Places in Peril 2012: Liberty Warehouse


Liberty Warehouse 1

Why It’s Important:
The Liberty Warehouse is the only surviving loose-leaf tobacco auction house in Durham. Constructed in two sections dating from 1938 and 1948, the massive, timber-framed structure features an expansive open-plan measuring 2.6 acres. It has a brick foundation with a low-pitched, front-gabled roof supported by large timber columns and has numerous skylights partially hidden by a stepped parapet. The auction warehouse filled an important niche in Durham’s tobacco culture; farmers would converge at the auction house, camping out there until their tobacco sold, and patronizing shops, banks, and cafes in the warehouse while they waited. Tobacco auctions ended in the 1980s and the building has been used for any number of purposes since then. Despite having undergone modifications over the years, Liberty Warehouse No. 1 and 2 retained much of its original appearance and integrity when it was listed to the National Register of Historic Places in August 2008 and designated a Durham Historic Landmark in December 2009.

Why it’s in Peril:
In May 2011, a portion of the roof collapsed, resulting in water and structural damage to a significant portion of the building. In February of 2012 the Durham City-County Planning Department determined that the landmark was in a condition of demolition by neglect. In late February 2012, the property owner submitted a scope of work to the City for repairs to the structure and with a proposed timeline of eight months to complete the work. As of April 2012, the roof has not been repaired and leaves the interior open to the elements.

What’s Needed:
The building should be fully stabilized and the necessary repairs made to weatherproof the building as soon as possible to prevent any further deterioration; the City of Durham should continue taking all possible steps to ensure that the necessary repairs are made. The nature of this building type makes determining an appropriate adaptive reuse challenging; however, Preservation Durham has been working with the property owner and with Central Park-area stakeholders to formulate a compatible use that would retain the historic integrity of the structure. Preservation Durham is also working to develop the case for the statewide significance of the structure and will continue to advocate for the building’s expedited repair and historically appropriate rehabilitation.