201-203 East Main / Record Bar

35.994421, -78.899335

Cross Street
Year built
Year demolished
Building Type
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Looking north-northeast, 1905.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

The building on the northeast corner of East Main St. and Church St. was built between 1898 and 1905. While it isn't clear if the building was built to house the local telephone exchange, by 1905, it contained the Herndon drugstore on the ground floor and the telephone exchange on the upper floors.

Two telephone exchanges were established in Durham during the late 1800s - a local telephone company, and the Bell Telephone Co., which were in direct competition with one another. Julian Carr, LA Carr, and George W. Watts held a controlling interest in the Interstate Telephone and Telegraph Co., which had been established in Maryland. They purchased the Durham exchange (and its 20 households) and continued the competition with Bell. By 1903, Bell had closed their local exchange, although they continued to provide long-distance service.

Northeast corner of Church and East Main, looking east-northeast, ~1910.
(Courtesy Duke Archives)

Note on both above pictures the large bundle of telephone wires entering the Church St. side of the building.

In 1913, the Durham Traction Co. (later Duke Power) offered to pay to erect a large electric sign lauding Durham, as a gesture of thanks to downtown merchants who had purchased electric lights. The Commercial Club (later the Chamber of Commerce) sponsored a contest to decide the slogan. The winning entry, from WW Weaver and JE Banning was "Durham: Renowned the World Around"

The sign was erected on a moonlight night on December 15th, 1913. In addition to the slogan, it read "Health, Wealth, Progress, Success" around the circumference. The sign was 31 1/2 feet wide and topped by a "10 foot sphere". It required 1200 bulbs to operate. It was illuminated to a crowd of either "hundreds" or "thousands".

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Looking east-northeast, ~1913.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

The sign, unfortunately, only operated "a short while" before being destroyed by a storm. Pity - perhaps we would have been spared several dozen progressively inane slogans had it survived.

By the 1940s, a hotel (likely called the Durham Hotel) was operating out of the upper floors, while the lower level was "L&M Lunch" (evidently a chain, since there was one at Morgan and Rigsbee as well.

Looking northeast, 1940s.
(Courtesy Duke Archives)

The 1950s-1960s brought the miserable idea to 'modernize' perfectly good buildings (a bad idea we still haven't quite outgrown.) This beautiful building was substantially diminished. (Although it may actually have been demolished and replaced.)

Looking northeast, 1968.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)


Not exactly sure that this is at this location, but it's from the 1968 Duke Chanticleer

By the late 1960s / early 1970s, these buildings had been taken and demolished by Durham - Renowned the World Around for Tearing Buildings to the Ground - using urban renewal funds, along with the remainder of the block. To some extent, this entire block fell victim to the pipe dreams of an Oklahoma developer named - Barket, and the anxiousness of a city to do whatever it could to a attract a developer who promised a 40 story building to be constructed in downtown Durham on the block between E. Main, Church, N. Roxboro, and E. Parrish Sts.

Barket's rendering of the 40 story building to sit at 200 East Main St., 07.16.68
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun)

The on-again-off-again flirtation between the city and Mr. Barket persisted throughout the later half of the 1960s, until he finally pulled out, never to be heard from again.


I didn't realize until quite recently that the Record Bar building held on for awhile after the others in the block were gone 


1974, looking southeast

(Courtesy Norman Williams Collection)

In 1978, the city built a new impervious courthouse on the block, designed by Archie Royal Davis, which looms, Death-Star-like, over the street. I don't know whether the design direction was "try to intimidate people into avoiding the courtroom," but that's the vibe it gives me. It's among my least favorite buildings in Durham.

Under construction, 1978

It seems that they tried their best to emulate Barket's Folly, but could only afford the first ~5 stories.

Looking northeast, 2007.


I remember when this Record Bar Building was Robbins Dress? Shop. That was in the late 50s, maybe early 60s since I remember being
in high school at the time. At one time-the Record Bar was much smaller-and on the corner where that white car is parked with all the snow.
They had 45s stacked in bins or something all in the store. I seem to remember a rolling ladder so they could reach the ones higher up. (corner of Church and Parrish). Robbins may have closed in this location in they opened at Northgate.

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