714 Ninth Street

36.008281, -78.921977

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Sanborn map of Ninth St., 1937

714 Ninth Street was initially part of the Erwin Mills mill village, part of the housing built to the east of the mill extending east to Broad Street. A mill house stood on the later site of the commercial building.

By the late 1940s, the two mill houses at 714 and 720 Ninth St. had been demolished. Cheek's Dry Cleaners had been built at the corner of the alleyway and Ninth St., but the remainder of the land associated with the two houses remained vacant.

Sanborn Map, 1950, showing Cheek's Dry Cleaners and vacant land between it and O'Briant's restaurant.

Looking southeast, 1950. A vacant lot is visible to the south of Cheek's Dry Cleaners (With billboards facing north, just to the north of O'Briant's)
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

Couch Furniture built a store on the southern portion of this former residential land between 1965 and 1968. The original Couch Furniture Company had been located on West Chapel Hill St. at Five Points prior to moving to Ninth Street when their building was torn down by urban renewal for the First Federal (now Southbank) building.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, several riots broke out in Durham. The Couch furniture store was one building set on fire.

Firefighters on Ninth St. attempting to extinguish the fire. The 1960s era West Durham post office is in the background.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)


Immediately after the fire.

The building was repaired/rebuilt immediately thereafter.

A small portion of the building, looking northest, 12.18.69.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

The story goes that the odd building, with a sunken first floor and suites upstairs and to the rear of the building, was designed with no frontage on Ninth St. as a response to the firebombing.

In the early 2000's, Orvis moved out of the below grade first floor, and Blue Coffee moved in - a new floor was placed at ground level, and the sunken first floor became a basement underneath the coffeshop. A couple of years ago, the coffeeshop became Bean Traders.



I vaguely recall that fire and riots.

Someone please refresh my memory -- weren't there sundown curfews in place in Durham that week as a result of the riots?

.....and so began Durham's second era of white flight , Umstead Rd, and the downtown time capsule.


There were curfews in place that week - I don't know how long they lasted. I have multiple pictures of the national guard patrolling empty nighttime streets downtown in the days following the assassination. I know that businesses downtown, at Little Five Points, and Ninth St. were damaged to varying degrees. (Perhaps elsewhere as well - I don't know.)


I've heard stories about 9th St. business owners standing on their rooftops with shotguns to protect their stores during the riots. I don't have a source for that at the moment.

That was my junior year at Duke. I recall that the curfew didn't last for more than one or two nights.

I had an "exemption" because I worked at the radio station. In driving from East campus back to West around midnight I encountered zero cars! A bit eery.

Also a tenant of the basement of this building for several years was Custom Interiors Picture Framing. They had the basement and later a large unattached brick building in the rear of the property. They did custom picture framing and sold at the Furniture Market in High Point. Their sign is visible in one or two of the photos. The business was sold around 15 years ago and moved to Main Street across from McPherson's Hospital, and is now simply Christy's Custom Picture Framing.


"By the late 1940s, the two mill houses at 714 and 720 Ninth St. had been demolished."

I wonder if one was moved east to 8th (Iredell) Street. If the Sanborn maps are to scale, it looks like the house at 707 8th Street was moved south, and another built on (or moved into) the 709 8th Street slot between 1937 and 1950.

Speaking of Iredell St., I do hope that Gary profiles much of Iredell St., particularly 909, which I think may be the oldest standing house in much of west Durham.

tell me more about what you know about custom interiors. I remember that place and have always wondered where it went. Seemed to do a lot of business and there was this really nice lady that worked in there....

I really don't know much more about Custom Interiors. There was a woman with the first name Kent when I first began to be aware of the business. It was then sold to Jane Christy who moved it and part of the sale was an agreement to change the name. Jane had previously been the Circulation Manager for the Washington Post.

There was a furniture division I think that operated next door? I never saw that in operation, although the picture framing division in the basement of Couch did have some accessories. Jane might have some information regarding from whom she bought the business.

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