288 King Street
288 King Street in Charleston, SC is a three-story commercial structure on the main commercial corridor in Charleston. The rehabilitation of the property represents an innovative rehabilitation solution to structural problems that many professionals in the city considered unsolvable. The building façade has been preserved and the building put back into service as a vibrant element of the Charleston Old and Historic District.
The building was constructed in 1838 by George Miller, a local merchant. It replaced an earlier building on the lot which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1838. On one of the main commercial corridors in the city, the lot was a prime location to rebuild. The building is a typical nineteenth century three-story commercial structure with party walls on either side and a prominent façade and storefront facing the street. The building initially served as a dry goods store, drugstore, and a branch store for the Masonic Hall Bazaar. In 1883, John Henry Steinmeyer purchased the building and remodeled it, giving the façade its Italianate details. As the number of commercial buildings on King Street grew, contemporary and flashy facades were an important way to draw customers. Steinmeyer’s improvements included ornate window surrounds, a heavy cornice with brackets, prominent belt course, and decorative Italianate vents above the third-story windows.
The building continued to house dry goods businesses and other retail stores well into the mid-twentieth century. As new businesses moved in, slight remodels were completed at the storefront and in the first-floor retail space to better sell their wares. In the early twentieth century as a series of drug stores occupied the building, a leaded glass transom above the storefront was added. Additional changes in the mid-twentieth century would replace the storefront windows but few other changes occurred to the exterior of the building. By the 1970s the building was leased to a restaurant and the property remained a series of restaurants until 2016.
Unfortunately, in 2016, the façade of the building became a structural hazard. The building had been seriously damaged in the Earthquake of 1886, and after almost 200 years the original earthquake repairs were compromised. Additionally, the various storefront changes severed many of the structural connections between the façade and building. By 2016 the entire front façade was separating from the rest of the structure and moving into King Street. Building owner Bob Milani and his consultants called the City of Charleston and the premises were immediately vacated on account of life-safety concerns. Some local preservationists and structural experts thought the façade was beyond repair.
Milani held out hope that the façade could be retained and turned to ADC Engineering, Bill Huey Architects and Renew Urban contractors to creatively problem-solve in this emergency. The first solution involved the addition of a concrete and I-beam structure to support the façade while the long-term stabilization work could be performed. Large, open concrete forms were placed in the sidewalk and street to provide protection to King Street pedestrians. After this emergency stabilization, major preservation and rehabilitation work began - historic fabric was painstakingly removed and protected while new structural elements were built within the existing building envelope to ensure the building’s structural security. This new endoskeleton involved enormous and exceptionally heavy beams that had to be inserted into the structure with the use of the largest crane available on the East Coast. The historic facade was then fastened to the new I-beam structure. The windows were replaced with windows that better matched the historic precedents.
The property’s historic fabric was delicately returned to the building and the building was fully redeveloped, incorporating more usable rental space. The ground level retail space now houses a shoe retailer. The new storefront was designed to honor the historic precedent and includes hand-painted signage on the glass and the original brass sign plates returned to the wall of the building. The penny-tile flooring at the main entrance was replaced in kind. The most striking feature of the storefront is the meticulously repaired leaded-glass transom with replacement glass blocks to match where needed. The historic south entrance door was retained.
The property’s upper two floors, previously and exclusively used for storage for decades, were rehabilitated into four, market-rate apartments. A skylight on the top floor was restored, allowing the interior of the apartments to receive additional natural light. The restoration of the upper floors has added valuable usable square footage to the building, as well as bringing more residential life back to King Street.
The extensive rehabilitation of 288 King demonstrates that with a committed owner, creative thinking and a dedicated team, even some of the most serious preservation issues can be solved. The project help retain a valuable contributing building in the Charleston Old and Historic District. King Street is one of the major economic drivers and attractions of the city, and the rehabilitation of 288 King allows a unique historic property to provide retail and living space for decades to come.