Presley J. Mangum House / Sans Souci (central) Hotel

35.992969, -78.897607

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Year(s) modified
Year demolished
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During the early 20th century, the large, elaborate dwellings in the 300 and 400 blocks of East Main St. (the two blocks between Roxboro and Dillard St.) were progressively torn down to make way for commercial and institutional structures. One of these structures was the Presley J. Mangum house, built in the 1880s. Mangum was Durham's first postmaster.

PJ Mangum house, 1898
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun)

Mangum moved out to West Point in 1891.

Between 1902 and 1907, the house at 314 East Main St. seems to have either been significantly modified, or torn down and rebuilt. By 1907, it is a two-story boarding house known variably as the Sans Souci Hotel. Ms Octavia Thomas (widow of Dr. RW Thomas) is listed as the proprietor of the Sans Souci in 1907. By 1911, it is called the Central Hotel, with "Miss Mangum" as the proprietor. (The Central Hotel appears to have been previously located in the elaborate JR Day house next door.)

By 1915, it seems to have gone out of business, perhaps supplanted by the more elaborate Hotel Lochmoor and Hotel Malbourne one block to the west. It was occupied by Ms. Lena Hessee during the late 1910s and early 1920s.

The Johnson Motor Company was constructed on the site of this house in 1926. To get a sense of how things have changed, the Johnson Motor Company hired prominent local architect George Watts Carr to design their structure (this was his first commercial commission, and he traveled around the country looking at other car dealerships before settling on one in Baltimore as the model for this building.

It is stated that the Scarborough House on Fayetteville St. was built out of materials salvaged from a house that preceded the Johnson Motor Company at this site. If this is true, it isn't clear to me whether the salvage came from the earlier Presley Mangum house, or the Sans Souci Hotel.

The Johnson Motor Company, started by J. Eric Johnson, began as the Five Points Automobile Company, located you-know-where, in the 1910s. The company also ran the Durham Battery Service Station, which became the Central Service Station.

A "Central Filling Station" preceded the construction of the Johnson Motor Company on the site immediately to the west of the eventual dealership location - I don't know if this was run by Johnson first, or came under the dealer's ownership after the construction of the dealership.

Alexander Motor Company (with the elaborate entrance awning) and Johnson Motor Company in the background, late 1930s.

Looking south at the Central Filling Station, late 1920s. The Johnson Motor Company is out of frame to the left.
(From "Images of America: Durham" by Stephen Massengill)

"Wrecked Plymouth at Johnson's" - 03.17.47
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun)

By the late 1940s, Johnson had demolished housing across the street to build a used car lot.

These small dealerships were in their waning days in the early 1970s

Johnson Motor Company, 1968
(Courtesy Noell Nicholson Schepp)

Showroom, 1968
(Courtesy Noell Nicholson Schepp)

Parts Department, 1968
(Courtesy Noell Nicholson Schepp)

Garage, 1968
(Courtesy Noell Nicholson Schepp)

Garage, 1968
(Courtesy Noell Nicholson Schepp)

The Johnson Buick parking deck, 1968
(Courtesy Noell Nicholson Schepp)

Left, Alexander Ford. Right, Johnson Motor Company, 1976. Looking southeast from E. Main.

I'm not very knowledgeable regarding automotive history, but my sense is that, prior to the 1960s, there were far fewer models of car, and that people would order their vehicle more routinely, rather than the dealer having a significant amount of stock. Regardless, the overall shift towards a more suburban city and behavior led to a drastic change in the form of car dealerships.

The Johnson Motor Company appears to have shifted primary operations away from here in 1978. After that, the building became "Star Buick" until 1984 and then offices for J. Eric Johnson, Jr. From 1986 until 1990, the property was occupied by "Euroclassics, Ltd." .

The Johnson dealership building is now owned by Durham County, and has primarily been used by the Sheriff's Dept. Much like the Alexander Ford Dealership next door, its beautiful large front windows have been removed/modified. I hope the building will see some more vibrant use at some point in the future.

The former Johnson Motor Company, looking southeast, 2007.

Looking southeast, 2007.

The former Johnson Service Station, looking south-southwest, 2007.

In 2011, the county completed a renovation of the building, which improved the exterior (although I wish they didn't have the blinds in the front windows - they are north-facing.)


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