Beaufort stays demolition order of historic hotel; purchase in the works

BEAUFORT — The Beaufort Board of Commissioners stayed an order of demolition Monday for the historic Godette Hotel on Pollock Street, allowing 90 days for Preservation North Carolina to buy the structure in an attempt to save it.

“We will go as fast as we can to a contract and then as fast (as we can to closing) … we will need a little time to make sure that we can work out the finances that are necessary here,” PNC President Myrick Howard told the board at an April 23 virtual special meeting.

PNC is a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect significant and endangered historic structures across the state.

Under unanimous action from the town board at its Monday work session, also held virtually, the family that owns the property has 30 days to temporarily secure the structure. Under the same motion, PNC has 90 days for the purchase, a timeline the board said can be extended for the sale, if needed.

“It would be a great opportunity missed if we don’t give them the opportunity to try and save this building,” Commissioner Sharon Harker told fellow board members at the April 23 special meeting.

The structure at 400 Pollock St., known as the Godette Hotel, was built from 1946 and 1947 by Henderson Godette Sr. and his sons, according to a March 23 article by renowned historian David Cecelski. The hotel was known for providing food, lodging and community to African American travelers who would otherwise be turned away from segregated accommodations.

It is this history PNC officials said they hope to help safeguard by saving the building.

“These buildings tell an interesting story because even people who are 20 and 30 years old do not realize how extensive segregation was in the United States and how it’s only one long generation back that, for example, African Americans could not probably go to most Holiday Inns in the United States,” Mr. Howard said.

The Godette family still owns the property, which has fallen into disrepair, leading town officials to order its demolition. Asbestos abatement on the second floor of the building has already taken place.

At the commission’s April 23 special meeting, Stephanie Dauway, Henderson Godette Jr.’s granddaughter, told officials the family is in agreement to work with the nonprofit to save the structure.

“There is so much history there, I am proud to be a member of the Godette family … I really learned to appreciate what that building not only means to the family, but to the community and to the town of Beaufort and to the state of North Carolina. And to this country, quite honestly,” she said. “And I have been overwhelmed by the support that we have received from the community wanting to see this building preserved and saved. I think this is the best possible solution.”

If PNC is able to complete the sale, it will put the property back on the market, seeking a buyer to help restore the building in tandem with the organization, which would use covenants to protect historic aspects.

“We’re going to have to find somebody who will think about how this might adapt for mixed use, for example. We’re going to think about how this might be interpreted,” Mr. Howard told commissioners. “I mean, this is not going to be for museum use but you still want, in a case like this, to make sure that there is a raising of consciousness about what this building was and who owned it and who stayed there.”

In April discussions, commissioners were primarily concerned with ensuring the building is safe, both immediately and while it is on the market.

“It does have to be stabilized. It is not going to last, and if we have another hurricane like Florence, it will not survive in its present condition unless it is very strongly stabilized,” Commissioner Ann Carter said at the April 23 special meeting.

The board delayed action at that time for input from the town’s building code administrator, Tobbie Bowden, who advised along with other town staff April 27 that immediate fixes could include wrapping the second story in Tyvek and ensuring all doors and windows on the ground floor are secured.

Under the adopted motion, the family has 30 days to complete the initial fixes.

“The family has already raised funds and has even received donations to help shore that up, if we need to,” Ms. Dauway told the board April 23. “…We have never been this close to really making change, making progress on the building.”

The town has also requested updates from PNC on the sale.

As part of the motion to stay demolition, the town set a deadline of Thursday, Dec. 31 to collect payment for the asbestos abatement already conducted.

Commissioner Charles McDonald recused himself from proceedings involving 400 Pollock St. due to family connections to the property.

Other commissioners voiced their support for ongoing efforts to preserve it.

“It’s a little anchored piece of African American history in our town,” Ms. Harker said.

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(Carteret County News-Times, 5/1/20)