One of the stops on my High Society
tour is The People’s Building
known as the first “skyscraper” of Charleston. Located at 18 Broad Street in the always bustling Historic district, visitors might not realize that what’s atop this attractive edifice had people up in arms in the early 20th century as to how it might change the Holy City. So just how tall is it? Does its height rival the Sears Tower in Chicago? Perhaps it surpasses the Empire State Building’s imposing stature? Um, not exactly.
Standing at an unbelievable eight stories high (yes, 8!), this was once considered a threat by many residents that its creation would “ruin” the skyline of Charleston when it was erected in 1910-11. Costing a then whopping $300,000, it was designed by architect Victor Frohling of Thompson & Frohling of New York and built by the Hadden Construction Co. It was also seen by many as very progressive for the time. But, when The People’s National Bank opened in April 1911, onlookers came from all over just to ride the steel frame elevators. Even President William Howard Taft took a spin to the top and declared that he wasn’t sure if the building ruined the skyline, but that the view was “worth it.”
The first two floors are faced with Winnsboro granite while the upper floors are made of buff-colored brick and terra cotta. Rated as fireproof and constructed of concrete, she stands remarkably the same today as she would have looked back then. Originally, the building had nine rooms on a mezzanine and 13 rooms each of the upper floors in addition to the banking spaces. Its interior was then heated by steam.
The People’s Bank closed in 1936 and the building was then purchased by the Southeastern Securities Co. It was its president, Charles L. Mullaly who installed the two white marble leopards at the main entrance. Carved from Italian marble by an unknown 18th century artist, the leopards were brought to Charleston from Boston. The cats were saved from removal in 1990 by Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review. Sadly, in June 2011, one of the leopards was damaged and completely destroyed by vandals.
Owners of the People’s Building sought to change the zoning to allow residences throughout the building — think of the real estate possibilities! Preservationists came to a compromise and concluded that half of the building would remain office and retail space and the other half could be used as residential properties.
As of today, this top unit is not for sale, but get a gander at this short video highlighting the interior, exterior and that incomparable view!