Cobb Building

35.998995, -78.90705

Cross Street
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National Register
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Cobb Building, 1910


Cobb (left) and O'Brien (right) with the original Fire Station #2 between the buildings.

Looking northeast from Duke and Main Sts., 1890s. The tower of the Fire Station #2 is visible along West Main St. On either side, the stepped, projecting vent chimneys of Cobb and O'Brien are visible.
(Courtesy Duke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection)

The O'Brien building was built in 1898 and the Cobb building in 1899 as similar warehouse structures, modeled on the extant Walker Warehouse across West Main St. The Cobb building, much like the Walker Warehouse, was originally a single story structure.

In the early 1920s, the internal wood post-and-beam structure of the Cobb building was disassembled and replaced with an internal steel structural system; three floors were added atop the original first floor. Interestingly, the original wood structural post-and-beam system from the first floor was reassembled on the fourth floor as its structural system.

Architects for the renovation of the building noted a curiosity about this replacement steel structural system - that it is rotated ~7 degrees from square to the exterior walls of the building.

This view from the 1930s show the fire station tucked between the two warehouses located on the north side of Main street.

(Courtesy Durham County Library)

A partial view of both during shift change at L&M, 1930s.


(Courtesy Durham County Library)

Multiple additional changes were made to the building over the mid 20th century, including bridges across West Main and Morgan St., subterranean tunnels under Morgan St., a new steel structural system extending the full height of the northern portion of the building to support the a chiller system on the roof, and exterior elevator shafts.

Both structures were used primarily as warehouse structures in the late 20th century, as tobacco operations waned and Liggett eventually decamped in ~2001. They briefly considered renovating the remaining buildings in the complex themselves before agreeing to sell them to the Blue Devil Ventures group in 2003.

Here is the site prior to West Village phase 2 renovations, 2006.

In 2009, Blue Devil Partners completed renovations to the 'Phase II' of West Village project, which included Cobb and O'Brien, the Old Cigarette Factory, the Walker Warehouse, and the old L&M office building. Although I haven't been in either Cobb or O'Brien since renovation, my understanding is that they are primarily residential.

Cobb building, 11.07.09



When was the fire station torn down ?

"my understanding is that they are primarily residential."

Had you been part of the zombie lurch last fall, you could have seen the terror in the eyes of all those folks who thought it was safe to live on the first floor of a downtown Durham dwelling. Zombies were hanging from every window, enjoying the screams of the not-yet-undead, within.

I am a Durham native and had no idea such a fire station existed at this site, but the placement of the warehouses makes perfect sense now that I see the old pictures.
I really like the scene of the shift changes...That picture conveys a lot of atmosphere.
Thank you.

I'm not sure why they didn't tear those warehouses down for surface parking and a commuter rail station. What a waste of prime urban property using it for residential purposes! Maybe Jeff Obcene could wrap those ugly buildings in vinyl, and replace all those old windows to make the site at least look more modern.


The un-renovated building on the corner still has some cigarette machines in it. It actually smells the way all of downtown Durham used to smell, despite the fact it's been vacated for so long. I think it's locked up now.

there's a single brick on the southwest corner of Cobb with '1903' carved into it by hand, and I love that it's there. such a little moment.

there was equipment in Cobb before the renovation. Derek Anderson took some wonderful shots of the interior of these buildings and a few others and has them up here: (second page, 'when the dust settles')

From the aerial view you can see how there are two sets of railroad tracks that are aligned beside the buildings. I remember my parents driving down Main Street in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when trains would cross Main Street. There were two two-story wooden towers at the tracks in which operators would lower the crossing gates when the trains approached. My mother told a story of how she was once trapped between the two sets of tracks with trains approaching, the crossing gates down, and she panicked.

There is a large phantom smokestack top center in the arial view courtesy of Durham County Library. The smokestack casts no shadow. Compare it to the shadow of the Imperial Building smokestack on the right.

The shadow seen is that of the current large white water tower that stands next to the old power plant across from social services. The photo has been retouched.

Actually, it casts a rather large shadow between the two Farley warehouses immediately to its west - the very top of the stack casts an oblique shadow on the south side of the northern Farley warehouse. The water tower - likely silver at that point rather than white, sits directly behind (to the north of) the smokestack. I see no evidence that the photo has been retouched.


In the 1930's aerial view, you can see the gigantic Pope-Slater house on the right upper of the photo. Also, the fire training tower.

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