712 Ninth Street

36.008162, -78.922014

Year built
Year demolished
Construction type
National Register
Building Type
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Looking northeast, 12.18.69
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

The only frame building remaining on Ninth St., the store at 712 Ninth St. appears to have been built around 1930 as Paul's Place restaurant. By the 1950s, the business had become O'Briant's Restaurant.

O'Briant's, looking south, 12.18.69.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

By the late 1970s, the Navajo Trading Post had supplanted O'Briant's restaurant.

Looking east, 1980

1989/1990 (Duke Chanticleer)

The space was vacant in 1990, but by the late 1990s had become Native Threads, a clothing store well-known for large metal anthropomorphic frogs at the entryway. In 2000-2001, plans were afoot to remove the former restaurant/clothing store for a taller replacement structure.

712 Ninth St., 01.25.01
(Courtesy The Herald Sun)

2001 photograph of the model by Ellen Cassilly Architect.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

For whatever reason, that plan seems to have been put on long-term or permanent hold, and I can't say that I'm sad about that. However small and un-dense the structure may be, it adds a quaint interruption to the masonry storefronts and a reminder of the early 20th century transition of wood frame commercial and residential structures to the more substantial masonry structures. So do you freeze development, when the proposed development is appropriate in scale and complements the streetscape? No, but I certainly hope the various surface parking lots on 9th St. begin to see infill before structures like this are replaced.

712 Ninth St., looking east 04.05.09

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i spent my very early years playing in the parking lots behind this building and the several around it. It is funny how having played somewhere as a kid, as an adult, seems to be the trump card when comparing knowledge about a street, building, endangered Durham post, whatever... not terribly relevant to this comment.

.... now I read alot of your comments and i think anyone else here knows you err far on the side of Durham's historical value/preservation (which I like in many cases) but in this instance, I would like to call your attention to the fact that not only does this building bring a certain "why the hell is this thing still here"/underdeveloped sentiment one feels in Detroit and Philly's abandoned urban centers, but it also could be one of the least historical on the block, assuming that history is not simply a function of time. The building with the drab brick facade beside it "couch" was home to several important Durham businesses through the years. The Couch family has an interesting history...Currently owned by Jim Hardin I believe, another businessman with a bittersweet and very interesting history in the city, I think the Couch building was Molotov-cocktailed in the '50s after which I think there were some really odd renovations to protect the offices from bombs thrown to from the sidewalk- i can explain more if you are interested. I think that Jim Hardin's son NC State DA had his first office there in that building. I could go on but my thoughts are that the block would look better WITH a few small modern (but subtle) entries in between some of the ones that I consider the most "historical". If we have to keep the little shack lets redevelop the property and the lift the shack on to the roof, like a crown.... and bring the frogs back. At least then it will look like we were paying attention.

Native Threads and the frog were certainly there in 1994 when I graduated from Duke. My parents embarrassed the hell out of my then-girlfriend by forcing her to pose for a picture kissing the frog. (Fortunately she stuck it out to marry me anyway...)

Anonymous, the burning you referenced took place in the race riots in the 60's; my memory wants to put that at '67 or '68. I well remember the results at Couch Furniture -- the huge heavy scissor-gates to close off the store at night. Besides the fire, I think they suffered significant looting. One of the strangest sights resulting from the "civil unrest" was a tank rumbling down the middle of Ninth Street.

With all the current Woodstock anniversary-driven retrospectives of the 60's ("Peace" and "Love" being the catchphrases), the violent undercurrents seem to have been conveniently forgotten.


Now, now. Your opinions are valid, and you make good points without having to resort to trying to marginalize my opinions with the throwaway "anyone else here knows your err far on the side...." It detracts from the interesting points you make about what is historical - the 1960s era Couch building (coming up tomorrow) firebombed during riots following the MLK assassination, or the tiny wooden building next to it - ~35 years older, but a simple part of the community rather than being caught up in a national wave of protest. Does it make a difference if someone met their future spouse in this restaurant? If their elderly mother worked there and remembers x, y, z?

I certainly have opinions about buildings and places, but the overall point is not that. The thing I really object to is people making value judgments about places and buildings with superficial information. I can't tell you how often I hear "there's nothing historical about that" or "that building's not worth saving" from people who have no idea what actually happened at that spot, or what the actual calculus of construction, energy, economics, cultural history, etc. is. I suspect that they've made a judgment based on a slice of the pie, and pointing out that there might be more of the pie is what is really threatening - because it might challenge their conclusions. So then it becomes important to frame those pieces of the pie as radical/fringe opinion.

Which is frustrating, because I'm simply asking for a thorough assessment. If you want to state that something has no historical importance, be prepared to state why personal memories surrounding a place, or architectural distinctness aren't the most relevant pieces of this particular pie. If you want to state that a building isn't worth saving, have a grasp of the economics of demolition and new construction, tax credits, opportunity costs, the leasing market, etc. In short, a willingness to gather more information and challenge one's own conclusions - even if you end up with the same conclusion at the end of the day.


Fascinating - I moved out of Durham in early 2004 and am amazed that building is still standing. Honestly I thought it had been condemned for a while even back then. Well it's not much but it's a helluva lot better than that Ellen Cassilly monstrosity.

I noticed that according to OWDNA, "Native Threads once housed the popular Ruby's Cafe. Owner Ruby O'Briant lived on Oakland Avenue, near Lawndale."


i am more then prepared to say that the personal memories of one or even a few should never, ever be a reason for "saving" a property unless 1- you own it and 2) it is YOUR memory.

Personally I dont think the historical societies are effective and that some people are too cavalier in their actions- not intentions.

As much as I think that we need people like you to keep the developers in check and do not miss important opportunities to preserve something with historical value to the community, taking an economic snapshot of a property at the present time... really doesnt mean anything.

This little shack could cost a mint to tear down, the land have no other use, and ol' Rubey OBrient could have been Durham first black mayor later in life.. but if every person has the right to step in an buy a property, adjust the deed to protect it as a historic property, then the rest of the city is stuck protecting this thing for eternity. What happens when it costs the city 400 million dollars to excavate the road for a new sewer main because the little building foundation is so fragile and cannot take the vibrations.

I like the side you err on and I like what you have done with the place, but dont think that there are not good reasons for not giving every building a fair chance. Being that every building is historical, that concept would freeze progress is everyones opinions were truly represented.

Back on the subject of Native Threads, it was most definitely there in 1992 when I showed up at NCSSM. I distinctly remember, shortly after arriving, my friends collapsing on a particularly comfortable couch in the back of the store, and asking the owners if they could buy it (the answer was no -- the couch may still be in there).

thank you michael for keeping us focused on the important

It's always interesting to me how blog readers who opt to make value judgments based on the superficial and who don't take the time to do a thorough assessment of what exactly they are writing off are the ones who--more often than not--post as "anonymous".

It really isn't practical for property owners to maintain unsightly and deteriorating buildings forever. I think a replacement structure in that location would benefit Ninth St. (I know, what heresy! but people can always get their "wooden building fix" elsewhere ;-)

LOL- why would anyone care about the superficial on the most popular st in town!?!
I am anonymous here because I am established in this city and actually experienced in this field.. and yea, have to live and work around you people so, yes, I like anonymous. I do see ur point though and should have gone deeper In my opinion this building is already preserved. Why else would the cheapest piece of property on the most popular street have a bldg on it that is nearly 100 years old?
Again, so much more to the economic snapshot of a building like this than most will look at before casting their own judgments- particularly in this forum where it seems that most who are not experienced in these matters would just say, what the hell, lets just preserve it. That approach is just so AWESOME because soon we will have a patchwork of protected buildings spread across Durham, preventing future development in areas that need to be redeveloped, guaranteeing inefficiency, and encumbering buildings that no one will ever want anyway. So../ my non superficial on this one is that beyond the fact that this is a POS, and the low-risk of this building being redeveloped strictly because of the lot size and the potential ROI of whatever could be built here, this building and moreso the one next door have a very rare and now illegal characteristic. Before 9th street was there, a creek ran between 9th and Iredel. If memory serves, there is a huge drainage system that captures all water runoff from the water drains on 9th in two places (main down spouts directly in front of and behind this little building), then the two drains dump the water into a huge basin that is actually integrated into the Couch building's lower level. The level of encumbrance this places on the Couch building is devastating to any plans for redev- It would be virtually impossible for any project to justify the costs of rebldg that drainage system. This all encumbers our fav shack because if there ever was a problem w/ the catch basin in the couch bldg, which runs along the basement wall of the side adjoining OBriants shack, how do you think the city would get in there to fix it? They would level this shack and take the property to rebuild the drainage system there. IMHO, this is an inevitable fact anyway and the sooner it is done, the more developable this strip of 9th street will be- and lets be honest, there are much more important things to protect in this city than our most blighted main drag.
This property is difficult to redevelop even if it were not self-protected by encumbrances. If we were to protect it in any way, then we would be risking a boat load of money to work around the drain issue, should the city need to get in there one day to make repairs or replace it. Protecting it would certainly be risking the neighboring buildings, should they b unprotected. It just doesnt make sense to risk that kind of money in a city that needs it.

Honestly, Native threads along with Regulator, is the only thing that really keeps me coming back to 9th St. as popular as the street it, its a specific crowd. I adore that little building and the guy who runs the business. I get in there at least once per month if i can. its a small, comforting place. i think it's out-of-place shack-like structure is an asset to 9th and keeps it grounded in its true Durham-ness.
I think even people who have never set foot in there would miss seeing that green and white trim. and welcoming bench


This was my grandparents' restaurant. It was a modest place with booths and a counter.  They served homestyle cooking and the best pies in West Durham.  My family has many happy memories of this place.

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