917 North Buchanan Boulevard

36.012693, -78.91241

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George West House. Side-gabled 1-story bungalow with a gable end chinmey, a large gable dormer, Chinese-style eave brackets, and exposed rafter tails. Other features are 4/1 sash windows, wide weatherboard, and a hipped porch with Craftsman posts, an original Chippendale railing, and an original porte-cochere extension. Geo. C. West, president of Durham Gas & Oil Co., was the owneroccupant in the 1930s.

Garage. Ca. 1925. Front -gable garage with German siding and exposed rafter tails.





I lived here with my wife and two young kids 1990-1996.  Like so many of the houses in the older parts of Durham, it has great early-twentieth-century character.  Large baseboards, very solid woodwork, some Craftsman-style hints here and there.  

There are two front parlors, which communicate via two french doors.  The north parlor features a brick fireplace without much mantel; when we lived there, it was painted white with a yellowish tiled hearth.  That parlor communicates with a sunny dining room (at least that's what we used it for) through another set of french doors.  Between that room and the kitchen at the back of the house was squished an odd little room which at one time must have featured a built-in table and benches, set across from a butler's pantry.  (We used it as our first computer room, with our 1992 Leading Edge computer and monochrome monitor.) In back of the kitchen, set next to the back porch, was a very large storage pantry (which might have originally been part of the back porch).  There were two bedrooms and a partial basement.

It was a good house for a young family.  We bought it when we found out my wife was pregnant with our firstborn, and moved in about three months before he was born in 1990.  Our daughter was born in 1992.  While we were living here, my wife and I were both finishing grad school (she for Masters, me for PhD) while working (she full time, me part time) and taking care of two very young children.  The house worked well: with a hallway connecting bedrooms on one side of the house, and shot-gun rooms running down the other, you could chase toddlers in circles around the house until one of you got worn out.

One thing that made the house attractive to us (other than the relatively low price of older Durham houses then) was that the previous owners had remodeled the kitchen, installed new HVAC and added a sliding glass door to the back bedroom.  They had been relatively early urban pioneers in seeing the value of old houses. They wrote a newsletter for owners of Owen Stickley Craftsman-era furniture, so when we first saw the house, it was full of period furniture and looked great.  Needless to say, with our limited budget and two young kids, it did not stay that way.  Instead of Stickley, we had bouncey seats and K-mart high chairs.  

The floors were never level, and while we lived there the house grew more and more out of plumb.  Eventually, the floors and walls were so out of sync that you could see two inches under the walls in some rooms.  You could roll a small ball from one room into another...  So eventually, we had foundation work done.  As I recall, it cost about $7000.  The front porch also rotted away at one end.  My father-in-law helped me replace and repair it.  I couldn't have done it without him, because my home improvement knowledge did not extend far beyond Home Depot, and our of sheer ignorance I would have replaced that end of the porch with inappropriate decking.  He helped me visit lumberyards for two days until we found (in Wake County) a product that resembled the original porch decking.  

One afternoon, when I had a sitter for the kids and was just about to head out for a run or bike ride, an older woman showed up on my front porch.  She said  that her parents had owned the house (had they built it? I don't recall.  Perhaps she was from the West family mentioned in the house description here) and she had lived there as a girl.  I urged her to come in and look around, and it was clear she wanted to badly, but she wouldn't do it.  She did however tell me about how her older brother took over the garage loft (which we used for storage) as his own private den, and would keep his Tom Swift books out there.

There was a huge wisteria running up the porte-cochiere which was beautiful when it bloomed -- but I had to keep hacking it back because its tendrils would get under the clapboards and start pulling them.  In just a few months each spring, that plant would send multiple inch-thick shoots 20 feet down the yard to the street.  One nice feature of the house was the backyard, which was a small, somewhat barren but nicely desgined urban yard -- and to which we added some shrubs (our first actual gardening!)  There were two mature pecan trees which would render bumper crops every second or third year.  My toddler daughter would keep herself happy for hours just gathering pecans, shelling them and eating them.  There was a trellis with white tea roses.  One year it was particularly lovely -- and then one day I was upset to discover that all the flowers were gone, chopped down.  Did somebody bear a grudge against us?  A few days later, a neighbor told me that the guy who rented the house behind me had been out on the street the day before Mother's Day trying to sell white tea roses...  

There was not a strong neighborhood feeling on our block.  Buchannan Blvd. was too busy; we always entered and left from the alley in back, where there was a parking space for our car.  Most people were renters, and there were few people with kids.  I was our main child care giver, and took the kids out every day.  On rainy days, the kids and I hung out at Northgate Mall.  We did manage to find some neighbors to help with child care so that I could work on the dissertation: Miss Domita was a younger black mom down the block; Miss Rosa was an eccentric old white woman whose North Carolina accent I could barely decipher; she lived a couple blocks away.  Officially, I guess, the house was in Walltown -- although just across the street was Trinity Park.  We always ended up gravitating toward Trinity Park -- which I admit probably had a lot to do with race and class. (We're white, overly-educated people.)  We never walked through Walltown; it seemed too dangerous.   We signed up with the Trinity Park Babysitting Co-op and hung out with the kids at the Trinity Park tot lot, where I got to know a lot of moms -- although there were a few people who never adjusted to the idea that a dad might be taking care of kids...   

It was a great house and a great location in many ways.  But eventually, as the kids got bigger, we felt a big confined.  We didn't feel particularly safe letting them run around the neighborhood.  There were drug deals in the alley just a block away, and a notorious center of drug activity just two blocks away.  People regularly came to the door asking for money.  That wasn't a problem: we never gave anything, so we didn't have many.  But one evening, one guy kept me busy at the front door asking for money-- while his partner was stealing the license tag off our car in the back.  We finally decided to move the suburbs.  The day before we put the house on the market, I came home from our weekly trip to the main Durham Library with my two young kids to find the house had been broken into and our TV stolen -- as well as some costume jewelery (although the better jewelery they ignored).  The realtor showed up just as the police were leaving.  "You know I'll have to tell this to prospective buyers."  Yes, of course.  

The house sold two days later, and we moved to the suburbs.  That probably was the right move, but I'm tired of the burbs now and look forward to moving back into town when I can.  Durham is too exciting now to be left out in the burbs!

Thanks for posting this!  I've rambled on too long, but I really like knowing about how people have used these houses and how that fits into the history and streetscape of the city.  Besides, where else am I gonna post all of this?



I can't thank you enough for sharing every bit of this - it's exactly what I hope more people will do with the site, and why I built the site the way I did. This is 'real' history, and it's the kind that we lose constantly. Because, as you point out - where else will you (or anyone) write it down? It's one of those things that can never quite seem important enough to do.

There are a relative abundance of individual here's-our-house blogs out there, but I worry about where they'll be in 5 years, and I regret that they don't tie in to the broader history of Durham in the way I designed Open Durham to do. 

So I'm very grateful for you sharing all of this - If you have old pictures of your house or want to update the post itself, it is fully editable. 


Gary, I agree entirely!  I love the idea of weaving all of our individual and collective stories together.  That's one reason I've been a contributor -- as well as a big fan of what you do here since the early Endangered Durham days.  

Btw, is there a way to see all of the latest posts here without clicking on the band of pictures below the main banner photo?  I don't get a chance to check in every week, and sometimes when I do there are dozens upon dozens of new postings that I'd like to view-- but every time I view one, I have to start all over again on the front page, clicking many many pages of pictures to the right in order to find where I last left off.  And then I have to do the same thing for every single post I view.  And for the past week or so, it won't seem to take me past about 20 pictures anyway: the band of pictures just goes blank.

If not, I would love to be able to generate a list of posts by date posted.  Without being able to catch upon "the latest stuff," I am losing a bit of the one thing that was really good about the old ED psudo-blogging format: the sense of community one gets from a blog of sharing with others whatever has been posted recently.  That was probably what originally kept me coming back (which is probably why lots of websites now use blogs to generate traffic).  

I am still so amazed by Open Durham, and interested in seeing what the Chapel Hill people do with the platform.  I now know my city in a way that I never did before.  I'm not sure I would be so eager about moving back from the 'burbs if I had not be so totally wowed by ED & OD.  I am so happy to be a part of this, and to have a chance to contribute my little bit above!



In reply to by kwix


You can always click on the RSS feed (the little orange button) at the bottom left corner of the recent updates window; that will show you a very blog-like list of recent entries.

To give you a sense of my thinking, I really thought that, based upon what people said to me prior to making OD, a lot of people would be writing or updating various entries about buildings, and that I would more often use the "Featured" window above to do just that - feature a particularly interesting entry. The updates would be a log of some changes and new entries, but not really be the main source for 'new content.'

Part of this was the necessity of divesting myself of the sense of duty to spend hours every night coming up with new material; and hoping to create something that had an organic base of new material produced by other people that made it self-perpetuating as I ~retired.

It hasn't really worked out so far; no one is creating new entries of their own accord. Since that isn't happening, I've been trying to recruit volunteers to fill out some basic information about the historic districts in Durham so that I feel comfortable that at least that much has been documented before I stop pushing the boulder. We're using the National Register nominations, and they are doing batches at a time, so there are large numbers of fairly-meager-content entries appearing in the Recent updates.

I had hoped adding the "Recent Comments" would help re-generate that interaction with the site that you refer to. And adding the facebook feed would allow the bits and pieces of new news/comment that I make on OD Facebook. 

But at the end of the day, I've built this to be an archive first, and a serial new-content-production site second, because that's the conservative use over the long haul, and although I've tried to do both well-enough, it probably can't be fantastic at both. If no one really steps up to take ownership of new content production, then once I stop recruiting volunteers, new content production will cease, and there won't be anything in the "Recent Updates." But, although that's not my hope, at least there will be a robust, searchable archive of 6000+ buildings for people to pull information from, hopefully in perpetuity.


I can't replicate the scrolling problem you mention. What browser are you using? Feel free to email me.


I adore this house! I have been passing it for a while in my quest for the perfect craftsman house.....this is it because it went on sale this week! I hope it will be mine!

Me too! I'm Sarah M's mother and I fell in love with this elegant llttle gem the moment she sent me pictures of the listing.
It's exactly the house I've been wanting for her.

I grew up 2 doors down from this house in the 1960s and 1970s and remember it well.  Mrs. West (the original owner) was still living there alone in the 1960s, She used to invite my mother and us kids over sometimes in the afternoon if the weather was nice and we were passing by.  She and my mother would sit on the front porch and drink iced tea while my sister and I would play around the porch and yard.  There were several widowed ladies living on the 900 block of North Buchanan at that time - most of them original owners of the houses.  As young children, we thought Mrs. West was one of the friendliest ones.

Wow!   When I posted my comments in August, only the top (front exterior) picture of the house was posted here.  Since then, another front exterior and the two interior and the backyard pics were added.  Thank you!

These photos bring back some memories.  I see now I that I was right in thinking that the white fireplace had a small mantel and a yellow hearth.   You can tell from the photo that the next room shown -- the one with three windows side-by-side, which we used as a dining room -- was in many ways the most pleasant space in the house -- an extraordinarily lovely place to be.   There was a certain lightness to that side of the house; the whole house managed light and shadow very well.  Perhaps that is a standard characteristic of Craftsman-style houses...?

I see from the last picture that my daughter's favorite pecan tree in the back yard has been cut down.  But the shrubs we planted in front of the garage -- so small back then -- are now thriving.  And what an amazingly tree-filled area that is behind the house.  There was an almost country feel to the gravelled back alley, despite the drug-dealing and other urban dangers.  Durham is such an interesting place to live!

I lived in this house from the fall of 1983 until early summer of 1984. It was a shared house between me and two other graduate students (who had already been living there when I joined them). This was well before the HVAC renovation mentioned above - in fact, the house was so poorly insulated and drafty that we found that we (as grad students) couldn't afford to keep the heat going at all. There was a coal stove in the front room (in front of the fireplace in the first interior picture above), and that was pretty much it, except for a small electric heater in the bathroom. I can remember seeing frost on the interior windows of my bedroom, which got rather old after a while.

We lived there with three cats, who certainly liked the coal stove in the cold weather. But I mostly slept there, when I think about it - I was the only person in the house doing a chemistry degree, and I was over at the old P. M. Gross chemistry building most hours, working on my PhD and keeping warm off of Duke's heating bill. I remember making many grad-school style meals in the kitchen, and closing the pantry door to keep the cats out of everything. One of them in particular liked bread, for some reason, and could run around the kitchen counters in order to make a daring leap onto the top of the fridge, tear into any bread stored up there, and shred it on the floor.

I left to move into Poplar Apartments (also a widely used grad school living option), and the house, as far as I know, continued as a grad-student shared residence for a bit longer.

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