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Iconic city residence Top-O-Rock is vandalized

KENNY KEMP | Gazette
More than 40 years after its construction, Top-O-Rock stands broken and empty. The once-celebrated structure was purchased by Dr. Mitchell Rashid and Kamilla L. Rashid in 2011 for $400,000.
Gazette file photo by FRANK WILKIN
An undated Gazette photo shows an early image of Top-O-Rock — a celebrated home and studio built by Henry Elden in 1968.
KENNY KEMP |Gazette: Graffiti covers the walls of Top-O-Rock, a celebrated home and studio built by Henry Elden in 1968. Note: An obscenity has been blurred from this image.

Entire panes are missing from Charleston’s glass house, Top-O-Rock. Graffiti — “weed,” “meth” and a cartoon bong — mars the home’s walls, floors and windows. The six-story architectural jewel above the Kanawha River is in visible disrepair.

Building Commissioner Tony Harmon received reports Monday that Top-O-Rock was vandalized. Dr. Mitchell Rashid and Kamilla L. Rashid purchased the house in 2011 for $400,000. Dr. Mitchell Rashid told the Charleston Daily Mail that year there were “a lot of options for it,” including an event center, office space or a home.

“I think it would be a gem of a property, to restore it back to where it was in the ’60s,” he told the Daily Mail.

Three years later, Harmon is trying to contact Rashid to secure the 10,000-square-foot structure — replacing its expansive windows with plywood; cleaning up the glass that glitters the hillside of ivy, irises and rhododendron; and, submitting a plan of action to the commission.

“We’d hate to see that place get to the point where no one would do anything with it,” Harmon said.

Dr. Mitchell Rashid could not be reached for comment Thursday at his office or home.

The celebrated home and studio on Goddard Road was built by architect Henry Elden in 1968. Its sheer facade hugs the South Side landscape and overlooks the city, forming the unlikely partnership between the organic and hard edges of such modern architecture.

Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher — a Charleston native and former Gazette employee who now lives in Vermont — described the iconic structure as “intellectual.” Gaucher’s grandparents were friends of Elden and fans of his work, she said.

Gaucher was photographed in the home and on its grounds in her early 20s, she said. Now 46, Gaucher looked back on the portrait session with fond memories of something she said was spiritual about the place.

“Even though it was a beautiful place, you could feel an intellectual presence there,” Gaucher said. “It was clear that someone with an unusual mind had a vision for his home in that very spot.”

Charleston real-estate agent Jon Cavendish facilitated the 2011 sale, but he said his history with the home goes back to its birth.

“I really love that structure,” Cavendish said. “In 1968, I helped build it by carrying bags of mortar. I was a grunt.”

While Cavendish said he is a friend of Dr. Mitchell Rashid, he said he doesn’t have “any ongoing relationship about the house with him.” Cavendish heard about the vandalism from his daughter-in-law, who visited the grounds last weekend, he said.

Cavendish has no knowledge of Dr. Mitchell Rashid’s plans for the structure, but described it as “substantial.”

“It would take a hurricane-force wind times six to tear it down,” Cavendish said. “The architectural beauty of it should be preserved, and it can be with a reintroduction of different type of glass panels into the building.”

Cavendish said he has experience in rehabilitating historic structures.

The building could likely end up on the city’s vacant structure register if it continues to be empty much longer, Harmon said.

City Council passed in March a law that charges annual fees to owners of vacant structures. Those fees increase each year the building remains on the list. Top-O-Rock would be registered if it is still empty and “unless they’re working on it or whatever to get it refurbished” by September, six months after the ordinance passed, Harmon said.

Cavendish said he was saddened by the vandalism but believes it could “signify the beginning of a new creation” at Top-O-Rock.

“Standing up there, it takes your breath away.”

Reach Rachel Molenda at or 304-348-5102.

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