By W. Joel Patterson
I am writing in response to the recent Journal article by Alan Ethridge concerning the Peace Center Board’s proposal to the Greenville city Design Review Board (DRB) to expand the Wyche Pavilion. Although he is highly critical of opponents of the plan and the DRB’s denial of the request, he fails to mention any of the valid reasons for the decision.
The DRB is not made up of provincial obstructionists as Ethridge suggests. These are qualified people selected and appointed by the Greenville City Council. They are charged among other things with the protection and preservation of the city’s historic buildings, landmarks, and districts through guidelines designed to facilitate preserving our heritage for future generations. The connection here goes back a number of years and has to do with the fact that the original Peace Center property includes some of our most significant historic buildings. This area of the Reedy River down through Falls Park is the very cradle of Greenville’s industrial and commercial base.
Beginning in the early 19th century industries were established here utilizing the power derived from the river. In the 1970s a group of local leaders recognized that the cluster of buildings between River Street and Main Street along the river represented a unique district still maintaining its historic architectural character (see National Register of Historic Places Nomination Summary online) and set out to have it preserved and designated as a Historic District by the US Department of the Interior in the National Register of Historic Places. This was accomplished in 1979 with the area designated as the Reedy River Industrial District with Federal guidelines as to how it should be restored and preserved. Four buildings in this District dating from 1850 through 1914 are located within the Peace Center property including the Wyche Pavilion. The owners of the buildings intent was that they be protected for future generations.
Plans to develop the area into a textile museum failed, but much to our benefit and good fortune in a few more years the Peace Center was formed and acquired the buildings incorporating them into the magnificent complex we have today. But in acquiring these historic buildings they were entrusted with their restoration and preservation.
This brings us back to the Wyche Pavilion which stands out more than any other remaining structure in the immediate area as a representation and reminder of Greenville’s riverfront industrial heritage. The Peace Center plan would strip the structure of its historic architectural integrity in order to conform to the newer addition design. Aside from the access issue, here is where a large part of the problem lies. Why do the designers insist that the building must be modified when they can just as easily restore it to its original exterior appearance with period style windows and preservation of its distinctive cupola as was so beautifully done with the Huguenot Mill? This, along with a less obstructive addition could likely satisfy guidelines and win approval to the benefit of all concerned. It would also demonstrate that the Peace Center Board still values the heritage of its location and its trust to conserve the historic architectural assets in its care.
On the positive side no one could disagree with Ethridge’s statements that the Peace Center is a wonderful centerpiece of Greenville’s downtown restoration and has had a profound impact on the growth and quality of the area. We are grateful for the extraordinary cultural enrichment it provides and look forward to its continued success. Hopefully it will not forget the significance of the heritage it holds in future plans for improvements.