12/4/2013 11:58:00 AM Trust Building is valuable asset to be saved
Michael Bedenbaugh Executive Director The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, Columbia
As executive director for South Carolina’s only statewide non-profit preservation organization, I had the exciting opportunity to visit the Trust building in Florence recently. My first impression as I approached the structure from the street was the scale and grandness of the building along the streets-cape of Florence. After the turn of the century, many of South Carolina’s larger towns pursued the building of a “skyscraper” to communicate to all a progressive and prosperous future is in store. Florence is fortunate to still retain this wonderful building alongside a streets-cape that is being revitalized. The capacity of this building can be a very useful contribution to those efforts to bring commerce and people back to Evans Street. My second impression was how much more beautiful the building can be if the hideous brown particle board siding was to be removed from around the first floor. Hiding behind this false façade is one made up of display windows framed by large and beautiful granite supports.
This aesthetic was designed by the original bank managers as a way of communicating sturdiness and longevity, an important component if one is to persuade people to come off the street and place their money in your hands. The current look communicates cheap throw away materials that unfortunately makes the building look cheap. If it was removed, and proper windows were to replace the cheap aluminum ones from the 50s, I suspect many peoples’ impressions would change. My third impression upon entering the building was the extraordinary lack of care it takes to allow such a magnificent building to be filled with garbage and refuse. Unfortunately, I am used to touring neglected places like this filled with clutter - clutter that has nothing to do with the building’s structural integrity, and everything to do with negative impressions of the casual observer. It also displays a terrible lack of responsibility by those who own it. It is almost impossible to communicate how purposeful a building can be when you can only see it through the garbage and refuse scattered so thick, that in many places even the floor is obscured. The lack of care is directly responsible for the leak that has allowed much damage to wood work and plaster on the top floors. However, the historic fabric in most of the building is intact, beautiful and restorable. Beneath the grime and clutter, the floors are covered in a wonderful mosaic tile with original walls, doors and trim intact. Those decorative and wooden elements on the top floors directly beneath the area where water intrusion has occurred are unfortunately lost, but should have no bearing on the viability of this building constructed out of reinforced concrete.
Before opinions are formed as to the viability of this building, the city should remove the covering of the first floor level, clean up the trash and refuse scattered on the lower floors, and do its due diligence in assessing the true costs associated with the building’s demolition by city taxpayers versus rehabilitation by a private developer. If this is accomplished in a responsible manner, then we feel that more people will see the Trust building as a valuable asset that should not be thrown away. Michael Bedenbaugh Executive Director The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, Columbia