Published: Nov 27, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Nov 25, 2011 03:49 PM
CHAPEL HILL - The colonial-style building with the showroom windows at 419 W. Franklin St. had sat quietly empty for nearly a decade as the rest of downtown Chapel Hill changed around it.
Then Nov. 12, police say a group broke into and occupied the former Yates Motor Co. building until a heavily armed Special Emergency Response Team swiftly removed it 18 hours later.
Now a spotlight shines on a long darkened building.
Artist Adrian Schlesinger is literally capturing that interplay between light and dark, through silhouette depictions of the Chapel Hill community, to be installed in the windows of the building next month.
The art display, sponsored by the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, was planned for installation before Thanksgiving, but the occupation and raid Nov. 13 set the project back.
The town condemned the building after police evicted the squatters, deeming it "unfit for human habitation." The building was not secured and did not have electricity or running water and there was a temporary and unsafe power supply that had been extended from the town parking lot behind the site, said Catherine Lazorko, the town's public information officer.
Once it was locked and boarded, the condemnation notice was removed Nov. 17, she said.
Schlesinger, a senior majoring in art at UNC, started working on the silhouettes about two weeks before the building takeover. The 18th-century style black images are designed specifically for the space and painted in black on white vinyl panels that will be suspended from ceiling rafters with fishing line and hang in front of the building's three walls of windows.
"I wanted to show I was bringing light back to a vacant building," she said. "It's a celebration of togetherness and light."
Schlesinger will incorporate ideas from the events of Nov. 13 into her work; she says the break-in, the movement behind it and police response should be acknowledged.
"As an artist, I feel an ethical responsibility to acknowledge it on some level," she said. "I'm not going to say I agree or disagree ... I'm not going to take sides, but it's important for me to acknowledge it somehow."
As she's continued to work on the project, she has spoken with town officials, members of Occupy Chapel Hill and some of the people who broke into the building, who call themselves anarchists.
The group that broke into the building said it planned to hold it in perpetuity, clean it, and make it a community center with an art studio, dormitories, a library and a kitchen.
"In many ways the mission of what I was doing with the town and what they were doing could be interpreted as synonymous. It's just that we went about it in different ways," she said. "I think that needs to be acknowledged that there is a commonality there. I think it's a good question, 'what do we do with these spaces?' "
The window art is part of the Downtown Partnership's promotion of holiday events downtown, said Meg McGurk, assistant director at the Partnership.
"There's no better set of windows than in that building, so we contacted the owner (and) he gave us permission that we could use it to do a window display," she said.
Three car dealerships have operated from the building, starting with the Julian Caston Motor Co., which opened in 1945. The Yates family bought it in 1955 and operated it as Yates Motor Co. until 1997, when ownership changed again and it took the name University Chrysler Plymouth.
University Chrysler Plymouth closed in 2003 and the building has been empty since.
Fayetteville businessman Joe Riddle bought the building in 2004 for $1.7 million, about twice its current $786,669 tax value, according to county land records.
Downtown Partnership executive director Jim Norton said his organization regularly talks with Riddle and has encouraged him to find a new tenant for the building.