The Medical Arts Building at the beginning of its current trajectory, October 1994
A residential building predated the existing structure at this address on Gregson, apparently the property of a C. W. Hallenback at the time of this 1944 plat's production.
None of the digitized city directories from the surrounding years record a person under this name - here or anywhere in Durham - and the frequent turnover of listed residents suggests this was a rental property. Likely tenants were as follows for the years reviewed: 1930 - Ralph B. Perkins; 1936 - John W. Rhodes; 1941 - Herman P. Conklin; 1949 - Mrs. Pauline Bowels (nurse).
Though the immediate vicinity remained largely residential, the Medical Arts Building was constructed in the early 1950s as the office for the private practice of well-known Duke and Watts Hospital pediatrician, Dr. Arthur Hill London, Jr. The southernmost portion (beyond the chimneyesque structure) was constructed first, and the northern wing was added sometime after 1959.
The Watts and Yuille warehouses are at the top of the picture, part of Duke Memorial Methodist on West Chapel Hill Street is visible at the bottom right. Only the southern portion of the building is present in this 1959 aerial. ( As an aside, John Loudermilk of "Tobacco Road" and "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" fame evidently grew up in the house visible across Gregson Street with some cars around it).
Dr. William L. London IV, nephew of Dr. A. H. London, joined his uncle's practice at the Medical Arts Building from the early 1960s.
With the construction of the Durham Freeway - first to the Chapel Hill Street interchange that immediately abuts this property and then further west - the Burch Avenue neighborhood was cut off from the rump end of the street that produced its name, now a dead end between Gregson and the highway.
The Medical Arts Building is just above the on-ramp at the center, with the broken ends of Burch Avenue to its left and in the foreground at the bottom of the frame. Note the complete removal of surrounding houses in the three decades since the aerial photo shown above.
I don't know exactly when medical offices moved out of this building. I would imagine that they absconded slowly with the migration of most medical offices to the area around Durham Regional Hospital after it was built in 1976.
Looking southwest, October 1994
I know that it has been empty for at least 9 years [Now nearly 20 - Editor's note, Feb.2019]. The building is owned by Bill Fields, who owns several buildings on Ninth Street. He also owns the 1/2 abandoned apartment buildings just to the south of this. A sign in front of those buildings boldly proclaims "Saving another Durham Landmark. Why? Because we love you!" without any apparent irony.
This type of nuisance speculation can afflict any city, but seems to fester particularly well here in Durham. Since, as a friend of mine once said, "Durham's been coming back for 50 years" everyone's always convinced that something big is just around the corner. So these speculators, financially secure, see their big Powerball payoff, if they just.... wait.... a... little...longer.
These speculators cost all of us money, pride, and comfort in our neighborhood as they wait for the rising tide to lift their boat - without actually contributing anything to the city themselves. We have no minimum commercial code in this city, so this building can sit here like this - forever. Rumor has it that people have offered Mr. Fields large sums of money for this building (7 figures). But, rumor has it, he's turned it down because he wants more. Speculators would rather go on incurring public costs while waiting for whatever the magical number is. Meanwhile, neighboring property value suffers, and this part of town never improves, despite being 1 very short block from Brightleaf Square.
Here's a list of most if not all of the properties owned by Mr. Fields. I'd hope that posting something like this could shame someone into action, but people who care about their city and neighbors wouldn't have left a building they owned like this for a week, much less 10+ years. The lawn gets mowed, so I suppose we should be grateful.
October 2006 (G. Kueber)
In July 2008, Mr. Fields proffered this early-90's appearing rendering as his imminent plans for the structure:
This seems to have been primarily in preparation for the erection of a giant political sign on the building for the fall 2008 elections. Election season came and went, Mr. Fields' candidate lost, the sign came down, and, as of September 2009, the building remains abandoned.
As of 2014, the boards have come off the windows for the first time in a decade, and rumors abound that the building may get purchased for a parking lot to serve redevelopment of the Chesterfield by Wexford. Years ago, in the comments below, son-of-Bill complained that the abandoned Holiday Inn up the block was the problem keeping his family unable to do something productive and decent for the community with this building. With that razed and a new shiny apartment building in its place, the excuses are gone. And it's as clear as it's always been what this is about - people who care more about their dream of holding the winning lottery ticket on a property sale - "it's gonna hit someday!" - than they do about being part of making Durham a better place. Those types are like a cancer on a city that aspires to better.
05.31.14 (Photo by G. Kueber)
This building was the subject of a What's It Wednesday?! post on Open Durham's social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram), the week of February 6, 2019. Follow us and stay tuned for more finds!
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Thu, 11/16/2006 - 4:44am
I had the, um, pleasure once of looking at one of Bill Fields's leases for a building on 9th St. I showed it to a friend in law school, who thought it was a hoot. He said it would be more straightforward if it just said "tenants have no rights." I've also watched BF drive businesses out of 9th St. buildings in a way that makes me think he enjoys throwing people out more than he does making money.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/16/2006 - 4:34pm
Bill Fields is one of the worst of a bad lot. His "leases," as Joe noted above, and his general attitude re: occupancy & maintenance, have led directly to the failure of a number of 9th Street businesses that otherwise might have continued on to become highly contributing and successful. He puts in just enough money to keep a place from falling in on itself, but no more.
That said, you are correct in noting that the City has done little to prevent this sort of thing. DO you have any historic knowledge of why we *don't* have a minimum commercial code? I am fairly sure we have minimum residential, but it certainly has been spottily enforced. I'm betting somewhere in the murk of the past is a debate about "owner's rights." Which of course then brings up the interesting dilemma of "takings" and the sad legacy of "urban renewal" in Durham. Its unfortunate that the wrongs done to the poor might have resulted in fomenting a legal environment where the rich and/or care-less benefit most.
Submitted by Christopher (not verified) on Thu, 11/16/2006 - 5:58pm
Man, I use Fields' laundry on 9th Street because it is open twenty four hours and is in a convenient location. He's also got those creepy "Why? Because we love you" signs in there, too.
He's in there a lot and sure is a weird dude.
Submitted by Sven (not verified) on Thu, 11/16/2006 - 10:44pm
My one encounter with BF was at one of the Ninth Street neighborhood charrettes back in September ( I think.) All of the small groups drew up their visions for what the Ninth St. area would look like in X years. When his group presented, the area was all parking. He evidently stubbornly refused to look towards anything except expanding parking for his buildings - for an entire neighborhood.
I don't know the particulars of why we don't have a minimum commercial code, although I would guess that your theories are correct (because the city, at this point anyway, seems to actually support a MCC). I don't think it's a result of urban renewal - rather, that urban renewal hit the disinvested/poorer neighborhoods in part to avoid the fight from people who had the capital to fight.
(Although, Durham, always quirky, condemned quite a few large Victorian structures on the east side of downtown - evidently some of these families did fight tooth-and-nail, and lost.)
I didn't realize that the laundromat had those same smarmy signs. Yeah, I've patronized businesses that we're located in his buildings too. But obviously there's no point in trying to punish him by punishing a business you like - he'd just let the building sit vacant.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Fri, 11/17/2006 - 12:03am
Have you ever noticed that the laundromat and its immediate left-hand neighbor are oddly-shaped spaces? That's because they were once one business, which BF destroyed: When I returned to Durham in January 1985, both spaces were occupied by Soaps, a combination laundromat and pizza place (IIRC, they had other foods too). Both sides were clean and neat, unlike a lot of laundromats. The food side was also quiet, thanks to the intervening wall (full of windows at the time). One side had video games; I think they served beer. Sounds like a winner, right? Pizza, beer, video games, and a laundromat, all two blocks from a university; what could go wrong? Answer: BF. What I heard at the time was that they did great business, so much so that BF tripled their rent and ran them out. He tried to take over operation of both businesses. He still runs the laundromat, of course. The pizza business became "Wild Bill's." Someone else ran it for a while after "Wild Bill" Fields gave it up; the new owners moved the business out of BF's space, and it became "Wild Bull's Pizza."
I haven't used BF's laundromat since one of his dryers dumped grease all over my clothes. First he told me it looked like ink (it wasn't), then he told me he wasn't responsible for damage to my clothes. All I wanted was clean clothes. A few days later the dryer had an "out of order" sign on it since. I've never patronized his business since.
GK, I'm up to owing you three beers. ;)
Submitted by Sven (not verified) on Fri, 11/17/2006 - 4:14am
That's funny - I remember the Wild Bill's/Wild Bull's transition back in the late 80's/early 90's. I never made the connection that it was Bill Fields.
Submitted by David Rollins (not verified) on Tue, 11/21/2006 - 9:44am
Bill Fields is a Duke Phi Delt and a helluva guy (full disclosure: I am the chapter advisor). Whatever you may think of his handling of these properties, you must admit that there is significant potential for the appreciation of the Medical Arts building, once the Chesterfield / West Village redevelopment blossoms into the mixed use paradise with transit station, specialty grocery store, etc.
I think it's funny that the folks against Duke's Central Campus redevelopment (John Schelp, et al.) want to "save" Ninth Street, but are largely mum on the culpability of the present landlords, including Bill Fields. Maybe because there's not much they can do about it? Dunno. Bring back Pinhook, I say.
Anyway, great web site.
Submitted by Sven (not verified) on Tue, 11/21/2006 - 2:56pm
Good to hear from you - it's been a long time.
While I'm sure that Bill is a helluva guy to have a beer with, I can't cotton to his idea of property management. If this was an occupied, reasonably maintained building, I wouldn't begrudge the desire to make a profit on it. But as it is, the building has bent, stained plywood boarding the building, weeds and trash on the side and back, cracked pavement with weeds growing out of it, a "No Tresspassing" so dirty it's hard to read, etc., etc.
So while property in the area may appreciate with West Village II +/- the ill-fated transit development, the surrounding property will continue to have its value dampened by the Medical Arts building unless something changes with it. And based on what I've heard (and as is seemingly the typical case in Durham) the appreciation expectation far outweighs a reasonable market projection.
Another interesting question revolves around the fact that all of these projects will be built with public subsidy. If Bill does manage to sell his property for a mint, should he reimburse the taxpayers for the value added to his property by the public funds?
Thanks for your comments, and for stopping by.
Submitted by dcrollins (not verified) on Wed, 11/22/2006 - 1:09am
Did I miss the fact that West Village is receiving a public subsidy? I'm all for higher density development, but that is going too far.
Submitted by Sven (not verified) on Wed, 11/22/2006 - 1:45am
From the Herald Sun:
The council also voted 7-0 to give up to $11.3 million in incentives to Blue Devil
Ventures for the second phase of West Village. The project will convert the remaining
buildings of the former Liggett & Myers tobacco factory into loft apartments, artist space,
offices and shops.
Under the deal, the city will reduce the property tax by half for six buildings by giving
them a Historic Landmark Designation. The city will also pay $4 million for street and
sidewalk improvements around the development on the western edge of downtown.
The city will also contribute $2.54 million in cash incentives to Blue Devil Ventures. The
money will come out of the downtown revitalization fund over a 10-year period.
Submitted by William B. Fields II (not verified) on Sun, 4/1/2007 - 4:34pm
I have seen your comments and respect the website. I know we all want to better Durham. Is there any way I can help?
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Sun, 4/1/2007 - 5:09pm
Thanks for stopping by, and I appreciate the magnanimous sentiment. Please know that the intent of this post, and website are, indeed, to foster the betterment of Durham.
My house is 3 blocks from the Medical Arts building, the Eloise (which I think looks fine from the outside), and the abandoned, weed-covered, broken-windowed building at 604 W. Chapel Hill (next to The Eloise). I've seen these buildings in this condition for the 10 years I've lived in this spot.
It might seem like there is nothing much around these buildings to have a negative effect on, but the negative externalities of these abandoned structures (and Ronnie Sturdivant's motel across the street) keep this area from revitalizing. People think this is a "scary" and "ugly" neighborhood in part because of the condition of those buildings.
I can only assume that your father's intent is to try to sell all of these properties (incl vacant lots and parking) as a package to some developer who wants the amalgamated parcels, and that the 'right' offer hasn't materialized.
But leaving these buildings like this for so long exacts very real costs - both monetary and social - from the whole West End, West downtown, Brightleaf, Morehead Hills, etc. It is all of us who suffer from the waiting game.
So as to your generous offer to help? I ask you to convey the real negative consequences of the ongoing abandonment of these buildings for people who do care about Durham. Renovate to a productive use, or sell. If he were to fix these buildings up so they are once again an asset to the community, I would be the first to highlight 'the love'.
Submitted by William B. Fields II (not verified) on Sun, 4/1/2007 - 10:02pm
I am glad you and others have taken this initiative. Now, I don’t think there is any reason to bring sarcasm into this sort of conversation such as ‘the love,’ but I will tell you about your misconception on my property.
Unlike you Gary, I was raised in Durham and have seen South Square mall torn down and Northgate mall on the brink of bankruptcy. These last 10 years the motel across from my property has been vacated and vandalized, becoming a haven for drug deals. If you look back years before your records on this website you will see that there have been substantial improvements on Ninth Street from the time my grandfather was a merchant on the street. I have the blueprints to prove it.
I am not sure about you Gary, but I have witnessed the negative externalities first hand. I have ridden along with the police force and seen how our city has been changing for the worse, especially in South Durham. I have witnessed these escalating crime levels along Chapel Hill Blvd first hand, and close to my home near Walltown. I live next to the mall as you might already know, and the rampant “scary” and “ugly” buildings have become more of an eyesight for me as I drive on Buchanan and up into Walltown to get to Guess Rd.
What you probably don’t know is that my father works around the clock watching over the property because of theft and panhandlers. My father does ‘love’ Durham and he is doing all he can. If anything my father has protected a lot of buildings from theft and renovated buildings to beautify Durham. There was an article in the Herald Sun where my father prevented a break in on Ninth Street years ago. The building would have been broken in to if my father wasn’t tending to the Laundromat
You speak about my property as if it has affected you personally, but a lot of the comments about my father have created the same negative impact you speak of on me and I think of my self as someone who wants to give back to the community. Instead of supporting slander on this blog I think we should bring the entire community into this effort of bettering Durham. I am not sure if you (own) any properties besides your home, but I’m assuming since you haven’t spoken about the time and money and manpower that it takes to upkeep real estate, that you don’t. Your assumption about my father’s intent about selling property to the ‘right’ developer is wrong and frankly I am not sure why you would think he would sell any of our properties since he never has. I understand how costly it is to have these buildings sit vacated, but you don’t realize when we first purchased the Eloise a lot of construction needed to be done on the inside before the outside, which took an enormous amount of time, money, and labor. I assure you the other buildings will be in top shape, since they are considered mine as well.
I have helped my father on Ninth Street since I was riding a tricycle. I worked in the pizza business, the Laundromat and built many of the apartments in the Eloise that you speak of. I want to help with this initiative and want to bring the community together, but targeting my father with verbal abuse is not going bring about a solution for the negative affects of Durham. My father is working on these buildings, which is more than a lot has been done on sitting property around downtown.
I do want to help, but the argument should be less about how Bill Fields can complete or get rid of his projects in X years and should be focused towards getting new projects started for those left untouched. I want you to look at my profile. You can see that I have taken the steps to work with our government officials on issues concerning not only our city, but our state as well. Please let me know how we can work together in the future because I think all of us have a common goal.
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Mon, 4/2/2007 - 12:28am
I understand it is a personal issue for you, and thus a non-objective one. Rest assured that it is not actually a personal issue - whatever comments post-ers have about their personal experience notwithstanding. If you read through the rest of this site, you'll find plenty of 'calling out' of all owners of persistently blighted property on an equal-opportunity basis.
I don't care one way or another about the personal situation of your father or any of the other folks who leave blighted, abandoned property fallow - what I do care about how these properties hurt everyone else in the community. 604 West Chapel Hill and the Medical Arts buildings are, aside from Ronnie Sturdivant's place two of the most neglected buildings on the west side of town. With property rights come property responsibilities, and that responsibility is to not create a nuisance. These buildings are a nuisance.
Since your father purchased the Medical Arts Building in 1995, all I've seen done is 1) Boarded windows and 2) Mowed lawn. Absolutely nothing else has occurred on this property - so it, and 604 West Chapel Hill are part of the problem. If you want to work together, repair and renovate the property. If you can't alleviate this nuisance for lack of liquid capital, sell it to someone who can - I don't really care who owns it, as long as it doesn't continue to make anyone who passes by it think Durham and the West End are a collective cesspool.
I truly understand the desire to defend your Dad - really, I would lash out too. But understand that many, many people think poorly of how he has left these properties for so many years. That sentiment is out there - I didn't create it. I suggest that if you truly want to help Durham, you talk to your Dad about how much these buildings are hurting our efforts at revitalization, and get a plan together to renovate them. Hurting our community for another 12 years just isn't acceptable.
Submitted by Woozle (not verified) on Tue, 4/3/2007 - 12:47am
Yay! I'm getting anonymous legal threats for describing Fields and Sturdivant as "questionable"! (Well, ok, I initially had them filed under "slumlords", but the mention of "legal actions" came after I moved everything to the "questionable repute" page.)
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Tue, 4/3/2007 - 1:10am
Ah Woozle, I'm sorry. I think you've got an upset son on your hands.
Submitted by Edna (not verified) on Wed, 2/6/2008 - 10:58pm
Pardon my naiveté, but what of that whole eminent domain thing?
Why can't Durham just commandeer the Medical Arts building and, say, turn it into a school? Or another satellite health clinic? Or something that would elevate the community and diminish the blight in that Gregson/W Chapel Hill St area?
Submitted by Gary (not verified) on Wed, 2/6/2008 - 11:03pm
The city could certainly exercise eminent domain to build something for a public purpose. I wish they would do so with this property, but given that we're a state that values people's right to make a nuisance with their property over the public's right to quiet enjoyment of their neighborhood, I wouldn't hold your breath.
Submitted by Andrew Edmonds (not verified) on Wed, 4/9/2008 - 7:04pm
Something's afoot at the Medical Arts building. I drove past it this afternoon (9 April 2008) and there were a handful of workers atop the roof. Probably just assessing damage after the latest rainstorms -- but they ARE the first workers I've ever seen on the property.
Submitted by Brad B (not verified) on Thu, 12/17/2009 - 5:04pm
I remember going to my pediatrician (Durham Pediatrics) in the Medical Arts Building in the 1980s and I thought it was a great place then, as I had fond memories of the visits and doctors. Durham Pediatrics moved to Central Medical Park across from Durham Regional sometime in the early 90s I believe. I have always loved this building and hate to see it in its current state. My Mom says that just about every time we used to pass it I said I'd like to buy the building and do something with it, haha. Here's to hoping it will be rejuvenated soon rather than later.
Submitted by clif (not verified) on Fri, 4/1/2011 - 8:15pm
In response to William B. Fields II:
I am sorry for the obvious emotional trauma that witnessing the demolition of South Square and the near bankruptcy has done to you.
But you asked what you could do to help and then spent multiple paragraphs defending your proud inheritance. So, though is was April 1 and now we are celebrating 4 years since your charitable gambit, let's eschew with the sarcasm you disdain. Sell the property for at it's tax value. In these difficult financial times and with the delayed/(failed?) Liggett deal you can establish your philanthropic stature in this city and clear the way for provision of future growth.
Feel the hometown love. I had a tricycle too.
Submitted by JFElliott on Fri, 12/30/2011 - 12:00pm
My comments are about the Medical Arts Building.
As a child, I went to see Dr. Arthur London and Dr. Will London in that building. It always smelled like a doctor's office - rubbing alcohol sort of smell.
I remember Dr. London's nurse was Mrs. Bennett.
I remember Dr. London having a large fish tank to look at.
As a teenager, I remember going to Dr. Glasson and Dr. Kapoor in the same building.
My, what great, great memories this website brings back!!
Submitted by Rick Duke (not verified) on Thu, 6/14/2012 - 4:36pm
Fireworks and sparks over this blighted building, I see. Back to the building's history ...
Yeah, I believe Dr. London was my mom's choice of pedatrician, though I'd stop short of calling these fond remembrances. I recall seeing Dr. Kapor as well for other stuff. Also got team physicals there for Elks Pop Warner football. The place did smell terribly anti-septic and as a child, I'd generally associate this place with pain from finger-pricks and shots.
It is awful eye-sore in its current state. The city and media should really put more pressure on the owner to do something with it. An empty lot is better than a boarded up building.
Submitted by LLD (not verified) on Sat, 8/17/2013 - 2:15pm
The plywood has come off the windows and it looks like they're being cleaned and perhaps even painted. Anyone know what's going on?
Submitted by raven on Fri, 8/22/2014 - 5:44pm
this building has not have been renvated i wonder whats the probem
Add new commentLog in or register to post comments.