By Dan T. Henderson, Jr.

I doubt that many of the patrons of the restaurants and bars on King Street are aware that a fort the size of Fort Sumter once rested between Marion Square and St. Philip Street. Today, a six-foot tall, ten-foot wide section of it sits behind a small fence in the park:  During any given Saturday morning Farmers Market it goes largely unnoticed.

Built in 1759, this fortification, named the “Horn Works,” derived its name from shape of the two points of entry into the city it defended. After the Revolutionary War, the fort fell into disuse and was demolished in 1784.

From 1843 to 1922, the square served as The Citadel’s parade grounds. Today, Marion Square is jointly owned by the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards. They prevented the city from making it a parking lot in the late 1940s and a shopping center in the late 1950s. Under the lease terms the center of the square is to be kept open as a parade ground. The park’s perimeter is home to various monuments, including a Holocaust Memorial and the towering statue of John C. Calhoun.

Anchoring the opposite side of King Street is the Francis Marion Hotel and St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Francis Marion, one of the city’s tallest buildings, was built in 1924 by a group of local investors called the Marion Square Realty Company, headed up by my great-grandfather and former Charleston mayor, Tristram Tupper Hyde. The investment group was one of the initial projects of the Rotary Club of Charleston. The club sold stock in the hotel and pledged to improve streets in the area. After the completion of the hotel the club met there for many years. Designed by noted New York architect William Lee Stoddard, it was the largest and grandest hotel in the Carolinas at the time of its completion. In 1952, it became the first fully air-conditioned hotel in Charleston. It was also home to famous Charleston resident Gen. Mark W. Clark, who lived with his wife in the penthouse following his retirement as president of The Citadel.

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church was founded by Johann Andreas Wagener and 49 other German-speaking residents who wanted to worship in their native language. It was incorporated in December 1840. The steeple is 255 feet high and was once the tallest in South Carolina. In 1999 the church purchased an adjacent building for use as a community outreach center. It is believed that the building was once a shoe store in the late 1880s.

In the 19th century, several significant Charleston landmarks were developed in this area of town, such as the Aiken-Rhett House, the William Aiken House and the Joseph Manigault House. At that time, King Street was also known as the “Broad Path.” Because the main access into Charleston was along the Broad Path, planters and others entered the city in wagons and merchants built retail stores along the route. Much of the retail development in the area took place between 1860 and 1880.

Another important era of upper King Street development was around the Second World War. From the late 1930s to the mid 1950s, a large number of businesses in the neighborhood were owned by local Jewish families. Things were in decline by the early 1970s as retail stores and other businesses moved to the suburbs to shopping centers and malls. During his first mayoral campaign in 1975, Mayor Riley pledged to reverse the flow of businesses out of the city and revitalize the central business district.

This outflow of business was not staunched during the 1980s. Early in the decade the vacancy rate on upper King Street was 11 percent. At decade’s end, Hurricane Hugo blew out store windows and severely damaged many businesses. Hurricane damage was the final excuse to shutter shops that had been faltering for a long time.

By 1990, 40 percent of upper King Street storefronts were vacant. In 1994, after nearly half-a-century of one-way traffic, the city converted upper King Street from Line Street south to Calhoun Street back to two-way. Throughout the late 1990s redevelopment slowly “followed the cars” back up King Street. A major streetscape project began in 2005 in an attempt to continue revitalization. The project was financed with special multi-year assessments on business with property along King Street. With the King Street revitalization came continued gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods as property values continued to increase.

As a whole, for second quarter 2014 in downtown Charleston, the vacancy rate for retail space was slightly above five percent, with the average asking retail rental rate being almost $30 per square-foot. On upper King Street the current asking rent is as high as $50 per square-foot. These rents are comparable to much larger cities. The current vacancy rate for downtown Charleston office space is almost nine percent, a total of nearly two million square feet. There is very little inventory of buildings for sale and most recent sales do not come on the open broker market. This is a product of the current demand for the area generally and upper King Street specifically.

Currently underway at Spring and King streets is the $80 million Midtown project. The ten-story development includes two Hyatt-branded hotels containing 304 rooms, retail shops and a seven-story parking deck that will be eventually owned by the city. The Midtown development comprises four new structures and two renovated buildings for a total area of 400,000 square feet. Construction is scheduled for completion by the spring of 2015.

Many, including Mayor Riley, believe that this development will do for upper King Street what Charleston Place did for lower King Street when it opened in 1986. Riley said, “The rebuilding of an American city is a very complicated and challenging thing. You are repairing a injured ecosystem.”

Upper King Street’s thriving ecosystem is now the home of many unique specialty shops, bars and great restaurants. One of the most recent offerings is Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit at 476 ½ King St. This retail space is actually a very narrow alley that has been enclosed and as with much of Charleston, it offers a one of a kind experience centered around an ideal of Southern comfort — namely, a biscuit.

Dan Tompkins Henderson, Jr., CCIM, is the broker/principal of CCBG Real Estate Group, LLC located in Mt. Pleasant. He is a board of director member of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors; he has served the association in numerous committee and board positions and currently is the immediate past president of the commercial investment division of the association and is an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston; he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.