Pearl Mill Lyceum

36.005643, -78.90422

Cross Street
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Year demolished
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Looking north from Trinity Avenue, 02.18.57

When William Erwin (Jr?) decided in 1955 to give a large parcel of land just north of the Pearl Mill (across West Trinity Avenue) to the YMCA so that they could built a 'modern facility' to replace the original YMCA downtown, there remained one earlier structure on the site - the (Pearl Mill) Lyceum.

The Pearl Mill Lyceum is postulated by Wyatt Dixon to have been built by George Watts during the 1890s. Watts had taken over the presidency of the Pearl Mill in 1893 after Brodie Duke declared bankruptcy. Per an interview Wyatt Dixon did in 1957, Watts evidently intended the Lyceum to be a recreation center for the community.

Looking west from Washington St. on Trinity Avenue, 1927. The Pearl Mill is to the left, the Lyceum to the right. (When the belt rail was a grade crossing.)

However, there is also a reference to a "Lyceum" in a letter written by George Watts in 1901, which describes more of an exclusive club for Durham's gentry.

"The Lyceum has continued to improve since its organization until it is now one of the features of Durham and the pride of North Carolina. many of the best speakers and writers of our state have been drilled at the Durham Lyceum. Nearly all of our original members are still with us and continue to take as much interest as ever. we have a splendid building of our own which is entirely paid for and returning a nice revenue from rents of store rooms on the ground floor."

It's hard to know if this was the same place described by Watts, but the 1913 Sanborn Maps describe the building as "Lyceum Club Room" and notes "Vend." on the 1st floor. The 1937 maps simply note "Club House".

Hard to get great detail from this picture, but looking east from above Trinity College (Duke's East Campus) over a minimally-developed Trinity Park, 1924. Trinity Avenue stretches east, with the one-block median in the foreground. In the distance is the Pearl Mill on the right, the Lyceum on the left, and the Pearl Mill Village beyond the tracks to the left.
(Courtesy John Schelp)

It's hard to know how accurate Dixon's interview is, but he also notes that at some point the building was used as office space by the Pearl Mill. Dixon does note, and one would think this accurate, that immediately prior to 1957, it had been used as a recreation center by the City of Durham.

Looking north from above ~W. Main and Duke, mid-1950s. Beyond the Pearl Mill, the roof and top story of the Lyceum are visible along with the undeveloped land beyond.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

The land was not to stay undeveloped for long after the above photo, though.

"Erwin Gives Land to YMCA - 08.08.55"
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper)

Picnic for the new YMCA on-site.
(Courtesy Duke RBMC - Wyatt Dixon Collection)

Looking west-northwest, 07.07.56, at the construction of the new YMCA on W. Trinity Avenue.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper

Looking northeast, 02.1.57.

As you can see from the above 1957 photo of the Lyceum, the YMCA was nearly complete at the time the pictures were taken. With a month of the photos, the YMCA had torn down the Lyceum for the driveway entrance to their facility. Dixon notes that "officials did not want it to obstruct the view of the new building."

Below, kids taking swimming lessons at the pool in front of the Y, looking south (without "obstruction") towards the Pearl Mill, 05.31.57.

(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper

The YMCA was certainly still here in the 1960s.

Looking northwest from W. Trinity Ave., 1960s
(Courtesy Duke RBMC - Chamber of Commerce Collection)

YMCA, northeast from W. Trinity Ave., 1960s.
(From "Images of America: Durham" by Steve Massengill)

But I'm not sure when the Y left here and it became a Diet facility. I'm not sure whether the Y moved from here to Lakewood, or whether those two facilities co-existed. The Duke Diet and Fitness center was established in 1969 - perhaps it was established here.

Regardless, I can verify that this building has been a diet center since the 1980s, and explicitly under the Duke brand name for a number of years now. Interestingly, Duke now apparently wants to divest itself of this facility, selling it to the city to be used as a city recreation facility. Duke is moving out in August of 2008.


Looking northeast from W. Trinity Ave., 12.09.07.

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