Rescuing One Broad Street, Part II
In 1866, the damaged bank building at One Broad Street was sold to William L. Trenholm and Theodore D. Wagner, business associates of John Fraser & Company. During the war, their company had been heavily involved in blockade running at home while its Liverpool subsidiary was clandestinely involved in procuring war ships and materiel for the Confederacy abroad.
George Alfred Trenholm, managing partner of John Fraser and Company, had replaced C. G. Memminger as secretary of the treasury of the Confederate States of America. For his role in the Confederate government, Trenholm was imprisoned and became a man without citizenship. After he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, he was able to reorganize the brokerage business under the name George A. Trenholm and Son Company. He was also involved in the phosphate industry and South Carolina Railroad. Trenholm operated his business activities out of One Broad Street. (Trenholm’s story was covered in more detail in 2015 Mercury articles)
After the war, Trenholm and his partners were forced to liquidate their real estate holdings when the Federal government sued for import duties on illegal blockade goods. One Broad Street was sold to The Carolina Savings Bank of Charleston in 1875. The bank’s founder, George Walton Williams, had been highly successful before the war and amassed a small fortune through his blockade running enterprises. He was wise enough to invest his profits in British pounds sterling instead of Confederate currency and came through the war with more than $one million. Today Williams is best remembered for his residence at 16 Meeting St., commonly known as the Calhoun Mansion, which is considered one of the most important Victorian mansions on the Eastern Seaboard.
The Carolina Savings Bank owned and operated from One Broad Street for 82 years. In 1876, the second floor of the building was used as the armory of the Carolina Rifle Battalion, a militia group associated with Wade Hampton’s Red Shirts during the hotly contested gubernatorial campaign. Hampton’s election marked the end of military occupation and the end of Reconstruction politics in South Carolina. George A. Trenholm lived just long enough to see Hampton elected before he died in December 1876. Because he had been the president of the Chamber of Commerce, all the ships in the harbor flew their flags at half mast in tribute to his memory.
Three years after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, the second floor of the bank building became the first telephone exchange in S.C. From 1877 until 1897 the third floor became the local office of the United States Signal Corps and its successor the U.S. Weather Bureau.
After the earthquake of 1886 destroyed much of Charleston, One Broad Street was stabilized with earthquake rods disguised as a new row of small, decorative lion heads. In 1938 a tornado swept through Broad Street and another set of earthquake rods was added to the third floor to shore up the damage.
In 1948 Carolina Savings Bank updated the building. The prestigious architectural firm of Simons and Lapham gave the banking hall a mid-century look, lowering door heights, simplifying the trim details and a adding a modern steel door and entry to the vault directly from the lobby. The building was air conditioned, new stairs and a fireproof records vault were added to the second floor for the bookkeeping department’s relocation. Since it never flooded, the basement was turned into a storage area.
Over the years the upper floors were leased to a variety of tenants. One was Carolina Portland Cement Company (1912 - 1930). Its president, J. Ross Hanahan, also founded Charleston Water System. Hanahan’s company established several chemical and phosphate fertilizer plants in the Charleston Neck Area. Other occupants included Magnolia Cemetery’s office, the French Consular Agency, law offices, real estate agents, foresters, engineers and a public stenographer.
In 1957 Carolina Savings Bank was sold to First National Bank of South Carolina of Columbia; the vacated building was sold to the Irving, Melvin, Klyde and Rudolph Robinson family partnership. The building was leased for a short while by SCN Bank and the Federal District Court. Carolina Bank and Trust moved into the building in 1963 and in 1968 they purchased it from the Robinson Family Partnership. One year later, Bankers Trust of South Carolina purchased Carolina Bank and Trust and One Broad Street.
In 1978 Bankers Trust carried out a $320,000 restoration and discovered a cannonball hole in one of the ceiling beams. Other holes have since been found in the basement. The building’s exterior was in poor condition due to moisture penetration, which caused the brownstone to flake onto the street. Ball Corporation developed a polymer coating to stabilize the surface and made repairs. A lush interior was designed by John Ragsdale and included commissioning “Charleston Blacksmith” Philip Simmons to create ornate iron teller grills and extensive stair and landing railings. Irish artist Jim McDonald (known for his paintings of the Titanic and shipyards) was commissioned to recreate the president’s office hand painted ceiling. In 1985 Bankers Trust was acquired by NCNB (North Carolina National Bank) which became Bank of America.
In 1993, NCNB vacated and sold the building to Helen Bradham, who sold the building to One Broad Street LLC five years later. During their ownership, Carolina First Bank (now called TD Bank) used the location for its Charleston downtown branch. In 2004 the building was sold to Broad Street Ventures, LLC and in 2006 TD vacated the building because it had no drive through capabilities. The interior was stripped and plans were made to convert usage to luxury condominiums. The recession of 2007 stopped the work and the building has been vacant since that time.
Now there’s new life at the corner of Broad and East Bay. The building was purchased by Mark Beck, an entrepreneur and founder of a multinational technology firm based in Mooresville, North Carolina. The company’s success has enabled the new owner to restore historic buildings as a hobby; this is his third. Beck is taking the interior back to its 1853 appearance, including restoring the decorative alcove and original door heights and adding an English encaustic tile floor. Space is designed for mixed use, with retail on the first floor, office space on the second and an apartment on the third.
Some of the old is coming back in new ways. One item Beck located is a never-circulated 1861 printer’s proof for the State Bank of South Carolina’s five-dollar note that features a picture of the building. He has commissioned a dimensional artist to photograph, print and twist into an original 6x4-foot acrylic artwork, which he plans to install in one of the building entrances.
“It’s going to be modern underneath — all new mechanicals, plumbing, fiber, security and fire safety — carefully hidden inside the original fabric of a truly spectacular 1853 building” Beck says. He plans to complete the restoration in 2016.
The first part of this story can be found in the January 2016 Charleston Mercury. My appreciation to Mark Beck for contributing to this article.