“We found ourselves a raw space, and oh, how I loved how those words tripped off my tongue.” — David Sedaris, “Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist”

It is fun to say, isn’t it? Raw space.

Of course, the raw space of raw spaces around here has to be the old Naval Base.

The Noisette Company has converted one of its raw spaces (okay, that’s the last time, I promise), creating what they like to call “an urban clubhouse.”

10 Storehouse Row holds eight artists’ studios, several building and construction offices, the current campus of the American College of the Building Arts, and a 5,000-square-foot event space, which last week was still hung with photographer Lauren Preller’s recent show.

The hangar-like structure was built by the Navy in 1939 as a supply warehouse. Train rails still curve under red roller shutter doors, but the tracks end there. Inside is a cavernous space with plenty of natural light, thanks to polycarbon walls which have replaced a number of the tall garage doors along the sides.

In the center, two pods finished in corrugated metal hold eight small offices/studios. Larger offices run along either side in the old unloading bays, and the ACBA has 20,000 square feet in the rear, an area cordoned off by huge blue shipping containers.

The building saves on energy costs by not having to air-condition all of its 40,000 square feet. The common space is mostly cooled by a series of Big Ass ceiling fans — yeah, that’s the brand name: Big Ass — with six-foot blades. The offices and studios are like buildings-within-a-building, with their own heating and cooling.

Noisette doesn’t have carte blanche on the Base. The Navy left deed-restricted covenants, and project manager Jeff Baxter had to work closely with the State Historic Preservation Office, removing an odd gazebo, inserting a recessed main entrance, and generally making sure the building still looked like a warehouse from the outside.

The Kansas City architectural firm BNIM designed the $3 million project, working with Noisette on it since its inception.

A giant gantry crane left by the former occupants, Neal Bros. Shipping, still looms over the ACBA’s end of the building.

“It’s still capable of rolling from one end to the other,” says Noisette’s Roger Noyes, “although it would take out half the light fixtures.”

Five exhaust vents from forklift battery charging stations are being reused as exhaust for five iron-working stations. The bathrooms are state-of-the-art. The ladies’ commodes have two buttons, allowing for smaller or larger flushes, as determined by the individual flusher. The men’s room has waterless urinals which use a thin layer of a lighter-than-urine floating chemical seal. The seal locks in the odor and gravity takes care of the rest.

An unnamed restaurateur has leased space for a café on the north side of the building, There’s currently no lunch spot on base for the 2,000 people who work there, so somebody’s going to be doing a brisk business. The café will be next to McMillan Smith architects, another future tenant.

Despite its size, finding 10 Storehouse Row can be a bit difficult. It’s actually at 2120 Noisette Blvd., formerly called Avenue D. Storehouse Row is itself a Noisette coinage, as is “The Navy Yard,” which is what they call their end of the base. (They’ve got that trademarked, by the way, so don’t try to steal it.)

If there’s an “anchor” tenant, it’s the American College of the Building Arts. Courses are taught in 10 Storehouse Row (and next door), in the liberal arts and in six major disciplines including timber framing and plasterwork. The inaugural student body, 15 strong, started in August, but won’t necessarily still be there when they graduate in 2009. The school has a year left on its lease with options for two more after that.

“The vision is that McLeod Plantation (on James Island) is the future main campus,” former college president David AvRutick says. “We own the Old City Jail (their first home), we own McLeod, we have a lease at Noisette. But the relationship with Noisette is a positive one.”

Local artist Charles Ailstock rents one of the 300-square-foot studios in 10 Storehouse for $350 a month. He spends weekends and nights there, creating figurative oil paintings.

While Ailstock says he enjoys his interstate-free commute from his home near Hampton Park, he still thinks “it’s going to be tough to get people to go from downtown out there. It’ll be easier to make it a space for a North Charleston arts scene to develop, and not depend on downtown.”

Two artists’ studios still remain available, going for $350 and $500 a month.

Not that 10 Storehouse Row is the only artists’ colony on the Naval Base. In 2004, the city of North Charleston’s Cultural Arts Department opened the Rhodes Center for the Arts in a former barracks, across the street from the Academic Magnet High School. Four artists currently rent studios for $200 a month. Several are still available — no corrugated metal, though.

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