The vibrant pastel paint colors applied to the exterior of neglected buildings between 79 and 107 East Bay Street became one of the earliest and most potent symbols of Charleston’s emerging preservation movement. In 1931 the decorator and preservationist Dorothy Haskell Porcher Legge purchased and began renovating a house at 99–101 East Bay Street. Legge’s house stood amid a row of buildings that dated from the early eighteenth century and had originally served as the businesses and residences of prosperous merchants. The ground floors were used as stores and counting rooms; living quarters occupied the upper floors. Once located along the wharves of Charleston harbor, these buildings became neglected after the docks silted and mercantile activities moved elsewhere. Inspired by the bright pastel colors associated with colonial Caribbean architecture, Legge’s nonhistorical, attention-grabbing paint scheme sought to encourage their rehabilitation. As the buildings along East Bay Street were restored in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the block became known as Rainbow Row. In the early twenty-first century this picturesque collection of buildings was among the most widely recognized images of Charleston and symbolized the role of preservation as a stimulus for urban revitalization.
Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
Stockton, Robert. “The Evolution of Rainbow Row.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1979.