The Summit Avenue Historic District has worked to brand itself as “the alternative historic district” within the context of Greensboro’s oldest neighborhoods. This is derived from the diversity of housing in the neighborhood that ranges from nineteenth-century farmhouses and grand neoclassical mansions to comfortable craftsman bungalows. The community also fosters a creative and artistic spirit that has cultivated a community garden, art projects, and the annual Porch Fest as one of the most socially active neighborhoods in the city.
A Neighborhood By Any Other Name
Curiously, the neighborhood that is centered on Summit Avenue has held a variety of names. Unlike the nearby Fisher Park neighborhood which received its name as early as 1905, the streets flanking Summit Avenue were platted by Ceasar Cone without a name in 1905. Perhaps the grand boulevard of Summit Avenue was intended to be the most effective reference for residents, and that remained true well into the twentieth century when the National Register-designated historic district adopted Summit Avenue for its name. However, residents were discontented with the association and choose to align the community’s name to the neighborhood school, Charles B. Aycock Middle School. Enduring socio-historical scrutiny in the 2010s, Aycock was renamed the Melvin C. Swann Jr. Middle School in 2017, leading to a neighborhood reappraisal of its name. A majority of residents approved the adoption of the name of the former plantation on which the neighborhood was built.
First There Was a Plantation
Dunleath, the nineteenth-century plantation on which much of the Dunleath neighborhood has been recently named, was built in 1857-1858 by Judge Robert Paine Dick (1823-1898). The Dick family was an established Scotch-Irish family with roots in the nearby Buffalo Presbyterian and First Presbyterian churches.
Dick was a native of Greensboro where he attended the Caldwell Institute and graduated from The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He studied law under the direction of his father and Jamestown Quaker George C. Mendenhall before opening his own practice in Wentworth, the county seat of Rockingham County.
In 1848 he married Mary Eloise Adams of Pittsylvania County, VA and the couple started a family that would include five children. He enjoyed his most productive years after marriage, including service as the U.S. district attorney from 1853 until 1861, a Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1868 until 1872, and as a federal district judge from 1872 until 1898.
Judge Dick held a complicated relationship with slavery and Confederate insurrection. Though he enslaved workers, he was also opposed to secession. Though a supporter of Governor Zebulon B. Vance, he also joined the “peace movement” led by W. W. Holden – Vance’s bitter rival. He served as a member of the Confederate state legislature, but also accommodated U. S. Army General Jacob D. Cox in his home, Dunleath, when the U. S. Army recaptured Greensboro at the end of the Civil War.
Dunleath was part of a family of grand and stylish suburban residences erected by prominent and wealthy white families in the 1840s and 1850s. Beginning with Blandwood (1844-1846), other estates included Rosa Villa (1840s), the Jesse Lindsay House (1852), the Elms (1856), and the Weir House on Edgeworth Street (c.1857). Dunleath and the Weir house were both designed by architect William Smith Andrews.
William Smith Andrews (1822- 1889) was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. In the 1850s he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he worked as a draftsman on the state capitol building for several architects, including Isaiah Rogers. At the same time, he took on private commissions and designed fashionable houses in Greensboro that were documented in advertisements placed in the Greensboro Patriot. When his work concluded in Ohio he returned to Philadelphia where he is known to have worked on several projects through the 1870s.
Dunleath was a structure unlike any other in North Carolina. Though described as a Swiss Chalet, in some ways reminiscent of Philadelphia architect John Notman’s Design IX for “A Cottage in the Italian, or Tuscan Style” published in Cottage Residences in 1842. The three-story façade of Dunleath faced west overlooking Fisher Park and Church Street with a tripartite composition of forward-facing gables united by an intricate cast-iron verandah and embellished with bay windows, rounded arches, and a bracketed cornice. Dunleath was bulldozed for an apartment development in December 1968, though the planned development was never built.
In 1862, the Confederate government was desperate to reconnect its capital in Richmond Virginia to its remaining territory in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. With rail lines captured and controlled by the United States military in eastern North Carolina, a link was needed to allow rail traffic south from Virginia. To do so, the Piedmont Railroad was built of rails and ties already laid for a new line north of Charlotte that were dismantled and re-installed to connect Greensboro with Danville. The path of this line followed Buffalo Church Road (Church Street) north of Greensboro and required the rail to pass through the front yard of Judge Dick’s Dunleath. The rail line was arced to the west of the house to lessen its impact on the impressive house, but the noisy intrusion of a railroad track degraded the quality of life within the house and began a downward spiral for the prominence of the impressive estate.
In 1850, Judge Dick enslaved six females ages 9 to 35, and two males, 11 and 22. By 1860, that number had grown to include five females ranging from 10 to 25 and seven males ages 3 to 37. Family history maintains that upon emancipation, Judge Dick gave land to his former enslaved workers that formed the Black-owned suburb of Jonesboro, located on East Market Street. As early as 1869, The Greensboro Patriot reported “We understand that our radical friends in town have threatened to have the corporation so enlarged as to take in the suburbs of Warnersville and Jonesboro, in order to control the town vote.” This is likely a reference to the work of the fusion Republican party to bring more Black voters into the town’s election through the annexation of the two Black-majority suburbs.
Since 2009, the land that once featured carefully cultivated gardens of boxwood, mock orange, and magnolia trees now contain a community garden. Individual garden plots grow an assortment of vegetables and fruit trees. The grounds also include communal spaces, picnic tables, a swing bench, and a pollinator garden.
By the Reconstruction Period at the end of the Civil War, Dunleath remained a suburban plantation that was cut off from Church Street by the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Early maps show that Chestnut Street was extended north from Lindsay Street, and likely was continued as a private driveway north to Dunleath. By 1883, George A. Dick, eldest son of Mary Eloise and Judge Dick, built a two-story house just east of the Chestnut Street extension on the Dunleath property. This house remains standing at 660 Chestnut Street and received several additions in the early twentieth century.
Then Came the Hendrix Family
The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw the first suburban development around Dunleath, where the extension of Chestnut Street intersected with a new east-west drive named Hendrix Street. Hendrix Street was the center of an enclave populated by members of the entrepreneurial Hendrix family who built the first generation of houses in the neighborhood.
The family of John Lafayette Hendrix (1831-1914) and Martha Jordan were natives of Lee’s Chapel in northern Guilford County and Buffalo Presbyterian Church communities. The couple were married in 1856, and raised a family of four sons:
William Julian Hendrix (1857-1931) married Mollie Halliday on September 13, 1883
Edward Marcellus Hendrix (1859-1919) married Lillie Denny on January 8, 1885
James Maxwell Hendrix (1860-1942) married Mary Panley on December 30, 1884
Charles Augustus Hendrix (1863-1942) married Katherine Lambeth on August 20, 1884
In 1884, Edward and James were the first of the family to move to Greensboro, purchasing a large tract of land north of the Dick plantation and east of the railroad tracks. Though the brothers initially worked for other merchants early in their careers they opened their jointly-owned general store, named E. M. and J. M. Hendrix Bros by 1887. In 1888 the partnership was dissolved. James formed J. M. Hendrix & Co. while his brother partnered with O. F. Pearce to form Hendrix & Pearce, & Co.
The two siblings each built their own residences for their families. James erected a fine two-story frame house that stands just west of the railroad at 723 Church Street in Fisher Park. Around 1885, Edward likely erected the two-story frame farmhouse that stands at 411 East Hendrix Street in the Dunleath neighborhood. The house is perhaps the oldest intact house in the neighborhood and illustrates a Triple-A House form. Its symmetrical façade sports a wrap-around porch supported by columns on piers, generously molded six-over-six windows, a heavily bracketed cornice, and diamond-shaped attic vents.
In 1887 Chestnut Street, was made continuous and parallel to the Richmond and Danville Railroad tracks, and the Hendrix brothers extended Hendrix Street west from Chestnut Street across the railroad track to the Greensboro to Church Street.
Youngest brother, Charles Augustus, moved to Greensboro around 1892 and sold horses before launching a prosperous grading business. He built his first house around 1892, but it was destroyed by a fire on February 14th, 1913. The fire, vividly described in the Greensboro Daily News, was
“…discovered shortly after 11 o’clock last night by Max Hendrix, who at the time was on the way to the home of his father, J. M. Hendrix. Rushing to the burning building, young Hendrix awakened its sleeping occupants, Mrs. C. A. Hendrix and daughter, and turned the alarm from box 20. C. A. Hendrix was absent from home, though neighbors responded quickly and by united efforts succeeded in removing all of the furnishings from the lower floor. All of the second story furniture was lost.”
After the fire, the family rebuilt this house to plans provided by Greensboro architect G. Will Armfield. Armfield was a merchant who retired and practiced architecture late in his life. He redesigned his own building in downtown Greensboro as well as a few commissions including Double Oaks in Westerwood and his own house at 210 West Fisher Street in Fisher Park. The frame Neoclassical Revival-style C. A. Hendrix House features a two-story Ionic portico, a wrap-around porch of Tuscan columns, and a main entry flanked by sidelights. Located at 426 East Hendrix Street, the house remains a landmark for the neighborhood.
An associate of the Hendrix family erected another house on Chestnut Street. George Washington Denny (1861-1944) was an early associate of Edward Hendrix and later operated his own mercantile business at 111 East Market Street. He purchased land from the Dick estate on the east side of Chestnut Street in 1889 for $150. He likely erected a frame house soon after. The two-story frame residence with the hipped roof was documented on the panoramic map entitled “Bird’s eye view of the city of Greensboro, North Carolina” in 1891. He and his wife Margaret lived in the residence until 1896, when it was sold for $1500 to Martha and John Lafayette Hendrix, parents of the four Hendrix brothers. The house stands today at 740 Chestnut Street. Though heavily remodeled, it retains some early interior appointments.
Finally, the eldest Hendrix son William J. Hendrix joined his family around 1905 when he and his wife Mollie took residence at 664 Chestnut Street. The two-story Queen Anne-style frame house features a half-width wrap-around porch and forward-facing gable that was typical in Greensboro at the time.
In 1907, the Hendrix Street Bridge was built over railroad tracks to Church Street. Known as Black Bridge for its black-painted railings and surface, it provided passage for cars and small trucks for 65 years until it was limited to foot traffic in 1972. In 1988, the city judged the bridge too weak even for foot traffic and placed barricades at each entrance. In 1994, the crumbling remains of the Hendrix Street bridge were removed, leaving only the abutments. Neighborhood residents protested the removal of the landmark and though it seemed like a new bridge was a hopeless cause, Max Thompson, a longtime neighborhood advocate, led efforts to see the new bridge to completion. The new bridge, opened in 1996, cost $123,932 and was named in honor of Max Thompson.
In 1902, the Greensboro Patriot announced the sale of old George Dick House next door to G. W. Denny. The property was to be remodeled and outlying land sold off for redevelopment. In 1910, the house received additional investment when it was sold to Lena and Jacob Baach.
“Inspector Milton yesterday issues a permit to railroad contractor and manufacturer J. Baach for improvements on his residence on Chestnut Street. The estimated cost is $2,000. Mr. Baach recently purchased the residence for some time occupied by Mr. G. W. Denny.”
The Dick-Denny-Baach House is among the most impressive in the neighborhood, rising three stories in height upon a Mount Airy Granite foundation. It features a magnificent wrap-around porch supported by paired Tuscan columns standing on granite piers. Its happy jumble of gables, dormer windows, and stained glass are a joy to passersby.
The Beginnings of Percy Street
Percy Street was an extension of a smaller road that intersected with East Market Street in the heart of segregated Greensboro’s Black community. Percy Street was the address for the public “School Number 1” for Black children, located close to today’s main post office.
By 1903, Percy was extended northward into today’s Dunleath neighborhood, where just two houses were located. Just five years later, more houses were built, including the J. B. Minot House at 667 Percy Street and the R. T. Thomas House at 668 Percy. These are likely the earliest standing houses on Percy Street, and they stand apart from others with their surviving architectural details, most notably the robust turned porch supports that characterize the earliest subgenre of Queen Anne architecture, known as “Spindlework.” These two examples of Spindlework architecture feature wrap-around porches and hipped roofs. The Minot House sports turned spindlework and a diamond-shaped window. The Thomas House features cut-away bay windows and a shingled gable.
“Grab hold of their coat tails, boys, and don’t let them get away”
Brothers Moses and Ceasar Cone were born in Jonesboro, Tennessee to Jewish parents who were immigrants from Bavaria. Moses (1857-1908) and Ceasar (1859-1917) established a cotton mill in Asheville in 1887, and a year later incorporated the Cone Export and Commission Company with offices in New York. With rapid growth, it soon became the largest textile selling organization in the world and invigorated the buying and selling power of Southern textile interests.
The brothers established the first facility in the South for finishing cloth in 1892 in northeast Greensboro as their first industrial investment in the Gate City. It was located on 25 acres given by the North Carolina Steel and Iron Company, a failed company that had previously amassed 1,600 acres northeast of Greensboro for a massive Bessemer steel plant. Bessemer Avenue remains a legacy of the steel company industry that never came to fruition.
Next, the industrious brothers sought to establish a cotton denim mill and city leadership lobbied for the massive industrial investment to be built in Greensboro. Business leader J. A. Odell advised, “Grab hold of their coat tails, boys, and don’t let them get away.”
On the previous steel company land, the Cones opened a large cotton mill, the Proximity Manufacturing Company, in May 1896. A second plant, named Revolution, opened in 1898 to manufacture flannel. A third facility, the White Oak Mill, opened in 1904, and grew to become the largest cotton mill in the South and the largest denim manufacturing plant in the world.
With the increased population and economic activity associated with these three massive textile mills, the Cones sought to develop surrounding acreage for residences and supporting institutions. The southernmost extreme of their real estate empire included much of the land formerly occupied by the Dunleath Plantation and was positioned halfway between the mill complexes to the north and the village center to the south.
The Cones Launch the Summit Avenue Development Company
By 1898, the Cones established the Summit Avenue Development Company to plat, develop, and sell residential properties along their Summit, Fifth, Park, and adjacent avenues. By 1905 a plat of the subdivision was publicly recorded with the Register of Deeds, though it likely existed several years prior.
To increase connectivity and real estate value, Ceasar Cone announced in April 1896 that he “has recently made a proposition to the town that if the citizens will vote a fund sufficient to macadamize Summit avenue, the northern extension of Elm street, to the city limits, he will continue the macadam through his property, at his own expense, this giving one of the longest and most beautiful boulevards in the South, a magnificent city and suburban highway that a city ten times the size of Greensboro might envy. This would seem to be a very fair and favorable proposition, but the Messrs. Cone go even further and promise immensely more. They promise if the town will accept the other proposition to remove to Greensboro the main selling offices of the Cone Export and Commission Company, now in New York, and bring to Greensboro their corps of office men, and salesmen and other attaches, and in short, make Greensboro a center for the manufacture and sale of cotton fabrics.”
Though fiscally conservative politicians balked at the idea of public investment to build Summit Avenue, the deal was commenced, and construction began. “There may be a weakling here or there” complained the editors of the Greensboro Patriot, “who will groan and say ‘it is costing too much,’ but work is being done there that will stand for ages. An easy grade, broad street, covered with a thick coating of course rock, a finer cover on that and a still finer grade as a final covering, Summit Avenue, will when completed be the best and prettiest street or driveway in North Carolina. The driveway is sixty-four feet broad between curb stones, affording ample room for vehicles and bicycles to pass without danger of collision. The work is progressing finely and Mr. Abbott, the overseer, says he is keeping up with the crusher and completing about seventy-five feet per day. At this rate the work will be complete by September. Seven teams are now employed hauling rock from the quarry near by. Along near the avenue the Summit avenue building company is having some handsome residences erected. The avenue is underlaid with sewer, water and gas pipes, thus affording these conveniences to any who wish to build out there.”
By November 1898 the Greensboro Patriot reported “The work on Summit Avenue was finally completed Friday afternoon, and it is probably the finest highway in North Carolina. What was a short while ago, a stubble field lying in waste has been opened by a magnificent boulevard, with many handsome and commodious residences erected on either side.”
It is thought most of these first Summit Avenue Building Company Houses were erected along Summit Avenue, though there is no documentation on which houses were the first. In 1902 the arrival of electric streetcars led to increased connectivity between the residential neighborhood and the commercial hub of Greensboro’s center city and the employment centers of the textile mills.
Neoclassical, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival Styles
Additional lots were sold to individuals who commissioned their own residences. Among these is likely the William Callum House at 600 Summit Avenue. Built around 1903, the two-story frame house is an early Greensboro expression of the Neoclassical Revival style, featuring a two-story portico of paired Ionic columns, and a gracefully curved wrap-around porch with a corresponding curved house corner with curved glass windows. The house exemplified the grand high-style architecture of primary streets in the city that displayed wealth and accomplishment to passersby.
Nearby, at 517 Fifth Avenue, stands another early example of Neoclassical Revival style architecture in the Nellie and John C. Clapp house. The residence was constructed around 1904 and is distinguished by a central gabled dormer Palladian window, Tuscan porch columns, and a Chippendale-influenced porch balustrade. Paired windows on the second floor that are topped with elliptical fanlights. John Clapp was a dentist with deep roots in eastern Guilford County. Later, it was rented to individuals such as William P. Rose, an architect from eastern North Carolina who partnered with Greensboro architect Frank A. Weston to form the Rose and Weston architecture firm.
Not all houses built in the boom years of the Summit Avenue Building Company were grand. The Harriette and William C. Beasley house at 706 Fifth Avenue was likely constructed in 1904. The Beasley’s lived in the home with their nine children. William was a steam and gas plumber by trade. The house takes a form that was familiar to North Carolinians at the time known as a triple-A form house. Named for the A-shaped gables to each side of the roofline matched by the third gable centered over the front door. Other features of this Triple-A form is the symmetrical facade on a centered entry and a deep front porch. Neoclassical embellishments such as a denticulated cornice on the porch, attenuated columns upon brick piers that support the front porch, a front door flanked by sidelights, and a charming demilune window in the central gable give the otherwise simple house an air of distinction.
Three of the finest Queen Anne-style houses in Greensboro survive in the neighborhood. The Romanesque house standing at 519 Summit Avenue was likely built in 1906 by Atticus Y. Bond, a roofing contractor specializing in industrial buildings. It was rented by Jennie and William Vaught. Vaught was employed by the Cone Export and Commission Company. The two-story house is veneered with cement blocks resembling rusticated stone. Though the form of the house is based on a simple box topped by a pyramidal roofline, the façade is embellished with a robust turret and the main entry is flanked by battlements and a grand segmental arch. The house remains a landmark for the city and is dreamily known as “the castle.”
Two additional structures exemplify alternative Queen Anne genres. The turreted frame house at 601 Fifth Avenue was likely erected by Hermea and James M Simpson, the city’s Health Inspector, around 1905. The couple and their six children lived in a classic Queen Anne House that featured a wrap-around porch supported by turned posts with sawn brackets and is distinguished by a three-story tower. False siding added to the house in the 1950s likely covers a variety of clapboards and shingle siding.
At 612 Fifth Avenue stands the house built by Annie and Lynn Buck. Buck served as a cotton mill superintendent at the Cone’s Hucomuga Cotton Mill (located south of the city and named by the first two letters of the names of its four officers). Their home is a sophisticated composition that includes a deeply sloped roofline pierced by a polygonal tower. Two front porches straddle the tower, each with turned colonettes. The first floor is sheathed in clapboards and the second floor is covered in wood shingles. A frieze between the floors provides unifying detail to the façade. The southeast-facing elevation enjoys a trio of stepped windows, likely marking a staircase. An elaborate hipped dormer window with shingle siding and colonettes embellishes the roofline. The Buck House is one of the most intact and detailed Queen Anne houses in Greensboro.
Other houses were built in pragmatic vernacular or Colonial Revival styles. A curious triad of residences located at 601, 603, and 625 Park Avenue are likely built from the same plans, featuring a gambrel, or “Dutch Colonial,” roofline with dormers and front porches. The house at 601 has been covered with false sidings, number 603 has been rotated 90 degrees from its sisters, and number 625 has been thoughtfully restored.
Most of the choice lots initially offered by the Summit Avenue Development Company were purchased and developed by 1915, after which houses were erected in contemporary styles. The earliest Craftsman Bungalows in Greensboro were commissioned in nearby Fisher Park in 1912, and it is likely these designs quickly influenced and inspired similar styles in the Summit Avenue neighborhood.
The streetscape of cottages stretching between 702 and 708 Cypress Street represent variations of Craftsman Bungalow design in Greensboro. Shared features include low-pitch rooflines with side-gable orientation, oversized central dormers of shed and gable rooflines, wide overhanging eaves with exposed rafters and purlins, and full-width front porches.
- The house at 702 Cypress was built in 1915 by D. R. Hunt for $2,800. Hunt was the chief pipefitter for Cone Mills. The two-story house features wide overhanging eaves and exposed rafter tails, a gabled dormer, and a front porch supported by a wooden battered post set upon a brick pier – all typical features of Craftsman-style houses. As a post note – in the 1970s, the house was home to Dr. Jim Waller. Dr. Waller gave up his medical practice to organize workers employed in local Cone Mills textile plants. He served as president of the AFL-CIO union after leading a strike in 1978 and served in a leadership position in the Communist Workers Party when he was one of five killed by KKK/Nazi members in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre. His office on the second floor of the house retains promotional posters for Communist Party events of the period.
- The house at 704 Cypress was owned around 1919 by E. W. Stewart, an independent cotton broker. It features wide overhanging eaves with exposed rafter tails, a central shed dormer, and a full-width porch supported by robust full-height columns.
- The house at 706 Cypress was built in 1916 as the residence of John L. Latham, Treasurer of the Latham-Bradshaw Cotton Company. Nearly identical in form to its neighbor at 704, it features a large gabled dormer and a full-width porch supported by battered-post-on-pier supports.
- The house at 708 Cypress was built in 1920 by W. R. Shoffner, an electrical contractor. Its oversized shed dormer and impressive columns of Mount Airy Granite and a wood-shingled porch balustrade add to the diversity of architectural detail that compose this charming streetscape.
A high-styled Craftsman bungalow was erected at 520 Park Avenue by building contractor Phillip Waters and his wife Fannie. Completed in 1923, this single-story house is topped by a low-pitched roofline with decorative knee braces beneath wide overhanging eaves. Two gables punctuate the roof and a side gable shelters a spacious front porch with brick battered-post-on-pier supports. Wire-cut brick, six- and eight-over-one windows, and false-half timbering round out an impressive ensemble of classic Craftsman features.
Institutional Growth in Summit Avenue
In 1906, St. Leo’s Hospital opened its doors in the neighborhood. Located on land between Sullivan Street and East Bessemer Avenue, the hospital was opened by the Catholic Sisters of Charity as the first modern medical facility in the county. The imposing brick building stood four stories in height and featured a portico and a cupola. The hospital closed in 1954 and was converted to Notre Dame High School. The building was destroyed in 1969.
The Cypress Street School was a charming frame schoolhouse built in 1916. It was relocated to downtown for use as an historical museum in 1938-39 and subsequently burned to the ground in 1940. A substantial new building was erected to expand the school in 1922-23 at 811 Cypress Street and was named in honor of former Governor Charles B. Aycock, recognized then as the “Educational Governor of North Carolina.”
The Aycock School was the largest of four schools designed for the Greensboro public school system by the New York architectural firm of Starrett and Van Vleck that were funded by a one-million-dollar bond referendum.
The long brick structure is based on architectural principles by Andrea Palladio, with three distinct pavilion components at both ends and the center. The neoclassical façade is accentuated by limestone embellishments, including the Tuscan portico of the central pavilion, and urns, swags, and cartouches of all three projecting pavilions.
Construction began June 1, 1922, and the school opened for the fall term of 1923. With a total project cost exceeding $200,000, the building could accommodate 1,000 children and was fashioned after urban school buildings found in major cities.
Though it was initially named for Charles B. Aycock, the school was renamed in 2017 after Dr. Melvin C. Swann Jr. an employee of the Greensboro and Guilford school systems for 37 years. He served as the district’s deputy superintendent from 1993 until his retirement in 1997.
World War Memorial Stadium on Yanceyville Street was dedicated in 1926 as the first major monument in North Carolina to honor those who made the supreme sacrifice in World War I. Upon its dedication, Mayor Edwin Jeffress stated to the celebratory crowd, “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 took a monumental Neoclassical style by blending ziggurat-topped towers with rounded Roman arches.
The stadium lost its Minor League anchor in 2004 and is now owned and managed by the nearby North Carolina A&T State University for use by the Aggies baseball team.
The same year the city celebrated the opening of the stadium, the Sigmund Sternberger House at 712 Summit Avenue was completed as the finest Italian Renaissance Revival style residence in Greensboro. It was built for Sternberger (1887-1964), treasurer of the nearby Revolution Cotton Mill. Harry Barton, one of the city’s most prominent early twentieth-century architects, deftly handled its design, combining deep red bricks, green tiles, and limestone Venetian openings and arcades into an elegant villa that stands out even among the grand Queen Anne/Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival style dwellings of the neighborhood.
The property was donated in 1971 by the Sigmund Sternberger Foundation. In 1973 the offices for the United Arts Council of Greensboro moved into the Sternberger House, and in 1979 the structure was thoughtfully re-opened as a workspace for writers, painters, and sculptors. Today, the Sternberger Artists Center includes 16 studio spaces that are home to a variety of artists, including writers, painters, photographers, and others.
A Neighborhood of Decline and Rejuvenation
In 1936, the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation released a reference manual that assigned grades to residential neighborhoods to reflect their perceived investment risk value using color-coded maps. Areas were perceived to be most risky based on the ethnicity of residents, and neighborhoods receiving the lowest grade “D” were tinted red on the maps. The assessment of high risk for banks and mortgage lenders is acknowledged today as “redlining” and the practice disenfranchised generations of people of color across the county.
The historic Summit Avenue neighborhood was a transition between neighborhoods labeled low-risk to the north and west and streets populated by African American citizens to the east and south. This practice led to disinvestment within the neighborhood into World War II when the nearby Overseas Replacement Depot and its military jobs and soldiers caused a housing shortage in the city. Many of the larger Victorian-Era houses were converted to rooming houses and new neighborhood investment took the form of apartment housing and commercial redevelopment.
Not all news was negative. In 1963, the city’s Curb Market was relocated from West Market Street downtown to Yanceyville Street. It remains a treasured shopping experience and neighborhood draw, today.
In 1979, an article by journalist Jim Schlosser lamented the condition of Summit Avenue. “There was a time many years ago when a drive-by motor car or streetcar our Summit Avenue was a Sunday afternoon delight” he waxed. “Today, Summit Avenue hardly resembled its old self. It is rather seedy now, with many large old homes turned into rooming houses. Others have been torn down to make room for office buildings.”
Neighborhood residents and city planners began discussions in the early 1980s related to a new tool in the revitalization that would serve to provide a design review process for architectural changes to historic buildings through a local historic district ordinance. The ordinance had previously been used to provide a planning overlay in College Hill in 1980, and Fisher Park in 1982. The Fisher Park designation was especially contentious among residents who did not want to participate in the design review process. The designation was ultimately granted by a vote of Greensboro City Council in 1984. It remains the last local historic district designated in Greensboro.
As the neighborhood was rediscovered by artists and designers who sought spacious houses with large rooms and modest price tags, historic district guidelines encouraged best practices in preservation to retain important details and materials. There remains a diversity of housing sizes that range from ample Queen Anne single-family residences to modest bungalows and multi-family conversions.
Today, residents of the historic district represent one of the most architecturally diverse neighborhoods in the city. Twenty-something singles, college professors, artists, tradespeople, and retirees live among the late nineteenth century and early twentieth-century homes surrounding the Swann Middle School.
Often seen as an alternative to “over-the-railroad-tracks neighbor Fisher Park, the Dunleath community has worked hard to progress the neighborhood while preserving its landmarks. The neighborhood led city-wide efforts to keep minor league baseball in their neighborhood in 2003 and developed lofty goals for the redevelopment of the Summit Avenue corridor. Defying the perception of historic districts as staid, members of the Dunleath community are quick to point out opportunities for new construction in the form of businesses and residences on vacant land along the Avenue, and their work to reunite their corner of the city with Greensboro’s bustling downtown.
The Summit Avenue/Dunleath Neighborhood was showcased on Preservation Greensboro’s Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens during National Preservation Month in May of 2022.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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