Several times a week, I jog by the house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., the site of the infamous March 13, 2006, Duke lacrosse party that began a shameful chapter in Durham's history. Almost every time I've passed it since it was vacated by the resident athletes, I wondered: When will Duke, which owns the property and has let it sit apparently unoccupied for four years, do something with it?
The answer to that question came Monday, July 12. At about 9 a.m., a big backhoe fitted with a jaw-like grapple set to work on the little white house. By 10 a.m., the left side had been smashed and members of the media, alerted by the public (but not by Duke, which gave no advance word), were on the scene.
Media outnumbered civilians—only a few stopped for more than a few moments as they circled past, many unaware of the recent history and attracted only by the eye-grabbing sight of the backhoe's jaws laying waste to the haggard building. It was a reminder that the population of the area right around East Campus includes a largely transient community of students, here-and-gone visiting professors and short-term renters. One passerby, a recent transplant to Durham, knew nothing about the lacrosse case and took the occasion to complain about another student-occupied house, on the Markham Street flank of East Campus, strewn with beer bottles and trash.
Duke's explanation for finally taking action on No. 610 seemed a bit disingenuous. "It was an eyesore in the neighborhood," university official Michael Schoenfeld told WRAL, though he conceded that "while the decision to tear it down was not made for any symbolic reasons, certainly there will be people who will be relieved to see it gone."
True, perhaps, but the house was unsightly not only because it was surrounded by much larger, more attractive, expensively renovated homes on the block: Duke had, of course, made the house an eyesore by allowing it to fall into ugly dereliction over the last few years, as if waiting for the right level of communal forgetfulness before razing four years of squalid remorse. Also, the school tore down the building despite no definite plans, according to Schoenfeld, for what it will do with the property—Duke seemed, despite itself, to be calling attention to the demolition by isolating it.
The timing, too, was attention-getting: Crystal Mangum, the stripper who originally accused three Duke lacrosse players of rape, was in court Monday on an unrelated but widely publicized assault charge. It seems that, as much as Durhamites might like the lacrosse case to go away, echoes still ring. Drive up Cameron Boulevard these days and you'll see a huge banner proclaiming the Duke lacrosse team's 2010 national championship: a victory, of sorts, over the ignominy of the past, but also a nagging reminder.
Almost exactly half of 610 N. Buchanan had been leveled on Monday morning when the workmen stopped for a few minutes; there were rumors that they were waiting for a gas line to be shut off. But at about 10:45 the backhoe's big arm rose up and smashed down through the remaining side of the roof, then started ripping entire walls off the foundation. The siding shook and quivered with the impact, a convenient metaphor for the flimsiness of disgraced and disbarred former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong's house-of-cards case. Just a few minutes later, the structure was nothing but a pile of rubble. From start to finish, the entire demolition had taken about as long as a lacrosse match.
The next morning, I was sitting in Parker & Otis with a cup of coffee when two men sat down at an adjacent table. One of them turned on a voice recorder and interviewed the other—about the lacrosse scandal, astonishingly. The interviewee vigorously and lengthily attacked the media coverage of the case and defended Nifong. It was even more astonishing to hear him compare Nifong to a cross between Wyatt Earp and Eliot Ness. The building may have been demolished, but apparently we are still picking through its controversial remains.
And what will go in its place? One suggestion was offered, perhaps inadvertently, by another onlooker, who strolled by with his young daughter during Monday's demolition. He wondered aloud if the building materials would be recycled or reused, then turned to his daughter and added, "they could build you a playground."