oyster laden peninsula where they established what would grow into a bustling international sea port called Charleston. In this shared space, their varying beliefs and distinct dialects converged. They exchanged ideas and architecture. The French claire-voie was one of those shared concepts that found its way into the beautifully fashioned gardens of the elegant estates of America's most celebrated historic landscapes.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Peek Into Charleston's Preeminent Wrought Iron Legacy

The top of St. Michael's Church
In the iron hands of a blacksmith, it can be bent, twisted, and welded into whatever shape the imagination can dream up. Despite easily yielding to the geometric manipulations of the skillful smithy, it is equally rugged and impervious to corrosion. This pliable yet resilient alloy is known the world over as wrought iron. It was the preferred material for the crafting of window grates, boot scrapers, balconies, fences, gates and claire-voies by the discerning Charlestonian. The forged ornamental ironworks gracing the downtown peninsula of Charleston, conceived in inspiration and born by fire, are the most impressive public collection in the country. Most often painted black and sometimes Charleston green, during the 19th-century it was also painted in bright, vivid colors.

Though centuries have past and Charleston's old buildings and walls bear the colors of age, its decorative ironworks remain resolute. They stand as a symbol of the City's unwavering steadfastness in the face of the most unspeakable upheavals and as a testimony to its matchless charm and elegance. For anyone exploring the old thoroughfares from the French Quarter to the Lower Peninsula, the black iron fences and scrolled gates are not only visually stunning, but they also offer an unobstructed peek into another one of Charleston's treasures, the beautifully landscaped gardens beyond.

In the early colonial days of Charleston, wrought iron served more humble uses as nails, horseshoes, hinges and latches. Decorative wrought iron was imported from across the pond. It was placed as window grates and balconies. At the beginning of the 19th century, as the city grew in wealth and prestige, the demand for ornate ironworks spiraled. Three masters of the anvil stepped into the limelight, J.A.W. Iusti (1817-1895), Christopher Werner (1805-1875), and Frederic Julius Ortmann (1839-1899). All were immigrants from Germany. They blended old world ways with new world ideas and fashioned designs that spoke to the heart of Charleston and its intersecting cultures. Of the three, Werner's name stands out the most.

Unfortunately, the 19th century was an era when Charleston suffered the most unspeakable upheavals. Devastating fires, the turbulent Civil War, and a foundation shaking earthquake destroyed some of their masterpieces. Nonetheless, many of Werner's works survived.

Today a relatively quiet corner just south of the Old City Market, in the late 1830's Christopher Werner worked his magic at his foundry located near the intersection of Cumberland and State Street. It was there he produced one of Charleston's most preeminent ornamental wrought iron gates.

In 1838, architect Charles F. Reichardt was commissioned to design a new Guard House for use by the City Guard. Werner was chosen to produce the ironwork for the project, which would include a set of gates and window grilles. This is where the facts of the story get a little sketchy. The story puts forward the idea Werner misunderstood the request of a quartermaster for a "pair of gates" as meaning two sets of gates, so he created two identical pairs featuring horizontal swords.

One account says the ordered pair of Werner's sword gates was never actually installed at the Guard House--the city refused to pay what it considered too high a price. In any case, the wrought iron grilles with the same sword design were installed in the buildings windows. In 1861, the Guard House was damaged by the great fire of that year. In 1886, it was severely damaged by the earthquake and demolished. Whatever the true facts are, one set of the sword gates was preserved and eventually installed at the main entrance of The Citadel near Hampton Park along with the window grilles from the demolished Guard House. The Citadel opened in 1843. Exactly when the gates were installed is unclear.

As for the other set of Werner's sword gates, British consul George Hopley bought the original Solomon Legare property at 32 Legare Street in 1849 and added a new wing to the existing house, which was Madame Talvande's French School for Young Ladies at the time. In that same year, Copley acquired one of the pair of sword gates and installed it in the property's high brick wall. The celebrated residence is now known as the Sword Gate House.

More of Werner's works:

The Nathaniel Russell House balcony with his initials on Meeting Street
The Harp Gate at the Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street
The John Rutledge House ironworks painted Charleston green on Broad Street
Other wrought iron masterpieces, fences and gates located throughout Charleston:

Many books and articles have been written about Charleston's famed wrought iron legacy. An age old legacy that is second to none. Walking the sidewalks along the oak draped, black fence-lined corridors South of Broadway bestows on you a sense of serenity and reverence. A proud history zealously guarded as elegantly as the City's wrought iron fences and gates guards its most cherished properties. I hope you enjoyed my telling and photographs.

Monday, December 4, 2017

An American Classic Comes To The Stage Of The James F. Dean Theatre--A Christmas Story

If you can say "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass and this thing which tells time built right into the stock" three times fast without shooting your eye out, then you need to pay attention to the following. A Christmas Story opened December 1st at the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville and will be running three weekends to December 17th.

The play adaptation of A Christmas Story written in 2000 by Philip Grecian is not as well known as its movie counterpart of the same name, and the reason will shortly become obvious. Considered an American classic, the movie has been to Christmas day as to what Gone With The Wind has been to Thanksgiving day--tediously inseparable. Tedious in that for 24 hours it plays over and over and over continuously until you want to "wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan." Truth be told, I have never seen the movie all the way through. I have only caught bits and pieces of it while engaging in the remote control spectator sport known as channel surfing looking for something to capture my viewing interest or avoid being subjected to the endless barrage of commercials that run every five minutes on cable TV.

Since everyone with a TV knows the story, I'll skip the synopsis and share some facts about the movies author. Jean Parker Shepherd was born in Chicago in 1921 but raised in the Hessville area of Hammond, Indiana. He graduated from Hammond High School in 1939. He worked briefly as a mail carrier in a steel mill and earned his Amateur radio license at age 16. He attended IU Northwest and served in the Signal Corps during World War II. After service, he worked at WJOB radio in Hammond and later went on to broadcasting in Toledo, Cincinnati and New York.

Often compared to Mark Twain and James Thurber, Shepherd had a flair for spinning stories that tapped into the American psyche. The 1983 movie, "A Christmas Story," is based off a collection of stories from Shepherd's published writings, "In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash" and "Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories." Shepherd mused, "Now here's an example of the kind of humor that's in your life, you see. It's always in your life all the time, all the time, all the time. It's here--it's absolutely inescapable. Every place you look. There's an old photographers' axiom that says, 'There's a prize winning photo within five feet of you.' This is true. There is all the humor in all of mankind, all the sadness, all the greatness, all the gladness, and all the idiocy--it's within five feet of you. Just look around." And that is what he did in creating the plot for A Christmas Story. Shepherd was the real Ralphie Parker and is the voice of the narrator in the movie.

The beautifully functional stage and props
Elissa Horrell, the plays director, is a fifteen year veteran of the theater. As a confident stage actor, her captivating vocals and broad, quirky smile served her well in her dynamic appearances in the Flowertown Player's productions of "The Little Shop of Horrors" and "Bye, Bye Birdie." Debuting as a director, she admitted to being somewhat nervous sitting out front in the audience as a concerned observer instead of onstage as an participant. Afterward, you could see the smile of relief and sense of accomplishment with the opening night under her belt. I am sure, like all good directors, the hard work and pursuit for excellence will continue for the next two weeks with the help of her capable crew.

The lighting for this production was a challenge. Initially, when the lights were flashing on and off, I thought there might have been a problem with the lights during some scene changes. In the story, Ralphie drifts back and forth between real life and numerous fantasies where his parents and teacher behave exactly to his liking, praising his heroism and reveling in his wisdom. Transporting the audience into Ralphie's fantasy sequences is more easily pulled-off in a movie through editing than live on stage, which is trickier. The lighting shifts were the technique used to denote those transitions into the fantasy sequences along with quick costume changes.

One of the most memorable scenes of the play incorporated this technique. After saying "The word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word" which culminated into the soap-in-the-mouth punishment, Ralphie fantasizes his repentant parents groveling at his feet begging for forgiveness as he demonstrates the dangers of soap poisoning, going blind. The scene was one of Sam Daniels finer moments as the dreamer and schemer, Ralphie. A fan of the movie, playing Ralphie was a dream come true for Sam.

Ralpie's Mother, a patient parent with firm convictions, such as, the conviction that her son should not own an air rifle, is adeptly handled by Sarah Daniels--the real life mother of Sam Daniels. The mother-son duo has been seen on stage together a total of five times. The grumpy, good-hearted father, referred to as The Old Man, is played by Glen Orange who is no stranger to comedic roles. As a five year performer at Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre in Charleston, it was totally obvious Glen poured his expletive peppered soul into his character.

The predominantly young cast is packed with new to the stage performers. In his first appearance in a play, 8 year old Liam Hjerling fills the role as "I got to go pee" Randy, Ralphie's cute little brother. Scapegoat Schwartz and guinea pig Flick, Ralphie's two friends, are played by third-timer Brayden Harbert and Jonah Streff. First-timer Michaela Maenche plays Helen Weathers and second-timer Shannon Freeman plays Esther Jane Alberry. Caleb O'Neal stands in as the schoolyard tormentor of Ralphie and his friends, Scut Farcas.

Rounding out the cast with impressive acting achievements to her credit, Ralpie's teacher, Miss Shields, is played by Samantha Elkins--in my opinion, the embodiment of a teacher.

Last but not least, honors go to Chase Priest for his near perfect plot delivery as Ralph Parker, the older version of Ralphie and visible narrator offering a continuous stream of satirical commentary. "Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us," so said Ralph.

Do not miss Ralphie's three-pronged campaign for the Christmas gift of his dreams--the official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle. You will be amused at his attempts to persuade the adults around him that his cause is a righteous one despite their outcry he might shoot his eye out. The infamous frozen-flagpole-licking dare, the hideous fishnet leg lamp, the pink bunny suit, the visit to the department store Santa Claus, and "the most unthinkable" climatic ending are all there to give you the warm and fuzzies.

Purchase your tickets for A Christmas Story.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Once A Cornerstone Building And City Landmark--Now Just An Exclamation Point In Time

It's a typical six in the evening on Meeting Street between Market and Hassel Streets. Standing in the shadow of Charleston Place, out-of-towners and locals patiently wait for the street signals to change so they can continue on their way to the various eating establishments east, west, south, and north of the Market Street intersection. Just beyond Charleston Place, the usual growing crowd is beginning to gather just outside of Hyman's Seafood as potential dinner patrons check out the restaurant's menu and wait for open tables.

Across the way, on the other side of the street, the scene is quite different. There are no gathering crowds, just passersby making their way to their selected destinations. The Bank of America building occupies this stretch of real estate beginning at Pinkney and ending at Hayne Street.

This was not always the case. At one time, this now relatively quiet stretch of sacred real estate was a hub of activity, and if you were standing on Meeting Street looking across from the Hyman's building in 1890, you would be basking in the aura of Charleston's premier hotel of the day, the Charleston Hotel.

The Bank of America building was built on the property in 1991, and not without controversy. After a protracted public debate, the developers were permitted to reclaim the historic height and scale of the Charleston Hotel, but was not allowed to restore the original facade. The buildings concrete colonnade is a poor knockoff for the dramatic colonnade of the original hotel. "This new building says little about its famous predecessor, which became the precursor, if not the icon, for tall white columns in the American South," stated Henry de Saussure Copeland.

Although, the Bank of America building was not the only other occupant of 200 Meeting Street. Directly after the Charleston Hotel was ravaged by a wrecking ball in 1960, the Heart of Charleston Motor Hotel preceded the Bank of America structure from the 1960's to the 1990's. Nowhere near representing the architectural wonder that was the Charleston Hotel, it was said to be famous for it's restaurant and loyal breakfast customers.

The Charleston Hotel had been both a landmark and reference point for all commercial buildings that grew up around it. The most regrettable impact of the hotel's demolition was the loss of an important base line and reference point for how future buildings should be designed. When I look at the picture of the Heart of Charleston Motor Hotel, I wonder why the City planners were remiss in maintaining high standards in design and did not specify the money that built this architecturally inferior hotel to be used in a restoration of the iconic Charleston Hotel instead of allowing it to become an exclamation point in time?

The first Charleston Hotel stood for less than 2 years before it was destroyed shortly after it opened by the Great fire of 1838. It carried the distinction of being counted among the first major buildings to be constructed in the Greek revival style in America by the renowned German architect, Charles Friedrich Reichardt, known as the initiator and ultimately the most prolific builder of landmarks that would contribute to the character of the American South.

A second Charleston Hotel would rise from the ashes of the first. Charles Reichardt had moved on to other commissions. Nathaniel Potter, Reichardt's contemporary and understudy, was hired to oversee the design and construction of its replacement. As instructed, Potter gladly rebuilt the hotel exactly as it had been. The reconstruction made economic as well as historic sense. It reopened in 1839.

The 170-room Charleston Hotel proudly graced Meeting Street for over 120 years and was a cornerstone building near the Old Market area. Extending eastward 264 feet on Pinckney Street and 200 feet on Hayne Street, it was an imposing four stories high with 14 columns patterned after the columns of the Coragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens--the city's largest hotel. Made of stucco and brick, its architecture was antique with two large dining rooms and high ceilings throughout--one dining room was 96 by 36 feet. A 75 by 80 foot open courtyard surrounded on three sides by wooden balconies was at its center.

This Charleston Hotel would endure the winds the Great Carolina Hurricane of 1854 on September 7-9, the firestorm of the Great Fire of 1861, the merciless shelling of the City during the Civil War, the tumult of the Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886, and the fury of the Great Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893 on August 27-28. It survived the earthquake, but not unscathed. The center portion of the parapet of the hotel's block-long Corinthian colonnade had been hurdled to the sidewalk during the massive upheaval reportedly crushing two ornate gas lamps that flanked the entrance door.

In June of 1894, a new company, Cart and Davids, took ownership. $100,000 was spent on a renovation. The entire first floor was re-arranged, including a complete change in its Meeting Street front entrance, office and parlor. The veranda on the first floor was converted into a vestibule enclosed in plate glass windows with three entrances. The rotunda was remodeled and enlarged. New elevators were added, a large number of rooms on the upper floors were fitted with toilets and attached bathrooms, and the entire interior was re-carpeted, refitted, and refurnished. Its rate was $4 per day and upwards. Special rates made by week and month.

The Charleston Hotel finally bowed to the most unrelenting and merciless of the natural forces, time. After serving 122 years as a defining landmark and anchor to its part of the city, the history making columns were pulverized by the mindless wrecking ball. The only thing preserved was the wrought iron railings that were part of the old hotel's colonnade, rumored to be displayed at an office building constructed in the 1980's located on Meeting Street three blocks south of the hotels original sight.

When given the chance to replace the Charleston Hotel a third time, those in charge skipped the historic record and instead of reestablishing the benchmark for other buildings the Charleston Hotel served, they opted for something else. This reportedly was done in spite of an offer put on the table by private developers with the option of reconstructing the hotel's famous façade, which was rejected by the city's preservation experts. Instead, what rose on the site was the Heart of Charleston Motor Hotel and eventually, the Bank of America building.

Next time you are in Charleston, take a walk up Meeting Street to the front of Hyman's. Once there, close your eyes and do a "Somewhere in Time." Maybe, if you concentrate hard enough, upon opening your eyes, you may find yourself in 1886 dressed in a hoop skirt or a gentleman's suit of the day sipping on a mint julep and standing before Charleston's premier hotel of the day. (It certainly would help the transition--the mint julep that is).

Pay attention to the date and the time. Locate a copy of the newspaper of the day, the News and Courier. If it is August 30th, check into the Charleston Hotel--soak in the antiquity and ambience. Make sure you register for only a one night stay. If you reserve August 31st, at 9:50 pm you will be running out of a pitch-black hotel with the rest of the guests seeking to escape the toppling furniture and falling plaster. You will have just experienced the famous Great Charleston Earthquake, which jolted the Lowcountry like an alligator rolling its quarry.