Preservation Durham still wants the 1923 Carpenter Chevrolet building on East Main Street preserved now that the city has decided to put its new police headquarters on the site.
“Keeping that building is actually a really great opportunity to address so many other things,” executive director Wendy Hillis said, “to ... tie it to the history of the site and other pieces of downtown.”
Hillis spoke at a “visioning session” on the new headquarters, an event held last week to give the public a say in the new building’s design and its relation to the East Main Street corridor.
Along with historic preservation, the approximately 100 people who came offered:
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▪ Suggestions for stores and restaurants in the headquarters’ sidewalk frontage;
▪ Concerns about pollutants in the ground and construction jobs for Durham residents;
▪ An assessment of the project as a “fortified castle” that could discourage poor people from going into a gentrified downtown.
The $62.4 million headquarters project is planned as a three-structure complex in the 600 block of East Main Street, a 4.5-acre tract one block east of the county’s Human Services Building.
The complex is to consist of a 92,000-square foot main building, a 63,7000-square foot annex for property and evidence storage, the 911 call center and some other functions; and a 535-space, 200,000-square foot parking garage.
Link and gateway
Speakers made clear they don’t want anything resembling a “bunker” on a main connector between the city center and the eastern part of town.
That opinion has been stated, by citizens and council members, since the East Main site was chosen last year. Speakers said whatever is built on the 4.5-acre site has to be pedestrian-friendly and complement the neighborhood – past, present and future.
“Think about the really important function this can have in linking East Durham with downtown,” said resident Leslie Frost.
From what project designers had to say, it appeared they had been thinking about it.
“We have three National Register historic districts close by the site,” said architect Pat Harris, referring to sections of the Golden Belt and Cleveland-Holloway neighborhoods and the downtown business district.
“While the site is not in a historic district, it has to recognize that those districts are around it,” Harris said. “It is also part of the gateway between ... our downtown area and East Durham.”
Landscape architect Jay Smith said the designers intend to “pay a lot of attention to how we can make the appropriate statement” for that gateway.
“We’ll also pay a great deal of attention to our immediate neighbors,” Smith said. “We want to bring forward designs which are reflective of or borrow from or abstract the ideas of the site around us and not just ignore them.”
Last one standing
Nothing the designers said mentioned the Carpenter Chevrolet building, or a dealership building added in 1943 fronting on Elizabeth Street, which Preservation Durham listed as “Places in Peril” (nando.com/16k) when their block became a candidate for police HQ.
According to that listing, the 1923 steel and masonry building is the only commercial building left on a three-block stretch of Main Street, after eight buildings were demolished to make way for the Human Services parking lot.
“You’re talking about linking things and you’re talking about being contextual and you’re talking about an architectural expression that kind of connects all of these things,” Hillis said. “I think that’s a great place to start.”
Previously, Hillis has said the buildings are well suited for an adaptive re-use project, such as offices or shops, like others in and around downtown. In a report on the visioning session sent to Preservation Durham’s email list, Hillis wrote, “These buildings could be historic jewels set off by new construction.”
To date, though, preserving Carpenter Chevrolet has not figured in the city’s plans. General Services Director Joel Reitzer has said the site’s history should be well documented and that if some features of the existing structures are deemed to have significance they might be “re-purposed in some fashion in the new facilities.”
Still, closing the visioning session last week, Reitzer said, “We are committed to have an open dialogue with the community.”
Share a vision
The city is taking public comment on the police headquarters project until May 1. Contact project manager Trish Creta, 919-560-4197, ext. 21258; Trish.Creta@DurhamNC.gov.
A video of the visioning session is available online at nando.com/16f; a schedule of showings on the city’s television channel (Time Warner Cable channel 8, 97-5 and AT&T U-verse channel 99) is at nando.com/16g.
For information, contact Creta or see nando.com/16l.