On May 15, 2018, Columbia lost a symbol of local history with the demolition of the Woman’s Club of Columbia. After standing for 77 years on the corner of Blossom and Henderson Streets, the Woman’s Club building faced demolition shortly after the Catholic Diocese of Charleston purchased the lot from the University of South Carolina (USC) Foundation. Erected in 1941, this venerable structure stood as a physical testament to generations of women’s activism that began during the Civil War and grew in intensity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Woman’s Club of Columbia
As community activists during this period, women frequently challenged social norms and broke down gender barriers by assuming roles traditionally played by men. Amid the social upheaval spawned by the Civil War Columbia women factored heavily into the war effort at home organizing wayside hospitals and fundraisers for support of the troops. Their efforts continued during the post bellum period to memorialize their fallen brothers, sons, fathers and husbands.
Beginning in 1926 and running through 1940, minutes from the Woman’s Club continuously show the desire of the women for their own clubhouse that would provide the club a sense of permanency through a dedicated venue within the city and promoting cohesion within the group.
Erected just before the United States’ entry in World War II, the Woman’s Club building represented a late expression of the neoclassical style of architecture, which had enjoyed a significant following since the 1920s. The prominent Columbia firm of Lafaye, Lafaye and Fair designed the handsome structure whose style makes a social and political statement.
Over the years the building had not only been used exclusively by the Woman's Club but by many people and organizations in Columbia. It had been the venue for wedding receptions, dance recitals, and ballroom dances of generations of many Columbia children and young teens, under the direction of Mrs. Isabel Whaley Sloan [daughter of W.B. Smith Whaley] and Mr. Simpson Zimmerman [son of Christie Powers Zimmerman and brother to Christie Zimmerman Fant], who still resides here in Columbia.
The Challenge of Preservation
Once Historic Columbia became aware of the sale and quick plans to tear down the site, we reached out to the Catholic Dioceses to engage in conversation and encouraged the community to join us in fighting to save this important building. Unfortunately, our efforts to delay the demolition were unsuccessful and the building was demolished on Tuesday, May 15 and part of Columbia’s history was lost forever. On the eve of its demolition, our team was granted access to photograph and document the site so that digital records would be available and preserved for future generations.
The Future of Preservation in Columbia
Resulting from the community’s disappointment over the abruptly made demolition decisions over the Women’s Club building, Columbia City Council members have begun discussing an ordinance that would delay a demolition permit for any building 50 years or older. This delay process would allow preservation-focused groups like Historic Columbia a period to find alternatives to demolition of historic structures. With the help of local legislature and city ordinances, Columbia has a chance to maintain and preserve its diverse history for future generations.