Greensboro is a city endowed with numerous treasured places, yet from time to time, some of these places are threatened with destruction. Redevelopment, facility expansion, inappropriate new development, and even neglect are themes in 2011 that cause concern among citizens who value places that hold unique personality and character. The Treasured Places Watch List was formulated in 2005 to illustrate our community’s interest in important historic places that are threatened in various ways. It has served as a spotlight that has gained the attention of many public news organizations, including the News and Record and WUNC Public Radio.
Preservation Greensboro was established by a group of determined citizens in 1966 who established a community network that could offer alternatives to the destruction of historic resources. In the spirit of this civic outreach, Preservation Greensboro offers assistance to property owners in understanding tools available for restoration and conservation of your historic property. Tools include generous federal and state tax credits administered through the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, as well as property tax deferral through designation by the Guilford County Historic Preservation Commission. Additional easement programs and property marketing is available through Preservation Greensboro.
Below is a list the “most watched” Treasured Places in Greensboro for 2011.
A&T’s Heritage Row
This historic community along Bluford Street overlooks the A&T campus to the south (image masthead). Platted around 1900, the street was a convenient location for professors and administrators who built fashionable Craftsman bungalows and rectilinear Foursquares with generous front porches beneath pendulous oaks. The oldest home on the street is Nelson Station at 903 Bluford Street. It was constructed around 1903 as the home of Agnes and Walter Nelson. Mr. Nelson taught in A&T’s Mechanical Department. Their Queen Anne-style house features turned porch posts with sawn brackets. A block east is the Bluford-Jeffries House at 1007 Bluford Street. This handsome American Foursquare house was constructed in 1916 and features Prairie-inspired details and served as the home of Hazel and Dr. F. D. Bluford. Dr. Bluford was hired by A&T in 1916 where he quickly rose through the ranks to become President from 1925 until his death in 1955.
What to watch for
Bluford Street began to change in the late twentieth century as homeowners retired or moved away and their homes were converted for rental use. Poorly maintained older homes have increasingly been condemned and destroyed for parking or multi-tenant housing. As neighborhood land values continued to decline, A&T is taking the opportunity to expand its campus north across the street. The current campus master plan calls for the streetscape to be destroyed and replaced with green space within a 10-15 year timeline.
Located in the Sedgefield neighborhood, Adamsleigh is an estate that features a sprawling 15,000 square foot manor house coupled with a caretaker’s cottage, a pond, two swimming pools, gardens, and other outbuildings. Greensboro’s grandest manor house was designed for their clients Elizabeth and John Hampton “Hamp” Adams by Luther Lashmit, a talented architect in the offices of the Winston-Salem firm Northup-O’Brien. Though plans were finalized the week of the October 29th 1929 “Black Tuesday” stock market crash, work on the opulent house continued without pause. Adamsleigh is the only known work of Lashmit in Greensboro. The eclectic Renaissance-inspired English Tudor style architectural theme includes a covered porte-cochere for arriving guests, a cylindrical stair tower topped by a conical roof, a classically-inspired entry-way to a flagstone terrace and lawn, and a stunning array of hand-forged wrought iron that graces windows, doors and a weathervane.
What to watch for
Though the estate has been little changed since the 1930s, and a majority of decorative treatments, finishes, and fixtures remain from the original period of construction, the property is currently vulnerable to destruction for redevelopment for new homes. As the city’s largest house, opportunities exist to return the home to its splendor using local, state and federal abatements and tax credits, but the home remains on the market years after being listed.
Fisher Park’s Sacred Sector
Architectural historians have referred to the Fisher Park neighborhood as one of the state’s premiere streetcar suburbs. It features remarkably varied housing that is enhanced by sanctuaries designed by prestigious architects such as Hobart Upjohn and Albert C. Woodroof. As components of the whole, its homes, religious buildings, parks, and cemetery contribute to one of North Carolina’s most interesting urban neighborhoods, but sometimes conflicting uses expose fault lines in the future appearance and use of the community.
What to watch for
As a true urban neighborhood that blends diverse architecture and streetscapes within the context of a busy city, Fisher Park can’t afford to lose its treasured places. One of the neighborhood’s earliest residences, the Queen Anne-style Holleman House, was purchased by a nearby church and destroyed last year. Another home on Smith Street was destroyed the year before. A 2009 workshop brought the community and area congregations together to develop proactive and forward thinking plans. By recognizing the community as a whole, and not limiting it to its component parts, new perspectives may be gained on ways to progress this historic neighborhood into the future.
As the country processes the impact of the Great Recession of 2008, banks are developing a new tool for disposing of foreclosed properties. In some cities, especially those with high vacancy rates and low property values, banks are exploring demolition of houses to reduce carrying costs and increase neighborhood values. Vacant houses are seen as a liability to occupied houses in the same street, and the cleared property is often converted into open space and community gardens, or donated to the local communities. Here in Guilford County, hundreds of properties – many in low-income neighborhoods with pre-1950 housing stock, are currently in foreclosure. Any plans for easing these properties out of bank ownership that includes demolition could be devastating for historic neighborhoods.
What to watch for
Guilford County, including Greensboro and High Point, are fortunate to not have overwhelming numbers of abandoned houses seen in larger cities of the Rust Belt. However, older neighborhoods such as Glenwood and Asheboro Square in Greensboro, and areas of southwestern High Point are particularly vulnerable due to low property values and high vacancy rates. Several nonprofit organizations are available to work with area banks to develop creative reuse opportunities for older houses, Preservation Greensboro being a prime example!
Originally platted as a series of neighborhoods with names such as Silver Run Park, Jackson Park, Mt. Vernon Heights, and Piedmont Heights, the entirety is today recognized as Glenwood due to the primary avenue that featured a streetcar line connecting the community to the city center. The houses of Glenwood reflect a broad period of architectural styles and forms ranging from early Queen Anne, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Foursquare and a Shotgun House. The construction methods for some homes were innovative; homebuyers could select plans from a catalog, and all materials arrived at the site ready to assemble. Grove Street is recognized as a commercial center of the neighborhood and is home to eclectic venues such as the Glenwood Community Book Shop, Glenwood Coffee and Books, and Glenfest held each spring.
What to watch for
Glenwood was the focus of city planners in 2008 when a Neighborhood Plan was created. The plan sought to address concerns of residents such as declining condition of housing stock, traffic issues, crime, and development. Since the report, the nearby University of North Carolina at Greensboro has announced plans to extend its campus into the northern blocks of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, disinvestment has continued in the southern blocks where several businesses have closed along Grove Street. Careful coordination with UNCG could enhance the northern edge of the neighborhood, and incentivizing property investment through National Register tax credits might energize Grove Street.
Historic District’s Condemned Houses
In spite thirty years of protection through the city’s preservation ordinance, historic resources within Greensboro’s three designated districts remain vulnerable, and some are threatened with demolition. Although historic district designation has proven to stabilize neighborhoods, encourage reinvestment, and to increase property standards and values, the districts are presented with challenging problems that threaten their success.
What to watch for
A College Hill fire on June 6th illustrates the challenges often encountered in historic districts. A grand 1905 home suffered fire, smoke, and water damage from an accidental blaze. The owners of the property, though insured, were not able to restore the building through proceeds, and sought demolition of the century-old home. The request for demolition is tempered by efforts by Preservation Greensboro to save the structure. Greensboro’s historic resources are finite, though legal tools can create a safety net to maintain property values and encourage reinvestment by private citizens. Once the historic fabric of our historic neighborhoods is lost, it can never be regained.
South Elm Street/ Old Greensborough Historic District
Recently, a property owner on South Elm Street was offered over a million dollars for his historic brick storefront. The prospective buyer planned to heavily alter the appearance of 110 year old building for a restaurant including some demolition, but the offer was not seriously considered. This is how Greensboro’s most historic street has been preserved…through pluck and luck. The historic buildings that line South Elm Street are considered by many architectural historians to be the best-preserved “big city” main street in the state, but the future of the Old Greensborough streetscape is tenuous, at best.
What to watch for
As the street continues to grow its profile as a viable commercial location, large companies and chain stores without appreciation of Greensboro’s culture might clash with the city’s celebrated historic core. With no design review or binding guidelines, property owners are free to alter, demolish or construct any building in ways that are not allowed in other major cities in North Carolina. Already, large parking lots replace historic buildings along stretches of the 300 and 500 blocks of the street and other critical buildings are threatened such as the c. 1896 Cascade Saloon at 408-410 South Elm Street.
War Memorial Stadium
World War Memorial Stadium on Yanceyville Street was dedicated in 1926 as the first major monument in North Carolina dedicated to those who made the supreme sacrifice in World War I, and it has remained central to the civic and athletic life of the city to the present. In the words of Mayor Edwin Jeffress, “The soldier boys … wanted something that would be useful; that would help develop mind and body; that would in this way be a perpetual memorial to those who have passed.” The stadium lost its Minor League anchor in 2004, but it remains a popular venue for youth- and college-level baseball. Its structural integrity is questioned by some, and various studies made into the soundness of the poured concrete structure are contradictory.
What to watch for
War Memorial Stadium continues to suffer from long deferred maintenance that has resulted in crumbling masonry, antiquated facilities, and an increasing number of safety issues. A comprehensive refurbishment is necessary to address these issues, and perhaps repurpose the facility for its next 100 years of service. This could be funded using a combination of public and private resources to assure that this landmark remain preserved as a functional memorial to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the enjoyment of future generations.
The Zenke family name has been associated with historic preservation in Greensboro for over half a century. In 1950, Virginia and Henry Zenke purchased the c. 1830 Washington Jefferson McConnell house on Blandwood Avenue and carefully renovated the house to meet their needs. In 1966 they were instrumental in preserving Blandwood Mansion as two of the founders of Preservation Greensboro. When the McConnell house was threatened with demolition in 2009 to make way for the new Guilford County Detention facility, the Zenkes devised plans to relocate their home 100 yards to a position facing Blandwood. That effort, paired with the relocation of a c. 1920 brick double-house to an adjacent lot, created a pedestrian-scaled streetscape along West Washington Street where only parking lots had previously existed.
What to watch for
A constantly evolving plan to accommodate parking at the new detention center has once again threatened the Zenke property. In spite of their efforts to preserve their recently relocated and refurbished family home, the site has been named as a possible location for a multi-level parking deck to serve the nearby jail. Alternative sites for the parking deck are located one block east and one block west of the Zenke residence and it is hoped by those in Greensboro’s preservation community that one of these locations will be chosen for the new deck in order to preserve the West Washington Street setting. In the meantime, the Zenkes plans are frozen until a resolution is found.