Symposium celebrates, looks at future of preservation

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2014 

  • If you go

    The 2014 Roots of the Piedmont: History and Preservation in Central NC symposium will be held May 30 at the Carolina Inn and May 31 at the Historic Orange County Courthouse, at North Churton and East King streets in Hillsborough.

    Space is limited. The cost is $30 for both days, or $20 a day. For details, go to

  • 2014 Endangered Places

    Preserve Chapel Hill says these local spots are at risk:

    • Old Town Hall, 100 W. Rosemary St., which the town could sell when the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services moves into its new community shelter. One of a few individually listed historic sites in Chapel Hill

    • Groves’ Stone Cottage, 704 Gimghoul Road, could be demolished unless a new home is found. The cottage was built in 1935 as a library for Ernest and Gladys Groves, UNC professors and pioneers in marriage counseling. Andy Griffith may have lived there while a UNC student.

    • Altemueller Farmhouse, located on the Charterwood development site at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Cheri Szcodronski, Preservation Chapel Hill executive director, said the house has been vandalized, and original woodwork and fixtures have been stolen, she said. It could be used for businesses.

    • St. Paul AME Church and the Hogan-Rogers House: The fate of both properties rests with the church’s plans for St. Paul Village, which includes a new church, on Purefoy Road. Either the house or the current church on Merritt Mill Road could be relocated for use at the next site. If the church isn’t used, it could be sold. If the Hogan-Rogers isn’t needed, it could be torn down. Preservation Chapel Hill wants to put a protective easement on the Merritt Mill Road church.

    • Episcopal Church Cottage: Owner of 408 North St. cottage could demolish and build a larger cottage for his own use. The cottage and two others were built using materials from the mid-1800s after Chapel of the Cross dismantled its rectory in the early 1900s. Two other cottages will remain student rentals.

  • Preservation Awards

    Preservation Chapel Hill honored several people and groups for their local preservation work at the annual Preservation Awards ceremony on May 15:

    • Founder’s Award: Scott Maitland, Tise-Keister Architects and Landmark Builders for the adaptive reuse of the old Carolina Theater balcony into Top of the Hill restaurant’s Back Bar and Great Room

    • Advocacy Award: George Smart and N.C. Modernist Houses for their advocacy, preservation and education programs

    • Advocacy Award: Carrboro Historic Plaque Program for recognizing significant buildings and celebrating Carrboro’s rich architectural heritage

    • Preservation Achievement Award: Bob Epting and Tom Heffner for their preservation advocacy and service to Preservation Chapel Hill

    The group also recognized the five most-recent additions to its Preservation Plaque Program: Trabue-Cobb House, Chapel of the Cross Rectory, Louis Round Wilson House, Odum House and Edward Kidder Graham House.

— Before making changes to your house – even small ones – stop and think about what you’re doing, says Cheri Szcodronski.

The history of a building is judged by its porches, columns and other exterior architectural details but also by its interior features, the executive director of Preservation Chapel Hill explains.

One of the first things new homeowners want to change, for instance, is the kitchen, she said, but cabinets, countertops and flooring contribute to an architectural style. It’s the same with floorplans, windows and other elements that might not seem so significant.

“That is what we’re looking for in preservation, those things that somehow managed to stay the same,” she said.

Top preservationists and historians will talk more about historic buildings at the 2014 Roots of the Piedmont symposium. The event, part of National Historic Preservation Month, will be held May 30-31 at the Carolina Inn and Hillsborough’s Historic Orange County Courthouse.

The keynote speaker, University of Virginia architecture professor Daniel Bluestone, is the author of “Buildings, Landscapes, and Memory: Case Studies in Historic Preservation.” The book asks some important questions about how preservation efforts are working, Szcodronski said.

A couple’s plan for a Modernist home among the bungalows and Victorian houses in Raleigh’s historic Oakwood neighborhood is exploring one of those questions now, she said. The couple got permission to build from Raleigh’s Historic Development Commission, but a neighbor appealed the decision and it was overturned. The city appealed that decision, and the couple now awaits a Superior Court judge’s ruling.

In this case and others, the urge is to make new homes invisible, Szcodronski said.

But “the things that make houses architecturally really interesting or really great are things that inherently make them stand out,” she said. “If we’re building houses on empty lots in historic districts intentionally so that they don’t stand out, are we creating interesting architecture or are we creating dull architecture?”

A recent example of that is on North Street in Chapel Hill. The owner of three small, white cottages – 408, 410 and 412 North St. – wants to demolish one and build a new, larger cottage.

The existing cottages were built with materials from Chapel of the Cross’ rectory. The materials may be from the mid-1800s, Szcodronski said. All three cottages have been student rentals since the early 1900s, and two are likely to stay that way.

The owner originally wanted to build a new cottage in front, connected by a locked door and hallway to the one at 408 North St., but town officials said that would violate zoning rules for the property. Instead, the cottage could be replaced by one that looks “pretty average,” she said.

Chapel Hill’s Laurel Hill neighborhood, on the other hand, is an example of diversity working together, she said.

Residents built largely Colonial Revival houses in the 1920s and ’30s, but after World War II, another building phase brought in many Modernist homes. The architecture is “very strikingly different,” Szcodronski said.

The Franklin-Rosemary Historic District is another example of that, with architectural styles from nearly 150 years of town growth.

“You’ve got to be willing to have unique, distinctive architecture of multiple styles,” she said.

It could become harder to save historic houses if three state rehabilitation tax credits expire this year as expected. The tax credits help offset the cost of reviving historic structures, but they also help the local economy, she said.

Homeowners use the money they save from those credits to hire local architects and builders and buy materials at the local hardware store, she said. They also support Preservation Chapel Hill’s work and other independent historic groups, she said.

Chapel Hill’s historic homes are undergoing significant change and could face future pressures, but the conversation about how to allow change while preserving the past is not just a local one, she said.

“When we look at our design guidelines and our design regulations or districts, they only apply to the outside, and for the most part, they apply to the front of the building, not even the rest of it. ... The goal is when you’re driving down the street, to preserve that streetscape and character, but it allows people the flexibility to make changes and update their house over time,” she said.

“The number one thing that I advocate is we just need to think about what we’re doing, think about what the long-term impact of this is,” she said. “Is this really what we want as a community?”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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