306 Villa is on the Demolition List – If Lost – Can It Serve as Our Penn Station

306 Villa in the Villa Place Historic District

“We strain to listen to the ghosts and echoes of our inexpressibly wise past, and we have an obligation to maintain these places, to provide these sanctuaries, so that people may be in the presence of forces larger than those of the moment.”
 Ken Burns

Adrienne Copland is an active voice in the Rocky Mount preservation world and at the moment is an advocate for the house at 306 Villa.  Those of you who read the new Facebook page by the same name as this blog, may recognize this photograph I wrote about a few weeks back.

This house on the demolition list was built in 1917. James W. Blackwell, a machinist, is the earliest known occupant of this house in 1930. It is a frame two-story, foursquare with hipped roof features, a hipped dormer with shingle siding, two interior brick chimneys, and a one-story hipped wraparound porch with paired battered posts on brick bases and plain railing. Fenestration consists of a glazed and paneled door, an oval leaded glass window, a two-story bay window on the left side and one-over-one-sash windows. The entire back add-on can’t be saved. If we lose this house,  let it become a ‘Penn Station’ inspiration.

“The loss of Penn Station in New York sparked new vigor into the city’s emerging preservationist movement. When Grand Central Terminal was similarly put onto the chopping block in 1972, activists and city leaders rallied against the developers who wished to replace the landmark with yet another modern office block. The terminal received landmark status and is today a jewel in Midtown Manhattan’s crown. It cannot be said how many other pieces of New York’s architectural history could have met their end had the outrage at the destruction of old Penn not changed forever the way cities view their brick-and-mortar heritage. Penn Station remains one of the (if not the) most painful losses New York has suffered architecturally over the past century.  But its destruction paved the way for a revolutionary new approach to architectural preservation which might not have ever come to pass had Penn not fallen the way it did.” Click here to read more about Penn Station with fantastic black and white photos to support this well written piece. 

This Villa Street house is the result of a series of ‘if only.’ An owner who bought this house for retirement had things happen along the way and became unable to keep it up, even selling the house was thwarted because of deed complications. ‘If only’ ordinances long ago had been applied to protect this house. It occurs to me that 306 Villa and others like it need an ombudsman. We are not without resources like Preservation Rocky Mount, and the Historic Preservation Commission.  The city department of Development Services where Kelly Cook is charged with the administration of ordinances, when allowed to do their jobs, can help  investors and private citizens traverse the complexities of  buying, saving, and repurposing our architectural inventory. Ordinances need not become obstacles, or a form of control.  The top priority of those involved with ordinances and related matters should be, “We will work with you until we find a ‘yes answer’ for buying property. We will guide you through the complexities of grants and preservation guidelines.” What we hear is one nightmare story after another of investors who are discouraged by a system that deliberately seems to derail a successful purchase.  Everyone loses;  nothing is added to the tax base and the loss of private investment is unnecessary.

It may be too late, the house may be unredeemable. It isn’t too late to apply triage and prioritize an inventory of homes that need intervention.  The only consolation that could possibly help if this house is lost is to spark further determination and vigor in our preservation efforts. All hands on deck, of one accord, and to persevere.

An app on my phone covers the deterioration and lets you imagine how fabulous this house is if saved.