320-324 W Geer

36.003987, -78.899255

Year built
Construction type
National Register
Building Type
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View looking north on Madison Street towards 316-320 West Geer, 11.25.49.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

The buildings at 320-324 West Geer Street were constructed in 1949, likely intended as multi-tenant rental space from the outset. By 1955, the tenants were:

320: NC State Auto Association, CT Wilson Construction Co., Garrard Realty, and Hilco Co.
324: JA Fargo Carpets and Rugs

By 1960

320: NC State Motor Association
324: Durham Art Shop Carpets

By 1975:

320: NC State Motor Club
324: Fargo-Hanna Oriental and Domestic Rugs

The buildings currently house an array of interesting businesses. These include El Kilombo, a self-described "community space and radical bookstore" and the Vivala Raza Market.

Would that we had such a diversity of interesting businesses/tenants at such density through much more of downtown, but I suspect that rents are typically too high or buildings too absent to allow this to occur on a wider scale.

Looking northwest from West Geer, 07.12.08 (G. Kueber)

From the NR listing, in italics below:

This one-story flat-roof load-bearing brick commercial building was historically a single storefront, but is now divided into two commercial spaces numbered 324A and 324B. Walls have one-to-six common bond brick, perhaps a veneer on concrete block. The brick is painted yellow. The lot slopes to the rear, allowing a raised basement level. The three south façade bays to the west now contain La Costena Market while the east bay contains Kilombo Community Center. All façade windows appear to be original and consist of concrete sills and a glass brick border enclosing plate-glass windows. The market door is a double metal-and-plate-glass door in the central bay of the storefront. The community center door is a wooden one set into the side of the window. The west side elevation contains five windows at the street level and two at the lower level, all infilled with concrete block. The east side elevation is partially below ground level and contains no windows. The rear elevation contains four windows at the street level, all infilled with concrete block. The raised basement level has a service entrance and small windows that are also infilled with block. A tall brick chimney rises from the east side wall. Across the rear property line is a stone retaining wall.

12.14.19 (G. Kueber)


Somebody hurry and tear down everything that remains standing in these picture before someone declares them "historic" and modern commerce is blocked by these hidious examples of Durham's past. They are just examples. There have to be many many more unremarkalbe structures remaining in Durham from that period. The pictures are a great history lesson and clearly should be archived but certainly nothing in them should block reasonable development efforts that would result in their being raised and in these properties being elevated to serve their highest and best use. Our city's future should not be trapped by its past.


Isn't modern commerce ongoing in these structures? The lesson in the pictures is that there are not "many many more unremarkable structures remaining in Durham from that period." You can rest easy in the assurance that we will lose some of them - development is rarely hindered by preservation.

These particular structures aside, what you should be aware of is the economic success of cities that have embraced preservation of their historic structures. People want to live and work in, and visit, cities that have good architecture, a diversity of landscape, and character.

The difficulty lies in the fact that the "highest and best use" is a naive construct - one that pretends that the most lucrative short-term use of a parcel of land is necessarily the 'best'. Easy to do if you ignore the effect of such land uses on the adjacent land uses, or on the city as a whole. Also easy to do if you neglect the long-term view of the land, one that has to take into account what is done with that structure/parking lot, whatever, when the real estate fad-of-the-minute dries up.

I don't think Durham's future has ever been trapped by its past - unless you mean the wholesale demolition of downtown-and-surround that left the core of the city a bleak, empty ghost town. All those cleared parcels were mostly converted to empty parking lots, car dealerships, and government-funded projects to fill the void. If downtown Durham hadn't been such a gap-toothed moonscape, there might have been a few more buildings like this - ones that small entrepreneurs can hope to get a start in and make a business work? Wasn't that the American Dream once upon a time - starting a business that actually produces something? I'll take these folks over the speculators buying up land in order to try to cash out someday when the credit markets improve.



I was being a bit facetious with my comment but you got the point. We have the same understanding of what went wrong downtown. The question is how do we move forward. I am very aware of the value of historic preservation when connected with community economic development. The two concepts can move hand in hand to bring a community to a better place.

I am not sure what you thought is about highest and best use. It is not a perfect concept but what would you use instead. It is currently bounded by zoning laws and community concerns. At the end of the day, it is the property owner who makes a bet on what the highest and best use might be, within the constrants that exist. I don't see a more workable concept.

I do see some land speculators out there but I also see some very article

oops hit post too soon. Let me just finsh my thought and suggest that there are some very conscious developers working in our downtown area.

I'm just glad the structures here are being used. I lament the disuse of so many structures in the "Central Park District." It only serves to isolate the area and make it feel "unsafe" because of how desolate it is--especially at night.

sadly, i'm not even sure if the twin "bars" on Riggsbee? are still up and running, they're generally so clandestine, but you'll occasionally see sacks of trash out front.

this area could be an amazing bridge between the residential areas of OND and DP to downtown Durham...but as it stands, it's like some dark gulf that people rarely want to cross alone


OT: Y can't anon spell?

That's funny -- one of the reasons that I pushed so hard with Durham Central Market to target this general area is because there are so many buildings like this that could be easily converted to the sorts of complimentary businesses that sprung up around Weaver St. Market in Carrboro. Someone going through one particular set of blocks with a bulldozer would probably sour me on that set of blocks pretty quickly.

One of the reasons I personally like this block is that there's already several complimentary businesses in the general area, from the green building shop to Stone Bros. to Claymakers. Those add quite a bit more value to our business plan than a glossy new building would.

(Note -- I'm speaking entirely for myself here, not on behalf of the other board members.)

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