Motorists driving past the historic Whaley House in downtown Columbia may have noticed the almost 120-year-old building that once housed a branch of Dunbar Funeral Home is getting a facelift.
The new paint and exterior work being done on the white Queen Anne-style home is part of a $4 million restoration effort being undertaken by the University of South Carolina through a unique partnership with the Historic Columbia Foundation.
The home was built in 1893 at the corner of Gervais and Pickens streets to serve as a residence for W.B. Smith Whaley, a designer of area textile mills. The house and surrounding property was donated to the foundation by Dunbar Funeral homes corporate owners, Stewart Enterprises, in 2011.
When finished, the revitalized home and property three blocks from the State House will be home to the universitys 17-year-old Childrens Law Center, a move that will extend USCs new law school planned for the opposite corner across Gervais Street.
Were part of the law school, said Harry Davis Jr., director for the Childrens Law Center. So this will be a natural extension of the campus.
Founded in 1995, the Childrens Law Center began as a way to train professionals such as lawyers, guardians ad litem, judges and law enforcement officers involved with child protection and advocacy issues.
But over the years, as the center began to grow and expand its mission, demand for its training and program expertise has outstripped what the organization is able to offer.
Housed in two administrative buildings on the USC campus, the center lacks onsite meeting or classroom space. To adapt, staffers have borrowed or rented facilities, which often takes programs out of the city or even the region, Davis said.
With about 14,000 square feet of space including a mix of both large and small rooms, the Whaley House and its adjoining outbuilding was ideally laid out for a training center, Davis said.
Whats more, the centrally located and highly visible house will provide a recognizable, easily accessible place for those coming to Columbia to take part in training, he said.
The center will be able to account for 1,500 heads in beds annually in the city of Columbia, Davis said.
The dean of USCs law school, Robert Wilcox, said the proximity of the Childrens Law Center to the law school will have the effect of creating an even larger law campus one that will run from Gervais down to Pendleton Street, to the National Advocacy Center, where federal prosecutors are trained.
It creates a geographic cluster in a way that builds energy, he said.
Robin Waites, executive director for Historic Columbia Foundation, said the organization has been pleased with the partnership with the university and its efforts to preserve the building.
The soft yellow color the house is being painted replacing the white it has been for decades is an example of how the university is working to stay true to the homes past.
Its an appropriate color for that time period, she said.
Historic Columbia holds the title to the property and will transfer ownership once interior restoration efforts are completed sometime within the next few years, she said.
It certainly is an iconic building for Gervais Street but really for Columbia more broadly, she said. Having a building with that kind of presence on one your major corridors says that in Columbia we care about history.
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.