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A Fancy Tripod

The 1905 Keystone View Company stereoscopic photo above has the brief title “Looking down Main Street from Skyscraper Building, Showing State Capitol, Columbia, S. C., U. S. A.” There’s a surprising amount of discussion in that photo and single sentence.

First, South Carolina, like a lot of other states, built a miniature version of the US Capitol for its statehouse. That’s neither good nor bad, but it’s a little weird: that photo shows a building that looks a lot like the building in Washington looked like before the wings for the expanded Senate and House chambers were added in the 1850s. It’s like an architectural time machine.

Second, note the streetcars. It can’t be emphasized enough that mass transit, in the form of streetcars and other light rail, was everywhere in the US at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. There would seem to be a lesson in that.

Third, the old photos I see generally either don’t mention their vantage point or specifically name it. We’re in a weird in-between situation here: “skyscraper building”? What skyscraper building? Was there only one? The answer to that last question appears to be yes, which explains why no name was given. Based on the angle of view and the date, the camera had to be on top of the National Loan and Exchange Bank Building a few blocks up Main Street from the Capitol. That building was constructed in 1903, designed by Brite & Bacon, architects who had worked in New York a few years earlier and therefore probably had a good idea about the new steel-frame technology. Here’s an old and relatively fancy postcard:

The building, Columbia’s first skyscraper, has survived and been converted in 2006 to apartments. Its design could be any number fo small skyscrapers from New York at that time. But for the Keystone photographer, it was a place to put a camera.