Looking south from West Main St. at then 313 West Main, 1905
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection - Wyatt Dixon Collection)
While Five Points had, by the 1920s, become a focal point for commerce and the public center of Durham, during 1880s-1910 period it had no distinctive character. With the ongoing growth of the the Duke Factory to the west, and the hub of business to the east (Main St. between Corcoran, also known as Depot St., and Mangum St.,) the area became filled with combinations of frame factories, warehouses, stables, and residences.
The Fowler Livery Stable was likely the first structure built on the parcel of land that would become 425 West Main St. It is described thusly in a 1905 mercantile directory:
"The City Livery Stable - Corner Main and Chapel Hill Streets near Five Points. The above enterprise has been established for about one year and has already made its presence felt in the community. Mr. John T. Fowler, the proprietor, is a new man and has opened entirely new stables, where he is at the disposal of the public for the hire of vehicles and horses at all times. The stables are large and spacious and will accommodate 35 head of stock. Mr. Fowler owns 20 horses of his own as well as 25 turnouts of superior description. These are rented at the lowest responsible terms. The best facilities are at hand for the proper management of the business and attention and courtesy are the distinguishing characteristics of the house. Mr. Fowler is a man who thoroughly understands animals and has the fullest confidence of his patrons for fair dealing and business integrity."
Wyatt DIxon notes that the Fowler family came to Durham in ~1903 from Chapel Hill and moved to the house located next to the stables, at later 431 West Main St. and Great Jones St. Fowler had been in the livery stable and ice business in Chapel Hill prior to coming to Durham. He would soon move the stables south across East Chapel Hill St., and soon thereafter, one block west to the later location of the Belk-Leggett department store. In 1913, he became a brick manufacturer with kilns located across Angier Ave. from the Virginia-Carolina Fertilizer Company. He moved to Hillsborough after buying a brick business there, then moved to Chapel Hill again, where he started a "flour business," which became a grocery store. He suffered a stroke, and his son Robert returned to Chapel Hill to become proprietor of the grocery with his brother Marvin.
This would become Fowler's Grocery, of longtime tenure in Durham.
In a direct usurpation of the earlier transportation technology, the livery stable at 425 West Main was replaced by the Lyon Automobile Garage, an endeavor of George L. Lyon and Buck Lyon - grandsons of Washington Duke. George Lyon had started a machine shop prior to 1900 with WIlliam L Bryan, which they located in the basement of the original First National Bank building. Per Wyatt Dixon, they 'made' the second automobile to "ever appear on the streets of Durham," after Robert Hackney's Stanley Steamer in 1901. It appears that they crafted the car themselves - a "high-wheeled, Durham-produced automobile. It was one-cylinder, chain-driven, and developed eight horsepower."
Sometime between 1905 and 1907, Lyon, listed as "electrical contractor and automobile manufacturer" moved into (and possibly built) the two story masonry structure that extended from West Main through to West Chapel Hill St.
Looking south from West Main St., ~1910. The Durham Marble Works building is partly visible immediately to the left at 423 West Main, and the TO Sharp Monument Company in the background.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
It appears that he was soon in business with his brother Buck Lyon, who took over day-to-day operations of the company as George became more involved in other endeavors - including his passion for marksmanship, which would lead him to represent the US in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. In 1910, the firm and their building were described in another mercantile directory:
"With the advent of the automobile, new industries have sprung up, and new mercantile houses formed, having as their object the sale, storage, and general repairing of these machines. Durham has a worthy representative of this line of business in the new and up-to-date establishment of the Lyon garage, under the proprietorship of Mr. EB Lyon. This is a two-story structure, 37 by 137 feet in dimensions. This ample room is given for the display of the machines on sale, the storage of those using the garage and for the repair of those disabled. The entire building is utilized in the interests of the business. A competent staff of skilled mechanics is employed, and immediate attention can be given at any time to repair work."
"Mr Lyon has the agency for the district for the now famous Reo and the Hupmobile cars, and has already placed many of them in the city. EB Lyon, who established the business a little over a year ago, is himself thoroughly familiar with every detail of an automobile. This, coupled with his up-to-date business methods has resulted in the building up of a successful business. He is a native of Durham and has spent practically his whole life in Durham...."
George Lyon would, unfortunately, die in 1916, at the age of 35, from tuberculosis. The company became the EB Lyon Motor Car company, but by 1919 was out of business and EB Lyon is listed as being in "tobacco." So much for the attempt to break from one's roots. The "Durham Battery Service Station" and the "Willard Service Station" are both listed at the address in 1919.
1926 view west from Five Points, showing the two-story structure as the western 'bookend' for the shorter structures between it and the Five Points Drug Company.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
1926 view looking east from the railroad underpass construction, with the 118 W. Chapel Hill St. facade of the building on the immediate left.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
1926 view looking west from Five Points towards the railroad underpass construction - the 118 W. Chapel Hill St. facade is the last building on the right.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
By the 1940s, the building housed the Carolina Glass Company, started by Norman Benson in 1929.
Looking west, 1947
Bird's Eye view, looking south, ~1950
In 1947, Benson built a new building for his company at 307-309 West Pettigrew St.; the Capitol Furniture Company, which had been located at 423 W. Main, then occupied the building.
Looking west, 1957
Between 1957 and 1963, the building underwent a very heavy-handed renovation by First Federal Savings and Loan, which had already 'modern-ified' 423 W. Main St. a few years prior.
118 West Chapel Hill St. facade, apparently under renovation, ~1960
Looking southeast at the transformed 425 West Main St., 1963.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
Five Points, looking west, 1964. It appears that 423 and 425 were both covered in stone and metal tiles.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
~1973 view looking west from Five Points, during the one-way conversion of Main and Chapel Hill St. You can note the addition of the Professional Center Building to the western end of the stack.
By 1974, First Federal had moved to their new building across the street and abandoned 423-425 West Main.
A group led by Richard Morgan attempted to convert the building into the Five Points Restaurant - either recovering the building in brick, or re-exposing the brick, or some of both.
Five Points, looking west, 1978, at the Five Points Restaurant.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)
The restaurant was not a commercial success, and the buildings sat empty for a period. Sometime around 1980, a homeless individual seeking shelter during winter died inside one of the buildings, and this prompted the city to move forward with tearing down the structures.
425 West Main, looking south, 09.12.10
118 West Chapel Hill St., looking north, 09.12.10
The 425 parcel, along with those to its east forming the western point of Five Points have been owned by Anna Ho Whalen since that time. I'd love to see this site redeveloped - but I suspect, given that it never arises in development conversation, and has sat vacant for 30 years, that the prominent position of this land and difficulty of development there means that there is a significant gap between the owner's perceived economic value of the land versus the real market value.
Which is a shame, because I think for downtown Durham to realize its full walkable, urban, streetlife potential, the three empty corners of Five Points (including Southbank) need to be redeveloped with storefront buildings. With Greenfire in charge of Southbank and Self-Help the owner of the large surface lot that dominates the eastern 'point', there is at least the potential that real buildings may someday appear on those sites. I suspect that this one will remain vacant long after that.
Find this spot on a Google Map
Monday, September 27, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
I'm surely not the first person to notice this, but Google appears to have very recently updated their satellite imagery of Durham in Google Maps. The imagery had, until quite recently, been ~3 years old. The current imagery appears to have been taken in July (2010.) Enjoy exploring, fellow map fans...
at 10:57 AM
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
This is a bit of an odd post for this site, but Endangered Durham has won an award from Preservation North Carolina this year - being presented this Saturday at their statewide conference, which is currently being held in Durham. It seems appropriate to celebrate a statewide award at the end of the Preservation North Carolina statewide conference, and, in a completely impromptu and unorganized way, I'd love to celebrate it with anyone who wants to do so. If you'd like to swing by, we thought we'd settle in at Fullsteam Brewery, from 5p-~8p on Saturday, 9/25.
at 9:04 AM
Monday, September 06, 2010
Over the past few years I've become quite intrigued by architect Frank Milburn, a prolific mid-Atlantic/southeastern architect who, nearly-anonymously (at least in contemporary terms,) might have been preeminent architect of the New South during the 1890s-1920s. Despite this prominence, he seems nearly forgotten. There have been two scholarly articles examining the work of Milburn (with and without his partner Michael Heister.) One is a 1973 article by Lawrence Wodehouse, which provided a good rejuvenation of Milburn's existence, even though the parts that most interested me - a list of Milburn's structures in Durham, seems riddled with errors. The other, more recent article appeared in Winterthur Portfolio in 2005, by Daniel Vivian. It's an excellent article - if you have academic access to such things, I recommend it highly ("The Practical Architect.") Aside from the Durham-specific view, I have little to add to the overall analysis of Milburn's career and legacy - since it is not publicly available, I will try to summarize the essence of it.
Both Wodehouse and Vivian continue the image rehabilitation of southern commercial / institutional architecture, which was often eschewed by the architecture establishment for reasons that had less to do with architecture than with disdain for all-things-southern, and a certain view of New South cities as crass upstarts and Old South cities as permanently antebellum relics. Thus the enduring image of southern architecture became the 19th century plantation house, feeding (from the point of view of someone who grew up in the deep south) northerners' odd-but-persistent fascination/obsession with the 'romanticism' of the 'Old South.' (Witness the enormous popularity of the cinematically progressive and humanly regressive Birth of a Nation - which, with its incredibly offensive storyline about the scourge of free African-Americans, and the sanctity of the Klan - remained the highest grossing film of all time from 1915 to 1921, and the slightly more subtle Gone With the Wind, which held the box office record for 34 years, until being displaced by, ahem, "The Exorcist.") Unfortunately, the ignorance of the establishment helped contribute to the ultimate devaluation of much southern commercial/institutional architecture, and its eventual destruction.
By the 1880s, New South cities such as Durham, Atlanta, and Charlotte, as well as Old South cities such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans, had begun to recover enough from the war and reconstruction to build / rebuild new economies. The demand for new courthouses, banks, train stations, schools, office buildings, theaters, and the like meant ready commissions for architects - the fits and starts with which much of the southern economy grew meant that private-sector work was not always steady or predictable.
I'll quote Vivian on the early development of Milburn's career:
Milburn was born December 12, 1868, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, he was the son of Rebecca Anne Sutphin and Thomas T. Milburn, a builder. He studied at Arkansas Industrial University in Fayetteville, Arkansas, from 1882 to 1883 and then returned to Kentucky, where he spent six years working with his father. Thomas Milburn enjoyed a strong reputation throughout central Kentucky. In the 1870s he designed and built courthouses in Rockcastle, Wayne, and Russell counties, and for most of the following decade he concentrated on small commercial and domestic projects. In 1888 the father-and-son team began building courthouses in Clay and Powell counties. Thus, by the time he reached his early twenties, Frank Milburn understood the fundamental stages of the building process, from the preparation of plans and specifications to the procurement of materials and actual construction.
Vivian concisely describes the path that would contribute to Milburn's later treatment by the architectural establishment - specific architectural education, licensure, and the like are relatively recent innovations - as with other institutions that successfully created standards, academic rigor, and barriers to the entry of competitors (like medicine) during this period, architecture began to shift from a mentorship- and practical-focused model to a academic model in the late 19th century. Milburn, unfortunately, was born too late to be accepted into the pantheon on the basis of his work alone, as he had contemporaries who had attended the early prominent architecture schools.
In 1890, Milburn established a practice in Kenova, WV - but he would move throughout his career to the place offering the highest volume of work at the time. Milburn earned commissions for courthouses early on, likely from connections made during work with his father. The volume of his work - meaning both commissions sought and earned - was extraordinary throughout his career; he produced designs, on average, for 25 to 55 new buildings per year throughout his career. He moved to Winston(-Salem) in 1893 to commence work on the Forsyth County Courthouse. In 1896, he built the Mecklenberg County Courthouse, and in 1900, he moved to Columbia, SC and completed the South Carolina statehouse in 1903. He produced standardized designs for smaller county courthouses, with variations that could be added for distinction.
Forsyth County Courthouse, 1896
Mecklenburg County Courthouse, 1897
Milburn was one of the early pioneers of advertising his work widely - his promotional booklets are available on the ever-awesome archive.org - you'll have to search for various combinations of frank p. milburn, milburn, milburn and heister, etc. to find all that are available.
By the early 1900s, Milburn had become the official architect for the Southern Railway, and a bevy of train stations followed. This would be Milburn's first foray into Durham, with the construction of Durham's Union Station in 1905.
Durham Union Station, ~1910.
Even more dramatic station work - such as the tragically demolished Savannah, GA Union Station would follow.
Union Station, Savannah, GA, 1902
Southern Railway station, Knoxville, TN, 1905
Vivian notes that although contemporary press repeatedly praised his work, he was largely ignored by the nascent architectural establishment:
Although contemporary accounts generally praised the aesthetics of his work, he failed to attract the attention of the national architectural press. Milburn's name was conspicuously absent from the pages of the July 1911 Architectural Record, a special issue on southern architecture that featured work by architects in cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, and Atlanta as well as buildings designed by northern architects for southern markets. Nor was Milburn mentioned in Fiske Kimball's article “Recent Architecture in the South,” which appeared in the same publication in 1924
UNC made significant use of Milburn as well - I haven't attempted to account for all of the structures on UNC's campus designed by Milburn, but the YMCA, the President's house, and the Carnegie Library are some notables:
President's House, 1907
Carnegie Library, UNC, 1910
In 1906, Milburn set up a more permanent home for his practice in Washington, DC. He had hired Michael Heister in 1903, and by 1909, the firm was known as Milburn and Heister.
The firm's work, already copious, increased rapidly after the move to Washington, DC. The description of their office gives a sense of the volume:
The firm employed a dozen draftsman on average and as many as eighteen during periods of peak demand. By 1912 it occupied a suite of offices that filled the sixth floor of an office building in downtown Washington, D.C., and included drafting and reception rooms, an estimating department, individual offices for Milburn and Heister, and a private workroom.
The firm began to attract commissions for large Federal office buildings in Washington, including the ten-story Interstate Commerce Commission Building (1912), the eleven-story Department of Commerce Building (1912–13), and the nine-story Department of Labor Building (1916–17). The firm's work in DC was extensive - so much so that Milburn's obituary attributed half of the buildings in the business district to his firm's designs.
World War I Victory Arch, Washington, DC
Lansburgh's Department Store, Washington, DC.
Independence Trust Company Building, Charlotte, NC - built 1908-1909.
The prolific period from 1909-1926 represented the peak of Milburn and Heister's contributions to the Durham, NC landscape. Although the central Milburn & Heister Office was located in Washington, DC, and they continued to execute work throughout the mid-Atlantic and southeastern states, Milburn's son, a UNC and University of Pennsylvania architecture graduate, T. Yancey Milburn established a "Durham Office" in 1920 and built his own home on Vickers Ave.
Many of the Milburn and Heister buildings remain, in that same anonymous way, some of Durham's most iconic historic buildings, and it seems to speak to the overall quality of the architecture that, despite Durham's hell-bent destruction of its built environment over the past 50 years, most of M&H's structures remain standing: (in chronological order)
Union Station - Built 1905 (demolished 1968)
First National Bank Built 1913.
First Presbyterian Church - built 1916 (one of three buildings demolished 1963)
Durham County Courthouse Built 1916
Durham High School Built 1922.
(Original) Hillside Park High School Built 1922.
T. Yancey Milburn House Built 1922.
Alexander Ford Motor Co. - Built 1924.
Lincoln Hospital Built 1924; Demolished 1983
Masonic Temple Built 1924.
Fire Station #1 (the second) Built 1924.
Durham Auditorium (Carolina Theatre) - 1926
City Hall (remodel of 1906 City High School. Built 1926. Still standing, but ceased being used as city hall in 1975, remodeled in the 1980s for use by the Durham Arts Council.
King's Daughters Home. Built 1926.
McPherson Hospital. Built 1926.
Of these, two structures have been demolished (Union Station, Lincoln Hospital,) two are extant but seriously threatened: (McPherson Hospital and the original Hillside Park School,) and one is threatened by a stalled renovation - the Masonic Temple building.
Milburn's health deteriorated in the early 1920s, and in 1925 T. Yancey Milburn left Durham to oversee the main office in Washington, DC. In September 1926, Frank Milburn died of a heart attack in Asheville, NC at age 56. Obituaries widely praised the architect and his prolific contributions to the cityscapes of the south and mid-Atlantic.
The firm atrophied after the death of Frank Milburn - fewer and smaller commissions came to fruition, and the firm folded in 1934. Yancey Milburn worked for the WPA and would later return to Durham for the remainder of his life.
The reputation of the firm, and knowledge of its body of work faded quickly into obscurity. Vivian notes that only 4 of Milburn's 15 major buildings in Washington survive, and "recent guidebooks to the city's architecture" fail to mention his name.
Even the few cataloguers of Milburn's architectural legacy struggle to properly account for his work. Wodehouse and the Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory erroneously states that Milburn and Heister designed the Hope Valley golf course clubhouse, which was designed by Aymar Embury, II. Yancey Milburn acted as "Resident Architect" - meaning that Embury lacked an NC architectural license, so TY Milburn reviewed and stamped the plans. Wodehouse also erroneously attributed the Unity Monument at Bennett Place to Milburn, and failed to include Union Station in his body of work. The excellent NC Architects site at NC state does a better job for his NC work, but still is incomplete.
I find the examination of Milburn's work interesting for a few reasons - one of them is that Durham, once home to the Milburn and Heister branch office, boasts a large remaining collection of M&H designed structures - perhaps the largest of any city - I don't know. Secondly, I think Milburn's reputation suffers from a few biases: the aforementioned 'southern backwater/bizarre northern romance of the antebellum' bias, and the bias of the architectural establishment. It's the latter which I find most informative in thinking about our modern view of architectural success; I am by no means a professional architectural critic, however one becomes such. But the tendency towards rewarding inventiveness and sculpturesque push-the-envelope designs in the architectural world seems to be one and the same with the world that would leave the work of a Frank Milburn mostly unrecognized. Many of his buildings were solid and beautiful, but they weren't Frank Lloyd Wright new-and-different. I'm not sure that this ethos has changed, to the detriment of solid, beautiful buildings on our streets. I'd take a building designed to be beautiful and functional in a given context any day over some Frank Gehry piece of deconstructivist AutoCAD-on-overdrive. But if a young designer wants to win an AIA award someday, what kind of work should they aspire to?
It will be interesting to see how 30-years-on history treats Durham's current recession-era boomlet in civic buildings: the DPAC, Durham Station, the Human Services complex, and the Justice Center - the first designed by Szostak design, and already award-winning, the middle two designed by the oft-awarded Freelon Group, and the last designed by O'Brien Atkins. I don't pretend to know, but I know how most of downtown Durham's new construction of the last 40 years is regarded, although it was considerably fawned over at the time.
In the interim, we can recognize that we boast a fine collection - perhaps the most intact collection of, to quote Vivian's dual meaning, a very 'Practical Architect's' work for its solid beauty, and for its significant contribution to what constitutes the notable built environment of Durham.
at 9:19 AM
Friday, September 03, 2010
The 'wide end' of the western Five Points was residential property until the early-mid 1920s
1913 Sanborn map showing the western triangle of Five Points and the large residential structure at its western end.
By 1925, the large house had been torn down, and the land was set for auction.
Looking southeast from Great Jones St. and West Main St., 09.30.25
The land was eventually subdivided into three parcels, and developed into two gas stations (the other one is here) and a small commercial structure.
Looking east, 1948.
Looking east-southeast, 1948.
The service station on the southeast corner of Great Jones and West Main St. was the McDade-Ward Phillips 66 station.
Looking east-southeast from Great Jones - the Lucky Strike smokestack is in the background, 1963
Looking southeast, early 1960s
The shot below is looking northeast from the west side of Great Jones St., towards the north side of the 400 block. Although the gas station building isn't visible, the sign is.
Looking east, late 1960s / 1970.
The service station was acquired by the Redevelopment Commission as part of Urban Renewal and sold to Relaw, Inc. in 1972. The service station was torn down, and the "Professional Center" was erected in its place, completed in 1974.
Pre-2004 tax photo.
I wouldn't say that I'm an architectural purist, which means that I'm a fan of the cornice added to this building by the new owners who purchased the structure in 2004. It's interesting how we change our views of architectural style such that we're trying to make a 1970s modern building resemble a 1900s commercial building in the 2000s.
Looking east, 2007.
Find this spot on a Google Map.