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Portals to the Past

Portals to the Past

Get a glimpse of Charleston history - right in Wild Dunes Resort's backyard.

Photos By: Steven Hyatt

Words By: Tresca Weinstein, from 5757 Palm Magazine 

These aren’t pre-fabricated, mass-produced passageways. The doorways of Charleston – whether subtle and simple or ornate and bold – are some of the nation’s most enchanting entrance, with character and charisma that hint to the little-known histories of the Holy City.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the word “entrance,” when you shift the emphasis to the second syllable, means “to bewitch,” “to captivate,” “to carry away with wonder and delight.” Doors usher us from one world into another, sometimes from one era to another – from a modern day street into an eighteenth century house, from a busy sidewalk into a peaceful hidden courtyard. In Charleston, doorways are portals to a history that began in 1670, when the oldest city in South Carolina was founded on the banks of the Ashley River. Some 2,800 historic buildings remain in Charleston today, paying testament to the multiple architectural styles that have sprung up here over the decades and centuries – colonial, Georgian, federal, Gothic revival, Greek revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, Victorian, and art deco. 

This house, on Legare Street, drew Hyatt in with its fascinating mixture of tones and moods. It has an exotic feel – it could almost be in Spain or Morocco – yet there’s something modern about the bold shapes of the door and its arched frame.

“Everything about this place interests me, starting with the color,” Hyatt says of this candy colored house on Franklin Street in the city’s Harleston Village neighborhood. Pink is a common color for Charleston homes, sometimes paired with so-called Charleston Green, which is actually closer to black (the door in the image, with its elaborate contrasting pediment, being an example). The story goes that Union troops supplied black paint to help rebuild the city after the Civil War – and Charlestonians made it their own by adding a touch of yellow to it. 

Hyatt’s framing of this image emphasizes the pathway leading to the door – it feels almost enchanted, as if the thorns covering Sleeping Beauty’s castle had only recently parted. Another unusual feature of this home on Rutledge Street is the earthquake bolt to the left of the pediment. After Charleston suffered extensive damage in the earthquake of 1886, many rebuilt homes were reinforced with long iron rods inserted into and through the walls, capped on the outside with decorative disks.

This corner home on Legare Street, with its profusion of colors, patterns, and textures, was the image that launched Hyatt’s door series. “This was the first one that caught my eye, and it’s still one of my favorite properties in the entire city,” he says. Among the rich collection of historic and contemporary details: the tiny bust atop the door, a likeness of the current owner, and the shoe scraper on the lower step, most likely dating back to the days when a visitor would step from a carriage into the muddy street before entering the home. The Carolopolis Award to the left of the door was bestowed on the building by the Preservation Society of Charleston to honor the excellence in historic preservation (the Latin word “carolus” means Charles; the Green word “polis” means city).

Both the door and the wall of this Tradd Street home are set in shades of haint blue – a classic Lowcountry color that can range from light turquoise to azure. (According to Gullah culture, the malevolent spirits, called “haints,” are unable to cross over water, so they avoid shades of blue that resemble the colors of the ocean.) While he hasn’t been inside, Hyatt surmises that this door leads into a courtyard garden from which the overflowing greenery originates. 

A take on the so-called “Charleston single house “Charleston single house” – a one room wide structure with a front-facing piazza and street facing “hospitality door” opening onto the porch – this home on Tradd Street looks like it might be made of pink gingerbread. Hyatt’s framing sandwiches it neatly between the two imposing buildings on either side, highlighting its whimsicality – from the towering chimney to topiaries worthy of Dr. Seuss. 

Farther north on the peninsula, this eye catching house on Thomas Street is another variation on the Charleston single house. In accordance with the rules of traditional Charleston etiquette, homeowners would leave the door open if they were accepting callers, and keep it shut to indicate that they were away or not to be disturbed. (As regards hospitality, Hyatt has found that most Charlestonians are receptive to having their property photographed. “I’ve had so many people come out to tell me about their house, or invite me in to walk around,” he says.)

A cross between a door and a gate, the entrance to this secret garden on Tradd Street offers a glimpse of the miniature Eden within. The crepe myrtle and palmetto tree rising above the hedge are emblematic of Charleston’s abundant and varied vegetation, Hyatt says. 

Here, Hyatt lets us see a bit more of the context in which these doors sit. (Most likely one leads to the ground floor, the other to the upper story, he says.) The worn paint, the tilted structure, and the drive through alleyway next door (a historic feature) all give a visceral sense of the passage of time. 

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