501 Oakwood

35.996269, -78.893737

Cross Street
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National Register
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Two blocks off of Holloway is 501 Oakwood, emblematic of the kind of problem the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood is trying to deal with - and in my mind, a better target for the city's largess than funding businesses to do new construction.

501 Oakwood was among the earliest built in the part of the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood north of Holloway St - built between 1907 and 1913. This area with its rolling topography, was not as attractive for development until the relatively flat areas along Main, Liberty, Holloway, Dillard, Cleveland, and, a bit later, Roxboro, had been developed.

Above, the Sanborn Map of this portion of the neighborhood, 1913. 501 Oakwood is marked with the red dot.

The National Register nomination states:


A large, two-story simplified Queen Anne-style house stands prominently on the northwest corner of Oakwood and Ottawa Avenues. The two bay wide, double-pile house has a high hipped roof with a front gable on the right (north) end of the facade. The house stands on a brick foundation, is covered with German-profile wood siding, and has an asphalt-shingled roof. A onestory, wraparound porch features a granite foundation, piers, steps, and kneewalls, all with granite caps and prominent mortar joints. The porch has a standing-seam metal roof supported by grouped square posts on the stone piers with replacement lattice rails. The left side of the porch has been enclosed and the windows boarded. The house retains original multi-pane windows on the first floor and one-over-one wood windows on the second. A two-story, hip-roofed addition extends from the left (south) rear of the house and is in poor condition. A one-story, shed-roofed block extends behind the two-story addition. The house appears on the 1913 Sanborn map, but the earliest known resident is John Sears (medicines) in 1915/16.

When the entire southwest portion of this neighborhood was demolished in the 1960s, the neighborhood had been on a slow economic decline - many of the large houses turned into rooming houses or showing signs of deferred maintenance. Urban renewal was a good dose of strychnine to the ailing patient.

Despite this, the remaining neighborhood north of Holloway remained stable for a number of years - primarily due to the owner-occupancy of an older generation that remembered the neighborhood from an earlier era.

Here is 501 Oakwood, sometime during the 1970s.

Looking west.

The neighborhood has had an increasingly rougher time over the past 20 years, as that generation passed on. More and more houses boarded up, drugs, violence, etc.

501 Oakwood is a symptom of that problem - abandoned for way too long and with foundation issues, it deserves renovation. Unfortunately, the person with that vision has to step forward now - as in by Friday - because NIS has their bulldozers revved, ready to pop the clutch.

501 Oakwood, looking west, 2007.

501 Oakwood and 503 Oakwood (which unfortunately was just gutted and the windows removed)

This is one of those sagas in the housing world of Durham. I finally managed to track down the 'owner' of this house a few months ago - an elderly man in Hillsborough and his grown children in Asheville, who told me that they had donated it to the Mary E. Wilson Foundation for a home for at-risk women. They promptly sold it off/gave it to a ne'er do well woman who said she is a contractor. She stated at the housing appeals board meeting that she was planning to fix it up for a shelter for victims of some sort. I was present at that meeting with multiple neighbors, who beseeched the housing board and NIS not to tear it down. Gray Dawson was utterly exasperated by the thought of a repair-only order, but the housing appeals board listened to the neighborhood. Only the 'contractor' was lying, because earlier that day, she had already sold it to an owner of multiple rooming houses in the neighborhood who thought he would do the same with this house.

He hasn't gotten around to it.

Supposedly, this house was going to be sold to a realtor/developer who had signed a memorandum of understanding with NIS. But he backed out. So now NIS, understandably impatient, wants to get this over with and tear the thing down.

Unfortunately, that penalizes the neighbors, who clearly want to save the house, more than anyone.

Word on the street - because Preservation Durham didn't tell me about it - is that PD needs $16,000 by Friday to - ? purchase the house - and save it from demolition. I don't know any more details, but if you want to save an extremely important structure in Cleveland-Holloway, I'd get in touch with Preservation Durham ASAP. Their number is (919) 682-3036.

Update 3:05pm: NIS now reports:

Have some news that might be encouraging. The owner for 501 Oakwood came in today and was granted an extension till Aug 31 to bring in a MOU.

MOU is a "Memorandum of Understanding", which is an agreement between owner and NIS to repair the house. I would not be confident that this means anything except a temporary delay. Neighbors encountered the owner out on the street today saying "want to buy a house? Make a great deal.."

As I've mentioned before, we simply don't have enough tools in our policy arsenal to deal with this problem - and I can respect that problem. How do you get an owner to repair? I'm not convinced that NIS has a culture that would respect the community's wishes, even if it had better tools though. As one woman was told by NIS earlier today, per her report, "[501 Oakwood is] long overdue to be demolished." This is what keeps NIS from exploring more creative, realistic ways to make this happen in the short-term, and instead has them focusing on things like 'property deconstruction' as a 'solution'.

Update: 10/2/2010

I must admit, the thought that there would still be a house for me to write an update about on this lot in 2010 seemed like a remote possibility 3 years ago. Happily, the house is under renovation, and has been purchased by a couple to be owner occupied later this year.

501 Oakwood, 02.21.10

501 Oakwood, 10.29.10

Now occupied for the first time in over a decade - 01.15.11



Looks like the grim reaper came to visit that house. (first photo)

Must be the time-release kind of GR...

That house, like many in our neighborhood, has switched hands multiple times, sits boarded up by out of town investment companies and if torn down will leave an abandoned lot on an important corner. You can already see that up the street on the corner of Oakwood and Carlton.

I do NOT understand why they want to bulldoze this house so quickly. We have told NIS we want NO MORE DEMOs in Cleveland Holloway but they refuse to listen to us.

I seriously wonder if they are getting money somewhere for all of the demo work. Hey absentee landlords, leave your homes boarded up for just a bit longer and NIS will have the city take them down for free over the objection of the neighborhood!


I wish the problem were as simple as someone taking money under the table. Then the solution would be easy: offer them more. Unfortunately the problem in the Durham city government is stupidity, and that's incurable.

I am, despite my better judgement, interested in doing something to save this house. Can you all tell me anything more specific about the block? Is there a particular problem with crime/drugs/prostitution etc. on this street? I notice that 506 Oakwood is also for sale for $28,900 I think. Talk about affordable housing!

This property, from GK's comments, and the neighborhoods', sounds exactly like what Preservation North Carolina (the statewide preservation non-profit)"PNC" has undertaken in the Goldsboro area, with success. As I understand it, a Preservation North Carolina representative is setting up shop permanently here in Durham (at least for several years) as their Glencoe (Alamance Co) project comes to a close.

PNC has partnered with the City of Goldsboro. Goldsboro has A) provided seed money for this effort B) used their power of persuasion to strongly encourage owners of properties just like this one, to put them for sale through Preservation North Carolina. The alternative is a torn down house, a lien that likely exceeds what the land can be sold for, and thus there will be little to nothing for the property owner. The property owner could actually owe money as a result of a demolition. Self Help is involved on some level as well. Let's also not forget that Goldsboro knows that it gets little to no property tax money from empty lots? A well maintained, appreciating asset, will generate much more in ad valorem taxes. Goldsboro "gets it." Preservation North Carolina has, with success, gotten several of these properties sold, (with covenants) and made a success story out of a tough situation.


NIS (and Gray Dawson) are all about the here and now. If houses like these are to be saved, we need the City of Durham, to help the neighborhood, perhaps through PNC, and possibly Preservation Durham. These houses can't be bounced around from irresponsible property owner to irresponsible property owner. The end result, is just this....

Corner properties can make or break a block. If possible, you always start with the corner properties when trying to breath new life into an area. An empty corner here, can doom other potential turnarounds in this area.

Let's stop this cycle of "bulldozers waiting on the curb" to finding real solutions for these old houses. City of Durham, let's be innovative about this. Stop looking at the here and now. Let's find creative ways to get strong, responsible, property owners, who want to make a difference in Durham's older neighborhoods. We can't do it without you, for your hold so many keys to this kingdom.


Anyone know what date they're planning on bulldozing? I could take some time off work to trespass and sit on the front porch. We could even call the news crews...

I'm with Bacon. This is one of those structures that is talked about on Endangered Durham in the past tense. We now have an opportunity in the present tense to do something about preventing this structure from falling into the clutches of the NIS's demolition crew.

I say, we sit on the front porch, front lawn, and make a stand. Invite the local news -- they'll love it! And, maybe, just maybe, this stand-up will serve as a means to highlight the need to save such historical structures and the character that was once Durham.

Anyone, let's get a date set. Let's stand up and save this one to save many more (of course, this is not to say that we not continue fighting for this property prior to demolition day).

Friday was not day for bulldozers to start...or pop the clutch, but the day it would go out to bid for demolition. There would still be the required presentation to the Historic Commission. I lashed out at City Hall last night fearing that demolition was imminent, which it is not. Preservation Durham has negotiated another chance for the owner, largely because of the threat of demolition. We agree completely on the problems with this policy. I don't agree with incorrect statements about the process because it further confuses something that is already impossible for the average citizen to understand. Presenting this as "going to be torn down on Friday" does not help the cause.

I talked a little while ago with Pauli at Preservation Durham, and she thinks she has the situation under control for the time being. She has talked with the owner, who has a contractor, and they are drawing up a serious plan. Constance Stancil at NIS has agreed to hold off the bulldozers.

This may work out. Let's hope.


I've presented the information that was put out on the Cleveland-Holloway listserv from communication with Preservation Durham, which was that Preservation Durham needed to have $16,000 by Friday to save the house from demolition - I did not say that the house was going to be torn down on Friday, because I did not and do not know when it would be torn down. My previous experience with NIS is that they demolish unpredictably, with no particular notice to anyone, which is why I feel it is important for the public to be keeping tabs on this process and this property in particular. The information I have received is that the bid request went out Monday, so I'm not sure who is spinning now.

I applaud the work of Preservation Durham to try to save this property, but they have not had any more success than anyone else in pulling properties out of the demolition pipeline. It is going to be up to us to change the policy such that citizens don't have to struggle to follow this process; right now the onus is upon the citizens to prove why a house shouldn't be torn down. I am not the least assured at this point that this house will not be torn down - I've seen it happen too many times before.

I don't know what you are referring to with presentation before the HPC. This is not in a local historic district.


The current owner met with NIS staff this morning, where he received specific instructions and agreed to items that will result in a memorandum of understanding. The owner will meet with NIS staff again on August 31 to review his actions and finalize the MOU. The demolition is on hold pending positive action by the owner.

At the request of two previous owners, our Community Development staff approached two affordable housing providers about taking and rehabbing the house. One group determined that the house was too far gone to rehab. The other group received repair estimates of $140,000 and up.

Mike Woodard


Does the Community Development staff have anything in writing about specific estimates of renovation costs? If so, it would be very useful if they could pass that along to Pauli at Preservation Durham.

I toured the house this afternoon along with Natalie and Eleni from the neighborhood and Pauli from PD. It obviously needs a lot of work and I'm not in a position to even hazard a guess about the cost of restoring the foundation. Still, the house has great potential, and it is a key part of trying to save this neighborhood.

I would also point out that $140,000 is still less than the cost of two of HFNH's proposed efficiency units. And 501 Oakwood is a lot bigger.



Thanks for the info. "Too far gone to rehab" is one of my pet peeves, a misused term, appropriate for a house that badly burned or collapsed. For a house like this, the appropriate term is "too expensive to rehab" or, perhaps "impractical for us to rehab." "Too far gone" implies that it is somehow unable to be rehabbed, which of course, is silly, as the contrast between that and the $140,000 shows.

I hope the city will consider using the proceeds from the sale of the two parcels to turn this into an affordable house for a family in need. Win-wins for the city's goals and the neighborhood's goals are something we need more of.


Money talks, and bullshit walks. I'm all for pot banging in front of the house, but I've also got $16000 laying around under various mattresses if that's all it would take to save this house.

PD is part of the solution, but also part of the problem as I see it. PNC has the right approach, by offering to save the property through a sale. PD is too slow, and too beholden to the city by virtue of their receiving city funding (as enumerated on this website). I say this as someone who wholeheartedly supports PD, through volunteer work and through financial support.

If anyone is seriously looking for a buyer (as in they have a clear title and are able to close in 10 days or less) please contact me at once. All cash offer, I would go as high as $36000 or the current assessed value (whichever is greater) based on what I know just from reading this website.

I am close to buying another historic home in TP, but I would consider buying this one as well depending on the price. East Durham is a bargain if you ask me.


I'll see if I can find out the current owner's contact info.


This house, as I understand it, is located in a National Register Historic District. It is eligible for the State of NC Historic Preservation Tax Credit for Rehabilitation. 30% of $140,000 is $42,000. Certainly rehab budgets can exceed estimated amounts, but this could be a $98000 rehab based on the amounts Mike Woodard provided. It does take 5 years at minimum to fully claim your credits, but $42,000 is no chump change. Additionally if this not yet known rehabber would live in the house after finishing the work, the combined appreciation, and the tax credit could make this a really good deal. Lastly, even if the not yet known rehabber chooses not to live there, and "flip" the house, he/she could still take this 30% credit. There is no recapture period for the State credit. These credits include things like HVAC, roofing, plumbing, carpentry...materials & labor, etc. This type of house is EXACTLY why these generous credits were put in place in 1998.



It is not in a district yet. It is in the proposed expansion of the Cleveland-Holloway NRHD, currently being put together by Trinity Design Build through funding from PD. I'm not sure what their timeframe is for completion, or how long it takes to be accepted once on the study list.


Don't forget that the tax credits are transferable AFAIK. You could flip it, and sell it to someone who needs a tax shelter (at least from state taxes) for at least five years.

Some of my neighbors have not paid NC state tax in decades due to this program. As we libertarians like to say: the higher taxes are, the fewer people who pay them.

Can someone confirm where CH is in their listing process? I started rehab on my house in early 2003, but we weren't listed until mid 2003. I had known for a while (at least 9 months prior) it was a matter of when, not if. The property has to be listed by the time the credits are taken. We didn't complete the work until the end of 2006, and thus there was no problem about beginning to take our first 1/5 tax credit. Certainly there is some risk, but with enough solid info, one can tell where things stand.


While looking through my late mothers papers I found a copy of her birth certificate. She was born in this house on October 14, 1927.

My partner and I closed on this house September 21st, 2010. Renovations should be completed and have us in the house early December. We are VERY interested in and welcome any and all information pertaining to the former residents. http://clapp-ferguson.blogspot.com To the person who posted that their late mother's papers indicated she was born in the house, we'd love to hear from you.

Just curious why Oakwood Avenue is listed as Oakwood STREET on ED?

Probably because I make mistakes from time to time, which can get replicated with autofill. I've corrected the error.


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