Places in Peril 2012

Fendol Bevers Farmstead

5713 Leesville Road

Why it’s important:
The Fendol Bevers Farm, straddling Leesville Road near Briar Creek, is a remarkable early farmstead that dates to about 1850. This early I-House has Greek Revival details, a stone foundation and chimneys, original windows with ornamented surrounds, and an intact interior. Early farm buildings surrounding it include a kitchen house, smoke house, and several tobacco barns and storage sheds. Fendol Bevers was Raleigh’s City Engineer and surveyed Wake County. His 1871 survey map helped establish the Durham County borders when it split from Wake County 10 years later. In 1895, after Bevers’ death, the house and farm were sold to J. Elmer Ross.

The Fendol Bevers Farm may be one of the best preserved farms in Durham County and is one of only a handful of antebellum structures still standing in the area. The property has been added to the state’s study list, is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and has potential as a local landmark.

Why it’s in peril:
Around 2005, the Ross family sold the farmhouse and seventy-six acres on the north side of Leesville Road. The developer, who had accumulated 400+ acres of the original Bevers tract, including the parcel containing the farmhouse, planned a large residential development called Sierra, with 540 single-family homes. The first phase (covering 176 acres) was approved in 2008 by Durham County officials. The original developer was amenable to relocating the structure; however, the property changed hands in 2010. A site plan for Phase 2 (246 acres) was approved in 2011, but no work on either phase has been done to date. Development pressures and the resulting loss of historic resources and open spaces remain a concern.

What’s needed:
The threat to the Bevers Farm is indicative of the pressures that suburban development put on the rural built environment. While such growth may be inevitable, historic houses and farm buildings illustrate an important part of our past and should be retained and celebrated within the development plan. Setting aside several acres for the farmhouse and the surviving outbuildings will provide the necessary context for the structures without sacrificing the overall development.
Preservation Durham encourages the use of preservation and conservation easements to protect the house and immediate surroundings and will facilitate the property’s listing to the National Register of Historic Places and Durham County Landmarks, both of which offer financial incentive for redevelopment. Preservation Durham will work with developers to allow for purchase and restoration of the house and outbuildings by a private owner, saving this important piece of Durham’s rural history.

Durham Beltline Railway

circling central Durham from West Village through Old North Durham to Avondale Avenue

Why It’s Important:
In 1890, after engineering a merger with his three largest competitors, Brodie Duke began building his own rail line, arcing along the western and northern edges of town. This Durham Beltline completed a loop linking the newly formed American Tobacco Company facilities to each other and to both of the city’s regional railways. By the turn of the century, American Tobacco was producing and shipping 90% of the cigarettes sold in the United States, due in no small part to this rail infrastructure.

While the tracks forming the southern and eastern legs of the rail loop remain active, the Beltline – now owned by Norfolk Southern - lies dormant and abandoned. Relics are still visible, from the Chapel Hill Street overpass north through West Village and Durham Central Park, past Brodie Duke’s Pearl Cotton Mill on Trinity Avenue, turning east across Washington, Mangum, and Roxboro Streets to the junction with the Norfolk & Western tracks near Trinity Avenue and Avondale Drive.

Acquisition of the unused corridor has been a top priority for City administration for more than a decade. Durham’s Trails and Greenways Master Plan deems the Beltline critical to connectivity of the entire system, a direct link between the American Tobacco Trail and the Ellerbe Creek Greenway. The Beltline corridor could also afford Durham a unique opportunity for an eventual light rail transit loop circumnavigating the downtown, helping to manage the ever increasing density of our downtown and inner ring neighborhoods.

Why it’s in peril:
In 2004 Norfolk Southern agreed to sell its entire 25 mile corridor between Main Street and Person County for $6M. City, County, State, and Federal funds were set aside, but the railroad reconsidered, pulling all but the 2.2 mile Beltline segment from the market without reducing the asking price. With all but $2M of the public funding now lapsed or reallocated, Norfolk Southern and the City remain at an impasse. The railroad has recently indicated that it may sell the corridor piecemeal to adjacent landowners and private developers.

What’s needed:
Preservation Durham supports the preservation of the entire Beltline corridor and incorporation of its historic bridges, tracks, signals, and infrastructure into the design of a shared bicycle and pedestrianway. If purchase or condemnation is not possible, the City of Durham should pursue a long-term lease agreement similar to that in place for the American Tobacco Trail, which reserves the corridor for future light rail transit.
Preservation Durham and the City of Durham should pursue a relationship with Greensboro native Erskine Bowles, who was recently elected to Norfolk Southern’s Board of Directors; the former Presidential Chief-of-Staff and UNC head could give Durham a more sympathetic partner at the negotiating table.

Liberty Warehouse

611-613 Rigsbee Avenue

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.

Driver Street Storefronts

300 Block of South Driver Street

Why It’s Important:
The 300 block of South Driver is one of only a few intact early-twentieth-century retail blocks in outside of downtown Durham. This once-thriving commercial block anchored the eastern limits of the Durham Light & Traction trolley system as Ninth Street did to the west of town. Surrounding neighborhoods packed with families of mill workers and merchants could find in a single block the East Durham branch of Fidelity Bank (designed by Rose & Rose in 1921), the A&P Food Store, D.W. Brown Dry Cleaners, Ferguson Grocery, the East Durham Post Office, Lynette’s Restaurant, and Marion’s.

Why it’s in peril:

Like many neighborhood retail centers, the area declined throughout the latter part of the century with the loss of nearby manufacturing jobs, the abandonment of the trolley system, and the advent of the automobile and the suburban shopping center. Like much of the surrounding neighborhood, most of these buildings are vacant, several boarded and padlocked. At least two are occupied by storefront churches, a land use that can help protect abandoned commercial buildings from vandalism, but does not contribute to the critical mass of regular foot traffic needed to sustain a retail district.

What’s needed:
Preservation Durham supports immediate stabilization of the buildings to protect them from ongoing deterioration. In the short term, the storefronts should house community spaces, art studios, and temporary retail shops, generating street level activity and raising awareness about the value and potential of the area. In the long term, the buildings should be fully renovated and populated by a mix of retail sales and services needed by the surrounding neighborhood. State and Federal tax incentives available to contributing structures in the East Durham National Register Historic District could help offset some of the renovation costs.

Preservation North Carolina and Preservation Durham are collaborating on Project RED (Revitalize East Durham) – an effort to restore and rebuild work force housing throughout East Durham, and Self Help Credit Union is planning a $10.4 million renovation of the nearby East Durham Graded School building. At the same intersection, Joe Bushfan has opened a preservation-award-winning restaurant and coffee shop. As these and other efforts spur East Durham’s renaissance, the 300 block of Driver Street could once again become the vibrant commercial center of a thriving neighborhood.

Golden Belt Mill Village

between Belt and North Holman Streets

Why It’s Important:
The Golden Belt mill village extends from the east end of the factory complex to Holman Street and includes housing stock built in the early 1900s for Julian Shakespeare Carr’s Golden Belt Manufacturing Company. The blocks of similarly-detailed houses were listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and in 2011, residents petitioned the city to create a Local Historic District. In recent years, the homes’ uniform appearance is starting to evolve as owner-occupants make their mark.

In the last decade, millions of private and public dollars have poured into the area to revitalize the mill buildings and homes and to construct new developments bordering the village. In 2003, the Durham Housing Authority demolished Few Gardens and spent $155 million to build a new development bordering the mill village. Other nearby projects include the Golden Belt mill complex itself, Holton Center, and Calvert Place. All of these projects have traditional street patterns and were built to encourage walkability and connection with downtown Durham.

Why It’s Imperiled:
A number of structures have been lost since the National Register listing, but the integrity of the community remains intact. The Durham Rescue Mission, located on the east end of the neighborhood, has started the first phase of a master plan which calls for removing more than a dozen historic structures east of Alston Avenue and closing the existing streets to create a walled campus.     The Golden Belt neighborhood, already suffering from the future widening of Alston Avenue, will be even further disconnected from East Durham by the plan. The proposal will break apart the traditional street grid and stymie the burgeoning investment in the surrounding neighborhood by creating a three-block-long superblock, separating the Durham Rescue Mission from the revitalizing community and creating a barrier to further neighborhood development.

What’s Needed:
Traditional neighborhood design increases a neighborhood’s safety and livability by keeping eyes on the street and by encouraging cohesion; Preservation Durham strongly encourages the Durham Rescue Mission to work within the existing street grid and to maintain an open dialogue with the surrounding community. Moving historic structures to vacant lots in the neighborhood - instead of demolishing - will add to the city’s tax base and contribute to the historic character of the district. The ongoing revitalization of the area should receive the support of the City of Durham, through the creation of a Local Historic District and a thorough evaluation of Durham Rescue Mission’s proposals with the traditional street grid and neighborhood design firmly in mind.

UPDATE: As of June 2012, discussions between Preservation Durham and the Durham Rescue Mission have yielded an agreement both to delay any further demolition of residential properties for at least 1 year and to work with Preservation Durham, the neighborhood and others to try and relocate any of the historic properties that need to be moved in order to complete the DRM's master plan. Preservation Durham is in discussions with potential partners who could help identify land and other necessary resources for moving the historic houses.

Public Park Buildings

including those at Forest Hills, Duke, and Northgate Parks

Why It’s Important:
Neighborhood concern for park properties throughout Durham has brought these buildings to the 2012 list. Some of these structures include: the Duke Park Bathhouse, a 1930s Works Projects Administration project; the Forest Hills Park Clubhouse, designed by George Watts Carr, Sr in the 1920s; and the Lavender House in the Northgate Park neighborhood, home to the Trailside Museum in the 1940s which became the NC Museum of Life and Science. Other historic DPR properties include Leigh Farm, West Point on the Eno, Spruce Pine Lodge, and the City Armory.

Why it’s in Peril:
Durham is recognized statewide and beyond as a community rich in historic resources, showcasing such redevelopments as the American Tobacco Campus, West Village, and the Golden Belt mill complex. Durham doesn’t have a beach, a riverwalk, or a mountain range; instead, the clever reuse of historic buildings and the private sector’s support of preservation sets Durham apart. While our local government has contributed financially to projects like West Village and American Tobacco, it has failed to adopt preservation guidelines into the treatment of its own property holdings and has a history of neglecting historic schools and significant structures that impact entire neighborhoods.

The poor treatment of park buildings is symptomatic of the larger problem of how Durham maintains and renovates its public structures - a paradigm that can result in galvanized neighborhood concern for buildings with important pasts but uncertain futures. Moreover, that preservation standards are not utilized in undertakings funded by bond referendums further frustrates citizens who recognize the importance of protecting our cultural heritage and the resources that make Durham unique.

What’s Needed:
Durham’s local government should lead by example in the preservation of its historic buildings, as this plays an important role in shaping public support for other preservation efforts across Durham County. The maintenance and sensitive rehabilitation of publicly-owned historic buildings signals to residents and visitors alike the value that Durham’s leaders place on our built heritage in all sectors. In contrast, employing non-sensitive practices to rehabilitation work on public buildings sends the wrong message to the public - especially to those living in local historic districts - about the stewardship of older properties and how the citizenry should maintain its own historic properties.

Preservation Durham supports a proactive approach to ensuring that the rehabilitations of historic public properties - including park buildings - strive to emulate the private-sector development models that have made Durham a distinctive community. Several possible ways to pursue this include:

  • Requiring a minor Certificate of Appropriateness from the Durham Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) for all rehab work on publicly-owned historic buildings, regardless of whether or not they are located in a local historic district.
  • Encouraging training in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation for General Services staff charged with coordinating projects on historic properties, for City Council members and County Commissioners who set the agenda for public dollars, and for other public administrators involved with Durham’s historic property holdings.
  • Requiring local government to coordinate with General Services, the Durham HPC, Preservation Durham, the State Historic Preservation Office, and other preservation-minded community members to develop preservation plans for all publicly held historic properties, recognizing that this may include a process for selling off historic properties with conservation easements - as was done with the 5-Points building currently under construction by Re:Vamp Durham - that cannot be appropriately maintained.

Members of PD's Advocacy committee met with DPR staff in August of 2012 to discuss ways in which we can work together towards better outcomes for the park buildings. During this meeting, it became clear that DPR as an agency tries to do the best it can within the parameters in which it must operate; unfortunately, whether because of budget constraints or development restrictions, this means that a preservation-oriented solution is not always possible.

Specific to some of the properties named in this Places in Peril listing, the Lavender House in Northgate Park sits squarely in the floodway, and the appraised value of the property is so low that it makes it almost impossible to reconcile the needed repairs with the allowable expenditures (due to the 50% rule - Durham UDO Section 14.4.1.B.6.). As for the Duke Park Bathhouse, this is something that DPR has been banging it's head it against for several years, and the more-than $900,000 price tag to rehab it into a four-season building certainly qualifies as a budget constraint.

Despite not finding any solutions for these 2 buildings right away, we at PD are glad that DPR reached out to work with us, and DPR, Preservation Durham and others will continue to think about and work towards solutions for the problems that these and other buildings face.