Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Preserving History

When I heard my friend Richard Burts was interested in buying and preserving the pink elephant that seems to lumber and beckon at the prominent corner of Whaley and Olympia, I got excited. I had been in the building years before to see performances and also to perform. Richard took me by there one afternoon and the sheer size of it struck me for the first time. The piles of odds and ends including a piano, rows of theater seating, art work, installations,electronic equipment, pigeons and then of course the largest hole I'd ever seen in a ceiling and second floor. All so BIG - So Much.
As we went up the old but still sturdy staircase that hundreds of men, women and children mill workers must have climbed hundreds of times, a sense of community became apparent, interesting and again beckoning. Walking through the threshold of the enormous room where movies were played every Friday night, the voices of the past and energy of previous lives stopped me in my tracks. As I caught up with Richard at the other end of that once grand space he said " You know if you're quiet you can almost hear the voices." I didn't really even have to be quiet to hear them.....
Saving the building, preserving the voices of this particular past became instantly important to me as well.
We'll see as the story progresses why this building seems to summon us.

New Beginnings for 701 Whaley



Local real estate developers Richard Burts & Robert Lewis have closed on the historic building once known as The Pacific Mills Community Building and more recently Gallery 701. The treasure is located at 701 Whaley Street in an area known as Olympia in Columbia, SC. Burts & Lewis both have experience in restoring historic buildings.

Built in 1903, 701 Whaley started out as the mill store for the surrounding mill village known as the Pacific Mills community. 701 Whaley then became the Pacific Mills Community Center that included a bowling alley, library, auditorium and dance hall.

In 2000, a section of roof caved in and nearly 6000sq feet of roof deck and second floor deck have collapsed into the building. The city was going through the process of condemning and demolishing the building but Burts and Lewis felt this cornerstone of the community needed to be preserved.

With strong support from the neighborhoods, The Richland County Conservation Commission, Columbia Historic Foundation and the City of Columbia and The South Carolina Department of Archives & History the future looks bright for this magnificent building. Burts and Lewis hope to revive 701 to a multiuse facility that will once again serve the needs of this important area of Columbia.

Burts and Lewis will be handling the development side of this newly formed partnership and are currently discussing a strategic partnership with Red Curb Investments headquartered in California who has shown strong interest in the property.

Local filmmaker Lee Ann Kornegayhas been funded by the Richland County Conservation Commission to produce a documentary on the Mill community that features the 701 Whaley Street structure.

Photo is 701 Whaley as it originally existed.

For more information contact:
Richard Burts
(803) 414-9450
Robert Lewis
(803) 256-1268