The State spoke in depth with six folks who live and work in the Vista.
Here are their thoughts, in their own words, on some of their favorite memories, what makes the area so special, what they’re afraid the Vista could lose and what they’d like to see happen in the next 25 years.
On moving into the Vista
“When you look at Gervais Street in 1980 and you saw (then-Mayor) Kirkman Finlay’s renderings for what he thought it could look like and then you look at an article in the National Geographic – I believe it was 1963 or 1961 – they did a special on Highway 1 from Key West to Maine and used our section on Gervais Street as the ugliest portion of Highway 1 in the entire United States. That inflamed my love of the state. At that point, and I’m 34 or 35 by then, I’ve bonded with Columbia. I’ve bonded with South Carolina. ...I just felt tenderly toward our city to be held up as the ugliest portion because what I know of this city is that it has some of the most exquisitely wonderful, remarkably lovely people who live here.”
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Rosie Craig, resident and owner of M. Craig and Co.
“(The Vista) was our first choice. We knew we wanted to be downtown because ... we wanted to be in the middle of things. And at that point the Vista was on the rise. The power lines were still up and it was sketchy at night. It was, ‘You don’t want to walk out by yourself.’ But there are a lot of places you don’t want to walk out by yourself at night. So .... there was a giant window ... and we would just stand there and watch the comings and goings.”
Lorie Gardner, partner in Mad Monkey production company
“I was interviewing a creative director when we were doing the space down in the Craigs’ building and ... he was from Atlanta ... and I took him first to the space down the street, then I took him to our office off Stoneridge (Drive), and the first thing he said when we sat down in our offices over there was ‘If you hadn’t had shown me the other building (in the Vista), I wouldn’t have been interested in coming here.’”
Wayne Adams, owner of The Adams Group marketing firm
“We got our loan on a Friday the 13th, opened the doors that day as a business, and then we thought, ‘OK now we have to get clients.’ It was so exciting. ... We got a neon sign and put in our window.”
Tim Gardner, partner in Mad Monkey production company
“We would just go out and look at it. There it is. There is our sign. ... We finally outgrew that space – the shoebox. The bathroom was the only place you could go and be by yourself.”
“(Mayor Finlay) said when all of this was going down with Gervais Street, he said, ‘Rosemary ...’ He never called me Rose Marie. ... He said, ‘Rosemary, you really think you can stick your cup up to that big federal cornucopia in the sky and get some of that money down here for Gervais Street?’ And I said, ‘I sure do. Everybody else does it. Why can’t Columbia have a slice of the pie?’”
On favorite memories
I was “working late one night and I heard this crowd ...(an) overwhelmingly loud cheering that went on and on. It was the night that Carolina won the national (baseball) championship. The sound went right through the building. It was just all around. It was great.”
David Johnson, partner in Mad Monkey production company
“(One Sunday morning) Michael and I are sitting (on the rooftop) with our backs to the sun. We’re drinking coffee and reading the funny papers and Eric and Angela Nord called us and said, ‘I bet you think no one can see you up there.’ They lived on top of Motor Supply. ... Once I built the deck, my girlfriends and I would go up there and lay on our stomachs and take our tops off and sun up there because we’re on top of everything and didn’t think anyone could see anything. But all those towers on Main Street. ... It’s been awhile, but until we realized it wasn’t private that’s what we did.”
“In the early days it was kind of wild. ...I remember one night just kind of having a staff party. Someone was leaving. There were six of us dancing on the bar with scallop buckets on our heads.”
Eddie Wales, owner of Motor Supply Company
“I like the Artista Vista nights, where it just feels like a big cocktail party down here. And people coming into the space during those times and ... showing them our work and having wine with people you have never met before. It’s just like those ... progressive dinners. ...That’s when it feels like you live in a neighborhood and you’ve opened your house up to everyone in the neighborhood.”
“One of my favorite memories was when this guy (Max the dog) was about six or seven months old. I took him out for a walk and came back through the back way and went through the 808 Gallery with him and came across this piece of art that was beautiful. They had just mounted this show. I came in and got Lorie and said, ‘You have to see this.’ We went back and ended buying it. It was (an) Ethel Brody. Where else can you have that happen?”
On the pioneers of the Vista
“I would look at Marvin (Chernoff) and Luther Lee as two of the pioneers down here.”
“Clark with Trustus. Clark came in really early in the ’80s. Jim and Kay (Thigpen, at Trustus) worked with Marvin (Chernoff). I was an actor at Trustus when it was on Assembly Street. Then I moved out of state and came back. I remember driving down there in the ’80s ... and there were all these empty buildings ... and I remember thinking, ‘What are these guys thinking by moving down here.’ Then you walked into the space and it was incredible.”
“The (Lady Street) streetscaping. Our offices were down there in that area and everything was shaking and those guys – I just can’t help but think they enjoyed coming back and tearing the road up again and again. I have no idea why it took so long.”
“Assembly Street is like a magical barrier between downtown and the Vista.”
“Parking is still an issue. The city could do a much better job, whether it’s with signage or something, but that incredible parking garage over there (at Lincoln and Washington streets) – no one uses it.”
On Vista nightlife
“I’ll tell you who is out of control, and it’s the people over at the Woody. They are shagging. They are off the chain.”
“(Variety) is what makes it such a strong area. You can spend an evening here. You can go for drinks somewhere, then go to a restaurant and go to something else afterwards. There’s a lot going on, and they feed off each other. That creates the atmosphere you’re looking for.”
On what makes the area unique
It has “the feel of a city, lots of people, lots of wonderful old buildings and stuff going on ... (It) feels happy to me. ... Every success for every business brings me personal joy. As a member and officer with the (Vista) Guild, I am a born hostess. I cannot be hospitable enough to everyone who comes here for whatever reason they can. … whether that’s in a personal setting, in my home, or in this part of town or on behalf of this wonderful city.”
“The owners of this (Lady Street) building made a conscious effort to create a reasonably priced space for artists. ... And that’s how the 80808 gallery (Vista Studios space) came about. And that’s what I think is different about the Vista than anywhere else in Columbia.
“You have pioneers like (architects) Dick (Lamar) and Richard (Moulton) who came in and said this is great office space, but this is more than that. This should be a destination for people who aren’t necessarily going to have the money to pay for a large storefront or even a small artist space. Let’s make that available to them. There was a lot of that kind of movement and that’s why there’s still so much of that here.
“Now I will say that, in the past few years, the rents are starting to go up and I think people are ... starting to scatter a little bit. And that’s my concern about this area.”
“We are not Charleston. But a lot of my dear friends in Charleston say Columbia is just like Charleston without the water, and I love that because we do have a beautiful historic fabric throughout the city and you can’t move forward until you know who you are. The way you know who you are is by what happened before you came along.”
“I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons from the Vista and I hope that those can be applied to Main Street because ... any time a place gets to be popular or exciting, the character of the place can come into play. And I hope that, especially here, it retains that because you’re just now getting to where you get a lot of foot traffic, and if you start getting these big (retail and restaurant) players in, I don’t know how that’s going to affect that. You don’t want to be an outdoor mall. You have to have a good balance.”
“Developers should be vigilant of this area. Protective almost. Because it’s a balance. Right now, it feels like it’s almost at a tipping point.
“I think people need to be concerned about what kind of businesses move in here and what kind move out. Not to the point where you’re trying to micromanage the exact balance, but if a large corporate interest moves into the Vista, I think shop owners should be discussing it and talking about how it affects the character of the area.”
“That’s one thing the Vista has maintained. It has a really good balance of artists and people who come to see art and shag and drink or go see a show at Trustus.”
“I like to hold up the fact that we are this way today for some good reasons. For holding some standards, otherwise known as guidelines. (McDonald’s and Publix) are two really good examples of corporations coming in and respecting what’s going on and not trying to bring us a suburban model that would ultimately make us just like suburbia, because that’s not why people are here. And that’s huge.”
“Publix is a great example of taking the Confederate Printing Press building and turning it into something that’s useful and viable. The Vista for whatever reason, has a strong core with people like Rosie (Craig) and the Vista Guild, who have been very protective of this area and who are looking to renovate instead of knocking down and starting over.
“So that’s what I love. The charm of the Vista. More than really any other place in the city, (people) have embraced the old and transformed it. The train station ... the restaurants along there – I think it’s really important that we continue on that line. Embrace the old, embrace the character of this area.”
“I would like to see us attract more retail and creative businesses. We have such a beautiful core of that. We have enough bars and restaurants. We’ve got a grocery store now. We’ve got banks. We need more housing. I swear I wish we had a (dry) cleaners here. It’s the density thing. If you have everything you need within a couple of blocks, you don’t have to use a car anymore.”
“No. 1, (we need) more retail. It’s very important that we strive to have a diverse neighborhood. And that diversity needs to include restaurants, bars, retail, residents and the arts. ... We need retail to come in here to attract that kind of walking customer and that leads to the next most important challenge for us, and that’s to make the area more pedestrian friendly, and things are happening for that.”
On pivotal moments in the Vista’s history
“I think Publix was a gamechanger. It made a neighborhood out of this area.”
“In ’82, there was a buzz about putting the train tracks underground. The tracks up on Lincoln that I had arrived in Columbia in as a child – on the Silver Meteor in 1950 – those tracks still had trains on them. We still had trains coming through here. ... It was those tracks going underground that precipitated our purchase of 911 Lady Street. Because Michael’s (Craig) astute reasoning was that once those tracks go, our chance of buying anything in this neighborhood would be slim to none.”
On the next 25 years
“If the river area gets its act together ... I think this could be a reasonable residential community with businesses as well. ... Turn this in to sort of an urban area that still stays alive at night. One of the things that is happening in the Vista is, it used to go dark at 5 or 6 (p.m.) and now it’s not. It’s awake, and it feels like a city.”
“As for the future, it has enormous potential. You’re going to get one shot. And if they screw up the riverfront, there’s nowhere else to go with it. If it is done correctly and with passion and vision, this place has unlimited potential. ... I know the city folks have visited San Antonio and some other places. All you have to do is go up to Raleigh and see the bike paths and how they’ve connected the paths.”
“There are some similarities to the West End in Greenville, ... although they are much farther along than we are. They’ve done a really good job with that, and I’d like to see ours go that way. You wonder why we haven’t done more with the river. That’s where the Vista really needs to shine.”
“Looking at how to join these areas. ... Huger (Street) is giant. It’s like an ocean between there and the river, so planning on how to get crosswalks built to bridge literally those areas between here and Main Street. There’s no reason that the Vista and Main Street can’t be one continuous flow of neighborhood to neighborhood.”
“I’d like to see more landscaping. I don’t know how much more you can do on Gervais, but I would like to see more of that.”
“If you think about what Greenville has and how they married the river all the way up, and it’s accessible and they have foot traffic that can go underneath the road, over the river. It invites you. It’s like a big open arm: come down to the river kind of thing. I believe if we could join the Vista with the river then yes, it has unlimited potential.”
Compiled by Mindy Lucas