Remembering the Old Meredith Building
Located across Blount Street from the historic Richard B. Haywood house is a sprawling, 4-acre state government surface parking lot. I can tell you, though, one of Raleigh’s most exuberant and impressive 19th century structures once occupied this site. I am speaking of course, of the main building of the erstwhile Baptist Female University, now known as Meredith College. The four-story, many-gabled and turreted, solid brick Chatauesque, Queen Anne-styled building was designed by Raleigh’s enigmatic 19th century architect Adolphus Gustavus Bauer. After its completion in 1899, Meredith College occupied this site for the next quarter century. Over this time the College added 4-story Faircloth Hall, and annexed four adjacent residences to accommodate the growth of its student body. Even so, the 1899 main building itself continued to preside majestically over the 100 block of North Blount Street.
When Meredith relocated its campus to its current home on Hillsboro Street in 1926, the Blount St. building was sold and re-habbed as the Mansion Park Hotel. During the hotel’s 25 year occupancy the seven extant brick piers were erected at the driveway entrances. Following WWII the out-dated hotel fell out of favor with the travelling public and within five years it closed. In 1951 the state bought the property and used the aging behemoth as an office building until 1966. Sadly, it was demolished the following year.
I became enamored with the imposing brick edifice in the early 1960s when it was still being used as a state office building. By then the distinctive 2-story wrap-around porches had been stripped away, and the entire structure was covered in drab, state government white paint. Nontheless, the old Meredith Building still presented an awesome profile on North Blount Street. My family drove right by it every Sunday on our way to Christ Church, just a block away. After I entered junior high school at Hugh Morson, the city bus took me by there every day. It was about this time I began to refer to the old Meredith Building as “The Castle.”
During my years at Morson, a couple pals and I used to go downtown on Saturdays to explore and roam about — and I, of course, always had my trusty Kodak Instamatic camera in tow. My friends and I would go into and explore the grand homes that were being demolished on Blount St. at the time. My favorite exploration, though, was The Castle. We covered every inch of it from top to bottom. I vividly remember the long, wide hallways and the floor to ceiling windows. I also remember the place was totally trashed, as if the occupants had been forced to make a hasty departure. To me, the sight evoked the image of an elegant, WWII era European palace that had been ransacked by fleeing Nazis.
Nowadays, whenever I drive by that city block of asphalt, I think…why? Why did one of Raleigh’s most beguiling landmarks have to be so wantonly destroyed? In recent years I have located five photos of The Castle that I took prior to and during its demolition in 1967. Now I wish I had taken more.
And I still wonder to this day — what ever happened to all that brick!