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

An Epic (Facade) Fail on S. Wilmington St.

Rhodes Furniture building, 301 S. Wilmington St., as it appeared in 1945. (North Carolina State Archives photo)

“I read the news today, oh boy … A crowd of people turned away, but I just had to look…”

Here’s what happened. Last Friday a city inspector noticed decorative tiles buckling on the historic Rhodes Furniture building at the corner Wilmington and Martin Streets in Downtown Raleigh. A closer inspection revealed that a segment  of structural brickwork had begun to fail. The property owner, Beacon Partners, was notified, and to prevent its collapse into the street, a demo crew was called in to pull down the facade of the weakened building. Below is the scene as it appeared about 10:30 Friday night.

Photo credit: Ben Spiker

So I visited the site on Saturday, and this is what I saw.

Below is a close-up detail of the compromised brick wall that caused the applied tiles to pop off the facade. I think a drop ceiling improperly installed decades ago may have contributed to the structure’s failure.

The 300 block of S. Wilmington St. is a rare urban preserve of a grouping of historically significant Reconstruction-era Italianate-styled commercial buildings yet remaining in Raleigh. Sadly, all the buildings now standing on the block are scheduled for demolition in next few years and are to be replaced with a mega-apartment/retail/office tower complex. The development, known as the Skyhouse Apartments, is itself a part of a scaled-back version of the grandiose, four-towered Edison project originally intended for the site.

As a nod to civic responsibility, I personally think that blending the street fronts of the extant structures along Wilmington St. into the high-rise complex via a set-back of the new structure would have preserved the historic streetscape of the 300 block, and could have been a major boon to historic preservation in the area. Apparently, the project’s Atlanta-based developer, Novare Group, in partnership with Beacon, never even considered the idea. Edison+Skyhouse=Epic Fail.

The 300 Block of S. Wilmington St.

The 300 block of S. Wilmington St. was once part of a bustling three-block mercantile district adjacent to Raleigh’s old City Market which stood on the west side of the street 1868-1913.

Below is a photo showing how the 300 block appeared in 1927. The Rhodes building is on the left. At the time it was occupied by TB Crowder & Sons, wholesale grocers.

North Carolina State Archives photo

I took the photo seen here on Saturday. Below is a set of comparative shots taken from another vantage point about four years apart.

Photo credit: John Morris

Above: January 2009; Below: December 2012

Reliable Loan Co. and Isaac’s Menswear are the only surviving businesses at the north end of the 300 block. They are both long-established landmarks on S. Wilmington St., and will be forced to vacate when their historic properties are demolished.

Photo credit: John Morris

The abandoned Fashion Center at 305 S. Wilmington.

Photo credit: John Morris

Reliable Loan Co. at 307 and Isaac’s Menswear at 309.

Photo credit: John Morris

The buildings at the south end of the 300 block date from the early 20th century, and are doomed, as well.  These storefronts, including Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue (est. 1938) around the corner, will be the first demolished to accommodate the Skyhouse Apartments revised Edison project. As of Saturday, only Jones Barber Shop, a long-time S. Wilmington St. mainstay, and its neighbor, the Helping Hand Mission Thrift Shop remain open. (Cooper’s is still open too!)

Photo credit: John Morris

Jones Barber Shop, below, is located on the corner  at E. Davie St.

Photo credit: John Morris

Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue on E. Davie Street. Another Raleigh landmark soon to be lost.

Photo credit: John Morris

As a life-long resident of Raleigh who has roamed downtown since my early years, I will sorely miss the 300 block of S. Wilmington St. after all these historic buildings are gone. Collectively, they offer a rare example of scale, sense of place, and genuine character to a type of cohesive streetscape that is fast disappearing in my beloved home town — something that a gargantuan, apartment/retail/office tower will never accomplish. Goodbye, dear friend, and Goodnight.

Photo credit: John Morris

Author’s note: Many thanks to our friends Leo Suarez of The Raleigh Connoisseur, and David Millsaps and Jeddidiah Smith Gant of NewRaleigh for providing the links to Skyhouse Apartments and The Edison. Also thanks to John Lennon and Paul McCartney for writing “A Day in the Life.”

Unless otherwise attributed, photos by Raleigh Boy.

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