A nationally recognized construction company with over $2 billion in construction currently underway, with experience in 38 states, and countless awards under its belt is planning to restore Greensboro’s historic Cascade Saloon to house its regional office.
The Christman Company is a fully management-owned general contractor that is nationally recognized for its work in historic preservation. The company was founded in 1894 by H.G. Christman in South Bend, Indiana, and has eight full-service offices nationwide—Lansing, Detroit, and Grand Rapids in Michigan; Reston, Virginia; Augusta, Georgia, Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Greensboro, North Carolina.
The Cascade Saloon was constructed in 1895 on South Elm Street between the North Carolina Railroad tracks to the north, and a spur of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway to the south. The architect of the building is unknown, but it is clearly part of a family of Elm Street buildings designed by the same hand that share granite window sills and lintels, as well as patterned brickwork, and elaborate cornices.
By 1907, the building housed an “eating house” owned by Wiley Weaver. Weaver and his wife Ida were African-American, and the couple operated the café at a time when Jim Crow Laws sought to segregate African-Americans apart from white-owned businesses. The fact that the Weavers ran their business on Greensboro’s main commercial street is an unusual footnote in Greensboro’s history.
Christman plans to complete a “ship in a bottle construction” that will see a new support structure erected inside the historic brick walls. The building’s exterior will be preserved and restored using historic photos. Upon completion, Christman will place its Greensboro office in the building to showcase as an example of its work, employing engineers and project managers in the building. Creative professionals in the construction industry from throughout North Carolina and beyond will travel to Greensboro to conduct business in the building, being reminded in the process of Greensboro’s position as a leader in adaptive reuse and preservation of iconic historic structures.
The structure was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and it was recognized as a Guilford County Landmark in December 2006. South Elm Street enjoyed a revival as investors and preservationists have restored shopfronts for artists, restaurants, and antique dealers.
The project is complicated. The adjacent North Carolina Railroad claims a right-of-way that includes a number of important buildings in downtown Greensboro including the Cascade Saloon. In addition, state historic tax credits have been discontinued. That likely would have doomed the project if an anonymous donor had not stepped forward to make a large private contribution to the effort. If the building is demolished, the railroad’s proximity will likely preclude any reconstruction on the parcel, denying Greensboro the tax revenue, the connectivity north and south of the tracks, and economic revenue that a revitalized Cascade Saloon will contribute to the city as a rehabilitated and occupied structure. Once removed, the site would likely be relegated to use as a gravel parking lot, creating a wide rift separating the 300 and 500 blocks of Elm Street.
Through this partnership with Christman, Greensboro is taking a path that is both historically respectful and fiscally prudent. The city is enjoying reinvestment in a key landmark building, and it will enjoy the construction jobs, the property tax revenue, and the salaried positions that come with this project, says Benjamin Briggs, Executive Director of Preservation Greensboro. “This is a win-win-win for the city.”