Of all the construction projects in Raleigh right now, none elicits as much curiosity as the modernist house being built by architect Walter Davis and his son Marshall Davis.
Rising directly off Wade Avenue, just before the thoroughfare merges onto southbound Capital Boulevard, the 3-story, 30-foot tall structure stands out both for its striking design and its peculiar location – 28,000 cars pass daily by the lot, which is in an industrial area that currently can only be accessed by jumping the curb.
“When we bought the land and started the project, Marshall looked at me and said, ‘you know, Dad, there ain’t going to be a soul in Raleigh that doesn’t know where I live,’ ” Walter Davis, 68, says of the location. “I said, ‘yeah, you’re going to have to behave yourself.’ ”
When it’s completed this summer, the 1,700-square-foot house will be both Marshall’s home and a fitting gateway for a city with a rich legacy of modernist architecture.
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Ask Davis how he and his son ended up building in such an odd location, and he’ll give you both a practical and impractical answer.
“Price,” he said. “But those people who know me would swear it was because it looked impossible.”
They paid $50,000 for the half-acre lot in 2014, but there was a reason it had sat on the market for 394 days. The property, long covered entirely in Kudzu, was excess land leftover from when Wade Avenue cut it off from Scales Street and the residential development to the north.
“We had someone looking at it to do a mushroom farm, we had people trying to put a parking lot there,” said Frank DeRonja, the agent who listed the property for the seller. “There was always people sniffing around.”
But doing anything on the site posed significant challenges. The lot is triangular, boarded on the east by the railroad; on the north by Wade Avenue; and on the west side by a tributary of Pigeon House Branch Creek.
Because the creek is essential for drainage, no building can be within 50 feet of its bank. There is also a 30-foot setback from Wade Avenue.
“You’ve got a very small triangular spot in the middle of the property where you can build a house,” Walter Davis said.
Punk rock sensibility
From Marshall Davis’ standpoint, the lot’s industrial vibe is perfect.
“I always wanted a unique lot,” he said. “It doesn’t get much more unique than this.”
Aware of the brouhaha that erupted in Oakwood over the building of a modernist house, Marshall likes that his only neighbors will be an office building and a concrete plant.
“Coming from a punk rock background, this is a great lot,” he said. “We can do whatever we want.”
After the band members went their separate ways in 2009, Marshall returned to Raleigh and got a joint degree in design and business from N.C. State. Last year, he and partner Angela Salamanca of Centro opened Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria, a bar and restaurant in downtown Raleigh.
Designing the house has ended up being a very public way for father and son to indulge in their shared interest in design.
“He basically shaped my opinions of design growing up,” Marshall says of his father.
A graduate of N.C. State’s architecture program, Walter Davis designed many of the early buildings on the Cary campus of the software company SAS. A partner in the firm Davis Kane Architects, he sold his portion of the business more than a decade ago and retired at age 55.
He now lives in Morehead City but continues to do residential design work.
Walter Davis said the Wade Avenue project has truly been a collaboration. The house’s third-floor roof, which looks over the train tracks into downtown, is similar to a green roof he designed for a SAS building in the 1990s. The house features a covered car port on the first floor, a design feature that he has used in several other projects.
It was Marshall’s idea to put in a bay window with a bench facing Wade Avenue in the second-floor master bedroom. In a nod to his current profession, the top floor will feature a wrap-around bar facing the kitchen that will seat nine. Marshall also plans to build a mini-amphitheater and fire pit behind the house on the only remaining land that isn’t in the setbacks.
The house will only be accessible via a driveway off eastbound Wade Avenue. The lack of a driveway hasn’t prevented some interested neighbors from taking a closer look.
Marshall recently arrived at the construction site to find a man who lives nearby who was “just curious what’s going on.”
“Its happened two or three times,” Marshall said.