Pink House - Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston was established in 1670 along the Ashley River at what is now known as Charles Towne Landing. It was moved to the present location in 1680 because of the mosquitoes and swampy conditions to the location on the peninsula where the bluffs could make good wharfs and the breeze kept the settlers cool and mostly mosquito free. The Grand Modell of Charleston was the blueprint used to build the early walled city.
The Pink House at 17 Chalmers Street is believed to be one of the oldest structures in Charleston and possibly the South, it was built between 1690 and 1712. It is built of Bermuda stone brought over as ballast as there is no natural stone in the Charleston area. The coral stone is naturally tinted pink thus early on the house gained the name of the Pink House.
Bermuda stone has a characteristic of being soft to cut but overtime hardening become stronger. During the 1886 earthquake, the elasticity of the stone prevented some damage. Most recently it was tested in September 1989 as Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston as a category 4 (some debate category 5) coming through the storm unscathed.
The Pink house is architecturally unique. It appears compressed and misplaced out of England, but with traditions of building brought over with the settlers it is not surprising architectural traditions would be close to traditional in colonial Charleston. The first two floors are 13 by 13 foot rooms with an oversized fireplace. The third floor is similar with slanting walls reflecting the gambrel roof, one of the few in Charleston. The wood is cypress, a common Lowcountry tree growing in the swamps.
In early Charleston this area was Mulatto Alley. It was a red light district lined with taverns and houses featuring prostitutes. Around 1800 the area was cleaned up after complaints of noise from the partying in the area. The Pink House history includes stints as a tavern and a brothel as well as more recently a place for entertainment and art gallery space.
The Pink House deteriorated over the centuries. In 1931, the architecture firm of Simons & Lapham were hired by Mr. and Mrs. Victor Morawetz to restore the building for $4,563.00. Restorations of the 1930s were not as defined as today. In this case the firm added a small wing for catering the Morawetz’s entertainment in the southeast corner. Simons & Lapham was established in 1920 by Albert Simons (right) and Samuel Lapham (left).
Early on they gained a reputation for restoration and historic preservation frequently serving clients from the north and New England in restoring historic Southern Plantations. Both studied locally at the College of Charleston. Simons studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and Lapham studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology even using a Charleston area plantation restoration for his thesis. Later Morawetz, originally from New York, would hire the firm to restore Fenwick Hall.
Ernest E. Blevins consults and works as an on-call architectural historian and archaeologist. He holds a BA and BS from the College of Charleston, an MFA in historic preservation from Savannah College of Art & Design, and a certificate in Public History from the University of West Georgia. His MFA thesis is on the architecture and work of Simons & Lapham. He is a historian, historic preservationist, genealogist, and author. He wrote history and preservation articles for the local paper, contributed to two books, and published in several nationally distributed magazines. He is a member of several lineage organizations including the Sons of the American Revolution, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Son of Union Veterans of the Civil War. A native of Spartanburg, South Carolina he resides in the Sandhill community, Villa Rica, Georgia with his wife and six children. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org