The Veterans Administration Regional Office (VARO) building on Assembly and Laurel streets is significant locally for its architecture. As a mid-century building, its history coincides with the early development and work of the General Services Administration (GSA) and represents the early work of a major southeast architecture firm.
Veterans Administration Regional Office
The VARO is a very early example of international style modernism in Columbia. Most of the other international style buildings in the city and on the campus of the University of South Carolina date to the early 1950s and beyond. The VARO Building is also a wonderful example of the early work of the partnership between Stork & Lyles, who would become Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle, and Wolff (LBC&W), the leading modern architecture firm in the southeast United States. By the mid-1970s, the firm had participated in more than 7,000 projects (including many federal projects). This building is indicative of the firm's early relationship with the federal government, as also exemplified by the nearby Cornell Arms apartment building. Additionally, the VARO building's design and conception predates the formal establishment of the GSA and is an example and representation of an early project in which the GSA came to supervise.
One of the most distinct features of the building is the granite relief sculpture at its entrance. Edmond Amateis, a Beaux-Arts trained sculptor for numerous War Memorials and works for the Department of Commerce Building in DC, completed the piece in 1952. The work depicts an agricultural allegory in South Carolina with Dr. Thomas G. Clemson, the prominent farmer, instructing scientific agriculture. The work depicts symbols and images that represent equal rights and opportunity African Americans amidst South Carolina crops and agriculture.
In May 2015 the GSA solicited bids to demolish the building at 1801 Assembly Street. Shortly thereafter, Historic Columbia submitted a request to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to reevaluate the decision to determine the site not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. One month later, SHPO reversed its decision and informed the GSA that the building was eligible, triggering a shift in the owner's strategy to dispense with the building through demolition. In October 2017, the building was placed for sale at public auction.
As a property eligible for the National Register as well as a site that has not been occupied for more than five years, a developer may access various federal and state tax credits as well as a local tax abatement when rehabilitating the property.
More and more, mid-century structures are being successfully restored and adapted for new use. In cities like Savannah and Charlottesville, mid-century offices, warehouses, and shopping centers are being adaptively reused as theaters, upscale condominiums, retail space, and event venues.