Education and Adaptation

Schoolgirl in Maine, 1942. Bernard Hoffman via Life Magazine


Its rich historic and variable architectural heritage is unarguably one of Charleston’s most defining characteristics. The grand mansions, famous Charleston singles, charming carriage houses, and colorful row houses all contribute to its residential appeal. However, Charleston’s dedication to all forms of preservation has led to the development of other types of residential properties-- ones that were originally built with another purpose in mind.

Adaptive Reuse: From Learning to Living

Adaptive reuse refers to converting a historic building to perform a different function; many of these buildings are old mills, schools, hospital and industrial buildings. Charleston has a great history of the practice that has been growing in popularity as concerns over sustainability persist. For example, the school building at 67 Legare Street was constructed as the Crafts School in 1881, named for the noted Charleston antebellum poet and intellectual William Crafts. Buist Academy architect David Hyer designed the three-story wing that was added in 1915 and the school was rehabilitated in the mid-1980s and repurposed as condominiums.

Andrew B. Murray Vocational School 3 Chisolm Street, Charleston, SC

Murray Vocational School

In 2000, the old Murray Vocational School at 3 Chisolm Street was converted into condominiums. Built in 1922, it was also designed by architect David Hyer in the Neo-classical style of school architecture popular during that time. The school was named for philanthropist Andrew Buist Murray, who encouraged the city to fill approximately 50 acres of marsh south of Tradd Street in 1909. He built and donated Murray Blvd to the city, and the early 20th century neighborhood of Charleston's lower western peninsula was born. Chisolm Street, which was created by the fill, was named for the Chisolm family, whose large Greek Revival mansion (mid-1830s) and rice and lumber mill complex (ca 1829) was located at the west end of Tradd Street overlooking the Ashley. The “Horse Lot” across the street from the old school was created from a millpond that serviced the Chisolm Mill.

Learning cabinetmaking at a training school for the deaf in Sulphur, Oklahoma (1917). Lewis Wickes Hine

Murray Vocational School was part of a national trend in education after World War I, in which industrial education transitioned in status from “bread and butter” education to a way to ensure progress and prosperity. Murray was a “Unit-Trade School” in which young men could obtain specific training in auto mechanics and woodworking, as well as relevant subjects such as science and math. In the 1930s, Murray opened its doors to girls, who could study cosmetology, home economics, or “distributive education” (sales). By the early 1940s, the emphasis had changed to preparation for war and in 1941 the school received a federal grant to train workers for the Charleston Navy Yard.

In 1950, the school built a structure to hold a new auto repair shop, since the old shop was designed to hold cars that were 12 1/2 ft. long. According to a 1950 News & Courier article, to get cars from the late 1940s into the shop, it was necessary to “run them through the door and up against one of the supporting pillars, then jack them up and slide them sidewise into the building.” Two bays were built in the new building, and the old shop is now a parking area below the loft units.

Murray Vocational school continued to offer vocational training and evening classes until 1970, and then became the administrative facility for the Charleston County School District until 1995. It was sold as surplus property by the district in 2001, when it was adapted for use as a condominium complex.

Back to School

The condominiums at 3 Chisolm Street utilize the main school building, the small brick caretaker’s house, as well as the shop/gymnasium. There are a total of 26 condos (6 lofts, 1 cottage, 19 in the main building). The exterior of each building, and much of the interior, remains original. Terrazzo tile hallway floors and huge metal framed windows in the main building--as well as the wooden athletic court floors in the gymnasium--are just some of the remaining original features.

Lois Lane recently represented the seller in the sale of Unit 204, a main-building two-bedroom unit overlooking the interior courtyard. Congratulations to the buyers of this lovely condominium!