The Home Security Life Building was built on the site of a gas station, which had supplanted two large residences along the once wealthy, once residential, 300-600 blocks of West Chapel Hill Street.
Looking south-southwest at the structures on the south side of West Chapel Hill St. Likely late 1940s. (Courtesy Duke Archives)
In the early 1950s, the two large houses closest to South Duke were torn down for a gas station.
Looking southwest from South Duke and West Chapel Hill, April 1956 - the Y can be seen down the block. (Courtesy Herald-Sun)
They evidently were well known for their prominent advertising.
Looking southeast - the fence of the BN Duke mansion Four Acres is in the background. (Courtesy Herald-Sun)
This service station was replaced with the Home Security Life Insurance Company building, begun in 1957. The firm had previously been located in the Hill Building downtown.
Per Brighter Leaves:
Height and lightness were hallmarks of the Home Security Life Building on [West] Chapel HIll Street, a T-shaped structure hailed as "a new symbol of progress" in a special 20 page newspaper supplement published for its opening in January 1959. Enclosing 80,000 square feet of floor space with aluminum siding and 24,000 square feet of glass, the building used a steel and reinforced-concrete frame to support five floors of large open work space organized by movable partitions and with a temperature kept between 70 and 78 degrees by a state of the art heating and air conditioning system. The design, by the Raleigh firm of Milton Small - a disciple of Mies [Van de Rohe] - with consultation by the New York architect Aldo Rossi, was a victory for Home Security's younger generation. The company's founder, John Sprunt Hill, favored a traditional Southern look, but his son and grandson, George Watts Hill, Sr. and Jr., the firm's chairman and president, liked modern architecture and managed to prevail in the family's clash of tastes. The building was also a victory for the new generation of architects produced by institutions such as NCSU, whose Modernist, Internationalist, and Contemporary thinking often "hit a brick wall" in the real world of paying clients.
In its first two years, 1959-1960, the building also served as home to the nascent Research Triangle Institute (RTI), which occupied the second floor here prior to the completion of their own quarters in the park.
As the aerial image below captures, this was a time and place of remarkable transformation. Before the full force of 1960s 'urban renewal', the influx of commercial and institutional structures was reshaping this formerly residential area.
Home Security and the YWCA were neighbors for a decade or so.
From Gregson and the Freeway, looking northeast, 1967. (Courtesy Herald Sun)
But the Y was eventually torn down for parking.
From "Durham: A Pictorial History" by J. Kostyu, 1970s.
After a 1985 merger, the insurance company took the name Peoples Security. Within a few years, they began work on a new office complex on the Morgan Street section of the Downtown Loop. Peoples Security had vacated this building by early 1990, when the prospect of its reuse as a new police headquarters gathered support. Repurposing the structure was projected to offer a substantial savings in time and resources over the cost of building anew. After the city acquired the property, a renovation design contract was awarded that summer to the recently formed Freelon Group, the firm of architect Phil Freelon. Durham PD moved into the building in March 1992.
The department and its huge parking lot, 2006.
But less than twenty years later, the department indicated it wanted out, suggesting demolition would be better for a building they state needed $4 million in repairs. Per the Herald, "officials felt it would be more economically savvy to sell the property on which the building stands to private developers." They'd then spend $35 to $40 million on a new headquarters and 2 precinct stations.
I tend to think that the building is kind of cool - it's the kind of thing I'm wary about tearing down; as modernism goes, this isn't bad. I especially find the retaining wall interesting, which is made out of granite blocks.
What I'd be really happy to get rid of, and see private infill development on, is the parking lot. The building and immediate surround takes up ~ 0.75 acres, but the whole block is 4.1 acres. 3.35 acres of surface parking seems just a bit excessive to me for downtown.
This neighborhood could use some infill development on this lot - you could put a lot of mixed-use residential/office/retail development on 3 or 4 acres. The current void in this block exacerbates the division between the west side neighborhoods and downtown caused by the Durham Freeway.