Smith Warehouse

36.001917, -78.914666

Cross Street
Year built
Year(s) modified
Architectural style
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National Register
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The Smith Warehouse, built in 1906, was the largest of the Duke & Sons tobacco warehouses, used for the storage of tobacco prior to processing.

Below, a view from the Washington Duke building at Trinity College (now East Campus) looking south, prior to the construction of the Smith Warehouse across the railroad tracks. The sizable two-story structure visible across the tracks is the West End Graded school.

Looking south, ~1900.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

Below, the same view, ~1910

(Courtesy John Schelp)

The Smith warehouse during the 1920s - the direction (whether this is the west or east face) isn't immediately clear, although I suspect it is the east face.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

The description of the warehouse from its 1984 nomination to the National Register:

Due to its monumental form and detailed decorative program, Smith Warehouse is among Durham's architectural landmarks.. Of the twelve tobacco warehouses and processing buildings erected by The American Tobacco Company trust beginning in 1897, Smlth Warehouse is the largest and newest, constructed in 1906. Of all of these robust brick buildings so important determining the character of their area, Smith Warehouse is the only one set apart, located at the extreme west end of the irregularly shaped mixed industrial and commercial district that rings Durham's Central Business District.  Surrounded by narrow, gravel-covered loading areas, the extremely long building is perpendicular to S.. Buchanan Blvd and sandwiched between the main line of the Southern Railway [North Carolina Railroad] on the north and Maxwell St.. to the south. The blocks of modest turn-of-the-century houses on the south side of Maxwell St. facing Smith are a remnant of the West End neighborhood that developed to the south and west in response to the construction in the industrial area.. These blocks have been isolated from the rest of the neighborhood by the East-West Expressway which affords a good view of the south side of the warehouse from its embankment above the houses.  On the north side of Smith Warehouse, a line of mature cypress trees screens the building from W. Main St.. and the East Campus of Duke University directly opposite.

The exuberant design of Smith Warehouse recalls rredieval architecture and has been variously titled Romanesque Revival or Norman Revival in style. Although the building is elaborate, especially for industrial use, its rich decorative program is strictly controlled so that it very precisely articulates the subdivision of building by projecting fire walls and the grid of pilasters, string courses and cornices that covers each facade. This ornanentation of actual structural elements or of features that directly correspond to structural elements (such as string courses in line with floors) reflects the collaboration of the engineers and talented but now anonymous brick masons that created the building. The ornamented grids, the careful positioning of decorative chimneys on the parapet steps of the fire walls and end walls, and the repetition of scores of regularly placed windows and doors render Smith Warehouse a rhythmical and unified composition.

The two-story Smith Warehouse is 850 feet long and 100 feet wide, composed of twelve approximately 70-foot-wide units placed side by side. Each unit is rectangular except for the one at the east end which is polygonal so that the east elevation of the warehouse is paralleI to S. Buchanan Blvd.. The exterior walls are of locally fired variegated light red-orange brick laid in four-to-one common bond. Along the entire north side there is a four-foot-high brick and concrete platform; on the south side there is a small loading dock for each unit. Like the earlier warehouses and processing buildings, each unit, built to hold 3,000 hogsheads, is divided into five bays by pilasters. The very shallow gable roof is concealed by the parapets of the seven-bay end walls and 18-inch-thick fire walls between each unit. The units step down where necessary due to the grade of the site. The projecting corbelled ends of the firewall parapets disguise the break and make the transition between units fairly subtle.


1913 Sanborn Map

In each five-bay unit the pilasters rise unbroken to the cornice except for a narrow rectangular recessed panel fourteen courses tall in each story. Each bay is slightly recessed from the pilasters, base, string course and cornice, which are all in a single plane.. Every bay contains a narrow segmental arched opening in each story, except for the middle bay of each uniti here there is a pair of narrow segmental arched openings in the second story and in the first a single segmental arched doorway the width of the pair above.. All openings have sills and lintels of two courses of headers; in addition, there are two courses of corbelled bricks above the lintels of the doors. A single tin-clad shutter hinged at one side remains attached to most of the narrow openings; all are filled with metal louvered vents. The wider openings contain pairs of solid tin-clad doors.. On the south elevation, projecting downward from one of the vents above each door, there is a metal shoot through which insecticide is sprayed into the second story. There are no openings in the end walls.

The ornamental brickwork of Smith Warehouse's elevations is identical to that of Watts and Yuille Warehouses (NR) built two years earlier. The confinement of most of the decoration to each bay between the pilasters rather than running across them as in some of the earliest American robacco Company warehouses also helps render the step-downs between units inconspicuous by diverting attention from the periodic breaks in the facade. Beneath the pilasters on all sides of the warehouse, a single row of mousetoothing runs beneath the string courses. On the long facades, there are corbelled dentils at the bottom of the cornice between the pilasters; only a single course of mousetoothing above runs unbroken within each unit across the pilasters. Short corbelled chimneys with a course of mousetoothing at the top and two very narrow recessed pointed arched panels on their outer faces mark the tops of the ventilator shafts behind the pilasters between the fire and end walls of the long elevations. Marking the top of the second story on the end walls, there is a decorative band identical to the cornices except that it includes corbelling at the pilasters to resemble capitals. Above this decorative band on the end walls, the pilasters continue their rise into the parapets. Unlike earlier warehouses which have decorative stepped parapets, most of the Smith parapets are low-pitched brick gables without chimney pots; courses of mousetoothing interspersed with simple corbelling appear at the top. Two of the fire wall parapets which are stepped and without any decoration appear to have been rebuilt. Near the bottom north corner of the east facade there is a plaque bearing the words "Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co.," the name of the buiIding, and its year of construction. The cornerstone was altered to carry the Liggett & Myers name after 1911.

On the interior, the structural system of brick walls and heavy timbers is completely exposed. Each unit is a single open space on each floor, broken only by rows of wooden columns and an open freight elevator in the middle. The size and spacing of the columns and the thickness of the floors were determined by the dimensions and weight of the hogsheads. Slightly tapered loblolly pine columns support 16-1/2-foot on center, 15-inch by 11-inch heart pine beams. A metal plate screwed to the ends of the beams is sandwiched between the beams and each colunm. The first floor is cement; the second floor is heart pine, with 3-1/2 inches of decking and 3/4-inch of finished flooring. A single wide opening in the 18-inch-thick fire walls provides interior access from one unit to the next.

More definitively the west face of the warehouse from construction on Campus Drive, 1920s.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)

A smidgen of a glimpse of the warehouse during the funeral procession for Ben Duke - people are marching across West Main St. south on Milton Ave.
(Courtesy Durham County Library / North Carolina Collection)


Sanborn Map, 1937

The Smith Warehouse remained in operation during the Liggett years, becoming, at least in part, a printing facility for cigarette cartons/packaging.


Looking east, 1970s, with water tower still in place.

(Courtesy Robert Elliott)

After being cast off by Liggett, the warehouse was purchased by Duke (from Liggett) on 02.01.2001. Duke converted a portion of the building to office space and arts space in the early 2000s.

Looking west, 03.18.08.

I wish Duke would do more to make the facade of this warehouse inviting - it's as beautiful as any of the others. The site still appears to be some semi-industrial, seemingly-abandoned space. It's really a lost opportunity to create a vibrant connection between this part of Buchanan (and the West End/West Main) and Campus Drive, the very cool old East Campus power plant building, and the re-commencement of West Pettigrew to the west of the warehouse near the Center for Documentary Studies. Why not treat this as an opportunity to connect Duke to the urban realm?


In 2010-11, Duke renovated the Smith Warehouse into "90,000 SF of Swing Space," evidently intended to house departments in search of a more permanent home. 





Somewhat controversially, Duke lobbied the city to close Maxwell (neé Ferrell) Street and convey it to the university. For the time being, Duke has kept the street open to Campus Drive, and paved / landscaped the entire area between the warehouse building and the Durham Freeway. The 1-2 remaining houses along the stub of Gattis that still existed on the north side of the freeway were demolished, and that stub of Gattis eliminated.

The resulting renovation is nice looking, and certainly appears to be a professional space, versus the semi-neglected appearance of before. Below, functional as of 2012, is a video that the architect doing the renovation did, which gives you some sense of the interior. Fair warning that it's slow, and I highly recommend the mute button.



In total, Duke's renovations have certainly been a positive for the warehouse building itself, and a more tempered positive for the landscape - mostly because it was completely crappy before. While tasteful, it's suburban in character, and does little to emphasize an interactive relationship between the building and the surrounding area.  Which may be the intent. 

It's a step, though, and if Duke can work on emphasizing the connectivity between the Center for Documentary Studies, the Smith Warehouse, and the old Cary Lumber building (which deserves a similar loving conversion to non-industrial space,) and then the connectivity between 'Duke Pettgrew' and East Campus, Burch Avenue/West End, and Gregson Street, the effect could be majorly transformative for an area that feels decidedly sliced by the Freeway, RR tracks, and too many disconnected land uses, and seems to have seen no benefit from the Great Durham Renaissance of 2001-2012 (to date.)

The impact of this kind of holistic endeavor on the West End - from Kent to Gregson Street - would seriously invigorate the commercial area in a way the Duke-Durham neighborhood partnership hasn't. 


Gary--my understanding is that plans are in motion to revitalize the area around the warehouse. Liggett kept a presence (a printing press)in the middle portion of the building until about a year ago and that portion is now being renovated. Along with that renovation, the parking lots are going to be reworked and Maxwell Street is to be paved/lit for pedestrians. The East Campus Steam Plant is being recommissioned as well.

I have been in the middle space recently. Duke, along with local architect Brockwell Associates and Mixon Construction are doing a great thing there with the restoration. Durham will be proud.

While I don't live in Durham anymore, I enjoy this blog as it brings bac many pleasant memories. However, from my out-of-town perspective it appears that many of these renovations around Durham (some quite good) seem to stall out at the curb appeal level. Poor landscaping, parking, signage, undergrounding utilities, etc. Per the two previous posts this many hopefully be an exception.

This 1905 photograph of President Teddy Roosevelt was taken by the railroad tracks -- between the Smith Warehouse and the old entrance to Trinity College...

With the hoots of factory whistles, Roosevelt arrived in West Durham on his train and declared, "As I came in, gentlemen, I felt as if I was at a football contest."

A group of NCSU School of Design students took a look at the Ninth Street area (for OWDNA) and suggested a sidewalk past the Smith Warehouse, connecting the Center for Documentary Studies with Brightleaf Square.

Duke refused at the time (Tallman Trask, III). But this might be a good opportunity to ask again. We could call it "Roosevelt Way."

(I'll post this comment and forward the link to Phail Wynn at Duke.)

The color postcard of Smith Warehouse in Gary's entry today is one of my favorite postcards of Durham. It shows the old entrance to Trinity College -- with the Ann Roney fountain and the original location of Washington Duke sitting in his arm chair.

The Roney fountain is still standing today, in front of Duke East. The statue of the Sower (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed) now stands where the old Wash Duke statue was located. If you stand next to the fountain and look towards West Main Street, you can see how it lines up with the Sower -- showing the original roadway into campus.

The Ann Roney fountain (ca. 1901) is a tribute to the woman who took care of Washington Duke's sons after their mother died. Today, this fountain has no plaque, no indication of the role Ann Roney played in Duke's history. I've suggested the idea of getting a plaque to some student groups. We'll see.

Finally, in looking at the postcard, you can see where President Roosevelt spoke (in front of these older "iron gates" -- not the "stone gate" entrance you see today). The Smith Warehouse was built in 1906... so Roosevelt spoke here the year before.



And the chain link fence doesn't do a lot to attract you to those buildings...


The construction seen on Campus Drive is most likely the Steam Plant rather than the bridges or the road itself--it has a concrete vault underground where the boilers sit and the concrete in the picture looks like the construction of those walls.

The Smith warehouse is, at least initially, supposed to be "swing" office space for people displaced by construction projects. I work at the library, and one of the departments here will be moving to Smith in the upcoming months (much to their consternation - especially humorous is their insistance on referring to this as "smith building", never "Smith warehouse").

I think they're nuts - this building should make a nice office space eventually. Supposedly it will also house refugees from other construction as needed, including central campus. As a resident of Burch, I do hope they work on the grounds a bit, though.

Interesting to know more about the history of the Smith Warehouse. Our library department is moving there today, to join Duke Performances and other campus offices and programs. The renovated space is gorgeous, and "green": no off-gassing from carpets and paint means very happy tenants! There is lots of exposed brick, natural light from skylights and large windows, and high ceilings, as you might imagine. Eventually this beautiful building will house around 1000 employees, an estimate I've heard. The outside areas are still very rough, but there are plans for better landscaping and lighting. This area will only get better for people and foot traffic. We are proud to be part of this revitalization and can't wait to patronize businesses down the street for good coffee and lunches!

Keep an eye on the Smith Warehouse in the coming months: once-extant murals on the Pettigrew and Buchanan sides are now being restored.

The outside area (Maxwell Street side) now has new pavement, new landscaping, and a new fence. What an improvement!

When I worked at L&M in the sixties, I was a paymaster at the "print shop"

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