Experts: 1886 Earthquake damage contributed to downtown restaurant's closure

Experts: 1886 Earthquake damage contributed to downtown restaurant's closure
The 1886 earthquake damaged or destroyed many buildings in downtown Charleston. This photo was taken on Broad St. (Source: SCDNR)
The 1886 earthquake damaged or destroyed many buildings in downtown Charleston. This photo was taken on Broad St. (Source: SCDNR)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - City of Charleston engineers believe pre-existing damage from a historic earthquake may have contributed to a downtown restaurant closing abruptly this week.

City of Charleston planner Jacob Lindsey said structural experts believe part of the facade at 288 King Street came off during the 1886 Earthquake.

"They believe it's possible the facade was never properly installed after the earthquake," Lindsey said.

The damaged exterior was spotted by owners of Nick's BBQ, who have leased the space on King St. for the past 12 years.

"We noticed the front of our building...the walls didn't look the way they typically looked, just a little off," John Haire, a partner with the restaurant, said.

According to Haire, the building is almost is 200 years old and had previously undergone repairs to address the issue.

One lane of King Street and the sidewalk in front of the building were closed off Tuesday night as a safety precaution, city spokesman Jack O'Toole said. Officials made the decision to close off the area after they learned from a structural engineer of a potential safety issue.

That word came shortly after the owners of Nick's announced to customers that the location had been shut down.

"The past 24 hours have been a roller coaster," Haire said as employees worked to transfer kitchen and other items from the downtown location Wednesday. "It's been a range of emotions."

Haire said the restaurant plans to re-organize employees at its other location in North Charleston and a soon-to-open Mount Pleasant location.

288 King Street isn't the only historic building that's suffered from structure damage lately. In March, part of 11 1/2 Philip Street collapsed. While another property on Gadsden Street was reported to be so unsafe, city officials had to demolished the home in January. Yet, city experts said such extreme structural issues aren't the norm.

"It's not uncommon that we have historical buildings that need maintenance," Lindsey said. "It is unusual that we have buildings that have major structural issues like this."

While the city inspects buildings before they're occupied and prior to issuing permits for repairs, Lindsey said the burden ultimately falls on property and business owners to monitor structural issues.

"I think all of us that are in business, small business, we know the way it's supposed to look and the way it's supposed to feel," Haire said. "If something doesn't look right, say something. Had we not said something, I don't know...I don't want do think about that."

1886 quake killed 60, was felt hundreds of miles away

Most people had gone to bed by 9:51 p.m. on Aug. 31, 1886, when the estimated Magnitude 7.3 quake struck.

Sixty people died in the quake and many of the city's brick and masonry buildings had crumbled. Those that remained standing had cracks and other scars from the violent shaking.

That shaking reportedly damaged structures as far away as 200 miles from downtown Charleston and was felt as from Cuba to New York and as far west as the Mississippi River, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

The historic quake on Aug. 31, 1886, 130 years ago, killed 60 people and destroyed many historic buildings, becoming one of the most damaging earthquakes ever to strike the southeast.

In 2011 dollars, the quake caused more than $200 billion dollars in economic loss in Charleston.

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