Durham County

Shining chalice to honor downtown Durham leader

Friends and coworkers of retired Downtown Durham Inc. director Bill Kalkhof take pictures of Kalkhof Tuesday just after the unveiling of a new metal sculpture in Kalkhof's honor at CCB Plaza.
Friends and coworkers of retired Downtown Durham Inc. director Bill Kalkhof take pictures of Kalkhof Tuesday just after the unveiling of a new metal sculpture in Kalkhof's honor at CCB Plaza. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Major, the bronze bull, got some artistic company on CCB Plaza Tuesday, as Downtown Durham Inc. unveiled a sculpture honoring former CEO Bill Kalkhof.

The so-far unnamed tribute, by Durham sculptor Al Frega, is in the form of a chalice: a stainless-steel cup supported on a metalwork stem, rising from a cluster of machine and structural components arranged to depict the city skyline.

“I’m tremendously honored and tremendously humbled,” said Kalkhof, who led DDI from its creation in 1993 until his retirement in 2013. In that time, the organization played a leading role in bringing $1.3 billion worth of investment to a formerly moribund central business district.

Including its brick base, the 2,000-pound sculpture stands 13 feet tall, Frega said. It stands on the plaza’s west side, across Market Street from DDI offices in the old Herald-Sun Building.

Kalkhof praised Frega for “capturing a vision” of a city “risen from its depths” of the 1980s and early ’90s when little went on downtown, and for recycled material from downtown structures: girders, pipes, chain, handles and so on from various sites including a rail from a streetcar line of the early 1900s.

Frega said the chalice stem came from a water tower at the Imperial Tobacco Building on Morris Street and the chalice cup from “what looked like a mad scientist’s laboratory” in the Chesterfield Building, which was originally a factory for several brands of Liggett and Myers cigarettes.

When hit by direct sunlight, the burnished steel of the chalice should glow, Frega said; for a similar effect at night, three recessed floodlights shine up from the brick base.

“Bill wanted that shine,” Frega said.

Designed for viewing from the upper floors of surrounding buildings as well as from street level, the chalice has a steel cover – which also keeps it from collecting rainwater, leaves or whatever objects prankish passersby might toss up and in.

Matthew Coppedge, Downtown Durham Inc.’s chief operating officer, said the sculpture was planned for “killing two birds with one stone: getting public art out here and honoring Bill and what he has done” and City Manager Tom Bonfield said he hoped that recognizing legacies with public art will become “a new theme ... in this community.”

Kalkhof said he hoped Frega’s sculpture, which DDI and individual contributors donated to the city, is “just the beginning of donations of public art.”

The bronze bull across the CCB Plaza is called “Major” in honor of the late Durham banker and philanthropist George Watts Hill, who held that rank in the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) during World War II.

Speaking to about 75 people on hand for the unveiling, Capitol Broadcasting and American Tobacco executive Michael Goodmon called Kalkhof “a big thinker” for reviving downtown.

“His passion for Durham, his focus on Durham and his hope ... was really a powerful tool for us,” Goodmon said.

  Comments