Newspaper Articles and W. Va. Soc. of Architects

Notice to Newspapers / Magazine.    If any have published works included below and you do not want me to include these on these web pages, please notify me.  I'll remove promptly. Thanks. Ted Elden, 304 344 2335

 

Charleston Gazette

Today

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Gazette photos by LAWRENCE PIERSON 

People who live in glass houses enjoy it, according to Henry Elden, master and mastermind of Toporock. He built the award winning home and studio in 1968. "The railroad thought I was building some water tanks," he says.

I stopped to smell the roses.

"The awards are over there on the wall," Elden says. "This house has had a lot of publicity. It hit Parade magazine once, and that was about 35 million copies." His 9-year-old dachshund, Gretel, relaxes on his lap.

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People from across the country and around the world have toured his ingenious showplace, Toporock, a circular glass house and studio nestled on a ledge above the Kanawha River He made a tree and the remains of a rock quarry part of the studio, a concept that won national awards for incorporating topogrraphy with architecture.

Henry Elden is a Charleston icon, an applauded architect, a former city councilman and mayoral candidate, a figure as familiar as his landmark cliffside home.

His famous glass house brims with treasures acquired during his extensive world travels. Ski photos proclaim a passion for the sport that still beckons him to Aspen and Tahoe.

Outspoken and flamboyant, an inveterate bon vivant, he approaches his 88th birthday in May with the same zest and drive that have propelled him throughout a rich and fulfilling life. 

SANDY WELLS

INNERVIEWS

WAS BORN in Boswell, Pa., a little place that in West Virginia would be called a mining camp, but it was never referred to as that. My father owned the movie theater. He died when I was 8. He had pneumonia. He was 44. That was before they had antibiotics.

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We stayed in Boswell until my mother moved to Johnstown. I was 14.

"I took mechanical drawing for four years in high school. They had a lot of drawers around the outside of the mechanical drawing room. Students would go to the drawer and take out a cube or cylinder or ball and put

it on their desk and draw it. It taught me how to visualize a three-dimensional object in two dimensions, putting it on paper. I've always been very proficient at being able to decipher plans that are two-dimensional.

."To survive, my mother rented rooms. I told a roomer I liked to draw He said I might like to be an architect. I had never heard the word. So I thought, well, maybe that's right. I'd like to be an architect. And there was no deviation from it.

"My dad left me a stipend, enough to go to college. I went to Carnegie Tech in the middle of the Depression, and took architecture there for five long years. There were 35 of us when I started. Only 13 finished, and I was the only one of the 13 who had a job.

"Charlie Kuhn had graduated from Carnegie. He contacted them and said he was going into the design-construction business and wanted an architect. I interviewed and got the job that brought me to Charleston. That was 1937.

"I started at $130 a month and worked 44 hours a week, and I was glad to have the job. I was a flunky and an assistant superintendent on some of the construction jobs. Laborers were paid in cash. On Friday, I would take the payroll around. I was just a kid and thought nothing of walking around with $3,000 and $4,000.

"Then the war came along and materials for construction became nil, so I worked in a structural engineering group at [Union] Carbide. In the meantime, I married Evelyn, and I went in the Navy. We took troops to hostile shores. We were in eight assaults, ending at Okinawa. I ran a typewriter. My shift would translate radio dispatches. It was code work, deciphering.

"Walter Martens was an architect here. He said if I would leave Carbide and go with him, he would give me a $25 raise at the end of six months and $25 at the end of the year. Six months came, and I got my $25. The end of the year came, and he said he couldn't afford it. So I said goodbye. That started me on my own in 1948.

"I designed and built a home on Churchill Drive. By now I had a daughter and a little son. My drafting room was in my son's bedroom. The old Kanawha Valley Lumber Co. gave me a pair of horses and a drafting top, andI worked out of that bedroom.

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"When I quit Martens, Evans Lumber Co. gave me a little job on their building, and I didn't get another job for six months. I had to beat the pavement for jobs. As I started to get work, I built up an organization. At one time, I had 12 to 15 men working for me.

"As I developed, I finished an office in the basement of my house. Then I built a studio next to my residence. In 1968, I built Toporock. I've lived in two places in Charleston in 60 years, and that's remarkable.

"From the time I moved to Charleston, I wanted a place on the riverfront. By the time the '60s came along, this was the last piece of property on the riverfront. John Merrill owned it and tried to develop it, but he couldn't get a road into it. There's still evidence where he tried to get the road in, but it was too steep. You came in here and it was so easy. Well, that had to be thought out.

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"John thought I was going to build on the flat property up here. He said he would have given me this knoll. Anybody could have built on the flat part. The challenge was don't remove any trees and do the least amount of excavation possible. My studio was a rock quarry at one time. That's why that sheer rock is there.

`Building this was quite a challenge. Over in my studio, those columns are 60 feet tall. Somebody had to be at the top to make the original connections. And we didn't have any accidents.

"The awards are over there on the wall. One is from the Steel Institute. This house has had a lot of publicity. It hit Parade magazine once. There have been a lot of tours through here. I don't turn anyone down.

Please see WELLS. 21

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An Interview with Henry Elden

By Gary M. Miller, A.I.A. Assoc.

enry Elden has been practicing architecture in West Virginia for 41 of his 75 years. He is also a registered structural engineer. He is a member of several professional organizations including the WV Society of Architects, WV Society of Engineers, and the National Committee on Historic Preservation of the American Institute of Architects. He also is presently, or is a past board member of the. WV Board of Architects, the WV Society of Professional Engineers and the WV and Charleston Chambers of Commerce, along with several other professional and community organizations.

Mr. Elden was a member of the task force that formulated the first "Minimum Standards for School House Construction. " He serves as a professional forensic consultant to several insurance companies. He has lectured at many schools and colleges throughout West Virginia.

His most well known project is "Toporock, " his famous glasswalled home and studio for which he has received numerous awards for architectural design. It was in that spectacular setting, overlooking downtown Charleston and the Kanawha River Valley, that the staff of the West Virginia Architect talked to Mr. Elden about some of his experiences and views about architecture in West Virginia. This article is the first in a continuing series of such interviews with prominent

West Virginia architects.

WV Architect: Are you a native West Virginian?

Henry Elden: No. I'm a native of Pennsylvania.

WVA: When did you move to West Virginia?

HE: It was pretty interesting. I went to Carnegie Tech, which was the Alma Mater of Charlie Kuhn who owned a construction company in Charleston and had the idea of design-build. He wrote and asked for an architectural student and his request was made to Bob Donnells who was a professor of Structures and Strength of Materials at Carnegie. I took the course from "Pop" and failed, repeated it and got an "A" and said, "See Pop, I told you I knew that stuff!". After that, Pop gave me the request from Charlie and I interviewed, got the job and came to Charleston in '37. I was with Kuhn Construction Company for four years and then the war came along. I went to Carbide for a year and to the Service for three years. WVA: You did design work for Kuhn? HE: They never got into design, just construction basically, and estimating. I never used the skills I learned at Carnegie, but it gave me excellent experience. When I was twenty-two, I was running construction jobs for Kuhn. I remember one encounter with a carpenter. I told him he was doing it wrong and he said that he had been doing it that way for thirty years. He got so angry he took a blow at me. He missed and walked off the job and I never saw him again. When I came back from the service, I went to Carbide and spent time with Walter Martens, who was then president of the West Virginia Chapter of AIA. When I went with Walter, he offered me a $25.00 raise at the end of six months and another $25.00 at the end of the year. I got my first $25.00, but at the end of the year he said business was too poor and he couldn't afford it. So I said OK and I left. And that got me started.

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WVA: That's when you started your own business? That was in 1949? HE: I got started on a conflict of $25.00. I told my mother and she cried. The first couple of weeks I made triple my salary ... and nothing else for six months! WVA: So Walter Martens is the only local architect you worked for?

HE: Yes. He did the Governor's Mansion and I think he was associated with the Baptist Temple. When I was with Carbide I worked with Charlie Haviland.

WVA: Did you always want to be an architect?

HE: I got involved pretty early. See ... schools and everything have changed since I started. I went to Johnstown High School. At that time they had college preparation and vocational courses and they had electives. For my electives I took shop. Wood shop, tin shop, but always a course in drafting. They called it mechanical drawing. I had four years of it in high school. Nowadays, kids don't have that exposure. A kid that is in college preparation ... I don't know that he can do it. I even remember my mechanical drawing teacher's name. It was Duncan. He had a series of drawers with blocks of different sizes and shapes. You started with a square and then went on to a triangle and so forth. You got a block, put it on your table and drew. As you advanced through the drawers, you got into more complicated figures. A simple little thing like that and students learned to visualize what they were doing. I have run across a lot of draftsmen in my experience and it is difficult for them to visualize three dimensions in two dimensions.

WVA: What else has changed?

HE: I went through five years of

WV Architect Winter 1990

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One of Henry Elden's most notable projects is his own home, Toporock.

Carnegie Tech for a total of $5,000. Just last week I got a total from Carnegie. The tuition is $14,000. Room and board and miscellaneous brings it to $20,200 per year.

WVA: When you went to Carnegie, did they have an Architectural Program? HE: I went to the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie. It consisted of five colleges ... Drama, Music, Sculpture, Painting and Decorating, and Architecture. The school of Architecture had been going on for twenty or thirty years. Andrew Carnegie started Tech as a school for the foreman of the steel plant to attend for the advancement of the steel industry in his own company. That was the original concept and it grew and grew. The Mellon family gave to Carnegie the Mellon Institute which was a large research center nearby. They bequeathed the faculty, facilities and many millions of dollars with the stipulation that it would become Carnegie Mellon University, which is the name it carries now. WVA: How has the profession changed over the years?

HE: When I started practicing, there was a minimum fee schedule that was adhered to very closely. If you got a job, there was not a hassle over what the fee would be. No negotiation on the fee and I never sat for an interview. Not until recently did this idea of interview and selection develop. Where I think it started was Watergate. Watergate shook up the government so badly, they took a new look at the whole industry and started to look at qualifications. And that developed into interviews and now you get short listed and so forth.

The building industry is not well understood by the general public, especially those government agencies. A lot of department heads have never had a personal contact with an architect before they got the job so they knew nothing of the industry. Some of these delegates are from Pendleton or Pocahontas County. These people are farmers. The word "architect" isn't even in their vocabulary and they come to Charleston to talk about ethics ... it's beyond comprehension.

Henry Elden Interview

This thing of the jails planning being bid is just horrendous. If you can have a spread from $77,000 to $350,000, it's an indication that the specifications are not clear.

WVA: You've had your own practice now for forty years. What are some of the major changes that have occurred in running an architectural practice? HE: I didn't carry liability insurance when I first started. I had never heard of it. We didn't pay taxes either - income taxes, but not a business tax. The fee has stayed the same but you have to take out for your liability and your taxes. You get to the point where you say the hell with it. I carried liability insurance for maybe twenty years and I would say it amounted to several hundred dollars and I never had a claim. It is my understanding (that one firm) roughed in the soils engineer's report, which was faulty, in their specifications. Architects have done that for years. Being in the specifications, it is the responsibility of the architect, and therefore you are liable. To try to keep abreast of your liability ... it's just horrible. The state is trying to come back on the manufacturers of asbestos. I was the guinea pig on that. I was the first one they pulled out of the bag. I was subpoened and forced to appear before eight lawyers who questioned me about the use of asbestos in acoustical plaster in a building that I think was built 25-30 years ago. You never heard anything about asbestos back then. It was a good material. As long as it was kept dry, it was okay.

WVA: What else is different?

HE: I first started working a minimum of 44 hours (a week) and then cut back to 40. I think it took two years of service to get one week of vacation and ten or twelve years to get two. Three weeks was never heard of. The number of holidays started about three. I even worked New Years Day. That was not considered a holiday.

WVA: Let's talk about some design issues. What's your view of the quality of design in West Virginia? HE: They have gone to an international style and it has sort of stabilized. The glass curtain wall is pretty well accepted and when there is a deviation from that, people get into hot water. I think this addition at (CAMC) General on Washington - I don't know if it is an elevator shaft - that black lump sticking on the back of the building, is the most horrible thing I have ever seen. If you look at St. Francis Hospital, they had some reinforced concrete in the first addition down there, and there was an architect trying for cantilevers and so forth. In my opinion, that got dated pretty fast. Design is personal. I think, basically, local architects do a respectful job.

WVA: Do you have a favorite local architect?

HE: I speak with all of them.

WVA: Very diplomatic. How about a favorite personal project?

HE: This (house) I think is the best. A client would not have stood still if I had been doing this for a client because there were too many unknowns. It was so novel, I had a lot of problems getting it financed.

WVA: It must have really caused a stir twenty-one years ago. HE: There were quite a few comments, no question about that. WVA: How long did it take to build? HE: About eighteen months. I had a contractor friend who lent me his crew or I would never have made it. WVA: This site is spectacular. Did you always own it?

HE: I bought the property from John Merrill. We dickered over it for two years. No one would pay him more, so he sold it to me. After I bought it, I decided what I wanted to do. There are five acres here and one flat spot. John thought I wanted to build on the flat spot. He said, "Henry, if I knew you wanted to build out on the point, I would have given it to you."

WVA: Tell us a little about how the design developed.

HE: It was in the design stage for a very short time.

WVA: So it wasn't something that was bouncing around in your head for a number of years?

HE: No. It evolved very rapidly. Bill Haworth was the structural engineer who helped me tremendously. I think I had about five sheets of architectural drawings and fifty-five sheets of structural. It became a fascinating project for a lot of people.

WVA: What's your opinion on the future of architecture in West Virginia. HE: Architecture in Charleston is in horrible shape. There is more talent that is needed. With the economy down, there are very few private projects of any magnitude and with Dupont and Carbide cutting back so drastically ... the whole situation is just different. WVA: Do you think this state would benefit from having a School of Architecture at one of the universities? HE: I'm basically not in favor of establishing a school of architecture in West Virginia. At Carnegie, there were about three hundred (students) in the whole department. You have to have the resources to get your professors and so forth and then to have only twenty students ... forget it. WVA: Don't you think we're losing some of that talent you mentioned that is needed by forcing students to leave the state to go to an accredited architectural program? Many will never return. HE: There is nothing to return to. WVA: What's the future hold for Henry Elden?

HE: Well, that's the beauty of this business. You can keep working 'til you can't stand up. You can't do that in a lot of businesses.

WVA: So, no plans for retirement? HE: No! Not at all!

self as an experiment in making "scrub land" usable. This picture was snapped by telephoto lens from the South Side Expressway far below.

(Photo by Jack Kern)

12 The Charleston Gazette Thursday, April 11, 1968

 

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TAKING SHAPE is this offbeat, mostly-glass, circular-segmented, pillar-supported structure on a hillside above South Ruffner. Architect Henry Elden designed the combination home and studio for him

LIVING

Charleston Gazette, Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Section D

architecture

Photo for the Gazette by TED ELDEN

Considering the complexity of the project, it's not surprising that Henry Elden's Toporock studio and home on a high hill overlooking Charleston took three months to design but 18 months to build.

Considering the complexity of the project, it's not surprising that Henry Elden's Toporock studio and t: Mme on to design but 18 months to build.

TOP NOTCH

Looking in on Henry Elden's home studio Toporock,

one of Charleston's loftiest architectural landmarks

By Joseph E. Bird

ARCHITECTURE WRITER

Gazette photos by CHRIS DORST

Spectacular views abound through the structure's many huge glass windows looking out on the Kanawha Valley.

 NEWER, BIGGER, better, faster. We are always looking for the latest and greatest. Even our throwaway greeting, "What's new?" begs for something fresh. Yet maybe it's time to take a step back and look at what we already have.

It's time to revisit the local classics, which I define as any building of any style that has stood the test of time. That is to say, its design was not merely a response to the trend of the day, but has a timeless aesthetic that spans the years.

One such classic, Toporock, serves as home and studio to one of Charleston's most accomplished architects, Henry Elden. The epitome of modern architecture, Toporock is literally nestled on a rock outcropping on the side of a hill off Porter Road.

When it was built back in 1968, it became an instant landmark. The problem with trying to describe Toporock is figuring out where to start.

Round and round

How about "Wow."

That was my thought when I first saw this amazing structure. I admit that's not much of an architectural critique, but it fits. It is a spectacular space and an incredible building.

Toporock is essentially composed of two circular structures, connected at their tangents with virtually nothing but glass for exterior walls. The larger of the two circles serves as the studio/ office, and is in essence, an atrium, built around an old rock outcropping leftover from a small quarry operation.

At the center of the atrium is a massive collection of plants that rivals that of any shopping mall. Besides the huge philodendron plants, a tree growing on the site at the time of construction was preserved and became an integral part of the design concept - so much so that

accommodations were made to allow the tree to actually grow through the roof. The concept was repeated with another tree that grows through the deck and roof overhang outside the studio.

A mezzanine along the outside wall helps bring the room down to scale and actually provides for a very interactive work space. Drafting tables and other tools of the trade, together with an intriguing collection of artifacts from Elden's worldwide travels combine to create an eclectic and surreal atmosphere.

Everywhere the eye looks is a spectacular view. There's greenery inside and out. One can imagine trying to work in such a space with all of the distractions.

Overall, it is the studio space that is the most evocative. Choose your own imagery. Is it the epitome of designing with nature? The ultimate in an open system design? Or is it just the best tree house fort a kid could ever imagine?

Maybe all of those.

The other circular structure serves as the residence for Elden. Although not as large and spectacular as the studio, ii is just as special. Glass walls, with no window shading whatsoever, provide for spectacular views of downtown Charleston.

There is an air of openness throughout the house, yet it remains an intimate and inviting space.

The furnishings of the residence are, for the most part, the same furnishings Elden selected when Toporock was built 30 years ago, and therefore,

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Toporock features artifacts from Elden's worldwide travels, as well as Gretl the dog.

there's a kind of '60s ambiance to the place. Throughout are unique details from the cast bronze front door to custom-built structural connections - all of which add to the collective architectural wonder.

A challenge to build

Toporock was born in the imagination of Henry Elden, but he's the first to acknowledge the important roles others played in making his vision a reality. The building is truly a structural engineering marvel, and if not for the persistence and ingenuity of those who helped build it, it might have never come together.

Old construction photos document the building process and the unique challenges encountered along the way, not the least of which was how to get 60-foot steel columns to the rugged site. (After being lifted to the site from the road below, each of the columns was then custom-cut to the required lengths and anchored into the rock.)

Considering the complexity of the project, it's not surprising that it took only three months to design but 18 months to build.

 

Accommodations were made in Toporock's roof so that a tree already on the site could grow through the ceiling.

Henry Elden has designed many notable buildings during his career, among them the library and two other buildings at West Virginia Tech in Montgomery, the Carver Technical School at Marmet, the Ben Franklin Career Technical School in Dunbar and the Lee Terrace and Jarrett Terrace high rises in Charleston. And today his practice continues with the help of his son Ted. But Toporock will forever be the building most associated with Henry Elden.

It's the "glass house on the hill" that Charlestonians point out to their visiting friends. It's the wondrous and mysterious house that many have heard of, but few have actually seen.

And more than anything, it is Charleston's own architectural classic.

Joseph Bird is an architectural project manager based in St. Albans.

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This is the first in an occasional series highlighting prominently visible houses that have piqued our interest as we drive or walk pass them. With "Houses We View," we'll step inside these intriguing homes, talk to their owners and perhaps wonder no more.

 +Corkle Avenue, yet looks like an outgrowth of the crag on which it sits.

Nearly 40 years after its construction in 1968, the house still turns heads when spotted from the road. Its glass and steel exterior is most obvious when the surrounding trees have shed their leaves. Birds, squirrels, raccoons and even the occasional fox scamper among the towering, ivy-encrusted trees. The landscape really brightens in the spring, when more than 2,000 jonquils are in bloom.

The 3,400-square-foot structure consists of two circular sections. One side is Elden's residence, while the other side boasts spectacular office space.

The office section sits on a rocky outcropping that juts into the building's interior. The lines between indoor and out door blur in an imaginative space that features lush tropical plants, uncut rock "walls" and even a tree growing through the roof.

Before his retirement, Elden's architectural staff somehow managed to work and not be distracted by the scenery visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding them. Today, the space is empty of workers, but it is still filled with desks and all the tools of the architectural trade.

Back outside, a carved brass door opens into the residence, the crown jewel+

Please See TOP-O-ROCK, Page 9f

 

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CHRIS DORST/Sunday Gazette-Mail

The round glass house perched on a South Hills hillside has attracted attention for years.

Top-O-Rock still turns heads after nearly 40 years

By Julie Robinson

For the Sunday Gazette-Mail

WHEN Charleston architect Henry Elden first spotted the land for sale along MacCorkle Avenue in the mid-1960s, he could just imagine the sort of home he would build in the natural setting. It would blend with the site's rocky and heavily wooded terrain, and still take advantage of the cityscape across the river.

The result of his vision is Top-O-Rock, his innovative circular home and office that's perched above the busy intersection of Porter/Bendview Road and Mac

Home & Garden

Sunday Gazette-Mail

Top-O-Rock

Continued From Page 1F

el of which has to be the living/ dining area with its panoramic view of the surrounding woods, river and city. The lofty ceiling is supported by structural steel mullions, the only interruption in the two-story window/ walls.

The unadorned windows offer no privacy, but Elden is not concerned about concealment. "I don't need curtains," he said, smiling. "I lead a pure life."

Elden aptly likened the design to a birdcage, and called it less a design than an opinion. The room is still furnished with many of the home's original contemporary pieces, selected by Elden's wife when the house was constructed.

A tapestry of Top-O-Rock created by Suzanne Riggio hangs on the room's only interior wall. The harmonious blend of rich fabrics and materials captures the essence of Top-O-Rock. The tapestry was judged to be one of the finest quilts sewn in the 20th century in a national competition and holds a place of honor in Elden's home. After all, he doesn't have an abundance of wall space.

The adjacent kitchen feels like a galley, with birch cabinets

 "My superintendent just couldn't grasp it. I told him to take it day to day, and tomorrow we would continue. He was pleased when it was all finished."

Architect Henry Elden

handcrafted to Elden's exacting standards. Cabinet doors mounted on piano hinges open smoothly once, then twice, to reveal three sets of doors with shelves for spices and canned goods. Built-in warming trays were helpful in the busy days when Henry, 91, and his wife, now deceased, entertained. A bar running along the outside wall of the kitchen offers dining so close to nature that it nearly qualifies as al fresco.

A curved staircase in the living room leads upstairs to a cozy loft with a fireplace in which Elden has placed a Mexican chimney. Tike an eagle in his aerie, Elden enjoys sitting up here and reading or looking out over his incomparable living space to the vista beyond.

Three bedrooms and two baths also are upstairs. Reached by single-loaded corridors that run along the outside walls, the rooms all boast views of the wooded hills above the house. They are furnished simply, in keeping with the house's clean lines. The walls of the master bedroom's walk-in closet are curved to follow the lines of the house, as are all the outside corridors and walls. Not for the weak-kneed, a spiral staircase winds between the two floors, providing additional access.

The house's unconventional design raised a few eyebrows when Elden initially embarked on construction. The house is framed with 90 tons of structural steel, all of which were fabricated in the West Virginia Steel shop and transported up the winding road. The center support column for the office area was too long to negotiate the road's curves, so Elden brought in a boom to lift the column up the hill and swing it up and into place. Assembling all those massive steel pieces was much like building with a giant Erector Set.

Elden chuckled as he recalled the many unanticipated challenges during construction. Possessing a double registration in architecture and structural engineering, Elden limited his architectural drawings to six pages, but the plans for the steel structures totaled 60. Even

 

Architect Henry Elden gazes out his kitchen window at Top-O-Rock. In the background is the circular wing that contained his offices.

 

CHRIS DORST photos/ Sunday Gazette-Mail

with those impressive credentials, he still had trouble convincing his construction superintendent of the project's feasibility.

"My superintendent just couldn't grasp it. I told him to take it day to day, and tomorrow we would continue," Elden said. "He was pleased when it was all finished."

The workers weren't the only heads. When the circular frame began to take shape, residents speculated that the workers were building another water tower for the railroad that ran along the bottom of the hill.

The Charleston waterfront is the view from Top-O-Rock's living room, still decorated with pieces reflecting the simple, sleek look of the 1960s.

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Because the surrounding natural setting was the inspiration for his design, Elden was adamant that the land and trees be disturbed as little as possible. Naturally, the construction company wanted to cut down the large trees that were very close to the construction site.

The three lofty oak trees that stand beside the house, an oak tree around which part of the deck circles and the oak tree that rises through the office area's roof all stand as evidence to Elden's tenacity.

Featured in many publications, including Parade magazine, the unique design of Henry Elden's Top O Rock continues to inspire.

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