Date of Award

6-30-2016

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

History

Sub-Department

College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Lauren Sklaroff

Abstract

The Dock Street Theatre project, completed between the years 1935 and 1937 in Charleston, South Carolina, was a New Deal experiment in “historical restoration” funded by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Opening night of the restored theatre signified the transformation of the Old Planters’ Hotel, a dilapidated nineteenth-century resort built on the site of the original 1736 playhouse, into an architectural gem that resurrected the eighteenth-century theatre that was considered the cultural heart of colonial Charleston. The orchestrated recreation of the Dock Street Theatre resulted from the imperative of Charleston’s white elite to foment through architecture a tangible image of the city’s prosperous colonial and antebellum past. Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham, the project’s architects, utilized the built environment to craft a particular cultural identity of their city that promoted a romanticized view of Charleston as a bastion of the Old South. Two goals were embedded in the restoration of the theatre: to produce an architecturally sound space that resembled as closely as possible the original eighteenth-century theatre, and to physically encode in the built environment the legacy of Old Charleston. The relocation of architectural elements salvaged from a nearby nineteenth-century mansion, the Radcliffe-King House, to the restored theatre helped fabricate a visual and physical connection to Charleston’s past. Ultimately, the project fulfilled its aims to strengthen Charleston’s art identity as a regional theatre and to contribute to the architectural stock of a city whose cultural elites were intent on maintaining, and, when possible, resurrecting a prosperous past in tangible form.

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