Once the Fairweather luxury condominiums are built on a hill at 525 S. West St. in downtown Raleigh, the five-story building will offer a sweeping vista of downtown.
But before the first shovel can be stuck in the earth, the project’s developers have promised to delicately relocate a small, 1,200-square-foot house from the early 1900s.
The Rogers House, was originally slated to be torn down, but was given a new lease on life, after Preservation NC and Raleigh preservationist Matt Tomasulo approached the project’s developers (4 Line LLC and Greymont Development) about relocating the structure. It's one of the last remaining historic homes from the Fourth Ward neighborhood, a historically African-American neighborhood south of the Warehouse District that became more industrial over time.
On May 20, it will be moved by trolleys and trucks to the corner of Hargett and Bloodworth Streets, near another house that Tomasulo is currently renovating into a boutique hotel called the Guest House. The Guest House, built in the 1880s, was relocated in a similar way last year to the Prince Hall neighborhood, another historically blue-collar African-American community southeast of downtown.
Tomasulo declined to say how much moving the Rogers House will cost, but said it would be over $10,000.
Myrick Howard, president of Preservation NC, said saving this particular house is important because the Rogers house is one of the few turn-of-the-century African-American homes still left in downtown Raleigh. It was owned by L.G. Rogers, a black bookkeeper, who was active in Raleigh’s political scene in the 1910s, he said.
The Rogers House's new home is a "surplus city-owned property" that Preservation NC negotiated with the City of Raleigh for Tomasulo to purchase. The land has layers of historic covenants on it that dictate how the house can be renovated, Howard said.
“We are losing a lot of the small (home) fabric of Raleigh,” Howard said, adding the Rogers House will fit the historic character of the Prince Hall neighborhood. “It’s important to preserve the whole range that tells the story of a place like Raleigh from the small to the grand.”
Howard said preservation efforts have entered into a new phase in the Triangle because of its surging economy and real estate market. In downtown Durham and Raleigh, land values have risen to the point that it’s prohibitively expensive to save a home. (The developers of the Fairweather are also planning a townhome project in downtown Durham.)
Plus “we have gotten beyond that point where most of the obvious renovations have been done and now we are having to deal with the small houses and mid-century modern stuff that is really challenging to preserve.”
The 45-unit Fairweather, which is expected to open in fall of 2019, is a prime example of those rising land values. The developers spent $1.8 million assembling the land for the condos from several different owners, and the eventual condos there will be priced from the upper $300,000s to $1.4 million. In that light, it is easy to see why historic homes in disrepair can be easily lost.
Originally Tomasulo and Preservation NC were set to save two homes, but because of environmental contamination on one of the two city-owned lots, that plan was scrapped. The other home will be dismantled with parts of its architecture cataloged in Preservation NC's collection.
It is unclear what the Rogers House will now become, though it will likely be aimed at affordable housing. "I am committed to not selling it as a single-family home," Tomasulo said, adding the building's small size presents some challenges. The other historic home that couldn't be saved was actually the bigger of the two homes but didn't fit on the city's lot.
For 4 Line and Greymont saving the home is causing a slight delay to its construction schedule. But, the backers of the project believe the delay is worthwhile.
“We just felt like it was an important thing to do. It made sense to us,” said Lee Norris, one of the developers behind The Fairweather. “The delay is not huge so we can deal with it and it is worth it. Otherwise, you go in there with a bulldozer and in two hours it's gone and it’s a pile of old sticks.”
Norris also believes it's important to retain a diversity of style in downtown, between historic and contemporary.
"A lot of the stuff being built in downtown Raleigh, some of its really nice, but not a lot of it is architecturally significant," Norris said. "We have gone through a lot of expense to make (the Fairweather) significant and stand the test of time. I think it's cool to have something architecturally significant and replace it with something interesting."