Historic homes: Architectural treasures, lovingly restored

June 24, 2012 

  • A piece of history Though Columbia was established in 1786, much of its architectural history was lost to the Civil War and, much later, urban renewal. But the push to create neighborhood historic districts and capitalize on the old warehouse district in downtown Columbia has intensified in recent years. Deluxe condominiums have been created over old storefronts along Main Street Columbia. One big selling point: they’re within walking distance of ever-more vibrant cultural events that include art exhibitions, music in sanctuaries, art-house movies, theater and lectures. Since the mid-1960s, 14 neighborhoods have been designated as historic districts by the city of Columbia. They range from Granby (circa 1897-88), a working-class textile mill village; to University Hill (circa 1895 to 1940), which politicians, businesspeople and university faculty continue to call home; and Cottontown (circa 1910 to 1942), where a cemetery is a final resting place for Confederate soldiers and patients from the nearby mental hospital. In the town of Lexington, those who cherish historic homes have maintained a residential area in and around the Lexington County Museum, which specializes in antebellum life. Some of the homes on the northern edge of downtown date back nearly 200 years. Homes in what’s affectionately called The Avenues, in Cayce, are not officially designated historic — but the alphabet-named streets have the bungalows and big trees that provide a cozy charm.

Dawn Hinshaw

After 20 years of restoring, enlarging and furnishing their home, Paul and Deborah Livingston can relax.

Their century-old house is done.

“Well,” Deborah Livingston equivocated, “I don’t know that you ever really stop.”

Their cheerful-blue house, with a front porch in greeting distance of the sidewalk, was built in 1907. It is set along a shady street in Elmwood Park, a neighborhood where residents are loving caretakers of architectural treasures.

“Each house has an identity,” said Deborah Livingston, 55.

She and her husband work in community development, she at the city of Columbia and he at Midlands Technical College.

Paul Livingston, 61, is also a veteran member of Richland County Council. Their downtown neighborhood, within walking distance of Main Street, has attracted other political leaders as well in state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and Columbia Councilman Cameron Runyon.

In 1992, when the Livingstons moved in, their house was in “decent” condition. The city had condemned two houses down the street that were in danger of being torn down — a situation Paul Livingston said is inconceivable today.

The transition began in the mid-1970s, when the city provided $5,000 home improvement grants to encourage people to buy and rehabilitate houses in disrepair. Now Elmwood Park is one of 14 city neighborhoods where exterior changes must be approved by a citizen review board.

In a sign of just how far it has come, the downtown neighborhood held its 30th home and garden tour this spring.

“It’s a very cohesive, diverse community now,” Paul Livingston said.

Dawn Hinshaw writes about people, historic preservation and county government for The State.

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