Friday, July 16, 2010

West End & Lyon Park: A National Historic District?

What am I doing in West End/Lyon Park?  Maybe you’ve noticed a young lady walking around the neighborhood with a clipboard taking notes and snapping pictures.  I work as a historic preservationist with Preservation Durham in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to identify and document African American historic buildings, sites and districts in Durham not formally recognized.  Currently I am doing an architectural survey update of West End and Lyon Park.  The last survey of the neighborhood was done in the early 1980s with a few properties documented in the book The Durham Architectural and Historical Inventory. (This book is out of print but feel free to pop by the office and take a look through it.)

I’m hopeful West End and Lyon Park could become a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  What does all this mean?  A historic district is an inventory of buildings and sites that represent the historic identity of a community within a defined area. The National Register of Historic Places is our nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.  Unlike local historic districts, a national district does not put limitations what changes you can make to your property.  However if listed on the National Register you could potentially qualify for historic rehabilitation income tax credits, and then you must adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation to qualify for the credit.

West End developed around 1874.  It was spatially segregated by race making W. Chapel Hill St the dividing line.  South of W Chapel Hill Street was the black occupied portion of West End, the area of interest for this project.  Lyon Park was developed as an extension of West End within the first three decades of the twentieth century for middle and working class African American residents.  Lyon Park begins at Morehead Ave and continues south to Lakewood Ave.  Most veteran residents will tell you that Lyon Park is West End.  “It’s all one neighborhood.” they tell me.  The proposed maps may eventually be changed to demonstrate one whole district by connecting Kent Street of both neighborhoods.  Architectural surveys are important because house styles act as a type of historical document that helps interpret the history and culture of a neighborhood. 

A preliminary application will go to the NC State Historic Preservation Office in Raleigh prior to September 2010.  This is called the study list application.  The NC National Register Review board will review and study its potential for approval to the National Park Service to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Keep your fingers crossed!  For more information contact April Johnson at 919-682-3036 or

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reflecting on where it all began...

I grew up in Goldsboro, NC and since I was young I have always admired old houses. Of course some downtown houses and neighborhoods were in great disrepair. I would imagine what they would look like restored or freshened up with a little paint. I would ask myself "who lived there?, what did they do? who was the architect? what was he thinking when he designed the house? if I could restore it, how will I use it today? wouldn't a restoration give this area a better feeling?" I figured it would make more sense to restore historic buildings downtown in lieu of the newer and in my opinion less interesting buildings going up. I knew then that rehabilitating historic houses would make the city more beautiful, add character and could be tools for improving people's quality of life. I also some how knew that another house musuem was not the best use of the properties.  Little did I know I was already interested in urban planning disciplines of preservation, community development, sustainability and adaptive reuse.

Looking back, why was I so interested in old houses back then anyway? I think it had a lot to do with art whithin the buildings. I could appreciate its creativity...I adored it. Art buildings adds much character and a good feeling, yet provides some practical use to the community. I grew up in the boring, brick box public housing projects in Goldsboro. I wonder if that somehow had an effect on my affinity for historic buildings. It always seemed that historic buildings had an underlying message or story and I love a good story. It's all about story telling. Buildings always seemed to have some great story to tell about somebody's life, ambitions, family, cultural heritage and the social culture of the times.

During undergrad at UNCG, I realized that there were career opportunities in preservation. However I put that aside because I already had a degree in Economics and I was determined to use it!  After years of working in the insurance industry I finally decided that I did not want to die without at least trying to pursue my dreams.  Insurance will do that to you!  By then I had forgotten what my dreams were!! Someone said the most intelligent conversation you can have is one with yourself.  So I started asking myself questions like "Does my life matter to anyone other than my family?", "What legacy do I want to leave?", and most importantly the question to determine passion "What would I do that I love so much that if I could I would do it for free?"  After thinking and remembering childhood dreams and current values I figured it out!  I want to rehabilitate historic buildings and revitalize downtowns for the rest of my life!  I wanted to build community and make cities a vital, interesting and safe place to live, work and play.

So I went to grad school at UVA studying Urban and Environmental Planning with a concentration in Historic Preservation. Recently I was chosen to identify and document African American historic sites in Durham and prepare these sites to potentially be National Historic Districts. This is all really exciting and daring work...but I'm up for it!

I invite you to follow me on this journey, submit your thoughts on what is significantly historic in Durham for African Americans, let's engage in conversation, tell me where sites are...whatever let's just do this together as a community.