Minimally Moorish

The distinctive Farmers and Merchants Bank in historic #Charleston features a very unusual facade style that is typically described as “Moorish”, and details such as its   horseshoe arches are commonly assumed to be an Islamic creation spread into southern Europe by the conquering Moors. This is demonstrably untrue. There are numerous existing examples of horseshoe arches in ancient Catalonian and Byzantine structures that were built long before those areas were conquered and influenced by Islam. The Islamic conquest that speed from Arabia in the 7th century would eventually engulf the Middle East, North Africa, much of Southeastern Europe, and most of Spain. The conquerors borrowed extensively from earlier architectural designs, most notably Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which was built a century before Islam began as a Greek Orthodox Church. Not that borrowing others’ ideas is a bad thing, and in fact, it was America’s extensive borrowing of styles that were popular in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries that gives Charleston its grand look today. But although brought to us largely by English and Scottish Christians, Charleston’s historic architecture is based neither on European or Christian concepts, but largely the multi-theistic ancient Romans and Greeks. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Farmers and Merchants Bank

Posthumous Pinckney

One of the saddest losses in the history of #Charleston was the burning of the Charles Pinckney mansion in the   great fire of 1861. The grand Georgian-Palladian structure was finished in 1745 for Charles and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, largely built with the fortune they made in indigo, whose production Eliza revolutionized at the family plantation along the Stono River by devising methods that made the process more efficient. One of their three children born in the house was Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who would go on to sign the Constitution. The family leased the house to several Royal Governors, and the structure was commandeered by the British during the Revolution, only to return to the family by the 1820’s, after the Pickneys had turned over former creekside property to the city to be used as the City Market that still is there today.  The house featured local brick that was “rouged” by adding iron oxides to the kilning process, as well as classically symmetrical  Palladian features such as a two-story pilaster facade and belt course. The house stood on what is now the Southwest corner of East Bay and Guignard streets. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Pinckney Mansion

Genuine Gordon

The Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in #Charleston has a very distinctive look at history. The structure was begun in 1810, and was designed by the Scottish-born brothers James and John Gordon, who also built Charleston’s Second Presbyterian Church and First Scots Presbyterian Church. One distinction of the churches is that they have towers, but no spire, and although the Gordons were master carpenters, they did not have formal architectural training and apparently did not fully comprehend the complex details of a towering steeple. The Church was originally called St. Paul’s Cathedral, and was unofficially know as The Planter’s Church because at the time it was built, many planters lived in houses in the vicinity that during that era faced the cooling breezes of the Ashley River. In 1949, the congregation of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church merged with St. Paul’s, and the cathedral has since affiliated with the Anglican Church. The original tower bell was donated to the Confederacy during the Civil War, and replacement bells were not reinstalled until 1998. And when being installed, contractors realized why Gordon churches had no steeples, because the tower was not sufficiently able to handle the load, and had to be reinforced to handle the bells. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul

Puzzling Portico

The St. Julian Ravenel House on East Battery Street has one of the most unusual looks and stories in historic #Charleston #SC. The 1840’s structure was built with a two-story colonnaded portico which came crashing down in the 1886 earthquake, and one of the building’s parts, a Corinthian capital, seemed to have been lost. Years later in the 1950’s a hurricane hit Charleston uprooting one of the trees in front of the house, and up through the tree roots came the missing capital, which had hit the ground with such force that in buried underneath. Apparently all the original parts still exist and there has been speculation that the grand old house may one day be put back together again. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Missing Portico

Corinthian Confusion

A popular detail from the mid-19th century in historic #Charleston was the addition of colonnades topped by the Corinthian Order, considered the highest level  and most spectacular design. Based on the elaborate Greek details from ancient buildings, the Corinthian capital -the top section of the column – was typically in the pattern of drooping Acanthus leaves. But a more intricate version, as pictured here at the 1850-era John Hume Lucas House on Rutledge Avenue, was the capital featuring both Acanthus and water leaves known as the Tower of the Winds capital in architecture. What is interesting is that the real Tower of the Winds, standing in Athens, Greece since around 50 BC, does not feature this type of capital. Instead, it came from the monument of Lysicrates, built some 300 years earlier, and also still standing. Drawings of its details were first published in England in 1762, and because the earlier building resembled the more famously known Tower of the Winds, an understandable misidentification was made. Admittedly, Tower of the Winds sounds more catchy than Lysicrates, so presumably none of the ancient Greeks would be offended.  <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Tower of the Winds capitals”

Illustrative Iron

Among the most charming details in historic #Charleston are its wonderful wrought iron gates. There are gates dating as early as the 1720’s done in the fashion of working iron by hammer and anvil into delicately decorative shapes. Wrought is a metal that is made up of iron, iron silicates and carbon. The carbon content of wrought iron is much lower than in other forms of iron and steel and the silicates are higher, which allows for a combination of elasticity and strength. All wrought iron in Charleston was imported, and the most sought-after form in the 19th century ws Swedish bar iron, forged in Swedish mills with a process that gave the iron considerable durability. Wrought iron was so strong, in fact, that during the Civil War, cannon barrels made of cast iron were strengthened by heating wrought iron rings that were placed over the cannon barrel and cooled to seal a powerful layer to keep the cannon from bursting during   firing.  <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Wrought Iron

Steeple Study

Historic #Charleston, SC is famous for its steepled skyline, and features a variety of architectural styles in these that include English Renaissance Revival, Gothic Revival, Georgian Palladian, Romanesque Revival and Richardson Revival. The term steeple comes from Old English “steap”, meaning lofty, and these are indeed, with the highest being the 254-foot version at St. Matthews Lutheran Church. The steeple pictured here is St. Philip’s Anglican Church, and displays all the classic parts of the steeple, which not all in Charleston have. At the base, with the round window, is the Tower, above that the Belfry, where bells ring through the louvers, and above that the Clock, then the Lantern, where lights were typically shown, then at the top, the Spire. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Classic Steeples

Palladio’s Portico

One of the most striking features of the classical architecture in #Charleston is the multi-columned portico. Dozens and dozens of magnificent structures are adorned with them, adding greatly to their visual appeal. The appeal has transcended centuries, and was first created by the ancient Greeks and copied later by the Romans, and the term portico comes from the Italian word for porch. Typically two-story in height and featuring four or six columns, the portico gives any building a look of grandeur. It was the beauty of the ancient buildings that inspired Italian architectural historian Andreas Palladio in the 16th century, and he published four books of architecture with intricate details about the classic Greek and Roman designs. These works were later published in 18th century England, and the classical style became all the rage there in the 17 and 1800’s, and thus on to America. Few Americans ever knew of Andreas Palladio, but so many over the years have greatly enjoyed the aesthetic that he revived and stands so grandly throughout Charleston today. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”The Portico”

Jeopardized Joe

The Joseph Manigault House is an elegant museum house in the Wraggborough section of historic #Charleston. The grand house was considered a garden villa when it was finished in 1803 in an elegant Adam style, and originally overlooked open lands that now are crowded with buildings. Located North of Calhoun Street in what was once considered the “neck” of the Charleston peninsula, the house and the area fell on hards times after the Civil War, when much of the area was abandoned and became a low-income section where housing projects and inexpensive commercial buildings took over the landscape. The Manigault House was converted into an apartment building but the early 1900’s, and was in dilapidated condition and considered for demolition when the Standard Oil Company bought the property in 1922, and converted part of the house as a filling station for the new wave of automobiles. Put up for auction in 1933, the Manigault House was purchased by the Charleston Museum, which raised money for its restoration during World War II by leasing it out as a USO club for women in the military. Eventually restored, the Manigault House is famed for its open floor plan and elegant gardens today. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Joseph Manigault House

Skewered Skyline

The People’s Building is quite an odd sight in old #Charleston, standing awkwardly above the graceful city skyline at its 126 feet of garish yellow Stoney Landing brick. The 8-story building was supposed to be the wave of the future when it was finished in 1911, part of Mayor Robert Goodwyn Rhett’s attempt to bring Charleston out of the doldrums after the Civil War. He was on the board of the People’s Bank on Broad Street, and the bank became the basis for the People’s Bank Building, as it was originally called. Sadly, the only redeeming quality of the building was a roof-line cornice that made it look similar to the Flatiron Building in Manhattan, but the cornice was damaged in the 1938 hurricane, and the cheapskate owners refused to restore it, and it became the eyesore of downtown Charleston that it is still today. Restoring the cornice might help, as would painting the yellow brick or stuccoing it. But in true penny-pinching Charleston fashion, the People’s Building remains an ugly anomaly in an otherwise gracefully scenic city. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt= “The Peoples’Building”