Posted: April 12, 2022
For over a year now, HCF staff have been meeting with members of Evening Post Industries, Liberty Senior Living, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, and LS3P Architects, to review plans for a 7-story, 145-unit senior living facility at the terminus of Columbus at King Street. At the heart of this development is the humble Art Deco-influenced façade of a 1930s storefront at 609 King Street. The initial proposals heard in the final weeks of 2020 called for the demolition of this unassuming historic building.
Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society, and members of the public all spoke up in opposition to the demolition, and it was covered heavily by local media outlets. It is the last historic storefront on this block of King Street, and an important testimony to the social history of the diverse community that lived and worked in the neighborhood once known as “Little Jerusalem.” Thanks to public support and the BAR review, the demolition application was denied and the building has been saved.
The easy knee jerk reaction to this project would be to focus on the perceived negatives of the large new development, its scale and height, the proposed demolition, etc. Proposed renderings of yet another tall building downtown are enough to throw many people into fits, not to mention leveling a historic structure along the way. It’s easy to jump on the obstructionist bandwagon, but there is a larger and more important prize at the core of this development: senior living facilities in the heart of the peninsula.
Again, thanks to the preservation organizations, the BAR, and members of the public, the historic building was saved. To the developers’ credit, they have taken painstaking measures to incorporate the old storefront into the design and programming of their project. The historic façade will be relocated about 50 feet to the south and reincorporated into the new structure as a storefront, maintaining its original use, allowing an opportunity to interpret this important chapter in upper King Street’s history and paving the way for the new senior living facility.
Over the many months of BAR meetings and zoom calls with the development team, Historic Charleston Foundation’s preservation staff became very familiar with the design direction of the project. From the beginning we had serious concerns over the height of the project, particularly along Spring Street, and the rear portion of the development that faces St. Philip Street. The BAR and development teams recognized our concerns and incorporated many of HCF’s comments into the most current design, including reduction of the height and mass along Spring and St. Philip Streets, which helps provide greater relief to historic structures in the Cannonborough Elliotborough neighborhood.
The King Street elevations were always the intended focal point of the project. The large central tower and cupola are meant to be reminiscent of the greatly missed Charleston Orphan House, which was demolished in 1956 to make way for a Sears department store on Calhoun Street. We agreed that the King Street elevations and the central tower were a high quality design, adding to the Charleston skyline and providing a striking architectural feature to the terminus of Columbus Street.
Regarding the projects intended use, the first important bit to note is that with Charleston’s growing population, senior care facilities are being pushed farther and farther out into the suburbs. These senior care and assisted living facilities are often farther away from individual’s families, doctors, and the neighborhoods and communities in which they spent their lives. A place for senior citizens to age in place in an urban setting is desperately needed on the peninsula, especially as the percentage of senior citizens will be growing by 20% over the next decade.
According to Patrick Allen and Tim Walsh from Liberty Senior Living, the proposed King Street development is actually one of the company’s smaller facilities. The King Street location will house 140-145 units. In comparison, one of their facilities in Raleigh has 214 units.
The King Street facility will have assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, and independent living housing options. There are also numerous in-house amenities for residents including 3 dining facilities, healthcare, club rooms, lecture halls, fitness center, and specialized care.
While this project has been a source of heated debate and reflection architecturally, it will provide a much needed resource for Charlestonians who wish to age in place as part of their urban community. While it’s easy to get caught up in the fervor against large developments, we have to carefully examine the greater good for our city. And while we grit our teeth waiting for more hotels and massive apartment complexes, projects like this that can greatly benefit the livability and sustainability of our community sometimes need support. Preservation is not always about architecture. It’s about people, culture, and keeping a place livable for those who call it home.