MUSC takes healthy approach to turning house into offices

BY ROBERT BEHRE
The Post and Courier

from: http://www.charleston.net/news/2008/may/19/musc_takes_healthy_approach_turning_hous41373/

When architect Whitney Powers was hired five years ago to oversee the exterior renovation of the historic house at 274 Calhoun St., she couldn't help peeking in.

"I went inside, and I said, 'Oh my God, this is amazing,' " she recalls, adding that she then placed a call to the Historic Charleston Foundation to let them know about the quality of the house now owned by the Medical University of South Carolina.

That was in 2003, and the foundation urged MUSC to be sensitive in its renovations.

The foundation's staff "was amazed at the quality of the interior details and the excellent intact condition of the house itself," the foundation's letter to MUSC President Ray Greenberg says. "We believe it to be the largest, most intact, un-restored Federal house in the city, with architectural details equaled only by those within the Nathaniel Russell House and a few other select examples."

And now, five years later, the house is largely the same as it serves as the new home for the MUSC School of Pharmacy's administrative offices.

The house, known as the Daniel Cannon House (or the Anderson House, after the family that sold it to MUSC), was built between 1802 and 1815 by Cannon, a successful lumberman who owned a mill nearby. He was one of the first to develop this part of the peninsula.

While it has Adamesque interiors still intact, it also has Greek Revival and a few Victorian touches, too.

Powers, of Studio A Architects, says the interior approach was to conserve and show off the variety of elements while converting it into practical office space.

"We didn't look to any one period as the driver," Powers said.

Much of the intricate detail in the cornice is gougework, hand-carved from wood, not plaster. That may be one reason it survives in such good shape.

Powers points to the way the original baseboards and door surrounds are carved and meet the wooden floors with a flourish, rather than simply terminating into a block like in the Greek Revival era.

The variety of the wood- work's detailing also may stem from Cannon's business. The house, in its way, could be showing off what his mill could turn out.

Outside, the work involved relatively few changes. The school reconstructed the marble stair out front, and it built a portico and stair around back to make the house handicapped accessible.

While much of what MUSC has built in recent decades has drawn mixed reactions, at best (some pretty good buildings, many less so), it's nice to see the school also finding the money and making the commitment to preserve some historic and beautiful buildings that buffer the school's campus from the old city.

At 274 Calhoun, MUSC inherited an intact house with dramatic details that still is an intact house with dramatic details after its conversion to office space.

It's very much a healthy development.

Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 or by fax at 937-5579. His e-mail address is rbehre@postandcourier.com, and his mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, S.C. 29403.