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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Killing it softly with his song

Posted By on Tue, Nov 4, 2014 at 2:56 PM

There goes Black Jesus. There go the screaming man and Renee, who lives in Baldwin Lofts with her black pugs. There go the construction workers with their caulking guns and the techies with their Bluetooths. The scenes and characters at the corner of Main and Corcoran streets are better than an afternoon at the movies. Today's adventure in city living is brought to you by Roberta Flack and/or the Fugees, depending on your generations. I could hear a guy playing harmonica right outside the INDY's ground-floor window. I ran out there as the song was ending. At first, I...

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The transformation of Mutual Community Savings Bank into swanky Hotel Durham

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 at 7:00 AM

For years, I despised this building, and took the architect's name in vain. The front is adorned with toothlike gold and white columns that threaten to bite anyone who walks beneath them. And is that a silo on the side of the building? But, over time, I warmed to the Mutual Community Savings Bank, with its desiccated fountain that doubled as a garbage can. It had possibility. Now, the old bank at 315 E. Chapel Hill St. is being transformed into Hotel Durham, a swanky 54-room boutique hotel equipped with a restaurant rooftop bar. It's scheduled to...

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Alley 26 loses one of its characters

Posted By on Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 8:10 AM

In the beginning, the only tree in Alley 26 endured darkness. The slot where it grew is so narrow that two adults cannot fit in it side-by-side, and light cannot reach some of its corners. Over time, the tree grew at least three stories tall and towered over part of the upper parking deck of the Jack Tar motel. Its branches stretched over the vacant lot of a former furniture warehouse. Protected by the buildings, it has withstood natural disasters—drought, floods, fire and snow—and manmade ones—the garbage that piled up at its base. I have long admired this "volunteer" tree—a...

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

For no other reason than I love trains

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 9:42 AM

One night in 1970, my mother was driving the family's red 1968 Chevelle, with my brother and I seated in the back. Even though we were in the city, I remember it being quite dark. Suddenly, my mother slammed the brakes, and out of the blackness rushed a train. It barely missed us. A foot, maybe. The crossing had no lights or bells or gates. My mother had stopped inexplicably, and she attributed it to divine intervention.  For several weeks before that night, she had dreamed that she was driving when she became enveloped in blackness. On the night of...

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Greystone Inn apartments decision delayed until December—at least

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 9:10 AM

A quick update on the proposed Greystone Inn apartment complex:  The project at Duke Street and Morehead Avenue was scheduled to come before the Historic Preservation Commission today, but Ron Horvath of Horvath Associates, the civil engineering firm working on the proposal, asked for a continuance until December. The HPC granted the continuance, the second for the project. Lomax Properties of Greensboro is the developer. The architect is redesigning the site to break the 140 apartments into smaller buildings, Horvath said. Currently, the plan calls for three apartment buildings. City-county planning staff has criticized the project for its mass and...

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Liberty Warehouse: Foster Street side coming down

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 11:54 AM

I was walking up to Cocoa Cinnamon this morning when I noticed that the demolition of the Liberty Warehouse had begun on the Foster Street side of the building. Foster Street, between Corporation and Hunt streets, has been closed for several weeks as construction crews worked on the dismantling.  I shot this with my iPhone, but I'll return this afternoon to get more visual documentation of the Liberty's demise. The future residents of these luxury apartments might want to know what the auction house looked like, not only in its heyday, but at its end....

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Friday, August 1, 2014

The characters of downtown Durham: a veteran with sore feet

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 10:26 PM

Main Street in Durham is on the Bull City Connector line, a free bus that runs from Golden Belt on the east side to the VA hospital on the west. So I meet a lot of veterans downtown as they wait for the bus to take them to their doctor's appointments. Some of the veterans are not only homeless but physically sick, such as Reggie Best, whom I interviewed earlier this year. Others have mental issues, including PTSD.  Yesterday I saw a man at the bus stop through my office window, which is about 15 feet away. He had been...

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Demolition of Liberty Warehouse in Durham begins

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 5:50 PM

On Tuesday night at the Durham County Library, I attended a documentary presentation and discussion about the history of Liberty Warehouse. The panel included Walker Stone, the original owner of Liberty, documentarian Carol Thomson and Liberty Arts metalsmith Andrew Preiss. It was a fascinating talk about what Durham was like when tobacco ran the town. Tobacco farmers would come in and try to sell their crop at the highest price to the cigarette companies, such as Liggett and Myers. Liberty also housed First Union Bank, so the farmers could cash their checks and then head to the downtown shopping district...

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Let's do the time warp: Documenting The Jack Tar motel, aka the Oprah Building in Durham

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 2:15 PM

This Wednesday, the INDY is featuring stories about two iconic—and now tattered—motels: Aaron Lake Smith is writing about the legal morass of The Velvet Cloak Inn on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh; I'm writing about the future of the former Jack Tar, aka the Oprah building, in downtown Durham. Each has its own sordid history; each also has its own promise. Starting this fall, Austin Lawrence Partners, which is also building the 26-story tower and rehabbing the decrepit facades on West Main and West Parrish streets, will begin renovating the Jack Tar.  Before that happens, I wanted to document the motel in...

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Bull chute in Durham's CCB Plaza

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Maybe it's because I grew up in the country and didn't see a structure taller than a barn until I was about 5: I love tall buildings and cranes and the interesting geometry that happens when the two converge. So I'm posting this photo for no other reason than I was briefly hypnotized this morning by the scene at CCB Plaza. Across the street from the INDY office, the old SunTrust building has been under construction for more than a year as it transforms into the 21c Museum Hotel  Construction workers in fluorescent green vests have been swarming the place,...

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Monday, July 7, 2014

What's behind the Tiny Door Project in Durham?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 8:14 AM

I've passed this tree in Forest Hills Park in Durham hundreds of times, but only yesterday did I notice this quaint, little house lodged in its base. The tree is on the south side of East Forest Hills Boulevard, between Forestwood and Beverly drives and, according to Reuters, was installed in August 2013. So much for my powers of observation.) I opened the house to find a pine cone and a tennis ball inside, and the inscription #tinydoors .  The idea started with Tony Powell of San Francisco, who built one little house and placed it at the base of a tree in...

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

No longer behind a chain-link fence, two hidden rooms off Alley 26 in Durham

Posted By on Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 12:58 PM

For about a year, I've been eyeing a fenced-off area near Alley 26, directly behind 118 Got Soul. The two-room space was cordoned off with imposing razor wire and a chain-link fence (and a warning sign that said the area was under surveillance, which I think was a ruse) that left no room to slither through. I could only photograph it from the top level of the parking garage of the Oprah Building, which I did last summer. Well, 118 Got Soul closed after its umpteenth fire, and the spot, once verboten, is accessible. It's a bit creepy: There's a...

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Happy Canada Day, ex-pats

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 12:08 AM

Canada: It's a more civilized version of America, where gun crimes are the exception, not the rule. Where health care is easier to get—and keep. Where young men fled to avoid the draft during Vietnam. OK, it also has the tar sands of Alberta, is home to Anne Murray (but on the up side, also Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and several members of The Band) and a crackhead for a Toronto mayor. But America has coal ash pits and more bad musicians than you can count. And Marion Berry, no stranger to the pipe, was the mayor...

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Roylee Duvall, Norval Tucker and a runaway painting

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 3:08 PM

Not only did Roylee Duvall have to haul a 44-by-60-inch painting down the street this morning, he had to deal with someone chasing him. That someone was me. I spotted Duvall, the director of Through This Lens gallery in Durham, hoisting the painting at the corner of Main and Corcoran streets. He was eclipsed by the painting, with only his fingers and legs showing. You don't see that every day, so I ran out of my office and pursued him down the street. If anybody would understand, it would be Roylee. The painting by Norval Tucker is entitled As You Do It to...

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Monday, June 16, 2014

When the undertakers come to town, a vigil and hearse procession in Durham

Posted By on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 7:50 PM

When people talk about morticians, they often joke that it's the only profession with job security. However, even the funeral industry changes: About 2.5 million people die in the U.S. every year; of those, 42 percent are cremated. In 1988, that figure was just 24 percent. (American Cremation on Person Steet is one of several businesses offering that service in Durham; ironically, it has a sign out front that reads "Smoke-Free Facility.") Other trends threaten the traditional funeral industry: Green burials are significantly cheaper than traditional services. People are choosing simple (and cheap) pine coffins rather than fancy, tricked out caskets to carry their remains...

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Two black churches in Sanford offer a lesson in humility

Posted By on Sun, Jun 8, 2014 at 8:42 AM

I've recently spent a lot of time in Sanford, an old brick manufacturing town in Lee County. Like a lot of Southern cities and towns there are still remnants of segregation in Sanford—one side of town that is largely black and another, white. This is particularly evident in the churches. Many white churches in town are large, brick and steepled, and have multiple annexes and expansive parking lots. Many black and Latino churches are housed in small cinderblock buildings, former homes or trailers. These two churches, are both in a largely African-American neighborhood in the 1200 block of South Vance...

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Chris Gollmar to give listening tour Saturday morning in Durham

Posted By on Sat, Jun 7, 2014 at 6:59 AM

Love sounds? Looking for an immersive experience? Chris Gollmar, who started the Listening Point project in Durham, is giving two listening tours this week, the first one this morning (Saturday, June 7)—that's today if you're just getting up/going to bed—at 10. Meet at the I-85 overpass near the intersection of Club Boulevard and Washington Street. The tour will then proceed to Northgate Park. This is where the INDY met Gollmar for a story in this week's issue. We discovered the Listening Point project last month on Ninth and Perry streets, one of more than 20 places where passersby are encouraged to stop and listen to...

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Friday, June 6, 2014

A favorite Durham downtown bar, Bull McCabes, as a work-in-progress

Posted By on Fri, Jun 6, 2014 at 9:05 AM

I finally got around to reading the full list of the INDY's Best of the Triangle winners. (Since the poll is run by the advertising department, I don't have an inkling of who won until the day before the paper comes out, when I'm reviewing the galleys.) I saw that Bull McCabes won, or was named a finalist in, several Best of the Triangle categories: Trivia Night, Irish Pub, Neighborhood Bar in Durham County, Place to Watch International Soccer.  My favorite aspect of the downtown bar is its lawn and patio, recently built after several months of construction. The lawn carves out important...

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Prick up your ears, Durham: Listening Point, where you can take in the soundscape

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 8:19 PM

[This story was updated Wednesday morning.] Among the many reasons I love Ninth Street in Durham is because it's the onIy place, with the exception of a university campus, where people still post flyers on kiosks and light poles. This old-school way of communicating—not via social media, which does not require you to leave your chair (or your bed)—reaches people who walk around, look around and, in this case, listen. At Ninth and Perry streets, this flyer was stapled to a lamp post. It was 8:45 on a Tuesday morning. I stopped, although I admit I did not close my...

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

A rare and beautiful moment at University Tower—the Green Weenie—in Durham

Posted By on Sun, May 18, 2014 at 9:36 AM

The Pickle. The Green Weenie. The Dallas Phallus: For the past 29 years, University Tower has been derided for its resemblance to a fully erect male member. And with a leafy forest at its base ... well, let's move on. In 1985, when Texas developer Tommy F. Stone built the 17-story tower on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, its flamboyance turned that portion of Durham's skyline into a punch line. The essence of Durham, at least at the time, was mettle and grit, not metal and glass. So placing the tower at the western gateway to the city was like placing giant...

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

INDY wins three Green Eyeshade awards

Posted By on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 8:34 AM

John H. Tucker's story about an innovative  yet controversial program to prevent domestic violence won second place in the non-dailies division of the 2014 Green Eyeshade Awards, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists. The article was honored in the Courts & the Law reporting category. Lisa Sorg won two second-place honors, one in public affairs reporting for "Appetite for Destruction," a story about North Carolina's new gun laws that allow patrons with valid conceal-carry permits to bring weapons into bars and restaurants. She also was recognized for a body of work in the Serious Commentary category: "Tit for tat," which analyzed the proposed state...

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

An evil stepmother and a sad princess: Just another Saturday morning in Durham

Posted By on Sat, Apr 26, 2014 at 1:55 PM

"I went to the Durham Farmers Market this morning," I once commented to my husband after a particularly colorful trip. "It was very Portlandia." "Really?" he replied. "Was anyone nursing a python?"  Even though I occasionally poke fun at the Saturday Durham Farmers Market for bordering on hipster preciousness, it's one of my favorite rituals of the Bull City—and the best place to people watch.   This morning, among the baskets of strawberries and field loads of greens, the Legacy Repertory Company in Durham was plugging its performance of Cinderella at the Carolina Theatre on Saturday, May 10.  The evil stepmother with the large...

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

As part of Paradoxos, artists brighten the green wall in Durham

Posted By on Sun, Apr 13, 2014 at 9:05 PM

For those of you who frequent downtown Durham, the green wall is an unfortunate punchline, a reminder of failed developments during the Great Recession. The building has no roof (but there is a piano inside), and at one time it was feared the green wall was so unstable it could fall. But the green wall is also a landmark that I've grown fond of. I can see the facade, its paint exfoliated over the years by the elements, from my office window. I love the adjacent green space, a de facto park, where the Woolworth's Building used to be. ...

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Small moments at St. Stephen's AME in Liberty, N.C.

Posted By on Sat, Apr 12, 2014 at 3:37 PM

St. Stephen's AME Church in Liberty, N.C., sits adjacent to the former Randolph High School, an African-American public school the powers that be closed in 1965. Even though Randolph High was new—less than 20 years old—and accredited with advanced science and math programs, the school board determined it should close and the black kids should be bussed to the white Liberty High School. Liberty,  population 2,668, is about 20 miles south of Burlington in Randolph County. It's about 45 minutes west of Chapel Hill. Although Randolph High has been designated a cultural heritage center, it is nonetheless dilapidated and...

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Friday, April 11, 2014

This Durham corner is sick: McPherson Hospital as it becomes a Residence Inn

Posted By on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 3:58 PM

When I arrived in Durham nearly eight years ago, one of my first views was the old McPherson Hospital. It was in ruin then, and in ruin it has remained. It always depressed me to see one of Durham's architectural and historic legacy sites in that state of entropy. Part of the 1926 building has already been demolished, and now it's being denuded as it transforms into a Residence Inn.  It appears that the entrance is being "preserved," but as for the rest of the 143-room chain hotel, well, the drawing of the finished product is not impressive. I...

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