401 Yancey

35.993894, -78.907812

Cross Street
Year built
Year demolished
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The 400 block of Yancey Street ran between South Duke and Willard Streets

401 Yancey, looking southwest, 1965.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

These houses were cleared by the city as part of the urban renewal program. The urban renewal program is a good demonstration of how people can become convinced of how a 'simple' solution will solve a complex problem. Problem: your city's middle class/businesses/retail stores are moving to the suburbs, where huge swaths of land allowed the construction of malls and shiny new cul-de-sac subdivisions. Solution: demolish huge swaths of land in town, consolidate dozens of parcels into one parcel, sell off to developers, who would create the suburban landscape - in the city.

Yeah, it didn't work. Unfortunately, a significant reason why people moved to the suburbs was to geographically resegregate themselves racially and, first the first time at such a distance, economically. Didn't matter how bare the land was downtown - people weren't coming back anytime soon.

So it sold off to car dealerships, and when private developers failed to materialize to build residential units, the government tried in their stead - thus constructing Forest Hills Heights, and later by funding development, such as Rolling Hills.

In 1972, The 400 block of Yancey St. was shifted northward to make more room for a hotel (actually for all of the hotel's parking) next to the freeway, creating discontinuity between the 400 and 500 blocks of Yancey. By the time I knew of the hotel, it was a Ramada Inn, but I don't know if it started off that way.

Aerial photo of the blocks, 1959.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

Same area from satellite, summer 2007.

After simply becoming "Inn" for a few years, hosting a few nasty clubs and then sitting empty, the hotel was bought and significantly refurbished. The owner put quite a bit of money into it, and proudly took me on a tour several years ago. But I think he put a bit too much money into it, given that the building remained, and remains, inherently a piece of junk. I never saw anyone parked in the parking lot. He ended up selling it in late 2006 to good ol' Frank Wittenberg, of Duke Tower and formerly of Durham Centre fame. He mounted an abortive attempt to resurrect the building as condos, and it has sat shuttered for at least a year, owned by "DB DURHAM LLC" in Miami, FL.

Site of 406 Yancey, looking northwest, 02.10.08

Site of 401-403 Yancey, looking southwest, 02.10.08

I really find this building ug-ly. I would shed no tears should it someday implode.

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