For many years, Spartanburg had a reputation for tearing down historic buildings and neighborhoods with reckless abandon. There are two classic examples in Spartanburg's history that illustrate what frequently happened in many places in the city and county.
From the time of its establishment until 1977, Spartanburg's downtown center, Morgan Square, was flanked by rows of storefronts on its northern and southern sides. By the turn of the 20th century, businesses filled these buildings while decorative masonry, store signs, window displays, and awnings filled their facades. This continued until the 1960s and 1970s, when sprawl and "white flight" left downtown nearly barren. In a short-sighted attempt to revitalize the square, city leaders cooperated with developers to transform the northern block of Morgan Square into a large shopping complex. The icing on this development's cake: the basement level was to have an ice-skating rink! Ooh-la-la!
The city got things started by leveling the entire block. All the buildings between Morgan Square, Magnolia St., St. John St., and Church St., including the oldest building still then on the square, were lost to the wrecking ball. Additionally, five workers were killed during the sloppy demolition of Spartanburg's first "skyscraper," the 1912 Andrews Building. By the end of 1977, Spartanburg had an empty city block and an unfulfilled promise. The development never came. In fact, the lot along the square remained a parking lot until 2003, when the "Opportunity Block," as it came to be called, was sold and the new Extended Stay America headquarters was constructed, filling a block that once held distinctive 19th and early 20th century buildings that mirrored the square's southern side.
Another preservation disaster to affect Spartanburg during the 1960s and 1970s was the destruction of South Liberty Street and the historic Southside community. Once again, believing that renewal at any cost would pay off, the city allowed an entire neighborhood of turn of the century homes to be leveled and the streets reconfigured. The result? Thirty years later we still have a curiously spacious boulevard that winds through what had once been a busy downtown corridor. An under-utilized park lines the street and the memories of a vibrant downtown neighborhood grow fainter.
Thankfully, the days of Spartanburg's complete disregard for its architectural history have passed and although not every historic structure is saved, leaders and residents in the city are far more attuned to historic preservation. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on Spartanburg's greatest preservation success story.