Monday, April 14, 2008

N&O Series: Openings

Raleigh recaptures its low-rise past
A stretch of seven low-rise buildings on the west side of the 200 block of downtown Raleigh's Fayetteville Street either have been renovated or are being renovated, creating 'a very cool block,' according to one tenant.

Hundreds of feet below the surging shimmer of Raleigh's new RBC office tower, a humbler but equally dynamic transformation is taking shape.

Down along the broad new sidewalks of Raleigh's reborn Fayetteville Street, entrepreneurs and preservationists are restoring century-old storefronts in vibrant colors, decorative facades and historic textures.

It is indeed wonderful to see that time is becoming the friend of history. "Like others scattered throughout downtown, the reincarnated cast-offs, standing as thick as seven abreast along Fayetteville Street's 200 block, are helping to revive the city's forlorn heart -- one costly, painstaking renovation at a time." Those of us who have loved the downtown blocks throughout its time, feel lifted a bit to see these images. Preservation has been sneaking up on this block from the side streets, and now, with the arrival of main street, energy is beginning to flow again.

One wonders if eventually the idea for a movie theater or a really good department store, with a southern style cafeteria, could be too far away. Fallonia notices the trend seems to be about a 5-7 year lag from the time the last of a thing hits the landfill before someone wants to re-invent it. Think Restoration Hardware.

The interview with Marvin Malecha, dean and professor of architecture at N.C. State University, is reassuring, and can be found here:
Fayetteville Street's spirit is rediscovered in mix of old and new

Q: What do you think of the emerging look of Fayetteville Street as these old buildings are effectively unmasked, the past coming back storefront by storefront?

A: The city is rediscovering its spirit with the uncovering of the old storefronts as though a weight is being lifted from the shoulders of downtown. The old and the new can be continued into a new urban framework. The mixing of new additions and the old is a pattern set by Memorial Auditorium. The Convention Center continues this tradition by establishing a scale derived from the historic factory while utilizing new strategies.

This is what has made Raleigh's fabric special all along, periods of history next to periods of history, sometimes in a full cloth and other times like a crazy quilt. One era did not completely topple the previous era, they lived side by side.

Just as Oberlin Village and Cameron Village have done; they tell different stories woven together through time in the parts that remain. I digress, but I shall continue, this history is from the Latta House Foundation site.
Neighborhood History and Evolution
After the Civil War, farmland west of Raleigh was sub-divided and lots were sold to freed African-Americans who quickly established a family community complete with homes, churches, schools and business places. The area became known as Oberlin Village, named for Oberlin College in Ohio, which had been prominent in the anti-slavery movement. Several important institutions were established in Oberlin, including Latta University, which was founded in the late 19th century by Reverend Morgan Latta. The university ceased operation around 1920 and today only one building remains, at 1001 Parker Street. Much of the original Oberlin Village gave way to redevelopment as residential suburbs expanded around Raleigh. Cameron Village was developed in 1950. Increased enrollment at N.C.S.U. prompted the razing of housing to construct apartment buildings. Today, most of the original homes are found in an area extending from Oberlin Road about four or five blocks west and from Clark Avenue to just north of Wade Avenue. Efforts to preserve some of the heritage of Oberlin Village have resulted in several buildings and houses being designated as Raleigh Historic Landmarks

This is Raleigh. And Raleigh's heritage is worth preserving. Malecha says it best:

Q. It seems unusual that so many old buildings on Fayetteville Street escaped the wrecking ball. Does Raleigh have an opportunity to create a rare mix of old streetscapes and soaring towers, a sense of history and the future?

A. It is indeed fortunate that downtown escaped the wrecking ball. The challenge will be to find a way to ensure that the sense of family business is also not lost. ... It is natural that old and new co-exist. It reminds us of the extended families that make up North Carolina society. Healthy families celebrate members of all ages. Each generation teaches the next, and the next generation challenges the previous.

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