Many people overlook the stately three-story building known as Grosvenor Gardens as they hurry down Hillsborough Street. I consider this to be quite a blessing, and it may the reason this apartment complex dating from the 1930s remains an urban oasis of sorts.
Grosvenor Gardens is one the three apartment complexes built between the 800 and 1100 blocks of Hillsborough Street. Erected in 1939 by developer Sidney J. Wollman, it was considered ahead of its time in the use of natural lighting and the efficient use of outdoor space. Named for the Grosvenor Gardens hotel in London, architect James Edwards, Jr. designed the building modeled after the Georgian Revival style.
The grounds are meticulously maintained and feature rose bushes, Crepe Myrtles, and Pencil Cypress trees adorning the courtyard and its brick walkways. It is reported that Wollman spent upwards of $10,000 solely devoted to landscaping the 1.73 acre parcel. Many people marvel at how well the building has held up to the plunders of time and use, and rightly so. The building has displayed a remarkable ability to remain steadfast in the wake of constant use, especially considering its age and the demographic of its residents.
This demographic has changed over time. Early in its history it was largely occupied by working class women in need of inexpensive and convenient lodging close to downtown. Over the years it has become popular with young Raleigh singles and university students. But, there are a few key reasons the building has retained such an original and unmolested feel. First, the building is simply well built. Its terracotta roof will likely outlast he structure it so stoically shelters. The windows, doors, plumbing, and every other conceivable cog in the works of this building are delightfully over designed. Many of the units have original toilets, sinks, and faucets. I recently had a brief conversation with Russ Wollman the maintenance person and grandson of Sidney J. Wollman. Russ shook his head and said in a way that no person under the age of 40 can do convincingly, “they just don’t make things like they used to”. He explained how he is just now having to replace some of the original, 70-year-old, kitchen and bathroom fixtures and that many times the replacement fixtures only last a few years before needing replacement once again. They just don’t make things like they used to.
Russ himself is the other reason this building has retained its structural and historical dignity. He cares for it as if it were a family heirloom, due in large part to the fact that it is just that. Without Russ, the building would likely be full of structural band-aids and aesthetic faux pas. It is designated as a Raleigh historical landmark, and with any luck will remain so for many years to come.