Sunset Hills features gracious yards, stream-side parklands, shaded sidewalks, and charming architecture that are considered treasures in Greensboro. As one of our state’s great Jazz Age communities – and with designation as the largest National Register Historic District in Guilford County in 2013, Sunset Hills enjoys wide recognition.
The Developer and a Vision
The timeline for Sunset Hills began in 1922, when developer Arthur Kirby Moore acquired two tracts of land. The first tract was 212-acres of old-growth woodland from the estate Col. James T. Morehead, a nephew of Greensboro’s Governor Morehead. The second tract was 136 acres of pastureland known as the Benbow Farm. The combined parcel encompassed rolling terrain west of Greensboro that extended from Walker Avenue north to the Salem Road, now known as Friendly Avenue.
Moore was born on a farm in Wayne County, NC on September 30th, 1886. A Quaker, he came to Greensboro as a student at Guilford College. After graduation, he worked in Wilmington for three years before returning to Greensboro in 1914, taking a position as manager of the real estate division of Guilford Insurance and Realty Company. On October 21, 1915, he married Blanche Dawson from nearby Friendship and herself a Quaker and graduate of Greensboro College. His career was launched when he sold fifteen houses in his first year in the Fisher Park neighborhood. Success prompted Moore to look for new opportunities to continue his momentum by selling additional lots and houses. His next project was a subdivision that had languished after being platted in 1891. He acquired unsold parcels and rechristened the old subdivision “Westerwood.”
In order to prepare for the launch of Sunset Hills in 1922, Moore orchestrated a public relations campaign by announcing a contest to select the name of the new community. In May 1924, an announcement was made in the Daily News that J. B. Stroud and S. A. Hodgin made the winning suggestion for “Sunset Hills.” Additional contests were held to name the streets that served to extend free news coverage and stole attention from rival subdivisions such as College Park, Hamilton Lakes, Irving Park, and Lindley Park.
Sunset Hills had a unique location in Greensboro – centered on the path of the westward extension of Market Street – the city’s primary east-west thoroughfare that provided access directly to the center of the city. Moore hired civil engineer Grady L. Bain to design the West Market Street extension in the form of a grand parkway nearly 100 feet wide to serve as a signature for the new neighborhood. A total of ten acres was devoted to the landscaped avenue that features the largest lots in the neighborhood.
In contrast to the man-made east-west axis of West Market Street, “Sunset Park” provided a natural north-south axis for recreational space for the neighborhood. The stream-side setting of the park was in keeping with established suburban development patterns in Greensboro, and Moore generously set aside 15-acres of land that featured wading pools, sand boxes and swing sets for children. Beyond the parkway and park, the remaining quarters of the neighborhood were laid off on a casual grid pattern that maximized efficient rectangular lots.
Architects and Builders
As early as 1924, the company announced their in-house services. “Our entire organization is at the command of Sunset Hills owners in the planning, financing and building of their homes. Home designing, plans and specifications; our own shop where materials, purchased in carload lots, are finished for our own jobs; a constructural [sic] organization that is capable of building in wholesale numbers; and expert advice and assistance on every hand – a service, in the whole, that reduces construction costs to a minimum, thereby giving increased value for the investment in Sunset Hills homes.”
Included in the company services was the talent of an architect. “We have secured the services of Mr. L. S. Winslow, a man of exceptional ability. He was for four years identified with Mr. Harry Barton, Greensboro architect. Mr. Winslow has made an intensive study of home designing and is therefore particularly well equipped for the important service task to which he has been assigned.” A Massachusetts native, Winslow studied European architecture after his service in World War I. His specialty was Early American Colonial- and Tudor-style architecture.
Exemplary commissions that are documented as Lorenzo Simmons Winslow’s designs include the 1924-25 Hollowell House at 2100 West Market Street. The Mediterranean-style house features tan brick, a terrace, and a red tile roof. The Zieglar House at 2004 Madison Avenue, with rustic brick walls, a terrace, and second story half timbering, was completed by 1928. The Langley House at 1720 Madison Avenue was completed in 1928 and sports a Dutch Colonial-style gambrel roofline and full width front porch reminiscent of Colonial Era houses in the New York metropolitan area.
The full scope of commissions by Winslow’s hand in Sunset Hills is not known. Winslow’s career in Greensboro ended with the financial distress of the Great Depression. He moved to Washington DC where, in time, he was named the first Architect to the White House.
The reference to “carload lots” infers the use of pre-manufactured “kit homes,” popular from 1900-1950. These “kits” would arrive on a train in boxcars and were said to be easily assembled in a day! For cities like Greensboro that were experience rapid population growth, kit homes provided a fast and affordable alternative to custom housing. The extent of kit homes in Sunset Hills remains un-surveyed.
The first houses were started in late June and early July 1924. Homeowners Hettie and Richard Hollowell and Bertha and Junius Stroud began construction of their side-by-side $20,000 homes at 2100 and 2102 West Market Street respectively. At the same time, Margaret and Joseph Powell began their new $10,000 home at 1819 Madison Avenue. All three are likely designs by Lorenzo Winslow. Approximately 18 homes were begun by the end of 1924.
By spring 1925, five speculative houses were built by Moore and his team, including a Renaissance Revival house at 1800 Madison Avenue. Other realtors commissioned additional speculative homes, such as a “shingle bungalow, trimmed with stone” at 303 Woodbine Court. A total of 172 houses stood in the neighborhood by the end of 1928, representing a total investment of $2.5 million.
A. K. Moore pioneered the model home in Greensboro to promote property sales. His first model home was publicized in 1921 under the name “Castle Charming” at 406 Woodlawn Avenue in the Westerwood neighborhood, and in December 1924, he opened the first Castle Charming in Sunset Hills at 1714 Madison Avenue. Huntley-Stockton-Hill Company provided furnishings, Crutchfield Plumbing donated their services, J. Van Lindley supplied landscaping and plantings, Home Light & Power supplied the Frigidaire, and Southside Hardware supplied finish hardware. J. E. Faulkner purchased the home at the end of the event.
Subsequent Castle Charming and model homes included 2301 West Market (1925), Tarheel Bungalow (1925) at 203 South Tremont, 1707 Madison Avenue (1927) and 1704 West Market Street (1927), and 2201 West Market Street (1929). The Castle Charming series was promoted as a home educational exhibit for the latest ideas in home design, and the Tar Heel Bungalow was furnished with products made by 50 North Carolina manufacturers. Moore estimated that thousands attended the opening of the showhouses each year.
With Moore’s promotional prowess, Sunset Hills was met with enthusiasm and properties sold quickly. An article published in the Charlotte Observer in September 1925 stated “Fifteen months ago Sunset Hills consisted principally of fields and woods. The only “development” was the beginnings of street grading. Today there are long stretches of asphalt streets, sidewalks, parkways, and over 40 homes completed or in course of construction.”
Some commissions not associated with Lorenzo Winslow were also intended to exude prestige. In January 1926, A. K. Moore advertised an “English type stucco, on  Tremont Drive” as “one of the most charming of the Sunset Hills homes…”. The advertisement continues “In keeping with the “Class” are the homes developed in Sunset Hills. Large or small, modest or elaborate. They carry, too, that stamp of distinction.”
Not all houses were grand and designed by an architect. In January 1926, realtor H. W. Clendenin and Son advertised a “Beautiful new seven-room bungalow among the trees in Sunset Hills, eastern frontage. This little home is of English architecture and is modern in every respect. Reasonably priced with convenient terms.”
Sociology of Sunset Hills
Sales and uses of properties in Sunset Hills were restricted by the developer, A. K. Moore. In the United States, deed restrictions have long been a popular tool used by developers to enhance or control the character and appearance of real estate developments. In the years before municipal zoning laws were established, developers utilized property restrictions to govern property use, building setbacks, and sometimes affected the value and appearance of structures built in their subdivisions.
In Westerwood, for example, Moore prescribed the setback of structures from the street, placement of garages, and disallowed use of property in the neighborhood for business, manufacturing, or commercial purposes. These controls kept a uniform appearance in the neighborhood that resulted in wide grassy lawns and suburban character.
In contrast to the visual and functional restrictions on properties, developers throughout the country routinely added ethnic, religious, and cultural restrictions to deeds. Racial deed restrictions became common after 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court validated their use. The restrictions were an enforceable contract and an owner who violated them risked forfeiting the property. Many neighborhoods restrictions prohibited the sale or rental of property by Asian Americans, Jews, and African Americans.
In 1948, the court changed its mind, declaring that racial restrictions could no longer be enforced, but the decision did nothing to undo the restrictions that forced segregation. It remained perfectly legal for realtors and property owners to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and culture until Congress passed the Housing Rights Act in 1968.
In the case of Sunset Hills, all restrictions instigated by Moore expired after a period of twenty-five years, by which time the City of Greensboro had developed a code of building setbacks and zoning-use restrictions that replaced the original aesthetic and functional restrictions. Ethically, the neighborhood remained restricted to those with European and Christian ancestry, though a few exceptions occurred.
Frida and Abraham Kriegsman House lived in the concrete block Cape Cod house built around 1940 at 413 South Chapman Street. The Austrian-born entrepreneur owned Kriegsman Furriers and represents a diversity of faiths in Sunset Hills.
The Georgian Revival brick house with a green Ludowici tile roof at 106 Arden Place in Sunset Hills was likely constructed for Jennie Lu and Guy Laughon, who acquired the property in 1928. The couple apparently lost the house in the Great Depression after which the property passed through ownership of Reba and Benjamin Marks and Otto Zenke before being acquired by D. W. Hanson. Hanson is an adopted American name for a family of Chinese ancestry. Der Jin Wing and Lee Miee Sing Wing owned White Star laundry and owned the house beginning in 1969.
From the start, Sunset Hills catered to middle- and upper-income customers. Middle-income housing is represented in the Ruth and John K. Graves House at 305 West Greenway South. The Colonial Cottage was built in 1928 for only $5,000 on the eve of the stock market crash. John served as an engineer with Southern railroad for nearly all his professional career. He and his wife were members of the West Market Street United Methodist Church.
A second example of middle-income residents include Leota and Cyrus Holt Heritage, the first occupants of the home erected at 2504 Sylvan Road in 1928. This Minimal Traditional-style cottage is typical of those found along Sylvan, Camden and Wright streets. At the time he lived in this home, Heritage was employed as a district sales manager.
Located at 201 Waverly Way is a third example of middle-income housing. The Colonial Revival style was the residence of Virginia and Tracy Mebane from 1927 until 1963. Tracy Irving Mebane was employed as a salesman with the Vanstory Clothing store on South Elm Street – one of the Gate City’s oldest men’s clothing stores. Late in life he married Virginia Parrott from South Carolina, and in 1927 the couple moved into their newly built home on Waverly Way where they remained a remarkable 37 years.
Upper-income residents of Sunset Hill include Alda Alexander and Charles Wimbish, who commissioned a grand house at 2005 Madison Avenue by 1928. Wimbish was president of the Home Detective Company and later the Southern Service Company. The company specialized in “Finger Prints, Safes Opened, Combinations Changed, Accounts Audited, Confidential Reports, and Collections”. Alda Wimbish was active as a member of the First Presbyterian Church.
The Mary and Hugh Preddy House at 303 West Greenway Drive North is a second example of upper-income residents who were first to move into the neighborhood. At the time of purchase in 1928, Preddy served as a clerk for the Greensboro office of E. A. Pierce & Company, on Friendly Avenue in downtown. E.A. Pierce & Co. was a securities brokerage firm based in New York City, later known as Merrill Lynch.
A third example of upper-income residents lived at 103 West Greenway Drive North. Charles Wharton Edwards, president of the Gate City Motor Company, built the imposing Neoclassical Revival-style house overlooking the Sunset Hills Park in 1926. Edwards founded Gate City Motor Company in 1914 and was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club, a 32nd Degree Mason, and a Shriner. Emma Green, a young widow of African-American descent, lived with the family, perhaps in the first floor bedroom of the house or in a suite in the carriage house, from which she managed domestic activities for the family. Mrs. Green exemplifies an exception in Sunset Hills deed restrictions that stated “No persons of negro descent shall own said lot or shall occupy said lot except as domestic servants in the employ of the occupant of the lot”.
Post Stock Market Crash
When the Stock Market Crash occurred in 1929, Greensboro’s real estate market also collapsed. By that time, the tone and classic character of architecture in Sunset Hill was established and most construction adhered to the scale and character set in the 1920s.
Though the company sold hundreds of lots by 1929, Moore did not fare well in the years after the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. The real estate bubble that had financed the company burst and sales and construction in Greensboro ground to a halt. By 1934 Moore was bankrupt, and in his own words “I was wiped out overnight.”
In the years after the World War II, Moore started over, this time focusing on the sale of properties in developer Edward Benjamin’s Starmount Forest neighborhood just west of the Buffalo Creek from Sunset Hills. In that neighborhood, Kirby Drive honors Moore’s middle name.
Moore served the community in other ways. He was elected president of both local and state Boards of Realtors and was a member of First Friends Meeting located adjacent to Sunset Hills. His two chief interests were golf and rose gardening. Upon his death at the age of 79 on 20 October 1965, there were more than 125 rose bushes in the gardens of his residence at 2207 Lafayette Avenue. Roses were his signature flower… he is remembered for always wearing a rose in his lapel.
After World War II, four churches were erected on major thoroughfares. The First Moravian Church at 300 South Elam Avenue was built in 1948 to a traditional Moravian Revival-style architecture. In 1950, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church at 2205 West Market Street was built in Gothic Revival style of Rowan County pink granite with limestone trim and sculptures. The sanctuary was designed by New York City architect Henry V. Murphy and closely resembled the sanctuary of Our Lady of Refuge in Brooklyn, New York. It is one of only two of his commissions outside of New York, the other standing in Norristown, PA.
Two additional churches along West Market Street exemplify Colonial Revival style. First Christian Church at 1900 West Market Street was built in 1953 of brick with two-stories and classical details. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is located at 2105 West Market Street. It was built in 1959 and features a full-height portico with a swan’s neck pediment.
Sunset Hills showcases a diversity of design and retains its connection to nature through well-kept parks and mature trees. In addition to featuring notable churches that contribute to the grand scale and character along West Market Street, the community enjoys proximity to nearby restaurants and services providers. The community is home to an economically diverse population that includes doctors, lawyers, artists, craftspeople, educators, and students who enjoy this unique community envisioned by A. K. Moore 100 years ago.
In 2013, the neighborhood was listed as a National Register Historic District. Although property owners may still maintain (or destroy) their properties as they wish, incentives available in the form of tax credits reward those who strive to apply the Secretary of Interior’s Standards to their restoration project. In doing so, residents receive an income tax credit from the state.
National Register Historic Districts are distinguished apart from local overlay historic districts by existence of tax credit opportunities and no appearance standards. These key differences are often overlooked or misunderstood. National Register Historic Districts allow property owners the option of participating in the use of historic preservation tax credits through a process known as a Certified Restoration through the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office in Raleigh. If there is no interest in tax credits, then no appearance standards are involved.
Property owners may manage their individual holdings as they wish, however incentives are available for others who wish to invest with an eye to history. It is a win-win situation for stable and older neighborhoods. Today, the Sunset Hills neighborhood is the largest National Register Historic District in Guilford County.
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