Academy Of Music

35.996593, -78.901787

Cross Street
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Just after the turn of the century, the City decided to replace the scattered offices of the city along Main St. as well as the old city market that was supplanted by Union Station with a new, impressive municipal building known as the Academy of Music, which would be located between East Chapel Hill St., Corcoran, Market, and Parrish Sts. The site cost $16,000. The city commissioned architects Hook and Sawyer of Charlotte, who also executed the Southern Conservatory of Music and Fire Station #2, to design the structure.

Rendering by Hook and Sawyer, 1902.
(Courtesy University of North Carolina.

Completed in 1903-1904 at a cost of $52,000, it contained the offices of the city government and a market on the first floor (thus Market Street;) the second floor was "almost entirely taken up" by a performance hall, the remainder being devoted to a "small city auditorium."

Academy of Music, looking northwest from W. Parrish and Corcoran.

Stokes Hall, at Corcoran and West Main Sts., had provided both performance and meeting space prior to the construction of the Academy of Music (including courtroom space prior to the construction of the courthouse,) but no longer operated after the opening of the new building. Wyatt Dixon relates:

"The Academy played a major role in providing entertainment for the people of the community. Dramatic plays and musical comedies were regular attractions, and for a number of years, the theatrical season was opened by the appearance of Al G. Fields Minstrel. May concerts by prominent singers of the day were presented by the Durham Kiwanis Club and other organizations, and local talent shows attracted capacity audiences. Public meetings in the promotion of the city's interest also made use of the building a for a number of years the Elks' annual memorial services were held there."

Academy of Music, 1907
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection - Wyatt Dixon Collection)

Rear of the Building, looking south-southwest from East Chapel Hill St., 1907
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection - Wyatt Dixon Collection)


Photo undated - copy of a photo of a photo for a Wyatt Dixon article in 1969. Dixon noted that the original belonged to "Mrs. Theodore Herndon." (Courtesy Herald-Sun)

On June 17, 1909, the first Academy of Music was completely gutted by fire. The fire was discovered by employees of the Durham Morning Herald, whose office was directly across Market St. The walls remained upright immediately following the fire.

It was replaced with a very similar building, dubbed the "New Academy of Music." It was the city's primary performance venue - musical theater, orchestra, comedy acts - all performed at the Academy of Music. The market, however, was moved out of the building, relocating to the area between Corcoran, Morgan and Holland.

New Academy of Music, 1910s
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Next to the Academy of Music (on the west side) was a city park; this was the original Rotary Park with its bandstand, which had been established in 1916 as the first public gift of the Rotarians.

Looking south from East Chapel Hill St. and Market. The back of the post office and the Trust Building are visible, and the front of the Jordan Building is visible at the end of Market St.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Herald-Sun employees in Rotary Park - note the Academy of Music in the background.
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection - Wyatt Dixon Collection)

In 1924, the decision was made to build a new performance venue (the Durham Auditorium, now the Carolina theater) and to move the city hall into the former high school. The New Academy of Music was demolished. The bandstand at Rotary Park was moved to Bennett Place, where it still stands.

The Washington Duke Hotel was constructed on the site between 1924 and 1925. It was designed by Stanhope S. Johnson of Lynchburg, VA. Standing 16 stories tall at a cost $1.8 million, it was one of the most impressive hotel structures of its era.

I put together a little 'video' consisting of existing still frames of the hotel construction. (sorry for this annoying, cycling graphic - I'm having trouble getting YouTube to work for this one. If you didn't see it cycle, reload the page, as I had it cut off after 4 cycles.)

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Below, near the completion of construction, looking northwest from Corcoran St.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Below, the Washington Duke in situ, soon after completion. Notable structures surrounding it include (moving, roughly, left to right) the Temple building, the Trust Building, the Wright Corner, the old Post Office, and the Geer building

(Courtesy Duke Archives)

It was part of an active streetscape - people have told me of regularly going to the newsstand on the first floor.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

The main entrance - approximately 1950s.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

The lobby was an impressive art deco interior.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

1950s shot, looking northeast from W. Parrish and Market.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun)

1950s Bird's Eye aerial, looking southeast.

By the 1960s, the hotel had become the "Jack Tar Hotel" - evidently part of a chain. The impressive first floor was dampened by the decision to brick up the large windows - trying to give it that 'modern' look, I guess. It was later referred to as simply the "Durham Hotel".

Looking south on Corcoran from East Chapel Hill.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

As previously noted in the post for the Washington Duke Motel, the owners had attempted to keep up with the motel era by demolishing the buildings across Corcoran St. to build a motel structure with a rooftop pool. It was connected to the older hotel via a skybridge across Corcoran.

Looking west on Parrish St.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Brad Bradsher, whose mother was the convention / sales manager for the hotel in the 1960s and 1970s told me about his experience of the hotel in that era:

"I spent many an afternoon roaming around the halls in the early '70's. I can remember staying there in the '60's when you could pull into the parking deck across the street and register via closed-circuit TV. Pretty cool for 1968!"

By the mid-1970s, the hotel was evidently no longer profitable and was no longer being used, pending needed repair work. As Mr. Bradsher recalls:

"They tried to sell it repeatedly...It just needed too much repair work (asbestos, etc.). At the end, they tried to give it away. They almost cut a deal with, of all things, the Boy Scouts of America, to use it as a national convention center of sorts--but the cost of fixing it up was too much. As I recall it came down to not even being able to GIVE the building away, and it was costing them a fortune just to let it sit empty."

George Watts Hill, the owner of the building, made the decision to demolish the building.

I rate the demolition of the Washington Duke Hotel as a tie (with Union Station) for the worst single-structure architectural/cultural loss for the city of Durham. The hotel was an icon - seemingly, among those I've spoken with, beloved by those who grew up here mid-20th century. George Watts Hill gets oddly reverential treatment in Preservation Society circles in Durham (with various awards named after him for big donors.) To me, that just about sums up what's wrong with traditional preservation societies. Tear down some of the best architecture in Durham (between this and Harwood Hall), but it's ok if you're a generous donor.

Below, the walkway being taken down in preparation for demolition.

(Courtesy Duke Archives)

In 1975, early one morning, the streets were closed and the hotel was imploded. I've made another little 'movie' of a few still frames below.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

A friend of a friend was in high school in Durham when this occurred, and made a movie of the event for school, which is below. It takes a bit to get to the the actual demolition, but very worth watching.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

From the present-day (2011) location of Durham Central Park/ the Farmer's Market, looking south (just north of Hunt St.)
(Courtesy Bob Blake)

The more people I have talked to about growing up in Durham, the more I realize that this was one of those major life events that people remember with great clarity - just within the last month (May 2011) I've spoken to three people who were children at the time - all of whom remember with great detail where they were standing, what happened during, and what they did afterwards.

Below, the streetscape after demolition.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Inexplicably, the site became a longstanding surface parking lot, commonly referred to as "Bare Square."

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

When a 1980s push came along to build a hotel and convention center in downtown, Watts Hill made a push for his site, but the city, in its infinite wisdom, tore down the entire adjacent block (the 200 block of East Chapel Hill St.) instead.

The Bare Square remained a parking lot, owned by Oprah fan Ronnie Sturdivant, up until a couple of years ago. Under Nick Tennyson's administration and at DDI's urging, an important pillar of downtown revitalization became the construction of a direct connection between Corcoran Street and Foster Street. The benefits of a seamless north-south thoroughfare through downtown would evidently - well, I don't know what it would do, exactly. But it was Necessary.

This roadway (which I like to call the Kalkhof Konnector) now splits the former Washington Duke site into two pieces, one of which has become part of the block directly to the east. As a part of the streetscape work, these spaces are being turned into a brick plaza.

Looking north from Parrish, 2007.

I don't think this is the way to create public space - by chopping up space for roadways so as to move traffic more expeditiously and then primping the leftovers. I'd like to be optimistic about it - and the prospect of a place to sit and enjoy treats from Locopops on Market St. this summer sounds good. But it's an awkward space. Perhaps someday we'll get rid of the Washington Duke Motel ('Oprah') and build a new, trapezoidal building out to the new street-line. If that hypothetical building had the requisite first floor activity, it might create the kind of tight, active enclosure that feeds public spaces.


Wow, that brings back a lot of memories...and thanks for posting the movie I made with my friends of the implosion of the Durham Hotel. But seeing all the other images really took me back...I lived in Durham for most of my life, and grew up there. The photo of the crosswalk that led to the rooftop pool really reminded high school boyfriend's mom worked at the hotel and we used to go swimming in that pool a lot, plus also hang out at the hotel.

When it was The Jack Tar Hotel, I was a little kid, and my parents used to take my brother and me there for some kind of brunch if I remember correctly. And I haven't seen that photo of the original lobby...

It was really really sad to witness and film its implosion...and people were standing around long-faced, some crying.

And for WHAT? A friggin' PARKING LOT? Why?

What a waste.

Of course watching the film I made with my friends always makes me sad...but seeing those other photos here brings it back even more, and reminds me of the beauty of the place. Some of those photos I have never seen.

In the third picture down--of Rotary Park... is that the gazebo that got relocated to Bennett Place. Looks exactly like it.


That sounds very, very familiar - I'm trying to remember if the monument is from the 1920s as well, which would fit the overall timing of 'improvements' at Bennett Place / placement of gazebo.

I glanced at a few books to try to confirm this, but didn't see it. I'll keep looking.



I finally did confirm this, and have changed the post to reflect that info. Thank you for jogging my memory about this!


You mentioned that the owners tried to give away the hotel. What you didn't mention is that one prospective donee was Duke. Terry Sanford was President and Ken Pye was Chancellor, and they turned it down for reasons best known to themselves. Duke was bursting at the seams because of the need for dormitory space.

Anyway, after the main hotel was torn down, what did Duke do? Why it PAID to rent the motel to house an overflow of graduate students. A good friend of mine was a law student at the time.

Oh, but it gets better. Terry Sanford got concerned about the state of downtown Durham and helped organize a committee to spur "revitalization." The committee helped the city hire a consultant, and the consultant came back with a great recommendation: Build a "civic center" with, oh yes, a hotel. That's how we got the Marriott, originally the Omni.

Ain't progress wonderful?

Ecrasez la loop!

Thanks John, I didn't know this. It's a good reminder that Duke's actions have always been inscrutable. I have yet to fully understand why they sold off Four Acres, which had been an alumni reception building and a museum of sorts for Duke family memorabilia.

But all one can conclude is that Duke's attitude towards downtown has always included a bit of nose pinching, and when things really got crappy, it was politically expedient to pay lip service to downtown while bunkering back in the pine trees west o' town.


Hey Gary...Just a heads up for you....The Washington Duke Hotel is now called The Washington Duke Inn AND GOLF CLUB. I kind of like being "bunkered back in the pine trees west 'o town". Very difficult to play golf from a 16 story hi-rise bldg.

I lived in Durham as a child - roughly speaking, the first 10 years of my life - more or less corresponding to the 60s. Obviously, a child has a special relationship with the place where he or she lives; and though I didn't do all my growing-up in Durham, that first decade of life is unique in its significance. So lately, via Internet and Google, I decided to re-visit my childhood home town.

In those days I was a devoted citizen of Durham and a proud Tarheel. I remember how annoyed I got when I was away on trips with my parents and we ran into people who seemed to think that Durham was a town in ... England. Outrageous! How could they not know that Durham NC was MUCH larger and MUCH more important...? Now I have lived in England for 30 years, and I have been through the lovely town of Durham numerous times, and I guess that when I hear "Durham", well, yes, nowadays I think of the northern cathedral city near Newcastle. Which right now feels like a terrible admission of disloyalty.

Anyhow, as a boy, back in lovely Durham NC, I was crazy about tall buildings. Every day I hoped Durham would set about erecting a whole bunch of exciting skyscrapers as a matter of urgency. But, er, that didn't happen. And I see on Google that it hasn't happened in the intervening 40 years either. At any rate, I had to make do with the CCB building and the Jack Tar hotel. And they were worth a lot. The two of them were impressive, elegant buildings which made me think of New York - Metropolis - Superman - Dragnet (the CCB building, I thought, resembled the Los Angeles City Hall, or the tall building which Superman was able to leap over in a single bound). Walking past the CCB building you could look up and pretend you were in Manhattan. Though I was perfectly happy to be in Durham and didn't adopt my parents' view that New York was the centre of the world and capital of civilisation. Walking into the Jack Tar Hotel, I felt I was entering one of the grand New York or Washington hotels where we used to meet relatives visiting from Europe.

So imagine my shock when I simply couldn't see the form of the Jack Tar Hotel in present-day images of Durham. There is the CCB building, still the mightiest skyscraper in town - and next to it - air, nothing. Well, now - thanks to this utterly brilliant blog - I know what happened. And there are no adequate words, you're right, for the idiotic and scandalous destruction of such a great building. OF COURSE it could have been converted into student housing. And placing a population of students in the middle of downtown Durham might not have been such a bad thing. And by now, maybe, it might have been converted yet again into fancy apartments. Or back into a hotel. But instead, no, it was demolished, flattened, razed to the ground.

I can only say that your wonderful blog with the fantastic images and the fascinating, learned text does a very fine job of paying tribute to this fine building. (In particular, it is a great revelation to be reminded just how elegant the building once was before the exterior street frontage of the lower floors was bricked up.) Many thanks.

James Baaden
Oxford, England

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