As Hillsborough Street area in Raleigh booms, some historic houses fall by the wayside

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RALEIGH — More than two dozen historic homes have been demolished this year in one of Raleigh’s oldest residential areas, including an entire National Register Historic District just off Hillsborough Street.

The dozen houses that made up the Maiden Lane National Register Historic District were razed in late February to make way for a three-story, 203-unit apartment complex known on planning documents as Hillstone Cameron Village. The others that have been taken down were in neighboring Oberlin Village, a historic African-American settlement dating to just after the Civil War, and the nearby West Raleigh Historic District, developed starting in the 1920s.

Collectively, “it’s a huge loss,” said Myrick Howard, president of Preservation NC, which encourages preservation and reuse of historic buildings across the state. “These houses are going down left and right.”

The first houses on Maiden Lane were built in the 1890s, just after R. Stanhope Pullen donated land to create a large park and a state university. What became Pullen Park and the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering, now N.C. State University, enticed people to move to the area, which was then rural land outside Raleigh’s city limits.

According to a history of the neighborhood, , the first houses on Maiden Lane belonged to families connected to the university. They included D.H. Hill, an English professor who became the college president, and John Allen Arey, who headed the school’s Dairy Extension Service and was known as “the father of the progressive dairy program.”

Showing their age

In more recent years, many of the homes along Maiden Lane had served as fraternity houses and were showing their age. In their day, the one- and two-story houses were proud examples of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architectural styles.

In 2016, Leon Capital Group, a Dallas-based investment company with a focus on real estate, spent $11.6 million buying up properties on Maiden Lane, a short distance from the NCSU Bell Tower, to redevelop the land.

Company officials could not be immediately reached, but Don Davis, chairman of the Raleigh historic Development Commission, said his board had tried to work with the company to save the houses.

Once it became clear that the company would not keep the houses where they were, Davis said, the commission began looking for a way to relocate them, which the developer was willing to allow.

“But we couldn’t find a place to put them, which is a problem,” Davis said.

Ideally, preservationists like to see historic buildings remain in place, within the context of their original surroundings, even if it means they are converted to a different use. Moving them is preferable to demolishing them, but isn’t always possible because of construction type, complications such as narrow streets, power lines and trees, or because a buyer and a new location can’t be found.

Salvaging items from a historic home is considered a last resort, but it keeps architectural relics from being dumped into a landfill. A woman who answered the phone at Leon Capital in Dallas said she did not think that architectural details had been saved from the Maiden Lane houses.

No guarantee

Not far from the busy redevelopment around Hillsborough Street is a row of six more historic houses expected to be destroyed on White Oak Road, in the Bloomsbury Historic District. The houses, built between 1920 and 1925, belong to Hayes Barton Baptist Church, which plans to raze them to add more than 70 much-needed parking spaces to be used by its members and people visiting businesses in the Five Points neighborhood.

Getting a house or neighborhood listed on the National Register does not protect it from demolition. Local historic districts — Raleigh has several — do offer some protection, but still don’t guarantee a structure won’t be destroyed. The Maiden Lane homes were not part of a local district.

Davis said the apartment complex planned for Maiden Lane is not objectionable by itself, and serves a demand for housing in a popular and congested area. Preservationists just wish it weren’t displacing historic buildings.

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