5/2023 From Preservation Durham Home Tour "Then & Now: Part II"
The house at 1505 Carolina Avenue was built in 1940. Clarence and Mildred Walker bought the property in that year and members of their family would live here for eighty years. The builder may have been Henry C. Satterfield, Jr., an executive with the Cary Lumber Company, one of Durham’s major building supply firms. Satterfield speculated in lots and houses as a sideline to his lumber business. He sold the Carolina Avenue property to the Walkers.
In 1940, the building industry was still struggling to recover from the Great Depression. For a decade very few new homes had been built. Buyers had little money to offer and banks had little money to lend. There were signs of recovery, however. The Roosevelt administration’s FHA home loan guarantee program gave banks the confidence to lend once again. The purpose of the program was to lift up the banking and building industries and to help ordinary Americans build wealth through homeownership. The FHA published a number of remarkable pamphlets to guide architects, urban planners, builders, borrowers, and lenders. The homes described in the agency’s Technical Bulletin No. 4, Principles of Planning Small Houses influenced American residential design for more than twenty years and spawned the idea of the American Dream.
The Walker’s house was built to the FHA’s order. It was a small house, designed to meet the pent-up demand for market entry-level housing. The house originally had two bedrooms and a single bathroom. The design was simple and the use of materials was economical. There are no complicated gables and dormers. There are no deep roof overhangs. The design relied on ordinary stock windows and doors. But this economy does not imply cheapness or corner-cutting in construction. To the contrary, the FHA stressed high standards at a time when very few places in this country had or enforced building codes. For architectural style, the FHA consciously reached back to simple Early American farmhouses. There is more than a hint of the Colonial Cape Cod form here. Look around, the neighborhood is made of similar homes all guided by the same principles.
While the house is small, it was never stingy. As a living house it met all American expectations. In addition to the bedrooms and the bath, it had a living room, dining room, and a kitchen. Efficient design reduced interior hall space to the barest minimum. There are no elaborate porches, but there is a cozy sun room on the south end of the house. It was a house where a family could get its start or live for decades.
For the Walkers, the house was a home for decades. Clarence Walker was forty and his wife Mildred was thirty-seven when they moved their family to Carolina Avenue. They occupied one bedroom and their daughters, Jean and Doris, shared the other. Their son, Clarence, Jr., “Buddy,” slept in the sunroom. The elder Walker was a sheet metal fabricator. For the early part of his career, he worked at American Tobacco. Later, he worked in heating and air-conditioning and eventually he owned his own business. He also taught metalwork at Durham High School.
Clarence Walker died in 1957. Mildred Walker lived on in the house until her death of cancer in 1963. Before she died, her daughter Doris Johnson and her family moved into the home to care for her. After Mildred’s death, the house became the Johnsons’ home. Clyde Johnson worked for American Tobacco and Doris worked at Belk’s department store. Their daughter Mary completed school and worked for Goodwill Industries and the Ninth Street Bakery. Clyde Johnson passed away in 2011. Doris and Mary remained in the house until 2019 when Doris moved to assisted living. She sold the house to Roger Daniel and Alicia Hylton-Daniel in 2020.
Alicia and Roger operate Hylton-Daniel Design and Construction. Alicia is an accomplished interior designer as well as a general contractor. When they bought the house at 1505 Carolina, it was in rough condition. Many years had passed since the house had received updating or even significant repairs. Finishes, fixtures, and surfaces were worn out. Neighbors feared that new owners would demolish the house and redevelop the property. But Alicia and Roger had a different idea. They could see that the little house fitted its historic neighborhood setting and that within this context there was real potential. They decided to leave the exterior of the house essentially as it was, but to thoroughly renovate the interior to serve as an attractive and comfortable extended stay rental. They brought the house down to the studs inside to allow insulation at the exterior walls. The house was also re-configured as the old layout did not work for modern living. The Johnsons had added a room onto the rear of the house sometime in the 1970's. The new design utilized the addition by creating a primary bedroom with a shared bath. The renovation also allows for larger hallways, a half bath, and a new staircase that leads down to a walkout basement that now houses a queen-sized bedroom, full bath, laundry room and office nook.
Here and there, Alicia and Roger saved parts of the fabric of the old house and incorporated them into the new design. The oak floor in the living room has been preserved and new wood flooring has been laid in the dining room and kitchen to match. A portion of the old basement stair has been preserved so you can see how narrow it was. The upper portion of the stair space was used to enlarge the kitchen. Alicia also took advantage of unusable attic space by vaulting the office ceiling and adding skylights to create more of a sun room. The house once had a composite wall covering pressed to resemble the knotty pine paneling that was so popular in the 1940s. After eighty years and many coats of paint, much of this material was in poor condition. Alicia nevertheless saved the best part of this material, reusing it in the hallway built-in bench area as well as the wainscot in the twin bedroom.
Thoroughly updated, but entirely true to its context, the Walker House is now fit to last another eighty years.