Since 2005, Preservation Greensboro’s Treasured Places Watch List has served as an advocacy and education initiative of Preservation Greensboro to promote historic places and preservation strategies. Recognition to the Watch List is not legally binding nor is the program considered to be a shame campaign. Instead, the list is composed of properties that have a high degree of interest within the community that are threatened with destruction by redevelopment, facility expansion, inappropriate new development, or even neglect.
Preservation Greensboro’s mission is to build thriving communities by protecting and renewing our historic and architectural treasures. The Watch List has provided a spotlight for public forums, including newspapers, social media, and television. Of the ten properties featured on the current 2021 list, six are holdovers from the previous 2019 list, illustrating the complex and long-term attention that is needed to solve some complex preservation issues.
Preservation Greensboro was established by a group of determined citizens in 1966 who sought a community network that could advocate for historic places. In continuing this outreach, Preservation Greensboro assists property owners in developing strategies for the restoration and conservation of historic properties. 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 through the Guilford County Historic Preservation Commission.
Our 2021 Watch List
1. The World War Memorial Stadium was dedicated in 1926 to those who gave their lives in World War I, and it was built to enhance the civic and athletic life of citizens to the present day. It was the first major memorial in North Carolina dedicated to those who made the supreme sacrifice in the First World War and has served as a community ballpark and entertainment venue for nearly 100 years. In 2001, the National Park Service recognized the significance of the facility by listing it on the National Register of Historic Places due to the importance of its architecture, its contributions to Greensboro’s recreational history, political history, and social history. In 2003, the landmark was the focus of community concern when it was vacated by the city’s professional baseball team without a future tenant or purpose. These concerns were allayed through extended use of the facility by the nearby NCA&TSU Aggies baseball team.
Why Are People Watching? Though City officials cultivated numerous reports and plans to see the facility restored, including attempts to add it to a public bond referendum in 2007, the future of the stadium faced challenges in securing funding for necessary upgrades and refurbishment. Without investment, the structure has seen continued deterioration despite continued use by A&T. The public and private sectors may need to pool resources to collectively assure this landmark’s future as modeled by the new First Horizon Park, but in the end, a memorial to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice is preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
2. In July, 1898, the firm D. Getaz & Company of Knoxville, TN was awarded the contract to build a new Southern Railway Passenger Depot (see banner at top of page). The building, located at 400 South Elm Street, was constructed of brick provided by the Washington Hydraulic Pressed Brick Company of Alexandria VA, with stone trim. The building spans 160 feet along the North Carolina Railroad-owned, Norfolk Southern-leased trackage that connects Washington DC and points north to Atlanta and points south. The structure once sported a spectacular roofline of clay tile with protruding dormer windows and a conical tower. The building was modernized with a flat roof after the passenger depot was moved to East Washington Street in 1927 and has been used as offices for Norfolk Southern Railroad. It is now empty.
Why Are People Watching? Despite being listed to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Downtown Greensboro Historic District in 1980, it is considered an obstacle to expanded rail travel by the North Carolina Rail Road and is rumored to be slated for demolition. The North Carolina Rail Road and Norfolk-Southern hold the keys to saving or demolishing the 120-year-old depot. If inspiration is needed, look no further than the adaptive re-use of the Cascade Saloon sitting opposite the depot across the tracks. The project reveals the potential of such a project to contribute to the downtown tax base and to serve as one of Greensboro’s most distinctive buildings.
3. Nelson Station represents an important chapter of Greensboro’s history as one of the earliest residences with documented ownership to a Black homeowner and with deep ties to the NC A&T University campus to the south. Located at 903 Bluford Street, Nelson Station was built around 1903 for 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. In 2007, the property was recognized as a Guilford County Landmark Property, an important designation that should illustrate the need to preserve and respect the site.
Why Are People Watching? 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 income properties have increasingly been condemned and destroyed for parking or multi-tenant housing. As neighborhood land values continued to decline, A&T is strategically expanding its campus north across Bluford Street. The current campus master plan calls for the streetscape to be destroyed. Nelson Station, however, must remain on its historic site as the campus expands around it.
4. The Strauss House at 220 South Eugene was purchased by Moses Strauss from Emma Morehead and Julius Gray in 1885. The architectural features of this house, including a center-hall floor plan with rear chimney stacks and staircase with a landing, could substantiate a mid-1880s construction date. Strauss was an early Jewish merchant in Greensboro who invested in a series of income properties around West Washington at South Eugene streets. In 1952, the property was acquired by designer Otto Zenke for use as his showroom. Over the next 20 years, Zenke expanded the showroom to include studio and office space. Since 1986, the complex has been the home of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.
Why Are People Watching? Proposals have pondered the destruction of the Strauss House and Zenke Studio complex for replacement with surface parking. A new parking lot will add little to the vitality of the Washington Street corridor and will not provide a welcoming entrance to our downtown by way of Eugene Street or Freeman Mill Road. With stunning interior appointments and murals, the Strauss House and Zenke Studio structure could serve as an impressive landmark for our city center. In a downtown awash with surface parking lots, perhaps this landmark property can be retained as a buffer to the planned parking.
5. The Zenke family has been pioneering preservationists in Greensboro for over half a century. In 1950, Virginia and Henry Zenke purchased the c. 1830 Washington Jefferson McConnell House located on Blandwood Avenue and reinterpreted the design of the house in the mode of contemporary preservation initiatives. In 2009, the family relocated the McConnell house 100 yards to a position facing Blandwood. That effort created a pedestrian-scaled streetscape along West Washington Street where only parking lots had previously existed.
Why Are People Watching? The Zenke family continues to own the McConnell House on Blandwood Avenue, but find themselves challenged in maintaining the property. The house remains an important landmark for the city, and the site is critical to the view-shed from Blandwood Mansion across the street, but development pressures loom over the site. If the property is redeveloped, will the McConnell House be saved as part of development efforts – either in situ or relocated in a nearby historic neighborhood.
6. The West House is a remarkable surviving touchstone to the earliest settlement of the county. Adam Scott (1772-1838) is credited as the builder of the West House, perhaps named as the westernmost holding of the Scott family compound. As an early native-born resident of Guilford County, Adam was a member of Buffalo Presbyterian Church. The two-story, brick house features vernacular architectural details common to both the Mid-Atlantic region and central North Carolina. These commonalities include a fieldstone foundation, handsome Flemish-bond brick walls with glazed headers, interior gable-end chimneys, a three-room “Continental” floor plan, and an enclosed “boxed” staircase. They represent the built traditions of Guilford County’s earliest architecture.
Why Are People Watching? The West House is located on land owned by the City of Greensboro, and though the city once had an interest in restoring the landmark for use as a museum, these ambitious efforts faded twenty years ago. Since then, the house has seen further deterioration and vandalism. Neighbors, many of whom love the scenic structure, have grown concerned over loitering and vandalism that is occurring within their midst. A solution might be found in the city releasing the property from public ownership to the private sector where tax credits can be utilized to restore the house as a beautifully restored private house.
7. The monumental office Pilot Life Insurance Campus at 5300 High Point Road in Sedgefield was opened in 1928 to designs by the Philadelphia architecture firm Zantzinger Borie and Medary with local representation by Harry Barton. It was constructed along the lines of North Carolina’s Tryon’s Palace in New Bern and stands as one of the earliest examples of suburban campus-style development in North Carolina. The campus was abandoned in 1990 when Pilot Insurance merged with Jefferson Standard, now Lincoln Financial of Philadelphia.
Why Are People Watching? The complex was listed in our inaugural Watch List in 2005, but was removed when Kisco Senior Living acquired the property for reuse as a full-service community in July 2008. Kisco worked through Teague, Freyaldenhoven & Freyaldenhoven Architects & Planners, LLP in Greensboro to stabilize the building and arrest the legacy of deterioration that vexed the property since 1990. Kisco has placed the site on the market once again. The property is suitable for sympathetic and compatible redevelopment of the historic complex for use as office, residential, or civic functions that would preserve the campus for future generations to enjoy.
8. Bounded by Martin Luther King Jr Drive to the east, East Gate City Boulevard to the south, and Murray Street to the north, the Southside Triangle block contains three significant structures. At 336 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive stands the Hodgin House, a Neoclassical Revival-style house erected by Mrs. John Hodgin in 1912. Though the original Ionic columns have been replaced by steel struts, the building retains a high degree of integrity and restoration potential. Next door is the 1909 Friends Meeting House, known recently as Skeen’s Chapel. Also on the block is the 1888 Cyrus Pickett Frazier House, located at 200 Murray Street. All three structures are architecturally significant, and all three are suffering from disinvestment.
Why Are People Watching? As the neighborhood surrounding these important buildings has been redeveloped, lack of investment in the structures has resulted in severe deterioration. Today, the buildings stand in stark contrast to surrounding newly restored and newly constructed buildings. Reinvestment sources would most likely come with new ownership. If owners are not able to keep up with necessary maintenance, sale of the property would be a logical path forward to see that the buildings are not lost to the process known as “Demolition by Neglect.” Any redevelopment plans must include preservation of the buildings to avoid dilution of the National Register Historic District status of the neighborhood.
9. The Mock, Judson, Voerhinger Company Hosiery Mill, located at 2610 Oakland Avenue, was built as a supplier for silk hosiery but was converted to rayon in the 1940s. The plant was erected by contractor William F. Lotz of Philadelphia in 1927, with additions designed the following year by Greensboro architect Charles Hartmann. The Mo-Jud (as it was popularly known), was a leading employer in Greensboro. In 2011, the mill was listed to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service through then-owners Octagon Partners of Charlottesville, Virginia. In 2018, its new owner 2610 Oakland Avenue LLC requested and received designation of the site as a Guilford County Landmark Property through the Greensboro City Council.
Why Are People Watching? Though several owners have initiated restoration efforts for the mill, the building remains abandoned and in deteriorating condition. The former industrial property is located in a prime section of the city, adjacent to venues along Spring Garden Street, the Greensboro Coliseum, and UNCG. Solutions could involve the sale of the property to another developer to see plans to fruition, or a public-private partnership. In the meantime, the building continues to deteriorate, and the reinvestment scope of work grows increasingly expensive.
10. Druggist Christopher Fordham remodeled the storefront for Fordham’s Drug from a modest 1897 design in 1903, adding elaborate Venetian-style window hoods, rounded attic vents, and a cornice with a mortar and pestle and urns to signify the occupation of its occupant. His drugstore, located at 514 S. Elm Street, remained open for over 100 years before it closed in 2002. Its soda fountain counter, said to be made of Onyx from Syria, was legendary for hand missed drinks and ice cream treats. Though the counter has been removed and the space vacant for 20 years, it remains an icon in the history of the Gate City.
Why Are People Watching? The dream of restoring the iconic soda fountain to South Elm Street remains alive in the hearts of Greensboro’s citizens old and new alike. The site is a logical location for an exciting venue that has the potential to drive visitor traffic and result in a much-needed re-investment into the Downtown Greensboro National Register Historic District. Through this designation, property investors could realize historic tax credits through state and federal returns that could help reduce the overall cost of rehabilitation, which is likely substantial due to years of neglect.
Updates from 2019
Wins and losses have resulted in the removal of sites from the 2019 Watch List, including the destruction of Adamsleigh in the Sedgefield neighborhood by Jason Harris, co-owner of Furnitureland South. The sprawling estate with a 15,000 square foot manor house by star-architect Luther Lashmit was destroyed in 2020 for a new house. The Lindley Farm House, built around 1905, and its 1940s barn were destroyed in 2020 to make way for expansion of Friends Homes West. Efforts to relocate the structures by several parties were determined to be economically unfeasible.
Wins include the Christian Advocate Publishing Company Building at 429 West Friendly Avenue is an unusual building with a dramatic Egyptian Revival design motif. It is no longer considered for destruction by its owner, the Masonic Temple board. In East Greensboro, work to recognize the Mid-Century Modern architecture of accomplished Black citizens built during the Civil Rights Era has resulted in an inventory of properties there and a commitment to the process of recognizing the area as a National Register Historic District.
Preservation Road Rules
Historic preservation blends private property rights with history, architecture, and real estate development. More than 50 years of laws and evolving tax codes can be confusing to those who don’t work in the profession on a regular basis. Below are a few tips to help in understanding the challenges of preservation here in Greensboro.
National Register designation does not necessarily prevent demolition. The designation can help mitigate the scope of some projects that involve federal approvals and funding (such as road construction and cell towers), but private property owners may demolish their National Register property with nothing more than a demolition permit from the city. The designation is an honor and allows owners to utilize preservation tax credits, but it is not a tool to prevent demolition.
Local Landmark designation has more conditions, but it cannot be used to prevent demolition…either. Local governments here in North Carolina, such as cities, towns, and counties, may form citizen commissions to review changes to the appearance of buildings and neighborhoods. Approval of changes are issued through a “Certificates of Appropriateness” by these citizen commissions. However, state law denies these commissions the right to deny demolition. Demolition may be delayed, for up to 365 days, after which point, demolition may proceed.
Without legal intervention to demolition, except in rare cases in which a site can be determined to be of significance on a statewide basis, preservationists are best served by promoting pragmatic and beneficial strategies rather than combative stances. Sugar always works better than vinegar. Members of the preservation community can make historic property owners aware of the advantages of taking the preservation route as an alternative to demolition.
North Carolina’s preservation tool kit is the envy of some states. In addition to federal tax credits for income-producing buildings, North Carolinians enjoy state tax credits for both income-producing and non-income-producing properties such as their home. In addition, state law provides for counties to participate in a property tax deferral program that can reduce annual property taxes up to 50%. These tax credits and deferrals can provide enough economic leverage to encourage property owners to restore, and not demolish their historic structures.
In some cases, demolition may be avoided when a property owner has donated a preservation easement on a property. An easement gives jurisdiction of architectural features, or a façade, to a holding party such as a non-profit organization. This strategy has been used successfully in the environmental movement, but after years of popular use in the United States, it remains beyond the scope of work of many preservation organizations. Preservation Greensboro has had an active easement program since 1988, and it stands among the earliest organizations to provide the service.