Law firm buys iconic water tower in Raleigh

Building, once city's tallest, is 123

Staff WriterOctober 16, 2010 

— The historic granite and brick water tower near the state Capitol has a new owner.

Lawyers Ryan Adams and Graham Shirley bought the tower from the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which has owned the building since 1963. The lawyers say their lease in the 29-story Wachovia tower is up soon, and they were attracted to the 85-foot octagonal landmark around the corner.

"The building's really cool," Adams said. "There's nothing else like it."

The Raleigh Water Works, a private company, built the tower and an attached two-story brick building in 1887 and used it to store and distribute water throughout the city. The tower was once topped by a 30-foot iron water tank that reportedly made it the city's tallest structure, topping even the Capitol a half-block away.

The city eventually acquired the tower, then outgrew it. The tank was dismantled in 1924, and the city planned to tear the building down in 1938, before architect William Deitrick bought it and moved his firm there. Deitrick, who later donated the building to the architects group, built four octagonal rooms, one atop another, in the bottom third of the tower.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and restrictions that Deitrick put on the deed largely prevent major exterior renovations.

The two-person firm of Shirley & Adams will move temporarily into a two-story brick building at the rear of the lot and lease the tower building to the architects group.

The architects group is building a larger headquarters a few blocks away. David Crawford, the group's executive vice president, said it hopes to break ground on the building next month and be ready to leave its longtime home within a year.

"It's a little sad after we have been here for nearly 50 years," Crawford said. "But we've been preparing for this day for a long time."

The lawyers, who will move into the tower when the architects group exits, paid $635,000. That's $50,000 less than the asking price, but then again the architects group wasn't sure what to expect for a 123-year-old historic landmark.

Ann-Cabell Baum Andersen of the Glenwood Agency said the building attracted a lot of attention in the three months it was on the market. Andersen said she heard from people interested in turning the tower into a single-family home, a bed and breakfast or a restaurant.

Adams said he and his partner weren't necessarily looking for a signature building, but he figures its image will end up on their website and letterhead. He hopes they will hang on to it for a long time.

"I'm 34, so I've got hopefully a long career left," he said.

richard.stradling@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4739

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