205 West Main Street / Holladay Studio

35.995613, -78.902084

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Year demolished
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205 West Main St., 1905
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. Scanned by Digital Durham)

One of my favorite small buildings in Durham-past is 205 West Main Street, due to its very unusual design - I'm not sure I've seen another building with quite such modern lines built during the 1890s.

(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection)

It appears from Sanborn maps that the structure was originally erected as a single story building, and that its dramatic 2nd story facade/immense window-skylight were added by 1898 as a photography studio. Originally this was the studio of Cole and Holladay, later under the proprietorship of Walter Holladay.

Holladay would become the most prolific professional photographer of early Durham, often tapped for professional publications and portraiture. If you've been a reader of this website for awhile, you've seen quite a few of his images, particularly from the 1920s.

Holladay's typical early signature
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. Scanned by Digital Durham)

(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. Scanned by Digital Durham)

Holladay's name seems to have been misspelled frequently - presumably he processed them himself, so I'm not sure why this would be.

Holladay's studio appears to have been replaced at this address by the Ramsey-Kah photography studio. The first floor was occupied by the JH Farley clothing store during the 1910s and 1920s.


Patrons flocking to Mr. Farley's "Miracle Sale" - late 1920s.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

205-207 West Main, ~1925

Upstairs remained the Ramsey Studio through the 1930s; in the early 1940s, the upstairs studio became the first home for the Croft Secretarial and Accounting School.

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

In the early-to-mid 1950s, 205 and 207 West Main Street had their facades lopped off and replaced with an austere front.

The Globe Jewelry Co. was located on the first floor, and number of offices were located upstairs. Efforts to 'modernize' downtown in the 1950s to stem the tide of defections to the malls didn't work (although the powers-that-be - private and public - continued to beat their bloody heads against this wall for another ~30 years.) The building was soon vacant.

205-209 West Main, ~1960

Thalheimer's, which had acquired Ellis-Stone (located across the street in the Hill building through the 1950s) purchased 201-209 West Main (4 buildings) and demolished them all to build a modern department store building.

Beginning demolition, 02.07.61
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

The buildings being demolished, 1961
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

Thalheimers didn't last long here - about 10 years - before giving up on downtown. Wachovia decided to abandon the Geer building and remodel this building - evidently for extreme photosensitives -in 1972.

(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

The Self-Help Credit union bought this building in (I believe) the late 90s, and remodeled the exterior in 2002. It still isn't one of my favorite buildings, but it's better than it was.

(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)


Find this spot on a Google Map.



The Halladay photo of kids on the swings, anyone know where that would be?
There's a distinctive building in the background.

The tower looks like the tower in Duke Tower Hotel and Condominiums on corner of West Trinity and Duke.

it's the corner of duke and west main, looking southwest. Bldg in the background is Main St. Methodist. A tiny bit of the Brightleaf sq chimneys are visible in the background

John S. Kah, listing in Hill's Directory, 1922 as occupying 205-1/2 West Main, later
(D.H) Ramsey-Kah Photography Studio advertising in Duke University Yearbook, 1923. John S. Kah was my grandfather and commercial photographer was born in Macon, Ga. in 1878. Listed as a photographer as early as 1890, working out of Tampa and Jacksonville, and later Bradenton, St. Petersburg, Florida.

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