In 1957, twenty three young women from Greensboro’s Woman’s College (today UNCG) oversaw the construction of a house at 2207 North Elm Street. In the process, the students learned about load-bearing construction, material qualities, and the challenges posed by new, state-of-the-art technology such as dishwashers, garbage disposals, and aluminum wiring. In the American South in the 1950s, that sort of “can do” attitude among women was not always celebrated.
But in Greensboro, it was.
The project garnered a great deal of publicity for its innovation and energy, hailed as the “Commencement House” by the college’s public relations office.
Upon completion in May 1958, North Carolina First Lady Mrs. Luther Hodges, herself an alumna of Woman’s College, cut the ribbon to the cutting-edge house. The event was covered by the Daily News and broadcast on WUNC-TV. Local attention leveraged national coverage when McCall’s Magazine (image, right) reviewed the project in the November 1958 issue, in which the house was proclaimed a “real honey of a home.”
The Commencement House was sold as a private residence upon completion, and served as a single family home for 50 years. In November of 2006 the property was purchased by an investor. Last month, a rezoning application was submitted to the city for the property to allow medical offices on the site of 2207 North Elm and neighboring property at 106 West Cornwallis with surface parking on adjacent sites of 2209 North Elm and 108 West Cornwallis. The request applies for Conditional District – Light Office zoning designation, with conditions including (and not limited to) limited uses, stucco and brick materials, two-story heights, directed lighting, and a buffer area.
Challenges with the rezoning are not limited to the loss of the historic Commencement House. Concerns also revolve around the message this rezoning sends to adjacent property owners along Elm Street and Cornwallis Drive that commercial development is trending its way north and west along both thoroughfares. Both avenues have remained residential in character since the neighborhood was developed, and this rezoning would begin to challenge the residential tradition of both streets.
In recognizing these concerns, the staff of the Zoning Commission is recommending against the rezoning on the grounds that the action “will destabilize the long-existing residential neighborhood.” Furthermore, staff is concerned over the loss of the historically significant Commencement House, offering a compromise including small-scale offices that designed to be in context with the surrounding neighborhood; including the retention and rehabilitation of the historically house.
In the end, staff recommendations are only recommendations to the Zoning Commission. The Commission will make their own decision. The topic will likely see a great deal of discussion at the scheduled December 8,at 2:00pm meeting among those for, and against the rezoning.
Stay tuned for more information, such meeting are notoriously unpredictable.
Images courtesy of the UNCG Walter Jackson Library, Department of Special Collections.
For more information on this topic, visit here.
Update 12/3/2008: Monday’s Zoning Commission meeting will be held at 2:00pm as scheduled, but the developers may ask for a continuance. The Zoning Commission may or may not grant the request, and it is possible that the rezoning request could proceed as planned even if there is nobody representing neighborhood interests. Those who wish to have a voice in this project must attend the meeting and be prepared to state their case. The Planning staff contacts for the Zoning Commission are Rawls Howard and Fred Boateng and they can be reached at (336) 373-2144.