Why It’s Important:
Carpenter Motor Company at 600 E. Main Street is the only commercial building left on three blocks of downtown’s main thoroughfare. The county demolished the 500 block of East Main for a surface parking lot in 2008, and eight buildings were lost during this demolition, including the historic commercial properties of 526 East Main, 523 East Peabody Street, and 111 South Dillard Street.
Constructed in 1923 of masonry and steel, the Carpenter Motor Company building is nestled into the southwest corner of South Elizabeth, East Main, and Walker Streets. The ground floor contains floor-to-ceiling windows, and the upper stories have large, original, 24-light, factory-style, single-pane windows. The building stands alone along the long stretch of Main Street from Roxboro to Golden Belt. Because this area consists almost entirely of government services, enjoying very little street vitality, 600 East Main is not only an important historic structure, but also a vital connector between the downtown core and Golden Belt.
Immediately east of downtown, the area has seen a recent flood of development investment, including Golden Belt, Hope VI, Eastway Village, the Holton Center, and Maureen Joy School—to say nothing of private homeowner projects in Cleveland-Holloway and East Durham. These projects and investments will have trouble retaining value without a tangible connection to downtown. The design of the Bull City Connector’s path recognizes the future of the area, as do the recent openings of the DaVita Medical Center and Bar Lusconi.
Why It’s Imperiled:
The Durham Police Department is considering relocating its headquarters from its current Chapel Hill Street location to this block. The new police station would likely demolish the Carpenter Motor Company Building and potentially others. Additionally, it would require another parking deck to be built amongst a sea of surface parking lots.
The Downtown Durham Master Plan calls for converting Main Street into an entertainment corridor and discusses the importance of having no more than 25 linear feet of dead space along sidewalks: “In order to connect districts, downtown should strive to have interesting shops occupying the street-level storefronts and public art on the streets.” The new parking lost to the west is already over 600 linear feet of nothing––and loss of the Carpenter Motor Company building would exacerbate an already pedestrian-unfriendly streetscape.
We recognize that the Durham Police Department needs a site suitable to the requirements of a modern police force, but hopefully not at the expense of connecting downtown with Golden Belt and East Durham.
Carpenter Motor Company Building should be restored and repurposed for commercial use that engages traffic between East Durham and downtown. The parking lots would benefit from infill development constructed using a similar design and scale as the Carpenter Motor Company, re-engaging the street. This investment will benefit East Durham and Golden Belt, while helping to support downtown Durham as a great place to live and to visit.