Who remembers Rockafellas’?

Alt Lee
Image courtesy of Alt Lee Photography

#TBT: The making of Five Points ⛲

This is part of our #TBT collaboration with Historic Columbia.

With all the new cultural happenings every week across the city, it can be easy to forget that Five Points has been here for 100+ years, and it’s always been a unique hub. It’s Columbia’s original village neighborhood – and DYK? It’s the oldest non-Main Street shopping center in S.C. (Pretty cool.)

Alt Lee

Image courtesy of Alt Lee Photography

In recent months, there’s been lots of buzz over what will happen next in the village, and now’s the perfect time to brush up on your history (and all the old pics).

Crash course

There is a LOT of history to talk about in Five Points. Seriously, y’all, it’s a little bonkers. So for the purposes of today, we’re taking a crash course and peeking in on the highlights. Holler if you have questions. Let’s go—

Y’all remember in 1889 that the Cola Land & Investment Co. purchased the land that would become Old Shandon.

And of course you remember Columbia’s streetcar, aka the Suburbanites’ Best Friend, and what they did for the city’s growth.

And you definitely remember the story of King (nee Valley) Park and its creation in 1912.

So let’s jump right in to 1915, when Cola turns its attentions underground.

Underwater blues

Back in the day (until the 1890s) the area we now know as Five Points was mostly rural farmland and woods. Not picturesque, Hundred-Acre-Wood-woods — this was more of a swamp. Rocky Branch Creek cut across the landscape. Low scrubby trees and briars were sucked into the muck when it rained. Kids used to hunt ducks when the land flooded.

So why does the land still flood? Well, for one thing, it’s low-lying. (Duh.) But Rocky Branch Creek didn’t just dry up when people began to develop the land. Instead, humans do what they are wont to do and sent the water underground in 1915. #ingenuity, but also #comesbacktotobiteyou on rainy days.

After taming nature, the city extended Harden St. into Shandon, and Five Points became the main route between Shandon + downtown.

Five Points map

Image via South Carolina Magazine

It begins

The first business ever opened on the land that would become Five Points was a Gulf filling station in 1919. Located at the corner of Harden + Devine (where the – you guessed it – old Harper’s building stands), the station serviced commuters traveling in and out of the city.

Gulf gas station in Five Points

Image courtesy Historic Columbia collection

Wales Garden and Shandon expanded rapidly in the late 1910s and early 1920s. As suburbs grew, so did the city’s dependence on cars. In 1920, the 700 block of Harden (from The Horseshoe to Grilled Teriyaki) got a new gas station as well as a repair shop and furniture store. A year later, the 700 block grew to include a grocery store, a lunch counter, attorney’s office, and garage.

With the expansion of neighboring Shandon + Wales Garden, commercial industry really took off along Harden St. These initial developments became Columbia’s first suburban shopping center. (Which also make it the oldest non-Main Street shopping center in S.C.)

Cotton Gin in Five Points

Image courtesy Google Maps

Five Points Theater opened at 634 Harden St. in 1939. Tickets would set you back a whopping $0.09. It was a favorite place for locals until its closure in 1979. Long before the days of popcorn ads and previews in the pre-show, FPT boasted a short live act before every film. Locals recall a woman named Ms. Ruth directing skits and telling stories for a half hour before the screening. In 2000, the building’s neon marquee was restored and is now home to the Cotton Gin.

Upstairs, you’ll find the former Stage Door. Accessible only from the alley next door, Stage Door claimed to be the first bar to have sold a mixed drink in S.C. after the Legislature approved the sale of mini-bottles in 1973. (Before then, people could bring their own bottles and pay $.50 per drink as a set-up fee. The ‘60s were a weird time.)

And y’all remember Andie MacDowell? It’s rumored that she managed the bar in the ‘70s. Maybe if we all ask her about it on Twitter, she’ll settle it once and for all.

Gif via giphy

In 1935, Gibson’s Drug Store opened at 2030 Devine St. The pharmacy offered curb service — a major attraction for folks who wanted to show off their new automobiles. The space later became Roses.

Roses in Five Points

Image courtesy Richland Library

Now, the building is home to Yesterday’s. Opened in 1976, Yesterday’s offered Columbia’s first ever late-night menu. It was the only place you could order food after 10 pm. Hootie & the Blowfish were frequent late-night customers in the ‘90s.

Since ’76, the — ahem — rather public bathtub and its occupant have been replaced a sudsy handful of times. There have been four or five different scrub-a-dubbing cowboys and two tubs — one of which was stolen in broad daylight during roof repairs. (QTMBA: What does one do with a stolen clawfoot tub?)

And for all you film buffs — Yesterday’s (and Williams-Brice!) appeared alongside James Caan and Halle Berry in The Program from 1993. (There’s a throwback movie night for you.)

Yesterdays St. Pats in Five Points

Almost Too Good to Be Legal

Jake's in Five Points

Courtesy Columbia Closings

Just like most of the buildings in Five Points, Jake’s has had a handful of past lives. Originally opened as Riley’s Department Store in the 1930s, 2112 Devine St. has always been a popular spot. When pantyhose appeared on the market in 1959, women wrapped around the block to get their hands on a pair. (This wasn’t a Cola phenomenon — this was a nationwide nylon craze. Google it.)

Jake's Riley's

Riley's Department Store in Five Points on Devine St.

Images courtesy Historic Columbia collection

In 1984, the building became home to Rockafellas’, a music venue. The club hosted many big-name acts over the years including The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soul Asylum, Soundgarden, Green Day, the Dave Matthews Band, Limp Bizkit and — duh — Hootie and the Blowfish.

Hootie and the Blowfish at Rockafella's in Five Points

Image courtesy the Free Times

According to The State newspaper, Rockafellas’ always managed to keep glasses full and stage lights on — until the landlord posted an eviction notice on January 15, 1998. The announcement didn’t come from the owners or staff or newspaper; it was made by a member of that night’s headlining act. A member of Zen Tricksters found the notice just after midnight and climbed back onstage to deliver the news.

Rockafellas in Five Points

Rockafellas in Five Points

Images courtesy Flickr Hive Mind and Blue Dog

In the early morning hours, staff hauled away everything that wasn’t nailed down. The next day, the club’s marquee on Devine Street read, “BYE.”

After Rockafellas’ shut its doors, its matchbooks became local collectors’ items. They captured the essence of the place which had been dogged by authorities for years — Too Good to Be Legal.

Rockafellas matchbook

Courtesy Columbia Closings

It takes a village

By the 1940s, Five Points was one of Columbia’s fastest growing commercial districts. Because it boasted so many amenities all in one place, folks started referring to the area as a “city-within-a-city” and later as a village.

The 1940s also saw the construction of two revolutionary facilities: the A&P and Winn-Dixie. Keep in mind that grocery stores were in their infancy in the ‘40s. Previously, folks would go to a green grocer, give the clerk their list, and then he or she would fetch the items from their shelves.

A&P was Columbia’s first grocery store when it opened in 1949 (where Men’s Warehouse now stands). Unusual for the time, the store welcomed both black + white customers. The new stores were bigger, prices were cheaper, and people from the surrounding neighborhoods were clamoring to get in.

The Winn-Dixie opened a few years later where Walgreens now stands. It remained at that site until the late ‘70s when it relocated to the building that now houses Earth Fare.

And speaking of firsts — Kester’s Bamboo House opened in the early ‘50s where the Horseshoe now stands at 724 Harden St. It was the first Asian restaurant in Columbia. It was famous for its Sunday Buffet.

Kester's Bamboo House in Five Points

Courtesy Richland Library.

That 70s show

By the late 1970s, Five Points had become much more cosmopolitan. Retailers like Sears had moved out, and bars like Group Therapy had moved in. These new businesses attracted a younger crowd that didn’t go out before 10 p.m. With Carolina just two blocks away and Allen + Benedict right up Harden St., the district saw an influx in student activity as early as 1975.

Salty Nut in Five Points

Image courtesy Historic Columbia collection

Over at 2000 Greene St., the former 5 Points Coal Supply & Co building now houses the Salty Nut Café. It was one of the first businesses to open on the 2000 block of Greene and still hosts students today.

What’s next?

Great question. Five Points is unique for not having an anchor store and for being home to the highest density of locally-owned businesses than any other district in Columbia. Its fiercely independent spirit means that they’re fighting to keep things small.

The district has a tradition for rehabbing and repurposing their structures. It’s one of the reasons we love it.

If you want to know the history behind another site in Five Points (oh, I don’t know — Drip or Speaks or Blossom Shop), reply to this email to let us know.

If you need me, I’ll be sampling all the cheese Gourmet Shop has to offer.  


Lois from Historic Columbia + Beth