The imaginative reconstruction of the Dock Street Theatre, completed between 1935 and 1937 in Charleston, South Carolina, was a New Deal experiment in historic preservation. Funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and led by local architects Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham, the orchestrated re-creation of a lost eighteenth-century theater reflected the white elite’s desire to immortalize the city’s prosperous colonial and antebellum past in the historic built environment. While the project courted conservative interests and created a romanticized version of Old Charleston, the strong support of Democratic mayor Burnet Maybank and WPA director Harry L. Hopkins simultaneously pushed forward a progressive southern agenda. This dual and contradictory set of motivations culminated in an intriguing use of historic preservation to nurture a particular community’s sense of place and use historic buildings as a catalyst for cultural rebirth.

You do not currently have access to this content.