217 East Main Street

35.994121, -78.898822

Year built
Year(s) modified
Year demolished
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Looking northeast from Church St. and East Main St., 1890s.
(Courtesy Duke Archives)

Commercial development of the north side of the 200 block of East Main St. proceeded eastward from the commercial core. The western half of the block was developed by commercial structures by the 1890s, two of which are visible above.

By the early 20th century, the remainder of the block had become commercial, capped at the western end by the Hotel Malbourne. The most notable of these additional structures was the Orpheum theater.

Looking northeast, late 1910s.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

A nighttime view of the entrance to the Orpheum, looking north ~1920.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

This photo shows the completed commercial block, looking northwest, around 1915. (The fire department is demostrating their new ladder truck.) They are in front of the Orpheum. The structures visible in the 1890s photo can be noted further down the block in this picture.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

At some point ~1915-1920, the Orpheum became a multi-story structure.

Looking northwest, mid 1920s
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Sometime mid-century, the top half of 217 was lopped off and the facade 'modernized.'

Western Union, 11.08.57
A series of other businesses occupied the other structures in the 200 block of E. Main St. - retaurants, Western Union, shoe stores, loan agents, etc., etc. The Orpheum theater had become the Rialto theater by the 1960s, but I'm not sure when this occurred.

217 E. Main

(Courtesy the Herald-Sun)

(Courtesy the Herald-Sun)

(Courtesy the Herald-Sun)

By the late 1960s / early 1970s, these buildings had been taken and demolished by Durham using urban renewal funds. 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.

[demo pics]

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.

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