Garden Theater – Hopes Grow Dim
CHARLESTON, SC — This is an update to my preservation alert of March 24, 2004 (regarding the Garden Theater). The news is not encouraging. Last week Ralph Hicks and I met with one of the current owners from Garden Theater, LLC. He remains open to any possibility that would benefit the owners. But, he will continue to move toward converting the theater to retail space.
On June 3, Ralph Hicks, Mark Tiedje, and I, met with Lawrence Thompson, and Katherine Saunders of the Historic Charleston Foundation and Mayor Joseph Riley. The mayor was open and well informed about the Garden Theater. He offered nothing to us that seemed hopeful and described the overwhelming problems that we face.
Mayor Riley described the abundance of historic properties in Charleston as a “poverty of riches.” The City has so many 18th century and 19th century buildings that there just aren’t enough resources to preserve them all.
The Garden Theater is the oldest theater in Charleston. It is the only remaining theater that was both a vaudeville and movie house. While preservationists may obtain easements on the facade and interior walls, the likelihood of the Garden Theater ever being used as a theater again will cease once the floor is leveled and a retail use is established.
A surveyor has visited the Garden Theater to determine what will be involved in making the auditorium floor level for use by a retail store. Only two possibilities appear to remain. We may yet see an “angel” come forward with $1.8 million to secure ownership from the current developers, or, a large suitcase full of cash may fall from the sky.
We have discussed, with all parties concerned, the possibility of a property swap. The City owns property that could be swapped with the current owners for the Garden Theater property. The mayor made it clear, however, that the City will not assume ownership of the Garden Theater.
The next meeting of Friends of the Garden Theater is scheduled in the auditorium of the Charleston County Public Library on Calhoun Street at 7:00 PM on Thursday, June 17, 2004.