Part 3: Raleigh’s Main Street
Briggs Hardware (1874) on Fayetteville Street in 1965
Briggs Hardware 2008, now home of the City History Museum. Next door is the former Boylan Pearce department store with its recently restored Beaux Arts facade.
200 block of Fayetteville St showing the Tucker Building and the Post Office on the left
200 block in 2008
View toward the Capitol from the 100 block, 1966. With the exception of the two state government buildings at the end, all the structures in this view are gone.
In 2008; Looks beautiful at night, doesn’t it?
Close up of east side of the street in the 1966 view.
View toward the 200 block from the alley between the (old) Wachovia building on the right and “Lenin’s Tomb” on the left.
The view today. The alley was closed during the mall period.
Same view today.
The east side of the 200 and 300 blocks in 1966 showing the (old) Wachovia building, “Lenin’s Tomb” and the block of 19th century storefronts where the RBC building is now going up.
If Capitol Square was the hub of Raleigh, then Fayetteville Street was its strongest spoke. For most of its existence and well into the 20th century this broad thoroughfare was the commercial and governmental axis of the city. Along its course were Raleigh’s principal businesses, hotels, banks, office buildings and government centers.
My fondest recollections of Raleigh’s “Main Street” span a period from the late 1950s through the mid 1960s. In those days I would often accompany Mom downtown when she went shopping, or I would catch a movie at the Ambassador Theater with my brothers. In the mid 60s I began exploring Fayetteville St on my own. During my downtown forays with my two Hugh Morson pals, I always carried my trusty Kodak Instamatic camera with me, of course.
I have always had an interest in architecture, and Fayetteville St was a veritable gold mine of architectural styles, at least it was to my young eyes. It seemed every style of American architecture was on display, from the dignified Greek Revival Capitol building at the head of the street to the flamboyant 19th century Italianate storefronts in the 200 block, to the massive stone Second Empire style post office building anchoring the corner at Martin St. Buildings in the Beaux Arts, Art Deco and 1940s Moderne styles were all represented. And of course at the foot of the street sat the imposing, yet graceful Neoclassical Revival Memorial Auditorium.
In the mid 60s Fayetteville St showcased various representations of mid 20th century modern architecture as well. These included the cast-stone-paneled Wachovia building in the 200 block, and the modernist polished black granite NCNB bank adjacent to it (which I called “Lenin’s Tomb.”). Down the street in the 300 block next to Hudson Belk is the International style BB&T Bank building, which I affectionately referred to as “Raleigh’s Little Seagram Building.”
I think I must have taken photos of every building along Fayetteville St. in those days. And good thing too, as many of them have since disappeared, including the terra cotta encrusted Tucker Building at the corner of Martin St across from the post office, and the grandiose columned 1915 Wake County Court House. Dozens of 19th century storefronts are gone, too. (Construction of the current Wachovia Building wiped out virtually the entire 100 block of Fayetteville St, with its office tower on one side and the parking deck on the other.)
But all that was a long time ago. After 30 comatose years as a pedestrian mall, Fayetteville Street has been opened up and its signature vista from the Capitol to Memorial Auditorium restored. Now the street is lined again with new landmark buildings, and is regaining its place as an architectural showcase.
Raleigh’s Main Street is becoming once again our City’s strongest spoke.