by Paul Bowers
The College of Charleston has closed the John M. Rivers Communications Museum temporarily while crews renovate the aging building at 58 George St.
The college announced that it had closed the museum on July 28 and has not yet released a re-opening date. Rick Zender, curator of the museum, says that repairs and updates on the 1803 house containing the museum could take years. He says he's open to the idea of relocating the collection elsewhere on the college campus.
"We don't really know our future," Zender says. "It's very possible that the museum may be moved to another location because the house really needs a lot of renovation."
According to Zender, engineers have said that the staircase and one of the floors are in serious need of repair. "The engineer told us, 'It wasn't a great design for stairs, even in 1803,'" Zender says.
The Communications Museum houses a broad-ranging collection of antiques including movie projectors, radios, theremins, unconventional telephones, and a radio broadcast call-signal chime. In addition to being one of the most gleefully bizarre historical sites in downtown Charleston, the museum has become a haven for experimental live performances, film screenings, and lectures. In recent years, local and touring musical acts have put on intimate, often interactive performances in the museum's small upper room.
The museum started in 1975 as a privately held collection at the WCSC Broadcast Museum at 80 Alexander St., displaying antique equipment from the historic WCSC ("Wonderful Charleston South Carolina") AM radio station and WCSC-TV, the oldest continually operating television station in the state. The collection was relocated to the college in 1988 following an endowment from the family of longtime broadcaster John Rivers Sr.
Zender took over as the museum's third curator in 2003. He says that whatever form and location the museum ends up taking, he plans to include a performance space for live concerts.
"Most people who come to the shows are young people who have a great appreciation for not only current bands and the current situation, but everything from old tape recorders to a cylinder player," Zender says. "It was sort of cool being able to watch a concert and be in that environment of ancient antiques."
Nicky Jones, a frequent patron who has booked concerts at the Communications Museum in recent years, is seeking submissions for a zine compiling memories and photographs from the museum. If you would like to share a photo or a story of 300 words or less, contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. The submission deadline is Sept. 20, and Jones hopes to publish in October.
“We just want to get as many photos and stories and memories as possible and shove them into a big zine and have some kind of gathering,” Jones says. “It just feels like it’s such a special place, and I feel like it can’t go out that quietly. There needs to be some kind of celebration, some kind of appreciation of it.”
In case you've never had the pleasure of visiting the Communications Museum in its current home, here are a few tour videos people have posted to YouTube: