Built To Endure | Greenville’s skyline owes a debt to Charles Ezra Daniel

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Contributed by the staff of the South Carolina Room at the Greenville County Public Library

Greenville, S.C., is a beautiful city. Nestled snugly in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, its stunning skyline is dominated by the Landmark Building, or as it was once known, the Daniel Building. This skyscraper is the crowning achievement and signature structure of the Daniel Construction Company.

Charles Ezra Daniel was born in Elberton, Ga., in 1895 and moved to Anderson County with his family a few years later. He was a good student and a hard worker, earning a scholarship to enter the Citadel in 1916; unfortunately his college career was cut short by World War I. He served as a lieutenant in France in the Army’s 6th Division and returned to the Upstate when the war ended.

Charles Ezra Daniel
Charles Ezra Daniel

In his youth he had learned construction techniques from his father, James, a millwright, but it was his work for Townshend Lumber in Anderson after the war that really taught him the profession. At Townshend, he became interested in building things on a large scale. The textile industry was rapidly expanding in South Carolina in the 1920s, which meant factories to be built along with their attendant mill villages. Charles Daniel was one of the first to see that building a village could be a more efficient process if the houses were mass-produced rather than individually crafted. Daniel Construction, which he founded in 1934, would ultimately become famous for its efficiency.

Daniel Construction Company grew rapidly during the 1930s in spite of the Great Depression. New Deal money was readily available for infrastructure projects in the form of loans and grants; Daniel made good use of these opportunities to grow his company. In December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Greenville was selected as the home of a major new military installation. Daniel Construction was awarded the contract to build Greenville Army Air Base, which later became Donaldson Center. The facility was completed in 90 days, an almost unbelievable accomplishment. Other wartime projects included significant enlargements of the Charleston and Savannah Navy Yards, always on time and under budget.

Greenville Army Base, now the Donaldson Center
Greenville Army Base, now the Donaldson Center

It was during the postwar years that Charles Daniel perfected the art of industrial recruiting; in 1945 he helped establish the State Development Board to attract new businesses. According to William Jennings Bryan Dorn, who served in the S.C. House of Representatives from 1947-1949 and 1951-1975, “He was South Carolina’s ambassador for private enterprise and economic development.”

Daniel brought many industries to the South and was a major player in the effort to bring the Greenville-Spartanburg airport to the region. Daniel Construction Company built the Bob Jones University campus and much of the new Furman campus. Clemson House, Johnstone Hall and the Sirrine Textile Building, all at Clemson University, were also Daniel Construction projects. When Charles Daniel died in 1964, his company was one of the largest construction companies in the world. It merged with the Fluor Corporation in 1977.

Charles Daniel Building
Charles Daniel Building

Charles Daniel was a visionary in many ways. He was an advocate for racial integration in educational institutions, an extremely unpopular position to take in the early 1960s. His impact on Greenville is such that without him, the revitalization efforts of the 1980s may have never occurred.

The Greenville News editorial of Sept. 14, 1964, paid tribute to Daniel, stating that “Emerson once said that ‘an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.’ Mr. Daniel built in his company a great institution, and it is his ‘lengthened shadow.’ But he built it, as he built everything else, to endure.” When you next look at the Greenville skyline, take a moment to think of Charles Ezra Daniel.

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