Faceoff

Should Raleigh renovate old police HQ or demolish it?

April 12, 2010 

Level it

BY MATTHEW EISLEY STAFF WRITER

If Raleigh's dumpy old police headquarters downtown weren't so old, or so ugly, or so poorly equipped for modern use, or taking up such valuable public land, it might be worth saving.

Alas, it's an obsolete, squat, homely building only a modernist architect could love.

And it takes up a prime street corner where a city office tower should go someday.

Raleigh shouldn't raise property taxes during tight times to pay for the proposed Lightner Public Safety Center there. But it should hold on to the spot until we can afford the building, or some higher priority.

Look, when your family is growing and you need a new car, you don't overhaul your ancient, cramped, dilapidated Chevy Citation. You get by on essential maintenance until you can afford a newer, safer, more practical family sedan.

Raleigh councilman Bonner Gaylord has raised good questions about the proposed 17-story Public Safety Center. He might be right that it shouldn't be built, and his council faction has prevailed so far against it.

But it doesn't follow that the city should renovate its old police headquarters, which decades ago served as City Hall. The building has outlasted its usefulness. Its time is up.

Beyond that, there's something odd about Gaylord, general manager of Raleigh's biggest tear-down redevelopment, pushing to preserve a building the city doesn't want or need.

To my ignorant eye, the Bennigan's chain restaurant that Gaylord's employer demolished to make way for the flashy new North Hills East looked better than Raleigh's old police depot.

In its place, his employer built - what do you know? - a 17-story office tower. Huh.

Matthew Eisley edits The N&O's North Raleigh News and Midtown Raleigh News.

Keep it

BY BONNER GAYLORD

So you think Raleigh's former police headquarters building isn't pretty? I think it's Rubik's Cube-ish and awesome. ... Tie.

Outdated? So is every other historic building.

Ancient ventilation and plumbing systems? That's easy to deal with.

A waste of money? Completely depends on what you value. I value our history of honor, service and duty.

For more than half a century, this building has been Raleigh's fulcrum. From the civil rights movement until today, its history is palpable.

Walk the beautiful worn terrazzo floors under towering ceilings with solid oak trim work. You can sense the honor of the badge and the many lifetimes of public service.

If we tear this building down, the physical embodiment and daily reminder of the best of what we stand for will be lost forever.

I value art and community. The building's architect, G. Milton Small Jr., was one of the foremost modernist architects working in the Southeast. Revered and taught to this day in design schools, Small was a master.

Architecture produced by a master is nothing less than art. Art is the lyrical expression of an idea. Our ideas form our collective consciousness. Our collective consciousness establishes our community. Destroy this building, and you damage our community.

If this or a future city council wants a new building, fine - go build it on some parking lot. There are plenty to go around.

Don't trash our history. Don't demolish our community. Don't destroy art.

Bonner Gaylord, who represents northwest Raleigh's District E on the City Council, is general manager of Kane Realty's North Hills, at Six Forks Road and the Beltline.

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