Chapel Hill historic district home at risk

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 12, 2014 

  • What’s next?

    The Historic District Commission will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in Meeting Room B at the Chapel Hill Public Library to consider Tanner and Mimi Hock’s plans for 704 Gimghoul Road.

— A local couple wants to tear down a house at 704 Gimghoul Road – in one of the town’s oldest historic districts – and build a family house in its place.

The town’s Historic District Commission will consider the request at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The commission can delay plans for up to a year while negotiating with property owners.

“You always hope the owner will take care of historic structures, restore them and maintain them,” commission Chairman Joseph Reckford said. “If a person is determined to knock down a house, they will be able to without delay.”

Mimi Hock said she and her husband, Tanner Hock, became friends with the previous owners, Shirley and Robert Bacon, and bought the late 1920s house in 2012. Orange County records show the Hocks paid $635,000.

Several inspectors checked the house after the Bacons moved out last fall, Hock said. They found it in such a state of disrepair that preservation no longer made logical or financial sense, she said.

Neighbors who have seen a sketch of the planned home gave them positive feedback, she said. They also got in touch with Preservation Chapel Hill about relocating a small, stone cottage behind the house. The stone could be salvaged for other uses, but a 1930s garage would be demolished, she said.

“We’re doing our best to respect the community and to respect the neighborhood. It’s one of the things that attracted us to Gimghoul,” Hock said. “We don’t plan anything that would harm the character.”

The two-story Colonial Revival-style house was built for a local doctor in the late 1920s, according to National Register of Historic Places documents. In the 1930s, respected UNC marriage and sex authorities Ernest and Gladys Groves bought the house and built the cottage as their library around 1935.

Ernest Groves wrote more than 20 books, many in that library and still being sold online, said Benjamin Brodey, a neighbor and member of the Historic District Commission.

The UNC-adjacent neighborhood is probably best known for Gimghoul Castle, a stone edifice cloaked in rumors of dueling beaus and secret rituals. Members of UNC’s secret society, Order of the Gimghoul, were some of the original neighbors, Brodey said. Then, faculty started moving in, renting rooms and cottages to UNC students, including actor Andy Griffith, who may have lived in the stone cottage at 704 Gimghoul for three years.

Cheri Szcodronski, executive director of Preservation Chapel Hill, said there’s no physical proof, but former residents talked about seeing him there.

While the Gimghoul Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that doesn’t prevent demolition or smaller changes, like adding a new porch, that can slowly erode what made the neighborhood historically important, Szcodronski said. They will document the Hock house before it changes or is demolished, she said.

Brodey said he has not seen plans for the new house, but he thinks the old one is worth saving. He and other homeowners have added rooms and porches to their houses while preserving the historic integrity, he said. Those projects also are eligible for tax credits, he said.

“I won’t say it’s the cheapest option, but when you buy a house here, you’re buying into the historic district,” Brodey said. “There’s none other like it.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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