From her eighth-floor window, Barbara Christensen will hear every screech, thump and minor pentatonic scale churned out by the ultra-fast and super-loud metal band Mastodon as it rips through the final night of Hopscotch – Raleigh’s three-day music blowout.
If she hung her head out the window, she would be able to pump her fist along with the sea of rocking humanity on Fayetteville Street below, saving herself a $40 ticket.
Instead, she’ll grit her teeth and maybe hole up in the closet.
“I’m 72 years old,” she said. “I’m going to tell you what happens. The boom-boom-boom is nonstop. Then the big high-falutin’ food trucks that come in, they have big high-falutin’ generators that make high-falutin’ noise.”
For Christensen, Hopscotch is the latest in a string of parties to which the Sir Walter Apartments is automatically invited. Every weekend, it seems, the downtown streets are closed for a heavily amplified concert held just outside the building occupied entirely by senior citizens.
Mastodon may claim this honor on Saturday, but to date, the seniors rank last month’s Caribbean Carnival as Fayetteville Street’s all-time loudest.
“They had platform trucks with speakers on the trucks,” Christensen said. “The noise did not abate until quarter to 12.”
The historic Sir Walter building dates to the early 1920s, when so many lawmakers, lobbyists and newspapermen held court in the hotel that it earned the reputation as North Carolina’s “third house of government.”
That role faded in the 1960s when the new Legislative Building opened on Jones Street, and Fayetteville Street slid into decline as longtime businesses left downtown.
It was quiet in the ’70s
The Sir Walter converted to senior citizen apartments in the late 1970s, roughly the time when Raleigh turned Fayetteville Street into a pedestrian mall that emptied out completely after dark. But during the past decade, as the street reopened and the crowds swarmed back, Sir Walter dwellers have endured an uncomfortable coexistence with late nights, high volumes and new neighbors.
In 2005, they worried that the four-block construction zone tearing out the pedestrian mall would not only bring hours of jack-hammer noise, but also cut off corners and crosswalks used for pharmacy delivery vans.
In 2006, they fumed about a motorcycle festival that coincided with the reopened Fayetteville Street, blocking wheelchair ramps.
Since then, they say, the events have grown so popular that streets are closed and amplified entertainment rules are waived every week. At City Council this week, members granted the request for a Sip and Swing event on Tuesday night and a basketball tournament next month.
“It’s like standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” Christensen said. “The noise rises.”
It’s not clear what, if anything, can be done.
Christensen met with Derrick Remer, the city’s emergency management coordinator and special events director, who thanked her for bringing up the problem Sir Walter residents face. He said he’s spoken with Hopscotch management and asked them to be mindful.
She suggested turning the main stage to face away from Fayetteville Street and monitoring the decibel levels during shows, which Remer said is difficult. He has one person from the city’s special events office outside at the event, and says cranes or passing cars might add to that noise.
The city is working on placing portable toilets away from residential buildings and changing the locations of generators. Raleigh wants these events, Remer said, but it wants them mannerly.
“It’s good for us to hear these concerns,” he said. “I told her we can’t promise anything. We can’t change anything overnight. ... Hopscotch is a rock-and-roll kind of event.”
With that in mind, Christensen might consider this last-ditch option for her rock-and-roll apartment: