Not all old buildings can be saved. Myrick Howard recalls 5 in NC lost to history
BY RICHARD STRADLING
Myrick Howard says when Preservation North Carolina sets out to protect buildings and places, it has succeeded far more often than it has failed.
But in 45 years leading Preservation NC, Howard can point to a few endeavors that fell short and places that were lost despite his and the statewide organization’s best efforts.
Here’s a short list:
RECTIFYING A SHAMEFUL HISTORY BY ERASING IT
Wakestone was the mansion built in Raleigh for Josephus Daniels in the early 1920s as he was nearing the end of his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy. Daniels was later U.S. ambassador to Mexico under Franklin Roosevelt and for more than 50 years was owner and editor of The News & Observer until his death in 1948.
The home was then sold to The Masonic Lodge of Raleigh, which added a large kitchen, meeting room and auditorium. In 1976, the building was named a National Historic Landmark, one of only three in the city, and became a local historic landmark in 1990.
The local landmark designation prohibited anyone from demolishing the building. But the focus on racism in America after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020 brought renewed scrutiny to Daniels and his use of The N&O to promote white supremacy.
The Masons, who had long sought to sell the property, teamed up with a developer to ask the city to rescind the local landmark status. The City Council obliged in early 2021, and by year’s end the house was gone and the property divided into 11 house lots.
Preservation NC had tried to buy Wakestone, but its offer was turned down. Howard said removing the landmark status was a cynical move to take advantage of the Black Lives Matter movement and cash in on what had become valuable property.
“Preserving buildings is not about honoring individuals; it’s about recognizing where history happened,” Howard wrote in an essay in The N&O. “Historic preservation tangibly tells history’s complex stories, but only if the buildings survive.”
A MODERNIST HOME IN RALEIGH DISAPPEARS
George and Beth Paschal hired architect James Fitzgibbon, a founding member of N.C. State University’s College of Design, to design their one-story home on a large lot off Glenwood Avenue. The modernist house, built with granite, wood and glass, was finished in 1950. Instead of air conditioning, it had expansive windows for ventilation, heated floors and a sunken fireplace to provide warmth in the winter.
The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But after the couple died, the house sat empty for years. After trying without success to find someone willing to restore the house, the family sold it to a builder who tore it down in 2013. Howard says he had just met with architects from Triangle Modernist Homes to devise a plan for the Paschal House when he learned it had been demolished.
FIRE PREYS ON A HISTORIC COTTON MILL
B. Frank Mebane built this two-story brick and timber textile mill in 1896 in what became a huge complex of mills along the Smith River in Eden in Rockingham County. After 105 years of churning out cotton yarn, the mill closed in 2001. Preservation NC took an option to buy the mill in 2013 and set about seeking someone to renovate the building and give it new life.
In 2017, it announced a sale to Pittsboro developer Faisal Khan, who had previously renovated old buildings in Virginia. It was being converted into apartments when fire destroyed the main building in January 2023. Howard cites Spray Cotton Mills as one of a handful of historic structures that have been lost to fire over the years, including the Carolina Mill in Burlington over Thanksgiving weekend.
CHARLOTTE LOSES A ‘STRANGELY COOL BUILDING’
The Charlotte Masonic Temple was “one of the most dramatic buildings in downtown Charlotte,” the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission wrote in 1980. Completed in 1914 on South Tryon Street, the four-story building was meant to look like King Solomon’s Temple, with two stone columns topped by lotus blossoms flanking the front doors.
First Union Bank acquired the building and much of the rest of the block for its new headquarters in the 1980s. Preservation NC tried to persuade the bank, now Wells Fargo, to incorporate the building into its plans, but it was razed in 1987 to create the plaza in front of the bank’s towers.
“It really truly was a building that everybody knew in downtown Charlotte,” Howard said. “And it was just iconic. It was a strangely cool building.”
The columns were saved, however, and erected in Rock Hill, South Carolina, in 1991 astride a prominent entrance to the city.
A SMALL HOUSE AMID BIG ONES
As the state began selling the grand old houses along Raleigh’s North Blount Street in 2015, Preservation NC had its eye on the smallest, most decrepit of them all. It made an offer on the McGee House, hoping to turn the white Tudor-style home into its headquarters.
But the state accepted a higher offer from the buyers of a larger house next door that wanted to demolish the McGee House and leave the lot unused. Howard says the law directing the state to sell the houses stipulated that they be preserved, but state officials didn’t see it that way.
“We got undercut by the bureaucracy of the State of North Carolina,” he said. “That was really frustrating.”