Property owners try to preserve Iconic Folly Beach landmark
By Lorne Chambers | Editor
When Greg and Crystal Bayer bought the property at 506 East Ashley Ave. back in 2013 they knew they were getting a unique piece of Folly history. What they were not fully aware of was just how attached locals were to the property’s signature feature, an authentic 16-foot Alaskan Inuit totem pole, which has sat in the front yard facing towards the Atlantic Ocean since the 1950s.
The couple soon learned just how special the totem pole was to people on Folly Beach and they are now setting out to save the sculpture, which despite surviving numerous hurricanes and tropical storms, has fallen into disrepair in recent years and is rotting from the inside out.
Because many town records were lost in a fire several decades ago, there’s no documents stating exactly when the home was built, but local historians believe it was around 1925. “Some people say it is the oldest standing structure on Folly Beach,” says Greg, who runs a wealth management firm and, along with Crystal, lives part of the year on Folly and part of the year in Florida.
Known by most locals as the “Totem Pole House,” the main structure has a unique story to tell well beyond the iconic monument that has been a part of the property since the 1950s. The home itself is thought to have originally been an infirmary or emergency vehicle station in the 1920s when it was built. It’s also said that during Prohibition rumrunners used it as an underground hideaway. A plaque at the property states: “The authentic Alaskan Totem pole adorning the front was purchased in the 1950s for $5,000 by Herman Schindler, a King Street antique dealer, to ward off evil spirits rumored to haunt the home.”
“I think its doing its job. We haven’t encountered any spirits since we’ve been there,” said Greg last week on his way to New York for work. “I’ve read it was the only original Alaskan Inuit totem pole in South Carolina.”
Greg said previous owners of the property tried to stem the rot by hollowing it out and then filing it with spray foam, which has only locked in moisture and accelerated the problem. The Bayers had local artists and a restoration specialist come look at the totem pole to see if it could be saved and what the cost might be to do so. “The artists say they would have to scrape out all of the foam and then use natural materials to fill it and then repaint it,” said Greg.
According to Crystal, they considered talking to the City of Folly Beach about extending the easement onto their property and taking over ownership and care of the landmark, which sits back about 10-12 feet from the street, but that their neighbors were not supportive of the idea. So they are now trying to raise the funds to help preserve it on their own.
With the rest of the home in need of major repairs and renovations, the Bayers are unable to allocate $4,000 for the totem pole preservation themselves. But they are currently seeking suggestions and ideas from neighbors and other Folly locals on how to raise the money to preserve the historic landmark.
“I’m aware that there are really a lot better causes and a lot better humanitarian causes out there,” said Greg, who therefore, is not comfortable with starting a Kickstarter or similar web-based crowd-sourced funding initiative for the totem pole. “But the townspeople really feel like it is part of their history and if we don’t do any thing about it, it’s going to crumble.”