Friday, June 10, 2011

A Charleston Icon Of The Past-The Charleston Hotel

Charleston Hotel
Charleston, like many other cities in America, has both joyously celebrated and tragically suffered through changes inflicted either by planned design or forces beyond its control.

Time, the most unrelenting force, mercilessly moves in only one direction and either you seize the moment and prepare for the next or you end up a "decaying American city", likened to a "poisoned ecosystem", doomed to becoming a ghost town. (No pun intended, Charleston lives off of its ghosts.) Joe Riley, mayor of Charleston, unflatteringly characterized the downtown district by those words, and then, seized the moment. Charleston Place rose from a huge, sandy lot where a JCPenney once stood. The Holy City celebrated and was reborn.

Charleston has on various occasions been tried and tested by the uncontrollable forces wielded by nature in form of earth, wind, and fire. An earthquake devastated the city on August 31, 1886 damaging 2,000 of its buildings. Three-quarters of the homes in the historic district sustained damage of varying degrees when Hurricane Hugo struck the city September, 1989 causing over $2.8 billion in losses. Five major fires have been documented throughout its history, which occurred in 1740, 1778, 1796, 1838, and 1861. Through these upheavals, Charleston licked its wounds and rebounded fairly quickly to become what it is today, one of the most popular destinations to visit.

City icons have been systematically dismantled and others have risen in their place. In recent years, residents watched as the two aged, stately bridges traversing the Cooper River gracefully met their planned demise and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge ascended in their place - becoming the second longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It now stands in the Charleston skyline as a shining beacon of progressive evolution. In early spring, tens of thousands descend upon it for the Cooper River Bridge Run to tread their way into the very heart of Historic Charleston.

Some icons of the past are now only footnotes in history and few Charlestonians are around to even recall where they once stood. They can only be seen in places containing the city archives or photos floating around the Internet, and only if you are looking. The Charleston Hotel was one such icon. It proudly graced Meeting Street for over 120 years and was a cornerstone near the Old Market area. I only happened to stumble upon it while searching through old pictures of Charleston. It carried the distinction of being counted among the first major buildings to be constructed in the Greek revival style in America.

A compelling part of the Charleston Hotel's story revolves around a little known fact due to a lack of a photographic record - there were two Charleston Hotels. The original Charleston Hotel went up in smoke along with a large section of the city’s Ansonborough neighborhood in the famous fire of 1838. It stood less than two years. The second rose from its ashes but in 1960, it met the wrecking ball. Some of the iron works that were part of the old hotel's decor is rumored to be displayed at other places in Charleston. Its address was 200 Meeting Street.
Bank of America

When you are walking in the area of Hymans Restaurant, look across the street. The Bank of America building occupies the sacred ground where the Charleston Hotel once previously stood 52 years ago. The Bank of America building was built in the early 1990's. 

While standing at the front of Hymans, close your eyes and do a "Somewhere in Time." Maybe, if you concentrate hard enough, upon opening your eyes you will find yourself in 1840 dressed in a hoop skirt or a gentleman's suit of the day sipping on mint julep. It certainly would help the transition, the mint julep that is.

No comments: