Five Points - West / Five Points Drug Company

35.997029, -78.904415

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Today, we move downtown to 'big' Five Points. Although Durham Station was established at the foot of Corcoran Street, at the railroad tracks, Five Points became an important hub of retail activity by the 1910s-1920s

Looking west on West Main St., 1905.

New mercantile, masonry structures replaced the earlier industry structures during the 1900's, 1910s, and 1920s. The Five Points Drug Company, occupying was one of those impressive new structures - a flatiron building located on the western 'point' of Five Points, constructed in 1907.

Five Points, looking west, 1920s
(Courtesy Duke Archives)

Five Points Drug Co., 1917
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, Wyatt Dixon Collection)

Looking west, 1920s.
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Five Points Drug Co., looking northwest, 1920s.

The Five Points Drug company occupied the beautiful flatiron building in the top picture until the late 1920s, at which point the building burned. The garage at 421 West Main Street, immediately it its west, remodeled itself to face the 'point' once the Five Points Drug Company was gone, utilizing the vacant space for gas pumps and parking.

Looking West, 1947.

Snow-covered, late 1940s
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection - Wyatt Dixon Collection)

Aerial view of the asphalt, 1950

By the late 1950s, the First Federal Savings and Loan Company had taken over the gas station, and utilized the 'point' simply for parking.

Whether this stirred a desire for some beautification from the S&L or from the city, there followed construction of a wee garden and fountain at the tip of the point. Ahhhh - what asphalt?

Frolic-worthy garden, ~1960.

Seemingly even smaller garden, 1964

Five Points, looking west, 1964
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Onewayifying, 1970

With construction of the Five Points Restaurant in the 1970s, the vacant lot became a courtyard.

Five Points, looking west, 1978
(Courtesy Durham County Library)

These buildings also burned during the 1970s and were later demolished. The Vacant Triangle became even larger, and for the last ~30 years has been grass and trees. Our latest efforts to deflect the vacancy of the land include a nice streetscape construction, to include benches, trees, brick, and - if he had had historic bollards, historically appropriate bollards.

Five Points, looking west, 2006

Two buildings still exist in the triangle of land left between the 'point' and the Loop. Unfortunately, the vacant land, the Loop, and the stark dominance of the Southbank building leave the area feeling more desolate than it should. The sidewalk is pretty, but what this spot really needs are buildings, ideally a new flatiron building. The longtime owner, Anna Ho Whalen, has not publicly expressed any desire to make that happen through action. I can't say that I'll ever understand the vacant land/vacant building investment-without-planned-development model; personally I'd be embarrassed if I ever considered sitting on a vacant piece of land in the center of downtown for 30 years.

In my view, Five Points remains the most important intersection in Durham as a focal point for future revitalization. The city has undertaken a (prolonged) effort to fix the transportation problems with the intersection (returning it to a true 5 points configuration and returning the traffic on Chapel Hill St. and Main to two-way.) While I am a big fan of the transportation improvements, the land use at Five Points remains a challenge.

Update: Summer 2007: The two-way transformation of Main and Chapel Hill Sts. is complete, and an absolute triumph. But, some nice benches and copious bollards aside, the flatiron spot is still vacant.

Five Points - western point, looking west, 09.12.10, with me about to be run down.

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were there just too many drug users taking down buildings and striving for ... modernism or what... during the 60's and 70's? a new flatiron would be a great segway to the west village + expansion. have you consulted bdv?

Thanks: I never knew "flatiron building" meant anything other than the famous one I'd heard of in New York. It makes sense that a building shaped like an iron should be labeled thus. :)

If you've been to Asheville, they have a nice little flatiron building at Wall St. and .... can't remember. But they have a sizeable sculpture of a old flat iron standing out front. Here's a picture

That's really funny. :) Someone should put a sign on the "iron" saying something like "Paul Bunyan's small iron for ironing his socks."

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