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Take a walk on the arty side

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Walking along Capitol Street, it's hard to miss the Scott Drug building.

With its handsome corner turret, topped by a conical crown, the century-old building is one of the cornerstones of the downtown historic district.

It's also sure to be a highlight of the Downtown Public Art and Architecture Walking Tour on Saturday, one of many activities scheduled during the first full day of FestivALL.

"I've always been fascinated with the Scott Drug building, the Victorian tower and turret," said John Harris, an architect with the Charleston firm Bastian & Harris. He'll be leading the walk, which begins at 1 p.m. at the Lee Street Triangle.

"There's been a number of adaptive reuses, and fortunately it's maintained its historic fabric," Harris said. Following its 1987 restoration for First Empire Savings and Loan, the Scott building has been home to two law firms.

One of the first tour stops may be Davis Park, immediately across the street from the Lee Street Triangle and home to several pieces of public art.

You can't miss the bronze statue of park namesake Henry Gassaway Davis, sitting solemnly astride his horse. But you'll have to look upward to find Mark Blumenstein's whimsical sculpture, tooting his trombone atop the gazebo.

Harris plans to take the group to Washington Street to see what used to be the city's premier hotel.

"I think 405 Capitol St., with the history of the Daniel Boone ... saving that for a Class A property downtown," he said.

And at the corner of Virginia and Capitol, he may duck inside the lobby of the 12-story Security Building, longtime home of the Frankenberger's clothing store. There you can find a giant mural of a bank lobby. A long-skirted woman adjusting her stockings peers back at visitors.

Harris plans to stick mainly to Capitol Street, and possibly Hale Street, because tour participants will be on foot.

President of the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects board and board member of its West Virginia Foundation for Architecture, Harris said the foundation has been looking for ways to make people more aware of architecture.

"We were looking for a Lego competition a few months ago but that fell through. This was a logical progression. There's a fair amount of interesting buildings in Charleston, both historic buildings and more contemporary."

The group approached the FestivALL steering committee, which already had a similar idea.

"We wanted to do some public art tours," said Susie Salisbury, a vice president with the Charleston Area Alliance, which last year won a $50,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to inventory and promote the city's public art.

A public art walking guide, part of that effort, will be unveiled during FestivALL, she said.

"So we had this planned, and the AIA had this idea for architectural tours. Naomi [Bays, FestivALL public art coordinator] had the idea for combining the two. Architecture and art are closely attached."

In addition to the walking tour, two trolley tours are scheduled a week later, on June 23. A downtown public art tour starts at 10 a.m., and an East End and Capitol Complex art and architecture tour starts at noon, Bays said. Both tours begin at the Lee Street triangle.

Details of the trolley tours are still being worked out, but the downtown art tour is likely to range farther than the walking tour Saturday.

There is plenty of sculpture to see on the Capitol grounds, Bays said. "In the East End, we'll get some of the murals, and probably some of the historic homes."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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