Columbia facade program provides incentive to buy, improve sites - DatelineCarolina

Replacing awnings and signs on Main Street will be covered in the facade program to improve the appearance of downtown Columbia and attract retailers.

New program provides money to restore historic storefronts

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Main Street stores are being encouraged to remove all bars from storefront windows. The removal is one of a variety of projects eligible to receive funding under Columbia's downtown Facade Improvement Program. Main Street stores are being encouraged to remove all bars from storefront windows. The removal is one of a variety of projects eligible to receive funding under Columbia's downtown Facade Improvement Program.
The Brennen Building was home to the Capitol Cafe from 1911 - 2002. The building is now vacant and needs exterior work, making it a candidate for Columbia's facade program. The Brennen Building was home to the Capitol Cafe from 1911 - 2002. The building is now vacant and needs exterior work, making it a candidate for Columbia's facade program.

By Emily Hoefer
Edited by Desiree Murphy

From the Brennen Building near the State House that for 90 years housed the landmark Capitol Cafe, past South Carolina's first skyscraper and on to the eventual new home of the Nickelodeon Theatre, the facades of Main Street's buildings reflect more than 100 years of changing styles and history.

You can still see the elaborate Sylvan's jewelry store building, for instance. Or the faces that peer down from the Nickelodeon's renovation site, reflecting the Art Deco and Egyptian Revival styles popular when the 1870s building was remodeled in 1936 as the State Theater, later the Fox.

Showing off the history is important to people like Amy Stone, vice president of the City Center Partnership in charge of retail recruitment.

"We think it's important for people to realize downtown is a good place to live, to work, to dine," Stone said. "We want to give people reasons to stay downtown."

But many of those facades have been covered up or altered, or left in disrepair.

Columbia City Council passed the Facade Improvement Program, created by City Center Partnership, last December. It was spurred on by recent downtown projects such as the addition of studio space to the Equitable Arcade building and the Mast General Store's purchase of the Lourie's building.

The program will provide funding to restore and improve the historic structures and entice retailers to move downtown, Stone said.

The city's small-business liaison, Ryan Coleman, said the program's purpose is to provide help for businesses to invest in improving their storefronts.

Heather Spires, development director at the Nickelodeon Theatre, said it plans to apply for some of the money.

The theater is leaving its location on Main Street south of the State House where is has been for over 30 years to reopen in the historic and larger space it bought in 2007 north of the State House at 1607 Main St.

The Facade Improvement Program will provide up to $20,000 per building as a loan forgiven over five years. Applicants must provide a match of at least 20 percent of the loan.

The money comes from the Community Development Block Grant, a federal program that funds affordable housing and job creation through expanding and retaining businesses.

The program is targeting Main Street, north from the State House to Laurel Street, during its first year and will move to North Main Street and Two Notch Road in the second and third years.

"A facade program needs to be consolidated in an area so that it makes a visual impact," Coleman said.

Stone says she hopes Columbia will have the same success other cities like St. Louis and Clearwater, Fla., have had with similar programs.

Here are some of Main Street's historically significant buildings:

Brennen Building

This French Victorian style building at 1210-1214 Main St. was built around 1870. Its signature cast iron balcony was added in 1919. The building is named after Michael Brennen, who bought the property in 1864. According to the Historic Columbia Foundation's guide, the symmetrical, two-story masonry structure is represents "most commercial building constructed in Columbia immediately after the Civil War." It's probably best known for housing the Capitol Cafe, a popular hangout for politicians and lobbyists from the nearby State House from 1911-2002.

Equitable Arcade Building

Columbia's first indoor shopping center was originally built as a covered, open-air walkway in 1903. According to the Historic Columbia Foundation guide, a group of Columbia businessmen spent $200,000 in 1912 to convert the structure into the Arcade Mall, a two-story, L-shaped, terra cotta-clad building. In the 1970s, the basement was home to "Columbia Down Under," a group of shops, bars and restaurants. Today the Renaissance Revival style building houses a clothing boutique, hair salon and artists' studios.

Barringer Building

South Carolina's first skyscraper was built at 1338 Main St. Built in 1903 and updated in the 1950s and again in 2005. The Georgian Revival style building is named for the Barringer Corp. that occupied the building from 1953 until 1974. The building is designed to mimic a column: The first and second stories are limestone, the nine middle stories are brick and the 12th story is the column's cap with a limestone and brick frieze.

Sylvan Building

The first large building constructed after Gen. William T. Sherman's Civil War raid, Sylvan's Second Empire style facade is one of the most recognizable on Main Street. Originally a bank, the store was remodeled in 1905 by jewelers Gustav and Johannes Sylvan. The shop's landmark outdoor clock was installed between 1900 and 1910. Created by the famous clockmaker Seth Thomas, it is a replica of a clock in the town square of Bern, Switzerland.

Kress Building

Built in 1938, the building at 1508 Main St. is known not only for its Art Deco and Egyptian themed facade, but also as the location of civil rights protests. Black and white college students held sit-ins at the whites-only lunch counter to protest segregation in the early 1960s. In 1962, the lunch counter was desegregated.

Fox Theater

Currently being renovated by the Nickelodeon, the building at 1607 Main St. was built during Reconstruction and converted in 1936 to house the State Theater. The 1936 remodeling reflects styles popular at the time, Art Deco and Egyptian Revival. The theater later became The Fox until it closed in October 1987.

King's Jewelers

The textured gold facade put up on the King's Jewelers' storefront in 1975 is one of the most noticeable in downtown Columbia. It's "one of the best examples of the modern facade movement that swept Main Street" in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the Historic Columbia Foundation Guide. The building at 1611 Main St. was constructed around 1872 as a bakery run by W. Steiglitz and later converted to a Hamilton's Jewelers. The original Reconstruction-era masonry remains beneath the 1970s-style facade. James Picow, one of the store's owners, said King's Jewelers will not be applying for any money from the program. He said he didn't see a need to change the storefront.

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