I’m in Love With Another Building – It’s a Mess, But Wonderful None the Less 216 S. Washington

Those born or raised here, leave a comment below and tell us what you know.

   “I have often wondered what it is an old building can do to you when you happen to know a little about things that went on long ago in that building”.
Carl Sandburg

When you fall in love with an old building, look for                                                                                                                    the soul to that building, and the building will tell you how to save it.                                                                                                                                                  

(I edited a quote from Cameron Mackintosh to suit my purposes)

Ben Bradock, Andrew Clark, Troy Davis, Jesse Gerstl, Zack Poll, Troy White … Saving Commercial Architecture In Historic Downtown Rocky Mount – Part 1

Like beads on a rosary, I pause on each bead to add a name connected to the preservation, restoration, and repurposing of Main Street. I name the place holders like Virginia’s and The Bicycle Shop, that welcome new business, and the entertainment sector: restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Part of this litany of names includes, Ed Riley, at The Smokehouse, the folks at Blanches Bistro, and at Trax Coffee. Javelin Guildford at the Secret Garden ll. Yalem Kiros at Nabs, a beautiful spirit in this new scene on Main Street. (She is pictured above.) Moe Deloach’s bead on the rosary is one of the large ones, not only for his restaurant, grill/bar but because he is a prism of light in Rocky Mount. (Click Here to explain what a prism of light is about)

Larema Coffe House has become a friend to everyone that passes through the door. Larema posted a wonderful tribute to Troy Davis on their Facebook page. “Our featured community partner of color this week is Troy Davis, Owner of The Davis Property Group! Local entrepreneur and Rocky Mount native, Troy is a visionary leader who is taking charge in the effort to breathe new life and beauty into many historic commercial properties and houses across our city. While many people talk about building a better community, Troy is literally doing it! A Larema friend and supporter since before our opening, we share Troy’s vision for a renewed vibrancy in historic downtown Rocky Mount – and believe in the many benefits this can have for the whole community. Of his many projects, Troy is particularly excited to soon open the Davis Lofts just around the corner from Larema on Main Street, a historic building preservation and renovation project which will bring more than 20 gorgeous new apartments and a restaurant downtown for all to enjoy. Also, Troy purchased the Carleton House last week, with plans to bring accommodations, a restaurant, conference spaces and a pool to the former 1960s-era motor lodge also located downtown. Troy, thank you for all you do to make Rocky Mount an even better place to live, work and play!”                                                                                                                             

LAREMA:  We’re open in Rocky Mount and Wilson! Weekend hours are as follows -RM: Friday and Saturday, 8am-4pm; Waffle Sunday 9am-4pm

Developer Troy Davis has been working to transform three side-by-side buildings in the 100 block of Southeast Main Street into the future Davis Lofts. When completed there will be 22 high-quality upstairs apartments, four ground-level storefronts for businesses, and a rooftop deck. City Council approved $300,000 in Housing Incentive Grant Program funds for his project. Davis’s overall purpose  is to attract young professionals. People living downtown ‘above the store’ is a proven concept in the Main Street Programs that surround Rocky Mount: Elizabeth City, Goldsboro, New Bern, Tarboro. The addresses of the three buildings are, 143, 147 and 149 Southeast Main. Some are leased already. The ramifications of this project will far exceed the grant money involved. Davis said, “The reason I chose to redevelop locations downtown is that the heart of Rocky Mount has great architecture and I want to be part of that.” An article in the Telegram by Bill West said that City records say the private investment in the project totals at least $1.75 million. Those records state that a condition of the funding via the city calls for three of the 22 units to be set aside for affordable housing. A condition that illustrates a lack of understanding of the ‘Living Above The Store’ concept in downtown revitalizations.  CLICK HERE: Further information about this project.

A project Ben Braddock is leading is the transformation of the former Music City & Lights — at 131 and 135 Southeast Main. Soon to be a combination of upstairs residential and ground-level commercial development. The former Music City & Lights location highlights the work of Andrew Clark and Nicole Kleinstreuer from the Raleigh-Durham area.   Watch for Part 2 – Follow this Blog so you don’t miss it.

Jay at The Secret Garden creating beautiful floral arrangements and wreaths like this one. A Magical Place on Tarboro St.

a-lt-men-taire – The French Bakery on Main Street – IMAGINE!

In the Chicago area, you will find bakeries throughout this city of neighborhoods…Greek Town, Little Italy…In Evanston where I grew up, there was a bakery on Davis Street where my mother took me. Inside the door of the bakery, delectable smells filled the shop. The glass front display cases were filled with trays of impossible choices. I usually asked for a chocolate eclair, which I would then eat on the walk home. Two blocks west to Asbury Avene, turn right, and two blocks North home. We would pass the bowling alley, the drug store, the amazing Federal Post office with its memorable architecture. All of us can still walk blindfolded these walks of our childhoods.  Main Street Rocky Mount is going to have the fragrances of a bakery escaping onto the street each time the door opens to Altmentaire. (AH-LEE-MON-TAIR) A French word for food and nourishment that describes their traditional bread and bake goods made of 100% real ingredients, many locally sourced. Perhaps you already know of this bakery at 600 Trade Street in Tarboro, NC  owned by Steve and Franca Gilbert. They are coming to Main Street Rocky Mount.

 Here we are looking at 132 SW Main. This commercial building is 6000 square feet. 3000 feet for the bakery…kitchen sales area, etc. AND a 3000 loft apartment above where the Gilberts are going to live. Having just seen two lofts this size in New Bern at the Main Street Conference, I was beside myself because I wasn’t in Elizabeth City or Wilson or New Bern but on MAIN STREET ROCKY MOUNT. (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE NEW BERN LOFTS.)

There is much more to this space with bedrooms, bathrooms, closet space. 3000!!! feet. This is but a glimpse of what is happening in the downtown historic district. The restoration and repurposing of this building is part of the new scene emerging around the businesses that have held down the fort waiting for support, vision, a will of the leadership. Welcome Steve & Franca Gilbert, we can’t wait for you to get here.

The living room space that looks out on Main Street and raised kitchen

Climbing the steps past the beautiful brick wall to the 2nd level

The three windows looking out on Main Street


The View from the second level


The Enforcement of Ordinances – If Only A ‘Enforcer’ Code Ring From A Cracker Jack Box Would Do The Trick

You wouldn’t be keeping me company on Main Street if you weren’t interested, hopeful, and slightly addicted to architecture – commercial and residential. Above all else, you are a member of the cheerleading squad for the revitalization of Rocky Mount. Those of you who grew up here are the wind under the sails of people like myself who have joined you. Your memories, the stories you tell, the families that raised you, the streets you grew up on, have captured my imagination and heart. I will admit that my breath is taken away when someone says to me, ‘nothing will change.’  I have to pick myself up and start again.  Someone has written on Concerned Citizens that the downtown should be bulldozed flat. They aren’t reading this blog or they would know how vital the preservation of Main Street is to a sense of place that people are looking for when considering relocation.

We could talk late into the night about WHY ordinances have not been regularly enforced across the board, and who is responsible. For the sake of this discussion, let us say that the more we have come to recognize the value of preservation, restoration, and repurposing, we realized that the lack of enforcement has cost us dearly. I want you to think about what continues to be critical in saving the remaining commercial architecture in the historic downtown district. Please read through the two paragraphs below and get a feel for what is supposed to be protected and enforced. Anyone with walking around sense knows that the longer the neglect continues, the more costly and difficult saving the buildings becomes. Let’s see where this takes us with several more posts about this subject.

Demolition By Neglect:  Sec. 5-135. – Standards.

The exterior features of any building or structure located within the Central City Historic District shall be preserved by the owner and/or parties in interest against decay, deterioration and structural defects. The owner and/or parties in interest shall upon written request of the city repair such exterior features if they are found to be deteriorating, or if their condition is contributing to deterioration, including but not limited to, any of the following defects:

2nd Story Broken Glass Along Main Street

(1) Deterioration of exterior walls, foundations, flooring, carpet walls, roofs, beams, chimneys, and either horizontal or vertical load-bearing supports that cause leaning, sagging, splitting, listing or buckling; (2) Ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs, and foundations, including broken windows/doors, failed paint, leaking roofing, decayed brickwork or failed siding materials; (3) Rotting, holes and other forms of decay; (4) Damages caused by fire or other calamity; (5) Deterioration of exterior stairs, porches, handrails, window/door frames, cornices, entablatures, wall facings or other architectural details that cause delaminating, instability, loss of shape or crumbling; (6) Deterioration of fences, gates, garden walls or accessory structures; (7) Deterioration of any exterior feature that creates or permits a hazardous or unsafe condition to life, health or other property.
Boarded up windows and street barricades are allowed if they are painted a similar color to the remaining exterior facade.          (Ord. No. O-2009-126, § 1, 12-14-09)

PS: If you aren’t following the new Facebook page –Main Street Rocky Mount, I invite you to do so. Learning to speak Main Street is imperative. I love this new endeavor. I hope you will too.


What Do Black Architects Have To Do With Old Buildings on Main Street? – Part 2

There is part of the Rocky Mount black/white story that I don’t understand because of how and where I was raised. It is hard for me to believe that people in 2019 could have the attitude, “Why should I care about old buildings on Main Street that a bunch of white people owned while black people stayed over in the Douglas Block area?” But that, of course, was how it was. I search for ways to write about these old buildings so they become valuable to everyone. I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and his radio program, The Rest of the Story. It taught me early on that offered a way to view things differently, we can change our viewpoint.

You’ve heard, maybe even said, “Anybody But Duke.” Julian Abele, black architect, played a significant role in the architecture of Duke’s campus, which you will enjoy knowing about regardless of your loyalties. Here is a short video, about Julian Abele.

Julian Abele (1881–1950)

Julian Abele was one of America’s most important architects. As the first black graduate of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1902, Abele spent his entire career at the Philadelphia firm of the Gilded Age architect Horace Trumbauer. Abele was working for Trumbauer when they received a commission to expand the campus of Duke University, a whites-only university in Durham, North Carolina. Although Abele’s original architectural drawings for Duke University have been described as works of art, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Abele’s efforts at Duke were celebrated, the North Quad named for him.

J. Max Bond, Jr. (1935–2009)

J. Max Bond, Jr. was born in 1935 in Louisville, Kentucky and educated at Harvard, with a bachelor’s degree in 1955 and a master’s degree in 1958. When Bond was a student at Harvard, racists burned a cross outside his dormitory. Concerned, a white professor at the university advised Bond to abandon his dream of becoming an architect. Years later, in an interview for the Washington Post, Bond recalled his professor saying “There have never been any famous, prominent black architects…You’d be wise to choose another profession.” Fortunately, Bond had spent a summer in Los Angeles working for black architect Paul Williams and he knew that he could overcome racial stereotypes.

In 1958, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Paris and went on to live in Ghana for four years. Newly independent from Britain, the African nation was welcoming to young, black talent—more so than the American architectural firms in the early 1960s.

Bond was responsible for the museum component at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site at the time of his death. Bond remains an inspiration to generations of minority architects.

I write about these two men in particular as examples of those who stepped beyond the constraints of their time and place. The confines of the Douglas Block once exsisted, but like Abele and Bond, along Main Street and beyond, black men and women are no longer limited to that Douglas Block world. They are working to create new businesses, involved with saving Main Street and surrounds, running for office. Leading!  A new generation of young people have planted their flag on Main Street and are making good things happen. This is an important reason to care about a bunch of old buildings for their sake, their young families, their dreams. Mr. Abele and Mr. Bond represent ‘the rest of the story.’ We have lived to the other side of what once was. The future Abele and Bond paved is today’s reality. Those who insist black people are still standing on the curb on Thomas Street dishonor people like Abele and Bond, who accomplished so much, not only for themselves, but for those who have followed.

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, black and white, will be gathering at the Mill. That’s the new reality. The same men and women who regularly speechify at the City Council meetings, pontificate about the dark shadow among us and preach racism, have exceeded their expiration date. More and more they are ignored by those who reject the old rhetoric for the new language of possibilities. The new reality is that young black and white are building a future together on Main Street. These young people won’t be captured by the litany of old injustices, they’re too busy trying to make a positive difference, create something that benefits the community, make a meaning life for themselves and those they love.  Go downtown, you’ll see.

Howard Street – A Street to Build a Dream On

“The current passion for reuse might be explained by sustainability or fashion but, most importantly, it affords a sense of history and texture, taking advantage of buildings already embedded in cities. They are buildings with atmosphere, history, and stories inscribed in their fabric. And sometimes sustainability isn’t just about the energy and materials saved but about the stories, craft and intelligence embodied in its walls.”                                        -Paul Miles – The Financial Times

You know me well enough by now to recognize how this quotation is the crux of how I think about saving Main Street; a metaphor I use to include the larger area of the residential and commercial property that is part of Rocky Mount’s signature. The song from My Fair Lady came to mind as I walked Howard Street (again) and took photographs of the buildings – I have often walked on this street before but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before but here am I – – seeing the dream Howard street could be. It is essential to the reimagining of Main Street that people not only work but live downtown. I count imagination as a gift and I hope you have been given your fair share. At first, all you will see is buildings without purpose, but with imagination, ah, welcome to the dream of Howard Street.


Try to think of these upper floors as apartments, lofts, filled with ‘living above the shop’ residents who become a neighborhood: a cafe, an antique dealer, artists and writers, singles, older couples who are tired of owning a big house and want to be downtown to walk to a restaurant and shops and nightlife.  Picture this wonderful space where people live and work, are definitely willing to feed your cat while you are away and are now looking out for one another. Where there is music drifting from a window, people meeting in the street, where there is love again, purpose and creativity, the honoring of the past by saving this architecture and the stories embedded in the walls. (More about the Howard Street Dream soon.)