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Demolished: The Balentine’s Cafeteria Building

Over the course of the past few days, concrete munchers have been hard at work dismantling the building at 410 Oberlin Road in Cameron Village.

Now the building is completely razed, and new construction activity will soon be taking place near the busy intersection of Oberlin Rd. and Clark Ave.

1960s view of Balentine’s Cafeteria, with the “Confederate Room” sign visible on the rock wall. Image from the Lewis Watson Collection, NC Dept. of Archives and History

The Last of a Locally Rare Style

It’s my belief that the Balentine’s Cafeteria building was the last standing example of the prairie style here in Raleigh. This style is characterized as having a flat roof, banded windows grouped in sections, wide overhangs, and an emphasis on a horizontal lines.

This building has a rather modest history: it was once home to Balentine’s Cafeteria, which closed in 1999. Most recently it served as home to the  Cameron Village Library before moving in to their new space, as well as offices. It was designed in 1959 by noted Raleigh Modernist architect Leif Valand:

He attended the Pratt Institute in New York City then practiced architecture in Scarsdale NY. He moved to Raleigh in the late 1940s to design the Cameron Village Shopping Center for developers J. Willie York and R. A. Bryan.  The vision was massive, even by today’s standards, comprising 65 stores, 112 offices, 566 apartment units, and 100 private homes.

During his heyday, he was one of the most prolific architects in Raleigh.  With just a few employees, his extensive contacts with Raleigh’s business and real estate elite gained incredible commissions.

While few realize it, Cameron Village was not only the area’s first shopping center, but it was also a massive mixed-use development project unlike any other previously seen in the Southeast.

The Island In a Sea of Concrete

It suffered from a few design flaws, most notably the use of land. The building’s longest side was perpendicular to the main thoroughfare and most of the land was devoted to a surface parking lot on the Oberlin Road side and a parking garage on the other sides. It was a visually interesting brick and river rock island in a sea of parking spaces. Such site plans are generally frowned upon today.


Above demolition video courtesy of Goodnight Raleigh contributor Ian F.G. Dunn.

It was torn down (along with a smaller neighboring structure built around the same time) in order to make way for a new mixed-use project.

The mid-century building has been under-occupied for years and the inside wasn’t anything particularly useful or pretty. While no one could argue that the existing parcel of land was being utilized well, it’s disheartening to see a unique building replaced with something that runs contrary to the character of Cameron Village. That block is comprised mostly of modernist buildings, a few including the Post Office and 401 Oberlin (also facing demolition).

The new project replacing it is a 1920s revivalist style. This was almost certainly the result of the influential residents of Cameron Park whose buy-in was required by the developer. Cameron Park gets a building that looks like their homes, and Cameron Village loses a chunk of its modern character.


Building with only one wall remaining. Image courtesy of Goodnight Raleigh contributor Devin McKim

While I think historic buildings (and for Raleigh in particular its modernist ones) form an important and valuable part of our landscape, I don’t advocate saving every building. However, when we erase some of the unique character from our town, we should ask if what we’re putting in its place is an improvement.

More rental options in this part of town are definitely needed, and in that sense it is an improvement. However, with regard to the visual landscape and how the area will feel afterward, I’m not yet convinced.

You can read more about this building at our sister site, raleigh modern.

 

UPDATE:

This film, courtesy of A/V Geeks, shows Balentine’s in the 1960s:


Discuss Raleigh

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