I've been trying to put together a shopping center chronology in Durham - suffice to say it is a work in progress - but Forest Hills, Northgate, Lakewood, and Loehmann's Plaza were among the early arrivals in the 1950s-1960s.
Interestingly, low-lying riparian land seemed to be a preferred development location; my guess would be that these were some of the prime closest-to-downtown yet still large undeveloped areas.
Forest Hills was built along land that was essentially similar to the current Forest Hills Park - the riparian land on either side of Third Fork Creek, which consolidates from several smaller streams near Lakewood/University/Duke/Willard. Initially these streams were arrayed like a fan from the West Chapel Hill/Vickers ridge to the Fayetteville St. ridge, beginning near Jackson St. to the west, and just south of the railroad tracks, near Poplar St. to the east (which ran near where the current, oddly named, East Dillard St. runs.) This landscape was dramatically altered by the Freeway, such that drainage was all placed in storm sewers north of the Freeway (except for a small stream branch that runs from Jackson to Yancey St. north of the Freeway before being culverted down to near Blackwell and the American Tobacco Trail.)
It's unclear how much of the land on the south side of what is now University Drive was undeveloped prior to the shopping center construction, or whether there were pre-existing small houses on some of this land = regardless, the overarching character was at most a sparsely developed somewhat natural area which we catch a corner of in this picture.
Looking east along University Drive at the intersection of Vickers and University - Forest Hills Park is immediately to the right, and beyond the small bridge over the creek can be seen trees/brush/etc.
(Courtesy Herald-Sun, June 21, 1953.)
I haven't nailed down the construction date of the Forest Hills Shopping Center, but I've narrowed it down to between 1953 and 1955.
Looking west from the railroad tracks - Third Fork Creek is in the center of the graded lowland, ~1954
Looking east from E. Forest Hills Blvd., ~1954
One thing that's rather inconvenient about building in an otherwise nicely flat floodplain - the streams tend to be in the center of the flat area. No bother - just move it!
Looking west, the relocated stream against the cut slope, ~1954
And fill in that old streambed with whatever you have lying around - dirt, tires, etc.
Looking east, ~1954
All filled in, and a nice big pad on which to build a shopping center.
Looking north, ~1954
The shopping center opened on April 4, 1956. The Morning Herald reported the next day:
Customers and window shoppers by the thousands thronged the new Forest Hills Shopping Center on University Drive yesterday for opening day activities. The center includes the city's largest self--service grocery store and the city's largest self-service drug store. Throughout this week, the center will remain open from 8:30 am to 10pm. Customer parking provides for 275 cars.
Welcome 50s shoppers!
Looking southeast, ~1957
Looking southeast, ~1957
The courtyard, 1957
While our permitting and planning process can be a pain for construction crews and developers on a tight schedule, it's worth remembering how we got there. We are a reactionary society - and the regulatory constraints of the 1970s and beyond were only possible to implement in reaction to the fact that developers had little compunction about building wherever they felt like it, in the most expedient manner possible. The only saving grace about environmental disregard like this is sometimes the environment pays the owners back for building in the floodplain - remember Eastgate in Chapel Hill a few years back? Or Crabtree in Raleigh more recently?
Obviously shoppers of the 1950s were just happy to have a bunch of parking for their supermarket, drugstore, etc. While centers like this, Lakewood, and Northgate sucked the lifeblood out of the stores downtown, the ante can always be upped. South Square and the indoor mall pulled retail away from these centers in the 1970s - Northgate adapted by becoming an indoor mall. These centers became second and third tier retail space. Southpoint, of course, upped the ante again, resulting in the inevitable demise of South Square.
Forest Hills shopping center - and the straggling businesses across University - have always been an odd place to me - it has always seemed to have an air of quiet desperation about it. The way that the center sits at bottom of the bowl - with the affluence of Forest Hills/Morehead Hills on three sides, and the poverty of Southside/St. Theresa on the eastern side seems to me an fascinating petri dish.
Most recently, a renovation made the center look more like the ubiquitous minimalls out along all of our numbered roads, and the retailers seemed to solidify a bit more. The tired Byrd's that became a very tired Loews Foods saw new life by becoming Galaxy, and now, yet another Compare Foods.
I maintain a crazy dream that someday the landscape here will be better - that this center will go away, and the stream choked in behind the service entrances at the back of the center (the trashed, polluted mess of which can be seen from the American Tobacco trail if you look down behind the center) will be cleaned up and given a natural buffer for people to enjoy. Small retail would be built up to the roadway, with adequate, if not overwhelming, parking integrated along the frontage as well. For the effort put into 're-naturalizing' the stream in the park to the east, the condition of the stream here, and to the the north and east, remains atrocious. Supposedly, someday, there is supposed to be a Third Fork Creek trail. Given that Durham's glory days of trail construction seem to have dried up in the past 5 years, it may be awhile.
All in all, I see this area, generally as an opportunity - there is too much going on around it. The Forest Hills Shopping Center LLC - which seems to be associated with Marvin Barnes and MM Fowler, not known for progressive development - will probably be satisfied with iterative change rather than the radical rethinking of this area I'd love to see - urban retail with park space/natural area/bike trial/Weaver St. Commons kind-of space.
I've heard rumors linking at least one of the big players downtown with this site; we'll see if anything comes of that.
Looking southeast, January 2008.
Third Fork Creek rejoins its natural streambed at the west end of Forest Hills Shopping Center, January 2008.
Submitted by Bob Slentz-Kesler (not verified) on Wed, 1/2/2008 - 2:07am
Since I live on Manford Drive, right near a future access point of the (proposed) Third Fork Creek trail, I've been phoning the city regularly for the past three years. Originally that trail was to have been long-completed by now, but the project seems to keep getting delayed. The latest info I've heard is that construction may start some time during 2008. I've stopped holding my breath.
Originally the trail was to start near Cornwallis Road and the American Tobacco Trail and then head south, under MLK Parkway, through Hope Valley Farms and the west side of Woodcroft near Jordan High School. Alas, I learned a few weeks ago that there is no longer enough money. The current plan is start the trail at MLK, right near the Public Works facility, and build it southward.
Who knows what will actually happen and when it will happen, if it happens.
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Wed, 1/2/2008 - 2:33am
Thanks for the information, Bob; I'm surprised that the trail was never intended to start any further north than Cornwallis. I had assumed that, with three COD parks along the creek north of Cornwallis (Weaver St., White Oak, and Forest Hills) that this would be a default portion of the trail. I remember that it was supposed to be completed some time ago - in fact, I remember an update from a few years ago that "work would finally be getting started [that] summer." Not sure what happened to this, or the slowdown in our trailmaking more generally - other than the ever-present rising construction costs.
Submitted by orangecountync (not verified) on Wed, 1/2/2008 - 2:43pm
Like that the bridge shown in photo #3 still exists (as shown in the last photo).
Submitted by Michael Bacon (not verified) on Wed, 1/2/2008 - 4:15pm
Speaking of Third Fork Creek, Gary, do you know anything about whether the city plans to connect the two pieces of Roxoro across the creek? I've never heard anything about it, but do you really make a developer pay for 300 yards of four lanes and a landscaped median that leads to nothing but a patch of woods unless you're planning something?
I wonder if plans for Roxboro play into what's happening with the TFC trail.
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Wed, 1/2/2008 - 4:49pm
Good question Michael; I don't know the answer. I've often wondered the same thing about the big pipeline of 'south' South Roxboro that stubs out just north of MLK. I've heard some vague things about how there was some opposition to the plan to connect with the 'north' portion of South Roxboro several years ago, but that would be quite awhile ago now. I'm not sure what the plan is, although I'm sure you are right that the TFC trail plan must at least be contingent upon what happens with that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 1/2/2008 - 10:05pm
I am sure Wal-Mart will want that road connected before they move in over there. MLK Parkway is going to be atrocious in a few years.
Gary, I share your dream of the FH shopping center being replaced with a more pedestrian friendly urban design. Too bad some bozo is building cheap spec "condo" crap on the other side of the street.
Submitted by Drew (not verified) on Sun, 7/27/2008 - 4:05am
I have been searching the web for a photo of the old Hardees Hamburgers restaurant that was located across Univ Drive from Forest Hills Shopping Center. It was an unusual pagoda styled building, no indoor seating with a few picnic tables outside. Childhood memory.
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Sun, 7/27/2008 - 12:20pm
I have a so-so picture of the Hardee's across the street - if you shoot me an email, I'll email it to you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 11/16/2008 - 2:16am
I don't recall the Hardee's at Forest Hills, but I do remember that the Hardee's on Guess Road near Broad Street and Sunset Avenue was just like that----you walked up to the front of the building, placed your order. You could eat in the parking lot or in your car, as there was no dining room. We rarely went out anywhere back then (this was the late 1960's) so any time my Dad took us there it was a major treat.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 11/16/2008 - 3:26am
i remember the hardee's at FH. i think it was the first in durham. i may be wrong. my dad would take the family every friday night there for supper. great times
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 1/19/2010 - 5:25pm
I grew up in that part of town and am sadden to see what it is like now. I lived where the Seafood place is and played under that magnificent sycamore tree which now looks over garbage, an old boat and smells like fish. So sad. Wish I could do something about it. Gladys
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 1/12/2012 - 12:08pm
I grew up over in Yorktown apartments in the late 80s/early 90s... But a lot of my friends lived over in FH so we'd go down to the park and play baseball or just sit up in the magnolia tree at the corner of University where the shopping center starts. I have some really fond memories of those days, especially going to the little restaurant space set back from the tiny courtyard in the shopping center. I think it's a Venezuelan or Honduran restaurant now but back in the day it was a small deli where you could get cheap sandwiches and soda. I remember we always had grandiose plans to sneak into the porn store down by the train tracks but of course that never happened. It wasn't all roses, though... Had a few bad encounters down there and it certainly wasn't safe after dark. But for the most part it's a part of Durham I don't want to see change. The "quiet desperation" of the area that you mention is spot-on and one of the reasons I love it. I'd hate for it to turn into something you could just as easily find in Raleigh or Chapel Hill.
Submitted by jhv on Thu, 4/21/2022 - 1:42pm
Would anyone happen to have a picture of Halby's Deli/Restaurant? I don't know when Halby's opened or closed, but I know it was open in 1985 in Forest Hills shopping center.
Submitted by jhv on Thu, 4/21/2022 - 1:47pm
Should have posted this with my question above:
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