As a city, we’re in a seminal period – one with the potential to broaden opportunity – or widen inequality. Where so many choices about our future rely on how we make sense of our past, right now.
Whether we choose to advocate for all of our neighborhoods, parks, gardens, and the memories they’re made of – or just some – relies on understanding that only when we share everyone's stories can we understand who we truly are – and make the vital decisions that move us all forward. Fail – and we lose an essential part of ourselves – and our city – that we can’t ever get back.
So, we make it our mission to ask questions and invite conversation. To challenge conventional thinking. To listen to everyone's memories and stories – and share them with the world. To collaborate with a diverse mix of citizens, public servants, organizations, and neighborhoods to ensure our city is a place we can all call home. When that happens, we honor the beautifully complicated character that is Charleston. We honor one another. We honor ourselves.
As an outcome of a study by the Carolina Art Association (now the Gibbes Museum of Art), Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) is incorporated as an educational, not-for-profit preservation organization. Frances R. Edmunds was named as its first director.
The first Festival of Houses is established to generate revenue for the organization and to educate the public about Charleston’s architectural heritage and the benefits of preservation. Later, the Festival earns a reputation as one of America’s oldest and most prestigious heritage tour programs, with 130 historic properties and more than 650 volunteers over the month-long tour each year.
HCF purchases the Nathaniel Russell House, c. 1808, one of the nation’s finest examples of early 19th century neoclassical architecture. The house opens to the public as a museum a year later. Recognizing the dwelling’s potential as an exhibition space, the Foundation begins procuring furnishings and decorative art by loan and purchase. The collection includes some of the most significant examples of 18th and 19th-century decorative and fine arts from America and abroad, including period furnishings crafted by early Charleston artisans.
HCF establishes the nation’s first Revolving Fund to rehabilitate the Ansonborough neighborhood. By buying a property, stabilizing it, selling it to a preservation-minded buyer, then reinvesting the proceeds to purchase another house in the neighborhood, HCF establishes a pioneering urban renewal and preservation initiative that continues to serve as a national model. By 1976, HCF has saved a six-block neighborhood, including 60 buildings, several of which were donated by generous supporters who recognized the Foundation’s ability to rehabilitate and preserve important historic structures..
HCF plays a key role in the development of the city’s Historic Preservation Plan of 1974. At the core of this plan is the most elaborate inventory and evaluation of historic structures (2,288 buildings) ever undertaken. One of the most significant results from this plan is a height ordinance to protect the integrity of historic streetscapes. In 2009, HCF was a co-recipient of an award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the revision of the 1974 plan. The revised plan examines social, economic and cultural issues affecting preservation and offers strategies for defining individual neighborhoods, addressing sprawl, gentrification, disaster management and the need for affordable housing.
HCF targets two uptown neighborhoods, Radcliffeborough and Elliottborough, for stabilization and a program of home ownership for low-to-moderate-income families.
HCF takes a lead role in discussions regarding the development of the hotel-convention complex that will become Charleston Place, an eight-story, 450-room hotel and convention center in the heart of downtown Charleston. HCF brings in nationally recognized architects to suggest design changes to make it more compatible with its historic environs. Careful planning and successful completion of this project will re-establish King Street, “Charleston’s weak, sick spine” according to Frances Edmunds, HCF’s first executive director, as the city’s most important commercial artery.
HCF purchases the Aiken-Rhett House, c. 1820, from The Charleston Museum to ensure it remains a house museum accessible to the public. The site serves as the nation’s most intact example of a 19th century urban townhouse complex with dependency buildings, including slave quarters, stables and privies. The buildings are conserved as they existed in 1858 during the residency of Gov. and Mrs. William Aiken.
HCF purchases the historic Captain James Missroon House, c. 1808, at 40 East Bay Street. When restoration is completed in 2001, the building will serve not only as the Foundation’s headquarters, but also as a state-of-the-art preservation and archival center for those interested in restoring historic structures and researching Charleston’s architectural history.
HCF is selected to present the loan exhibit at the 2011 Winter Antiques Show in New York. Grandeur Preserved: Masterworks Presented by Historic Charleston Foundation showcases objects from the Foundation’s outstanding collection of material culture as well as significant items from other leading Charleston institutions.
The Foundation is targeting areas such the North Central Neighborhood to help stabilize housing as the development pressures in the area are dramatically increasing. So, too, is the pressure to preserve the historic character of North Central and other neighborhoods facing escalating real estate values. Projects such as the Romney Urban Garden, established by HCF in partnership with Enough Pie and the New Israel Reformed Episcopal Church, are community-building spaces, helping preserve the area’s cultural character. To address the issue of escalating real estate values, which are in some instances forcing long-term residents from their homes, HCF has joined with the City of Charleston to establish the Palmetto Land Trust (PLT), providing $70,000 as seed money upon the occasion of HCF's 70th Anniversary. The PLT will insure housing affordability options are available within the City of Charleston.
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