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NO. 15 RADCLIFFE ST. - Charleston, SC

Step 1: long-term neglect. Step 2: structural failure. Step 3: demolition. Believe it or not, “Vacancy Vortex” is REAL in America’s best preserved city.

Described in 1992 as a “13-room pure Victorian" needing “just a few touches,” the Queen Anne dwelling at No. 15 Radcliffe Street is experiencing the first step in a three-step process that preservationists in Buffalo, NY have identified as the “vacancy vortex,” an unfortunate cycle of abandonment, subsequent neglect and ultimate destruction.

Step 1: long-neglect.

A quarter of a century later, those "few touches” to No. 15 Radcliffe have grown to include several significant repairs. Fallen yellow Queen Anne shingles shower the sidewalk surrounding the dwelling. Large panels of metal roof flashing wave in the wind. Wood rot and significant weathering engulf the portico. Vines grow along the cornice and front gable. It is unclear if anyone currently resides No. 15 Radcliffe, but it is obvious that the structure has not received love in quite some time.

Constructed c.1910 by Rev. Henry W.B. Bennett, an African-American born in Charleston during the Civil War and a leader in the area’s African Methodist Episcopal churches, No. 15 Radcliffe served as the primary residence for Bennett, his wife Chloe and six children. Unfortunately, Bennett died shortly after the house was constructed and in the 1920s, Bennett’s wife rented portions of the house as apartments - advertised as spaces only available for Charleston’s African-American population. In 1992, a Post & Courier article confirmed the house was vacant but that descendants wished to return to Charleston to reside in the family home once again. The dwelling still remains in the family.

Aside from needing love, the lonely yellow Queen Anne dwelling is the last building standing between King and St. Philip streets, a block historically occupied by more than a dozen dwellings for Charleston’s nineteenth and twentieth century middle class. African-American, Jewish, German and Irish-Catholic families once brought this block to life, their children recalling in the 1992 article playing ball against the stoops and basketball in the streets. Today, No. 15 Radcliffe is completely surrounded by surface parking; the dwellings of the diverse neighbors demolished for surface parking. Every single square inch of its adjacent properties is asphalt.

(Google Map)

Step 2: structural failure & Step 3: demolition.

In the past two months, the peninsula of Charleston has lost two buildings within the historic district from Step 2 and Step 3 of the Vacancy Vortex. At the beginning of March, the roof of the abandoned c.1920s Spanish Colonial Revival school administrative building at the southwest corner St. Philip and Wentworth collapsed due to the heavy vegetation that has engulfed the structure for decades. Although the fate of the building is unknown, the collapse has left the structure half in ruin, and completely unsound. In January, a c. 1852 Italianate residence at No. 4 Gadsden Street just blocks from Charleston’s iconic South of Broad neighborhood was demolished due to damages caused by successive natural disasters and long-term neglect of those damages. Today, one will find an empty hole at the corner of Beaufain and Gadsden where the bull-dozer erased the “structurally unsafe” building.


{LEFT}: Step 2: The ruin of the 1920s school administrative building at St. Philip & Wentworth

{RIGHT}: Step 3: Empty lot on Gadsden & Beaufain, former home to c. 1852 No. 4 Gadsden Street

For the sake of urban planning, neighborhood walkability and community sustainability, we, the citizens of Charleston, can’t afford to lose No. 15 Radcliffe from the Vacancy Vortex. As the last standing structure on the block, it not only is an exceptional example of Queen Anne architecture in Charleston, but it also disrupts the surrounding monotone streetscape of asphalt. It is an anchor and the last bit of hope in a lost neighborhood. We as humans have a responsibility to take care of the work of our ancestors - not so much as to pay homage (although yes, that is nice), but for our own benefit. Without the survival of their work, quaint Charleston quickly becomes Anywhere, USA.

Keep your eye on this gem, Charleston. If you happen to walk by, be sure to send it loving vibes.

Watch out for its shedding Victorian tears (in the form of shingles).

Location: No. 15 Radcliffe Street, Downtown Charleston, SC

Age: 1910s

Status: Threatened by long-term neglect


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