Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

Raleigh’s ‘Nail Buildings’

‘Nail Buildings’ or ‘Nail Houses’ are terms that were coined in China to represent the businesses and residences that refuse to allow their buildings to be demolished, even in the face of towering construction or a barren landscape all around them. The phrase refers to a nail in wood that is difficult to remove.

The nail buildings in Raleigh that come to mind are the Doug Van de Zande Photography and Poole’s Diner structures sandwiched between the new Convention Center and the L Building. The analogy isn’t an exact one, as there is no pressure (yet) to demolish these for new projects.

Although there are several nail houses in China due to an explosive building boom, there are two in particular that I noticed in the news prior to the Olympics.

The first was a small bakery building in China built in the 1840s that served the likes of the Qing Emperor and his court. The walls of the building were cracked from the demolition taking place all around it to create a new shopping district and apartments ahead of the Olympics. The entire historic neighborhood was gone, yet they held out.

The second is referred to as the ‘hardest nail house‘ because there was a deep pit surrounding the tiny residence. It stood alone on a giant mound of earth. It was quite a spectacle.

There is an example closer to home as well: On the West Coast, A house stood alone inside of a parking deck after the entire surrounding neighborhood was demolished. The resolve of the 86 year old woman that lived inside was remarkable. When describing the noise of the construction taking place around her, she had the following to say:

“I went through World War II, the noise doesn’t bother me,” she said in October. “They’ll get it done someday.”

She eventually died of pancreatic cancer, but did so in the way she wanted to–in her house.

The examples above are obviously much more dramatic than the juxtaposition of old and new on McDowell Street, but it still conjures up the same images. See my previous post of South McDowell St. to see this site before construction began.


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