By Reagin von Lehe, Wando HS (Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina)
The Grand is a swanky, modern bowling alley that originated in Columbia, SC and, since its opening, has been known for its southern-style foods, its enjoyable games and activities, and drawing crowds to its sleek decor in the 152-year-old Robinson Building at the beginning of Main Street.
Scott Middleton, the owner of The Grand Business, bought this building for its dimensions as the longest building on Main Street. The proportions are considerably perfect for a bowling alley with the amount of space for the placement of lanes. However, the layout of the building wasn’t the only reason for his purchase.
“The Robinson Building had been so much for Main Street,” Columbia’s Historic Society’s Broker in Charge, Joe Nester said.
Since 1866, just one year after the end of the Civil War, The Robinson Building has been home to a number of businesses including a local grocery store, The Grand Theatre, The Phoenix Newspaper, and, most recently, an Army Navy Surplus Store.
Considering that the building was an exceptionally important part of Columbian history, the owners, designers, and managers felt it should be a priority to come together in a team effort with Columbia’s Historic Society to conserve the history and culture as it once stood.
“We’re close with them,” David Keller, Director of Restaurant operations said. “Every step of the way they were included.”
December of 2015 marks the beginning of the rehabilitation of The Grand Theatre, a process that did not complete until November of 2017, into the Old Hollywood style Bowling Alley it is today.
Access to pictures of the original building became a key element to the process of design and establishing an ultimate theme for the restaurant.
“The front was huge. We had to match it exactly to keep the history alive,” Keller said.
As the project progressed, construction continued to be relatively on schedule, that is until a major complication arose during the restoration process that supervisors weren’t aware would save The Grand from an unfortunate difficulty following the opening.
According to Chuck Ringwalt of WLTX19 news, a fire ignited and destroyed the original ceiling, a factor they were hoping to preserve. Conveniently, the original ceiling was reported as poorly supported and repairs were, in fact, beneficial to the construction of The Grand.
Further inspection of the building and its previous state took place. As the contractors shifted through gravel and mud, certain findings such as a tunnel under Main Street were uncovered.
However, the most successful component of their search was The Old Grand Sign.
“People still call it ‘the find of the century,’” Keller said. “And we just found it in a pile of dirt.”
Ben Umberger, of Carolina Conservation, was the expert contacted for the restoration. Once the artifact was crated over to the facility, it was concluded that the sign was in poor condition. The original wood had rotted away and the metal was “severely corroded and rusting.”
“It’s a result of having been essentially dumped into an environmentally unstable storage area decades ago,” Umberger said.
Certain irrecoverable aspects of the sign will be replaced by synthetically distressed materials to match the condition of the original piece.
Customers share the same anticipation for the project that the owners and staff experience.
“Everything having to do with the past of the building makes it that much more enjoyable and the sign will connect everyone with the story it contains,” Anise Robinson, a customer, said.
Once The Grand receives the infamous sign, a dedication to The Robinson Building with the sign displayed will be placed in the bowling alley for customers to read and indulge in the history 1621 Main Street provided the local community throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.