Crape Myrtle (2)
A hot summer’s day in July, temperature at 90° F, she parked her Bronco in front of 69 Church Street. She caught the scenario in a sublime coolness of filtered sunrays through overhanging foliage. White oak trees, sabal palmettos and multi-trunked plants covered of deep pink blossom that she learnt later as crape myrtle. There stood two crape myrtle trees scarcely in blossom in front of the house. Golden digits of ‘69’ hang on the wall on the left of the door. Below that a name plate read; ‘Thomas Cyril House, Private Residence’.
Another house standing ten feet to the north got a slab by the southeast corner with an inscription to read; ‘Richard Bann House, Private Residence, Built Circa 1720 for Wealthy Wharf Owner and Provincial Powder Receiver. One of the Earliest Fine Examples of a Single House’. And placed there by the Preservation Society of Charleston.
Roughly twenty-five years later, another wealthy owner built a house right next to Bann House. She noted the side path between the two houses where the Lincoln was parked in the photograph.
Natalia retreated to find a lodge and stopped at 86 Church Street; Hutton House Bed and Breakfast. Here she sat in a side yard garden beside another 18th century house. Landlady told her that Hutton House still remain in the family.
“What do you call these trees entirely covered of pink blossom?” asked Natalia.
“Crape myrtle,” replied Lady Valerie, “not native but it’s been around for some time. These trees are in full blossom throughout summer.”
“Two trees outside 69 barely got a flower!”
“There’s a myth that says one of the reasons why crape myrtle won’t bloom is because you’re an evil. Some evil hand planted them. To be realistic, it could be mildew or lack of sunshine.”
“Why are these houses standing sideways and so close to one another? I was expecting vast premises since they belong to the wealthy.”
“Single houses in Charleston look like they were placed sideways and some incline to believe homeowners were trying to avoid taxes on property frontage. However, homes were built in this fashion due to the constrictive configurations of lots in the city. Charleston was a walled metropolis formerly and a historical city over 300 years old,” explained Valerie correcting her glasses, “Sometime in the past, there were fewer houses. Now the population has grown and lots divided. This peninsula is man-made, reclaimed from the marshes and sea.”
“All the houses on this street look identical. Is it to keep the heritage of a Charleston architecture?” asked Natalia.
“There could be a Charleston distinctiveness in the architecture with piazzas to catch the wind and large windows open to side yards. Most of the houses are built more recently. Not all date back to 18th century. We didn’t have this new house when we were kids…just a backyard. Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina. You can read about ancient houses at the library archives or at the Preservation Society. Architecture varies from Victorian, Federal, Colonial, Gothic, Georgian…”
“I figured that all key centres are nearby on King Street and Queen Street. Tell me, what do you know about the Bann House?”
“I am not familiar with the houses,” said Valerie, a lean tall lady, “but Bann is a household name. You find several estates under his name. I actually spent a good half of my matured life in Virginia with a pal. I ran away from home.”
“I can tell you this,” said Valerie, “See that house with brick walls! That’s Heyward Washington House with a museum. Built in 1772, home of Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. George Washington stayed there during his visit to this town in 1791.”
Natalia stared at the house on the opposite side of the street.
Natalia stopped at the library reckoning it to be more conventional and obscure to her knowledge; Cyril House did not enter the archives of heritage homes at the time deemed for conservation by the Preservation Society of Charleston. She asked the librarian where to find it and the lady referred to as the “Crape-Myrtle House!”
69 Church Street was built in the circa 1745-50 by Dick Rock and Jason Crape in Gothic Revival style and the interiors completed in Georgian style at which time Charles Town was the fourth largest port in America and possibly the wealthiest. One unique feature for the given time was that every bedroom in the home has an en suite bathroom. This house underwent a series of renovations, sold many times and some distinguished persons owned the place and stayed there. Among them, Colonel Myrtle served as the treasurer of the colony and his son married one of the Banns. This house was extensively damaged during the Civil War. In 1869, a famous artist purchased the property and restored it.
Natalia glanced at the book left beside her; ‘The Dwelling Houses of Charleston’ published in 1917 written by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith who died here in 1958.
It was nightfall. She drove up Church Street and stopped by the southeast corner of Cyril House. Natalia spent an hour watching at the symmetrical sets of glass-fitted windows but there was no light. She repeated the same procedure after dinner for another two hours.
In the morning she scaled the steps and rang the bell. No one answered. She stepped into the side path and peeped through a panel of a sash window. Plentiful light entered into the house from tall Georgian windows. She climbed the car and drove to Meeting Street. She stopped near Ford Court and set her gear.
She stepped out in a full Muay Thai outfit; sports bra, boxing shorts, headband, ankle sleeves, Taekwondo shoes, latex gloves with half finger sparring gloves over them. She carried a mesh bag around her neck and head up the lane.
The boundary wall stood eleven feet tall and the rear gate was a sheet of metal. She walked up the lane to Church Street, crossed the front door and stepped into the south side alley.
She climbed over an iron gate into a path leading to a private garden in the middle of camellia bushes. Here the hedges cut trendily at two feet height around plots of gardens. Hidden behind and through an opening in tall podocarps, an oval swimming pool was one of its kind to exist first in the town. Reflecting waters hinted of proper maintenance.
She sat down on a bench under the trellis, picked her camera and took pictures. There stood two privies by a corner.
In a moment, she hacked open one of the sash windows at the rear and slipped into the house which was a cypress-panelled library. She took pictures and checked every closet. A stunning interior in the flood of beautiful natural light. Delft tiles, woodwork, wainscoting, mantels and mouldings reflect the Georgian and Federal periods. A soaring eleven feet high ceiling and a centrally located stair hall with wooden floors and rugs, photo frames on the walls. 15 fireplaces, 7 bedrooms, 8 full baths, 1 half bath, besides other halls in this house of 8524 sq ft inside a premise of 0.29 acre.
The second floor featured the splendid ballroom with a grand piano, drawing room and two bedrooms. A master bedroom on the third floor and utility rooms in the attic. Natalia couldn’t find a single item of interest.
She passed to the kitchen building connected by a hyphen to the main house; a fairly large building overlooking the gardens through lancet arched windows. She found few boat magazines and a logbook left on the large island counter. An ashtray full of cigarette butts and the smell of tobacco hung in air.
At the far end, a family room piled of boat gear; buoys, anchors, ropes, lifejackets, flares, fishing kits, fire extinguishers, batteries, snorkelling accessories, paints, various kinds of containers and even a Mercury outboard engine.
She climbed up the staircase that gave access to two bedrooms and a balcony overhanging to the gardens. She found one room stacked of boat equipment; tool kits, navigational lights, radios and all that packed in boxes. She picked a folded piece of paper beside a television. It was an invoice dated April 30th and raised to a boat called ‘Valor’ in Dock F-5 of City Marina from a Wayland Marine Group for a stainless-steel welding job of a ladder. And the recipient was a Curtis. She dropped it into her bag.
Natalia turned back to the kitchen. Browsed the magazine pages. Took some quick snaps of the logbook. She picked some cigarette butts, a spoon, a pen and two glasses that she put into the mesh bag. The kitchen door was unlocked.
She stepped into the garden turf. Standing there facing west, she caught a view of the fountain before the podocarps wall. She recalled the photographs by ‘Kit’; the person behind the camera…whoever it was snapped the pictures standing inside the gardens.
She climbed over the gate and sauntered around the block to Meeting Street to fetch her vehicle.
She returned to her lodge with a full tank so she scurried into the powder room, tossed out her stiffy and released pee into the toilet. The door opened and Valerie peered.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’re in,” she cried correcting her glasses. She didn’t even notice that the girl was peeing. She glanced again and listened to the sound of running water in a subconscious mind and banged her head on the jamb in the next move before closing the door that barely latched.