City makes ‘formal effort’ to save historic structures

Buildings with ties to black history on list of sites Historic Columbia Foundation seeks to preserve

dhinshaw@thestate.com February 1, 2013 

  • Eligible sites for local landmarks At least nine Columbia buildings associated with African-American history would qualify as local landmarks, according to the city’s preservation office and the Historic Columbia Foundation. They are: • A.P. Williams Funeral Home, 1808 Washington St. • Florence C. Benson Elementary, 226 Bull St. • Carver Theatre, 1519 Harden St. • Harriet M. Cornwell Tourist House, 1713 Wayne St. • George Elmore House, 907 Tree St. • Palmetto Compress and Warehouse Co. Building, 612 Devine St. • Richard Samuel Roberts House, 1717 Wayne St. • Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital, 2200 Hampton St. • Wesley United Methodist Church, 1725 Gervais St. Source: Historic Columbia Foundation

Nine buildings significant to Columbia’s black history are included on a list of landmark eligible structures that preservation advocates are urging owners to protect.

Later this month — Black History Month — the city and Historic Columbia Foundation will contact the owners of select homes, businesses and churches to encourage the preservation or restoration of their old structures.

It represents the city’s first “concerted and formal effort” to notify property owners that the city considers their buildings to have special value because of their history, preservationist Amy Moore said.

Those interested in having their buildings listed as local landmarks may become eligible for tax breaks, grants or low-interest loans, based on a proposal submitted to Columbia City Council’s arts and historic preservation committee.

The effort grew out of the demolition this summer of George Elmore’s 5- and 10-cent store along Gervais Street, an unassuming little storefront knocked down by First Nazareth Baptist Church. A short time later, the church dropped a zoning request for new construction at the site and has not revived it, zoning administrator Brian Cook said.

The 1940s-era store was important to the city’s history because it helped tell the story of a civil rights pioneer who suffered personal and economic reprisals because of his willingness to fight all-white primary elections.

“There is a great deal of interest in historic preservation, and concern over the loss of buildings that have significance to the community,” Moore said. “We would all like to be sure we’ve made a concerted effort to preserve those buildings, if we can.”

City Councilman Cameron Runyan said a second controversy — the proposed demolition of the Palmetto Compress and Warehouse Co. building — highlighted the need for an objective process. Palmetto Compress is the last original building left in Ward One, an old African-American neighborhood.

In the next two months, Runyan added, the committee also will finalize a proposal for a “demolition delay” — a policy to identify select historic buildings that could not be torn down without a review. The other members of the committee are Brian DeQuincey Newman and Sam Davis.

“What I’m trying to do is use that energy to create something positive for the future ... so we don’t lose another Elmore Store,” said Runyan, who chairs the city’s arts committee.

Preservation advocate Gloria James was encouraged Thursday to hear about the dual moves.

“We need to do a better job of letting people know about the buildings that are significant,” said James, who grew up in Waverly during the Jim Crow era.

“It sounds like things are going in the right direction.”

James said preserving the buildings preserves the history, too. “Makes it live,” she said. “Brings it alive.”

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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