Folder 02: Public Opinion Article

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    Public Opinion Key to Preservation OfLocalBeauty, Architect Hods The paper pubished beow was written by Albert Simons and read by Mrs. J. V. Niesen, Jr., on December 1 before the Charleston branch of the American Association of University Women. By Albert SIMONS It is indeed a great privilege to present before your organization some of the civic problems which are perhaps more obvious to an architect than to men in other waks of life. These are questions which have but itte emotiona appea and cannot be expected to enfame the popuar imagination; yet they are quite basic and worthy of the consideration of the discipined minds of educated men and women. It is my confidence in your enightened Public spirit that embodens me to crave your interest in these matters. We ive in a practical age and a democratic age and only those arts which affect the daiy ives of the majority of our feow citizens can caim for ong the serious attention of busy men and women. Of a the mutifarious arts with which human ingenuity is concerned, none affect our daiy surroundings more than architecture, andscape architecture, and the reated art of city planning. That each of these arts has something of more than casua value to contribute to the welfare of our community, I hope to set forth this afternoon. We have heard it repeated so often that Charleston is unique among American cities for its charm and oveiness, that to most of us who ive here the year around its reiteration is commonpace, if not boring. Yet the most mundane will admit that these highy praised qualities represent not only an esthetic value but a tangibe commercial asset. A decade ago only a few of us were, aware of the worth of this treasure but in recent years, -thanks to the educationa infuence of the American wing of the metropolitan Museum, and of the Rockfeer restoration of Williamsburg, and the financia return from our increasing tourist trade, most of us are conscious of the necessity of preserving Charleston. Harmony Through Centuries But how? The Society for the Preservation of old Dweings has done, and is doing yeoman"s service for the community in this fied and deserves everyone"s interest and support. The scope of their efforts must of necessity be limited to directing Public opinion, for they have not at their disposa the materia resources to rescue every old buiding in danger of demoition. The case histories of the cities of the old Word are not too reassuring for the advocates of unimited preservation. In Rome I know of hardy more than two or three important buildings which have survived from the age of the Emperors and are still being used by the Romans of today. I do not refer, of course, to tombs or to those in ruins, but to we-preserved structures ike the tepidarium of the Baths of Diocetian, now the Church of Santa Maria degi Angii and the j plantheon, now the Church of Santa I Maria Rotundo. Both of these have been much atered and despoied and would be scarcey recognized by their imperia buiders. This has happened in spite of the fact that the sentiment of the Roman citizens has aways been conservative and that they have been Sincerely opposed to change. The Romans, for exampe, believed that the sou of the great architect, Bramante, would never find peace in Paradise because he had caused to be destroyed a rickety and decrepit eary Christian basiica to make room for his word-famous Cathedra of St. Peter"s. Not even the weath, the tempora nor the spiritua power of the Popes could stay the disappearnce of the Rome of the Empire and of the Midde Ages and its utimate dispacement by the present city of the Renaissance and modern times. Yet Rome has remained the Eterna City because it has maintained its spiritua and cultural ties with its past. A paace of the Sixteenth century does not look out of place beside a church of the Thirteenth or a moudering arch of the Second century. Harmony with theLocalscene prevails and the past and the present are in accord. This is sedom the case with us: our cheaper dweings and most of our commercial buildings might just as we be found in Detroit or os Angees, so devoid are they of anything resembingLocalsignificance. However, I would ike to invite your appreciative attention to the new Be telephone buiding on St. Phi- in street, designed by Hentz, Ader amp; Schutze of Atanta, as a highy efficient modern buiding graciousy in accord with its surroundings. I hope that we may detect in this buiding the beginning of a more ibera and enightened poicy in those responsibe for our commercial arcihtecture. Architecture is not aone the responsibiity of architects, but is the joint creation of the architect and of his community. If Sir Christopher Wren himsef ived in Charleston today, he would be unable to give Charlestonians any better buildings than they wanted and were wiing to have. The greatest assurance for a future architecture comparable with that of our past is a simiar critica appreciation among aymen as existed in this country among our gentry in the Eighteenth and eary Nineteenth centuries, when the buildings we admire most were created. Thomas Jefferson, though he empoyed a number of professiona architects on his various projects, knew a great dea about architecture and was able to coaborate inteigenty and hepfuy with his technical advisers. We have no ack of competent architects today but no Thomas Jeffer- sons. Reviva of Gardening In the fied of andscape architecture the case seems more hopefu. There has been a notable reviva of the art of gardening throughout the entire country and this reviva has fourished with especia vigor in this community. In spite of the humorous pictures in the New Yorker by Helen Hokinson of garden Club adies with quaint hats making naive remarks, these same garden Club adies have a record of accompishments and our towns are less dreary and hopeess ooking because of their ingenuous efforts. For it is impossibe to imagine an ugy garden: the materias to be deat with are a beautifu in themseves, so that gardening is the safest of a the arts in which the amateur may seek sef-expression. For a this, the advice of the trained andscape architect might we be sought on occasion to prepare a. better general plan or carry out a partiay developed scheme to its greatest possibiities. last spring, as one of the judges in the Localgarden Club competition, I had the opportunity of inspecting some forty or more gardens in various parts of the city. There were many gardens which had received a vast amount of care from their owners but were entirey acking in any feeling for composition or design and faied thereby in achieving their highest objective. If the andscape architect can contribute much to our community, the services of the city planner can give even more. There is nothing new fanged about city planning, though it is more imperative today than ever before. City planning is amost as old an art as that of Building cities. Babyon and Peking were deiberatey pre-planned before they were buit and to come nearer home, Washington and Savannah were aid out with wise foresight for future development. The site of our city was prudenty chosen by its founders as affording the greatest advantages in repeing hostie attack. This primitive advantage for defense has also entaied the subsequent disadvantage of a high density of and coverage and we have the picture today of many buildings crowded cosey together on a narrow peninsua between two rivers. The narrowness of our streets and the limited number of through least and west arteries has caused an increasingly difficult problem with the increase of motor traffic. Even in a city as old and conservative as Charleston, new developments are constanty occurring with the new impingeing on the old in a more or less haphazard manner to the detriment of the old and the questionable benefit of the new. Zoning Ordinance Discussed To promote the ordery and sustained development of our town, Mayor Stoney appointed a city planning and zoning commission, who were given the authority to empoy city planning experts as their technical advisers. After a year spent in making surveys of existing conditions and studying ourLocalrequirements, an ordinance was compied with a map dividing the city into industrial, commercial and residential zones. A of this was expained and discussed at Public hearings in a parts of the city and property owners given every opportunity to present objections and ask for amendments. Finay the ordinance was presented to city Council and, after the required number of hearings, was adopted and became an ordinance of the city. Since its adoption some of its cassifications and boundaries have been modified to conform more neary to obvious tendencies and requirements. reaizing that no aw can be perfect and that the individual might find himsef in a case where the itera appication of the ordinance would work unreasonable hardship, the ordinance provided for a board of adjustment, to hear and consider borderine cases. This board of adjustment", has. a difficult assignment and has served without compensation faithfuy, wisey and courageousy, and deserves " the gratitude of the community. To foster the more discriminating treatment of our old buildings, that part of the city which ies approximatey within the site of the eary waed town has been zoned as old and Historic Charleston. Changes to buildings in this area require under the ordinance the approva of a board of architectural review. This board also serves without compensation and its effectiveness is entirey dependent on the cooperation of the buiding Public in this area. This board has regarded its functions from the beginning as cinica and advisory, and has never attempted to dictate to the individual. The individual has not aways shown the desired cooperation, however, and efforts to preserve the character of some eary buildings have been met with disappointing, frustration. As often as not, an impatient citizen will regard the board"s recommendations as intrusions on his rights, and fai to recognize that a buiding which has stood through many generaltions is a part of a valued heritage to be preserved for future generaltions, unspoied by i-advised changes. Here, as in its other provisions, the ordinance can be no stronger than Public opinion will aow it to be. In setting up a zoning ordinance, the community took but one step in the direction of ordery development, but has never advanced to its ogica coroary, a comprehensive city plan, nor to the third step, a county or regional plan. with the annihiation of distances by the Automobile suburban developments are spawning in a directions around us,a d--was-dist;- ehftrge-thew-maodorous fumes into the-noses of winter coonists-who have-fed, to us from the rigors- of tfte-North in. the-he-pe of enjoying tfee-fgranee- ©f-4he-4essaBa e. The onger we postpone the consideration of a city plan and of a regional plan, the more difficult and costy will it be to carry them out, and future generaltions will bame our ack of foresight when they eventuay find such planning no onger can be deferred.
Folder 02: Public Opinion Article
News and Courier (Charleston, S.C.)
Article entitled "Public Opinion Key to Preservation of Local Beauty, Architect Holds" with the original article attached (Dec. 10, 1939).
Civic Services Committee Papers
Contributing Institution:
Margaretta Childs Archives at Historic Charleston Foundation
Media Type:
Topical Subject:
Historic preservation--South Carolina--Charleston
Folder 02: CSC History, Objectives, Background Materials
Shelving Locator:
HCF 001
S.C. County:
Charleston County (S.C.)
Internet Media Type:
Digitization Specifications:
300 ppi, 24-bit depth, color, Epson Expression 10000XL, Archival Masters are tiffs.
Copyright Status Statement:
Digital image copyright 2009, Historic Charleston Foundation. All rights reserved. For more information contact Margaretta Childs Archives at HCF, PO Box 1120, Charleston, SC 29402.