Clark And Sorrell Garage / Triangle Biotechnology Center

35.999206, -78.902022

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Year(s) modified
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Local historic district
National Register
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(Courtesy Scientific Properties)

The Clark & Sorrell garage had its origins in an auto repair shop at 214 E. Parrish St. opened by LeRoy Clark in the late 1910s. Donnie Sorrell had left Durham to attend business school in New York ~1920, and returned to Durham intending to establish a business. Clark was interested in expanding his repair shop, and the two partnered as Clark and Sorrell, Inc. on January 1, 1922.

They began operations at Clark's shop, but soon moved to 217 E. Parrish. They expanded this building with two additional stories, but soon decided that this space was insufficient. In 1932, they constructed a new one-story garage at 323 Foster St. This was expanded with a two-story addition at the rear of the garage in 1940, and additional parking lots were added in 1945 and 1946.

"Durham High School Students by Clark and Sorrell Garage," undated, c.1940s (William Franklin Warren Collection, Durham County Library, online via DigitalNC)  

Per a 1951 write-up on the business, Clark & Sorrell was "located just one block short of Durham's main business section. When you visit their modern, up-to-date garage, wholesale automobile supply house, and convenient, attractive parking lots, you can appreciate why it is recognized as one of Durham's leading businesses." Clark and Sorrell offered "the car and truck owners of Durham the finest in specialized automobile service ... some of the services which they perform are exclusive to the area. The newest equipment, such as Vacameter, Weidenhoff Motor Analyzer, and Electro-Check, guarantee the finest results."

It's interesting to note a bit of urban commentary in the write-up as well, as the author posits that "the parking lots have been one answer to Durham's increasing traffic problem. Hundreds of office workers and professional men have been helped by these modern lots which are only a few seconds walk from Durham's business section."


Clark and Sorrell garage from Foster Street, with Roney Street addition, 1953. (Herald-Sun)

Clark and Sorrell was one of the most longstanding automotive businesses in the warehouse district when it closed ~1999. The building was purchased by a group of investors who intended to renovate the building as office space. The group had done initial work to prepare the property for further development - clearing and whitewashing the interior, listing the property on the National Register - when Andy Rothschild approached the group about selling the space to him to convert to wet lab space.

Andy notes that the high ceilings and unobstructed space in the garage bay struck him as the most viable candidate amongst Durham's downtown structures for a wet lab conversion. He acquired an option on the property in 2000, closed on the property in January 2001. Acting as General Contractor, Andy was able to begin construction in August of 2001; he signed nascent Durham-born pharmaceutical company, Serenex, as a tenant and completed the project by December of 2001.

2001 (Scientific Properties)

2001 (Scientific Properties)

2001(Scientific Properties)

2001 (Scientific Properties)

Serenex thrived in downtown Durham, raising $81 million in venture capital investment. Serenex accepted an offer of purchase from Pfizer pharmaceuticals, which was expected to be completed June 2008. Unfortunately, this means that Serenex will be leaving downtown Durham; however, the exciting take-away point from my perspective is how high-tech/biotech can, in North Carolina, thrive in 1) downtown and 2) historic structures. It's particularly relevant in the Triangle, with the siren song of RTP drawing the 'cutting-edge' business to Nowhereboro for ~40 years.

Hopefully, the success of a company like Serenex has made the case for downtown Durham as a viable incubator for tech industry. Andy tells me that he plans to re-lease the former Clark & Sorrell garage as lab space, and that he feels good about the prospect of success.

Looking southwest, 06.07.08 (Copyright Gary Kueber)

2002 (Scientific Properties)

As of 2009, the building was leased to Duke University as basic science lab space. During 2011-2012, the Central Park area really grew up around this building and became a hot destination for new entertainment (food / music / alcohol) space. Duke also continued to grow their presence in the immediate surround with the Duke Clinical Research Initiative and the purchase of the Carmichael warehouse to the west to expand their science footprint in downtown.


Serenex raised $81, did they? Not all in one place surely? :)

Sorry, I'm a smart ass, Gary.

Yeah, yeah - such is evidence of how far pharma has fallen in these difficult financial times...


As a note, there's a long track record for biotech startups in downtown Durham. The old Liggett Research Building on W Main was the original home to Sphinx Pharmaceuticals (long ago bought by Eli Lilly), Trimeris and most recently Cogent (now defunct). Along with probably a dozen others small startups that I don't know the name of.


Thanks for reminding me of the additional firms that have come out of the Liggett research building and others. I didn't mean to imply that this was the only one - just that it was a boon to have biotech choose an adaptive reuse in downtown Durham vs. RTP.


biotech businesses in downtown durham also have the great benefit of avoiding the I-40/147 traffic congestion. now that's a selling point. :)

One of the things that strikes me is how much more I like the old signs than the new ones. The new ones are perhaps less obtrusive (but, then, signs are supposed to seen) but they're less interesting and less decorative.

Is there a reason why the new signs are so dull?

I remember Clark & Sorrell was where you took your car when no one else could figure out what was wrong with it.

I  wish the 1953 photo was a little clearer. The taller man in the white shirt beside the car could be my dad. He worked there at that time. He was high waisted and tall like the man in the photo.I don't have many photographs of him.

Bill - sorry that it isn't; I scanned the picture from a 1953 newspaper ad for Clark & Sorell, so that's about as good as it gets.


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