Wait, this is in Charleston?
Sure, modern architecture is not typically the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the white columns and cobblestone streets of Charleston, South Carolina. The embodiment of southern charm (and my home for more than a decade), Charleston is one of America’s great architectural treasures, a Spanish moss-draped colonial-era capital with a penchant for preservation. But within the well-preserved confines of the city's traditional landscape, modern architecture has not fared well. The old Gaillard Auditorium was demolished just a few years ago and replaced with something much more "in line" with Charleston's classical sensibilities, while a new luxury hotel now stands on the grave of the 1960s-era Charleston County Public Library. Along with the recently restored L. Mendel Rivers Federal Building (The Dewberry) or the Downtowner Motor Inn (a College of Charleston dormitory), the Bankers Trust building remains one of the city's last (and best) examples of postwar modernism. Defying precedent when it was built more than four decades ago and (somehow) still defying the wrecking ball today, the hovering concrete bank is a landmark in need of both preservation and a purpose.
Completed in 1974 by local architect Jeff Rosenblum (now Rosenblum Coe Architects), the bank cantilevers above its Calhoun Street lot like a floating fortress of concrete and crisscrossed steel. The building is essentially a steel truss-encased glass box hanging from a two-story concrete core. This T-shaped composition allows cars to pass underneath the lofted branch office, a unique configuration that lends the small bank plenty of visibility. Abandoning tradition for something more distinctively modern, the building's design is without much local precedent, though one might be reminded of the giant trusses belonging to the late Burlington Industries Headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, constructed just a few years earlier and demolished in 2005. (Also, it looks a lot like this building in Illinois.)
Over the years, the Bankers Trust building has served a number of financial institutions, but in 2008, during the Great Recession, the last of these, Bank of America, closed its doors, and the building has remained vacant ever since. Today, graffiti and trash litter the exposed concrete base, the parking lot around it empty but for a few weeds. As for what's next- little is known (rumors of a Starbucks takeover didn't pan out)- and the future of Charleston's most loved/hated building is still up in the air, just like the bank itself.
Here's hoping it gets a new life sometime soon. You can see more Charleston modernism here. Happy Halloween!
All photographs by author, October 2019.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.