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Friday, January 30, 2015

Demolition of the Green Wall in Durham, Day 2

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2015 at 8:02 AM

Yesterday the bricks and paint and asbestos started falling, flaking and flying as demolition began on the Green Wall in downtown Durham. By the end of the day, one of the fish was losing its tail. I circled to the storefront facing Main Street because I knew an old upright piano had been stored in there. I wondered if anyone had hauled it out or if it would be consumed by the jaws of the excavator. I shot the photo very quickly—from the public sidewalk—because as I did so, one of the construction workers immediately got on the phone,...

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

In downtown Durham, the Green Wall is tumbling down

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2015 at 12:26 PM

We knew it was time when the Bobcats and steam shovels and Rent-a-Fence arrived. The dismantling of the Green Wall and the de facto green lawn at Main and Corcoran streets began in earnest today. Workers wearing white haz mat gear are spraying water on the site to keep down the dust (and mold and God knows what other airborne particles dating from the 19th century). This is where the City Center project, the 26-story skyscraper is going. Plus, Austin Lawrence Partners is erecting new, and reportedly, historically appropriate structures in place of the burned-out, roofless buildings. The company...

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Friday, January 9, 2015

New condos to flank Durham Farmers' Market

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 9:18 AM

If you're a mapping, planning, urban policy geek—or if you care about the future of Durham—you need to bookmark two sites: the city planning department's development tracker and Durham Neighborhood Compass. The tracker shows what's being proposed where throughout Durham, which, considering Wednesday's lengthy affordable housing discussion at City Hall, is important to follow. The Joint City-County Planning Committee discussed how to create and preserve affordable housing within a half-mile of each of the 11 proposed light-rail stations. This stipulation is necessary not only for Durham residents who rely on public transit to get around—or like me, prefer it—but also for...

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Let us praise dangerous playground equipment

Posted By on Fri, Jan 2, 2015 at 9:48 AM

At the risk of sounding like a drill sergeant or a very, very old person, playground equipment of yore was better. It served as a butt-blistering, splinter-stabbing, tooth-loosening rite of passage that introduced us kids to the realities of life. If we did not bleed from a fall from the monkey bars, then we were ill-prepared for our first job, just decades away. But today's playground is designed to absorb the impact of a child's fall and to cushion a city against the financial impact of lawsuits. Now slides are made from plastic that coddles a kid in a...

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Poppies: A concrete field of fallow development

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Like most large developments, University Marketplace had a grand vision: 300 apartments and 110,000-plus square feet of retail space, including a gourmet grocer, Poppies, in southwest Durham, near SuperTarget and Sam's Club. That was in 2008, shortly before the Great Recession tanked the credit markets. And since then, University Marketplace off Shannon Road between U.S. 15-501 and University Drive, has lain fallow. One of the last tenants, Sitar India Cuisine, moved across 15-501, where it thrives. Even the H&R Block, which could set up shop in a lean-to, bailed several years ago. We have a call into Hawthorne Retail Partners...

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ground has been broken on new office building in a nook off Alley 26

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As regular INDY readers might know, I'm obsessed with Alley 26 and its offshoot nooks. It's my favorite spot in Durham—a throwback to an earlier time, that, with its brick and sharp angles and narrowness, feels vaguely European.  So I keep track of what's happening back there, whether it's the tree that was cut down (it was an invasive species and hostile even to birds) or the redevelopment of a small vacant lot behind 118 W. Parrish St.  For the map-obsessed, the official the address of this space, what a friend of mine calls a "wino encampment," is 120...

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When the walls come tumbling down, who gets the piano?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Burned out and roofless: That's one sadsack row of buildings at 119 W. Parrish and 119-121 W. Main streets. (They are near Corcoran, for you development trackers at home).  But something is stirring in this block, besides the rats that have hunkered down in the detritus for the winter. Early next year Austin Lawrence Partners will gut the structures, rebuild the innards and save the facades. If the project goes according to plan, it will become retail space. I can't wait to see what the demolition crew will unearth. There is an upright piano inside the building at 121 W....

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Forgive us our trespassers: Playing in the Durham Coop parking garage

Posted By on Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 2:59 PM

Before too much of Durham falls to the wrecking ball, I've begun documenting the intersections, the friction points, if you will, where old and new developments meet.  A locally owned grocery, the Durham Coop Market, I would argue, is a positive development, although I miss the purple-and-yellow awning of the Noah's Ark Daycare and the community gardens outside the West End Community Center. The co-op is scheduled to open in early 2015 at the corner of Kent and Chapel Hill streets. On Saturday, I was walking by when I heard boys laughing; it turns out they were a bunch of...

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Who's in the fishbowl now? A view from Main and Corcoran streets in Durham

Posted By on Wed, Nov 12, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Life, already interesting at Main and Corcoran streets, is about to become even more so. Yesterday, contractors began conducting soil borings in the lawn next to the Green Wall, in preparation for the 26-story skyscraper, scheduled to start construction on the lot next year. There was also a guy in his 60s sitting on the bus bench with most of his butt showing. He had a belt on but it had slipped down, and initially I thought he was wearing a thong. You can't unsee these things, and I did not photography it for posterity—or posteriority. No two days are alike...

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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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