OLDHAM TOWERS

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OLDHAM TOWERS

519
,
Durham
NC
Cross street: 
Built in
1969
Architectural style: 
Construction type: 
,
Neighborhood: 
Type: 

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Last updated

  • Fri, 11/16/2018 - 5:21pm by gary

Location

United States
35° 59' 31.6392" N, 78° 53' 40.8624" W
US

Comments

519
,
Durham
NC
Cross street: 
Built in
1969
Architectural style: 
Construction type: 
,
Neighborhood: 
Type: 

 

On the northeast corner of Main and Dillard streets is this imposing structure.


Looking north, November 2018. (Photo by N. Levy)

Oldham Towers, built in the inimitable modernist public housing high-rise style, is what you have to look forward to if you are elderly and poor in Durham. As this community is less likely to have vehicular transportation, walkable access to proximate destinations is key. Unfortunately, the low-density surrounding land use after urban renewal limits walkability and destinations.

Once upon a time, this structure (the EJ Parrish house) stood on this same land:


Looking northeast from East Main and Dillard Sts. (Note 112 N. Dillard St., home of Samuel T. Morgan (founder of the Durham Fertilizer Company) and, after ~1895, CB Green - first principal of the city high school in the background.)
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection - Wyatt Dixon Collection)

Built sometime before 1891, the house was an elaborate Second Empire dwelling constructed for EJ Parrish, a prominent citizen of early Durham and tobacco auctioneer. His tobacco warehouse was located at the northeast corner of Mangum and Parrish Streets (thus the name) and was the largest warehouse in the state at the time of construction.

In 1898, Parrish went to Japan and sold his house to Richard H Wright, who helped design Durham's early street and transportation system, and built several of Durham's early buildings, including the 'Wright Corner' at the southwest corner of Corcoran St. and West Main St., as well as Lakewood Amusement Park at the southwest end of the streetcar line.

Along with Somerset Villa, the EJ Parrish house helped establish Dillard Street as "Mansion Row" During the 1890s, most of the more modest housing along Dillard was replaced with large Queen Anne/Victorian dwellings.

In the 1910s, the bifurcation of East Main Street west of Dillard was eliminated by closing the northern lane, and there was new open land between the Parrish house and the corner. On this land, the Franklin Court Apartments were constructed.
Wright constructed a country manse on the Roxboro Road, much like his predecessor EJ Parrish, and moved to the 9000 sf house, named "Bonnie Brae" in 1917. The apartment building, first called the "Wright Apartments No. 1" were built immediately thereafter.

(Courtesy Durham County Library photographic archives)


(from "Images of America: Durham" by Steve Massengill)

By 1923, the apartments were called the "Franklin Court Apartments" - I do not know why.


Copyright Sanborn Fire Insurance Company

Gradually, commercial uses began to supplant residential in this neighborhood - first with Somerset Villa and the JR Day house (and others in the first block east of Roxobro) in the 1920s, then the Sears building and the bus station in the 1940s. Remaining large houses generally were abandoned by the the next generation of wealth, which moved out to Hope Valley, Duke Park, and Forest HIlls. Most of the houses that were not torn down were converted to rooming houses, including 108 North Dillard St.


Parrish House, 1949
(Courtesy Bob Blake)

By 1957, someone had made the ridiculous decision to tear this beautiful structure down.


Part-way through demolition (windows and doors removed,) 1957.
(Wyatt Dixon Collection, Duke Archives)

What replaced this sumptuous structure? What noble use was it cleared for?

Wait for it...

Ah, delicious. A Hertz rent-a-car box.

The Franklin Court apartments persevered through the latter 1950s and early 1960s.


Western portion of the apartments, taken from the south side of East Main St., looking northwest, 1965.


Eastern portion of the apartments, taken from the south side of East Main St., looking northeast, 1965.

However, all of the structures in this block (as well as most of the structures within a 0.25 mile radius) were demolished by the city using Federal Urban Renewal funds.


Looking northwest at the east side of the apartment building from East Main, 12.13.67 - it appears that the house next door is being demolished as well.


Halfway through the teardown, 1967.
(Courtesy Durham County Library Photographic Archives)

Part of a first wave of aging care facilities funded federally by the Older Americans Act of 1965 (one of the Johnson administration's Great Society reform bills), Oldham Towers was built soon after the demolition.


Looking northwest, 1968
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)


Looking west, June 10, 1968. The bus station and houses on N. Dillard St. are visible in the background.

According to a February 1969 Durham Housing Authority brochure, the high-rise was to have 106 apartments for senior citizens and a live-in manager.  The building also had a ground-floor community space with programming organized by the newly renamed Durham Senior Citizens Coordinating Committee.  Like Oldham Towers itself, that organization was funded by the Older Americans Act, and was a predecessor of the contemporary Center for Senior Life.  Opening in the summer of 1969, the facility was said to cost just over $1.5million.


The finished product, looking northwest, ~1970
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

Notice the scale and orientation of the Franklin Court apartment building; there was no setback from Main Street, and the height of the building was similar to surrounding structures (3 stories). There are clear pedestrian entrances, and exterior details gave some relief to the surface, softening the facade. Compare with Oldham Tenem...er...Towers.

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