Boylan Heights home tour showcases history, architecture

jmurawski@newsobserver.comApril 12, 2014 

Onetime derelict apartments, student group houses and hippie hangouts threw open their well-appointed doors Saturday for a historical house tour showcasing the urban revival abloom in Raleigh’s Boylan Heights neighborhood.

About 750 visitors paid $10 for advance tickets ($15 on tour day) to admire bungalows and other “modern” architectural styles, all looking immaculately scrubbed, like bed-and-breakfast establishments preening in a beauty contest judged by a glossy magazine.

The Tours and Tunes II is a reprise of the maiden tour in Boylan Heights that was timed with the neighborhood’s centennial in 2007. Local musicians set up instruments on porches or in living rooms, entertaining visitors with the blues, old time, classical and other styles that would have been familiar to the original owners of these quaint cottages.

“It’s a very charmed life,” said Luci Kuster Plack, a kindergarten teaching assistant who lives in northeast Raleigh. “It’s like stepping back in time for me.”

Historical neighborhoods evoke the nostalgia of simpler times, with their tight-knit holiday parties and progressive dinner circuits and leafy thoroughfares, as if a clanging trolley is just around the corner. But historical designations can become bitterly divisive, too, as exposed by the pending court challenge to a modernist home recently built in the nearby historic Oakwood neighborhood.

A grouping of about 200 homes dating to the early 1900s, Boylan Heights backs up to a former mental hospital and Central Prison, and had long been Oakwood’s poorer cousin, even though Boylan Heights today is one of the prime beneficiaries of the city’s real estate pricing boom.

Homeowners spent five hours giving tours to strangers and retelling the same lore and legend about mysterious doorways, missing stairwells and slantindicular floors to strangers who had come to soak up that sort of mystique. It’s the kind of quirky neighborhood where owners nickname parts of their house – this here’s the “rubber room,” and here we have the “vintage romper room” – sharing that information with visitors as if introducing a family member.

Adorned with original pottery, prints, quilts, tapestries and period pieces, the 11 tour homes are occupied today by Raleigh’s creative class, including editors, academics, lawyers, elected officials, graphic designers and technology workers.

Lynn and Mark Senior, owners of a Tudor cottage on Kinsey Street, displayed photos they have taken of 10 homes they have found from the same design, mostly in Raleigh but also in Asheboro.

Several homeowners noted that the central feature of a Boylan Heights home is the front porch.

Inside, many of the homes featured extensive libraries and book collections. Televisions were tucked off somewhere to the side. It’s evident that much of the shopping was not done at malls or on QVC, but at galleries, flea markets and estate auctions.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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