The Pink House at 17 Chalmers Street is a rarity in Charleston for a number of reasons. It is one of few buildings left that still bears a siding of Bermuda Stone, a soft coral material that was cheaply mined for simple construction in the colonial period. Bermuda stones were relatively soft and could be cut into large slabs that made building very simple, as well as virtually impervious to fire and earthquake. The tiny building, measuring only 13 x 13 in its original footprint, was built at the turn of the 18th century as a tavern along a small alley inside the early walled city, where it was a hangout for sailors and dockworkers, who “tippled” with ale and Madeira before wandering into nearby brothels. Known initially by the name of owners such as John Breton, the structure was soon nicknamed the Pink House as a result of the pastel hue that its stone walls gave off after long exposure to air. Bermuda stone fell out of favor as a building material, and with the development of more skilled artisans in old Charleston, stylish wooden weatherboarding, brick and stucco became the fashion for exteriors.
The old building is also notable for its high-pitched, clay-tiled Gambrel roof, of which there aren’t many in Charleston. This method of roofing that originated with the Dutch is created to give more headroom on the top floor, which in the Pink House is the third story, as well as allow smoke from the interior fireplaces to dissipate without hindrance of overhanging eaves.
The Pink House has seen major changes along Chalmers Alley, which was widened in 1815 to its present width as Chalmers Street. Livery stables next door have given way to parking lots, and down the street at Ryan’s Mart, tourists now come and go freely where slaves were once auctioned. The colorful name of the structure has been enhanced in modern times with coats of pink pastel paint, which now serve to distinguish a chic art gallery. This once-rugged city sector of drunken sailors and slave sales is today known as the fashionable French Quarter, a name created in 1973 to protect the historic area from development. The Pink House has been added to with a rear section that features more art work today, but the low ceilings and open hearth fireplaces still capture the feel of yesterday.