Dc May House

36.016486, -78.907237

Cross Street
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Year demolished
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National Register
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Davis-May House, 1980

The land extending from Demerius Dollar's land (to give the origin of two TP street names - DD owned several tracts of land north and south of Club Blvd. along what became Dollar Ave.) to what became Norton St. was, in the 19th century, part of the large extent of WP Clements' land. He sold several lots to WH Young, who built the Young-Cole-Couch house at 911 West Club in 1905. In 1909, Young sold this large lot to the west of his house to WA Hewitt, who in turn sold it to George L. and Evelyn Murray Davis in 1913. They likely built the the Queen Anne Victorian at 915 West Club Blvd house soon after they purchased the lot; Davis was a factory manager at the American Tobacco company.

In 1920, the Davis family sold the house to DC May and his wife Maude. I don't think anyone ever called DC by his given name - Daisy Cleveland.

DC May was born in 1883 "10 miles east of Durham," attended Cherry Grove School, and at the age of 16 began his apprenticeship as a painter. His first painting job was the Golden Belt Manufacturing Company. A few years later he painted the entire spire of the original Trinity Methodist Church "using no equipment other than a rope supporting his body."

He went into business for himself in 1908, and built a large painting contractor firm over the subsequent decades. His company was originally located in the 400 block of Morgan St. and, long after his death, in the Imperial Tobacco Building. (Until it sold to Measurement Inc. in 2003.)

DC May died in 1944, and his business was taken over by his sons, Ned and Mike May - he had conveyed the house and land to them in 1943, and the family continued to live in the house at Norton and West Club.

In later years, the house was divided into apartments, with a member/members of the May family remaining in the house into the 1980s.

By the late 1990s, the house was abandoned. There were several attempts to save the house, but it was sold by the May family in 2005 to a developer ("Secondlook Homes, LLC") who had no interest in saving the house, either through renovation or moving - Carrie Mowry at Preservation Durham made a valiant attempt at the time. However, it seemingly completely disappeared one night - so completely that we actually wondered if it had been moved.

Alas, it had not, and the large lot was subdivided for multiple houses - I'm less annoyed by one turned away from Club towards Norton than the one facing West Club with a large privacy fence (and no gate) between the front of the house and the sidewalk on West Club.

New houses under construction on the site of the DC May house, 03.16.08

Site of the DC May house, 05.23.10 - only the steps remain.

Find this spot on a Google Map.



I saw one of the new houses is in foreclosure. Bad things come to those who knock down history and hastily re-develop!

Hey, what happened to the comments? Six or seven were deleted.

Strange things are happening with the comments on this post... There were 5 repeats of the first comment, and when I tried to delete one, they all disappeared. When a new comment is made, they reappear, etc.


Maybe new construction on the south side of W. Club in these blocks would be more likely to face the (busy) street if there were something more attractive than banks and bank parking lots to view across the street. Even, then, this is always destined to be a busy stretch of road. Unlike Duke and Gregson, which currently serve as replacements for the East End Connector, Club is a high-traffic local east-west thoroughfare. The traffic is not only mall-related, but is also thanks to Northgate Mall and I-85 to the north, and limited east-west options to the south (especially with the dubious "traffic-calming" speed bumps installed on Green St., Knox St., and Markham Ave., and the current closure of Markham Ave. at the Ellerbee Creek bridge). The grid is definitely squeezed through this area.

My wife and I looked at this house when it was briefly on the market. We were giddy at the prospect of having an entire acre in Trinity Park, and eager to restore this home to its former glory - until we went inside. The interior had been so completely remuddled as to obliterate any trace of historical character or charm. The grand staircase in the center of the home had been ripped out at some point and replaced with an exterior stair to the apartment upstairs (complete with views of the sky as KDD mentions). There was standing water in the basement. The 1970's kitchen was a nightmare, and a grim, low-ceilinged 1950's or 60's addition inflated the square footage total of the house but would have required demolition.

The amount of money the family members who inherited this place wanted for it left really no alternative but subdividing and developing that huge beautiful lot. Undoubtedly, it could have been done in a better way, and possible even in a way that could have financed the May house restoration.

I am not at all surprised that the same group responsible for that thing at Markham and Gregson was at work here. There's nothing "green" about the way they took a backhoe to a perfectly serviceable but modest bungalow on that site without salvaging a single stick of trim or fixture.

I second the notion about redeveloping the Club Boulevard corridor. I'd like to see Ninth Street north style buildings with ground floor retail and second floor residential on the north side of Club as a transition from Trinity Park to Northgate. It's unfortunate that the houses that face Club have to hide behind tall fences and rows of cedar trees.

Interesting about leaving the steps to the original house. Is that a cruel joke by the developer who tore it down or a rare concession to "preservation."

I don't live in Durham, but love this site. Where I live we level EVERYTHING!

With all due respect to Dave Rollins and RWE, saving the DC May house was a no-brainer, and the people who bought it to tear it town chiefly proved by their bankruptcy that had no brains. If I had not been deep in another project in 2005, and if I had known then the contractors I know now, I would have leapt on it. Both Dave and RWE talk about what bad condition it was in. Duh! Those are the houses you can make the biggest profits on. You ought to see what my house on W. Club looked like when I bought it in 1998, or what the Tate House looked like after it was dragged from Markham to Edith St. (Don't take my word for it: look on this blog.) Or you should have seen the house at 1010 Rosehill that I bought in 2008, or the house on Morning Glory that I bought in February.

The DC May house had an acre of land and sold in March, 2005 for $225,000. You could have subdivided the land and created the lot that faces Norton St. (now 1423 Norton St.) which is .21 acre lot. The current tax value of that lot is $86,844. Sell it to someone for $75,000 ( a very reasonable price) and you left with a net investment of $150,000 in the May House. Dave says it might have cost $100,000 to fix it up. Double that! Put $200,000 into it. Does anyone seriously think it would not be worth more than $350,000 restored and sitting on more than 3/4 acre of land in Trinity Park?

One weeps for the foolishness of the vandals who bought this house to tear it down. But I am also disappointed that Preservation Durham, Preservation North Carolina, and the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association are not better able to raise a sufficient ruckus to prevent these atrocities from occurring.

And don't let me get started on the mind-numbing vulgarity of the chevron house. . .

This is a strange part of Trinity Park that often feels disconnected from the mansions on Watts, so I don't think it's fair to condemn those who build higher density housing, even if an historic home is lost in the process.

Bad things happen to a lot of property owners, even if they buy teardowns and try to rehabilitate them. Look at 1411 and 1410 Gregson for example; I nearly bought the Lecky home at 1410 for $400K, but lost to a developer who tried to sell it for >$1M after significant renovation. The house was important to me, as I had known the owners and it was where we used to teach the boy scouts to swim back when I was an asst scoutmaster at Watts Baptist. Who's living there now? It went off the market and has been the origin of "frat party" complaints.

1410 is even nuttier; look at the tremendous acreage and square footage, then the Zillow estimate of $700K. So why did it sell for $292, or barely more than what I bought mine for in 2004? Look inside and you will know. It's been vacant for...15 years? Maybe 20, which is what I recall when I lived at 1423 Gregson (corner of Club). Back when it was "The Phi Delt House" (GK and I were members).

Despite what John says, you can't often make the most money by saving the house and selling off the outparcels (my neighbors at 1414 Norton have definitely done it right with their novel approach to a private communal garden behind 909 W. Club). While I share John's disappointment with Preservation Durham and the TPNA, the oft-cited remedy of a local historic district is not the answer to TP's "teardown problem". One solution is means-tested abatement of property taxes in a contributing property, one of the issues I raised when I ran for NC Senate 20. Demolition by neglect is a statewide issue, and particularly acute in Durham due to NIS and the racial overtones of many development discussions. We deserve better.

No argument that the loss of this structure was a travesty, or that someone could have renovated it and made a tidy profit - especially if the $225K figure that you cite is accurate.

It was regrettably way too much for us to take on at the time, and we both recall that the owners initially wanted a million bucks for the house and land. Maybe they came to their senses after it sat for a while, or maybe the $225K was only for the subdivided acreage that went with the May house.

I mean, even with the cost overruns and our inexperience rehabbing a house, we were able to come in under $100/sqft for our house in Cleveland Holloway. AND that's before you factor in the State Tax Credits. After that you're looking at less than $70/sqft and we can almost spit on City Hall.

Yes, it was challenging. Yes, our house was a POS when we bought it and in very very bad shape. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

I have yet to see a house that is incapable of being restored if you have the right people working on it.

The only reason the historic stair is still there, is that it would have added a 100 bucks to the demolition price.

RWE: The May house with the entire one acre sold for $225,000. That information is from MLS. The buyers paid about the value of the land itself, and got the house basically for free. I understand that it may have been too much for you to take on at the time. It was too much for me as well.

Dave: Where do you get the idea that I'm against "higher density housing?" I don't mind them subdividing the lot; I mind that they did it stupidly. They built two houses with their backs or sides facing Club Blvd, which created the ugly effect reflected in Gary's last picture. And they thought they could get big money for these poorly sited houses. I simply suggested that a person could have made money simply splitting one additional lot and leaving the May house sitting on the rest. You also say: "Despite what John says, you can't often make the most money by saving the house and selling off the outparcels ." You are dead wrong about that. Ask any real estate agent in Durham who deals with older houses. Fake old houses are all over the place; they have whole subdivisions of them in Apex. People will pay more for a genuinely old house that has been carefully and tastefully restored. It may be possible to make money tearing down a tiny older house and building a McMansion on the lot, but the May house was not in that category. Your comparisons to the houses on Gregson are similarly offbase. There is no way that 1411 N. Gregson is going to sell a million bucks any time soon. But what does that have to do with the May house? It sold for $225,000. You said it needed $100,000 work. I said, double that. You still have a house sitting an acre in Trinity Park for less than half a million. And, yes, I believe that the May house tastefully restored could have easily sold for that amount. By contrast, the new house they built (or rather, installed, since it was a prefab) sold on May 3, 2010 for $225,000 after a foreclosure, and after the original "builders" were unable to sell it despite more than four years of trying.

Dave, the biggest problem with what you are saying is that you are perpetuating the myth that restoring old houses is too expensive. I hear people say this stuff all the time: "it was too far gone;" "it would have cost more than it was worth." As Natalie says, that's almost never the case. The idiots who destroyed the May house proved my point. They almost certainly could have made money by an intelligent restoration. Instead, they lost their properties to foreclosure. That's only money. Unfortunately the rest of us lost the May house forever.

The developers of this lot actually bought it with the intention of renovating all or part of the DC May house, and then subdividing the remaining land and building new houses. When they got into the project though, it proved to be too far gone to be a financially feasible project, and they had a salvage company come in and take what they could.

Three of the four houses there are custom modular homes. They are energy efficient, were designed by an architect, and are full of custom carpentry work, so I would consider them to be "built."

SecondLook Homes was not involved in the butterfly house on Gregson Street. However, that house had a similar story, the owners bought it with the intention of saving it, and found that it was beyond their budget. Only then did they call in the design/build firm that built the butterfly house. And I will agree with David, it's a very cool house.

I will add here that that same design/build firm recently finished a gorgeous green renovation of a 100-year-old home on Lynch street that was on the green home tour. I'm surprised that victories like these are not profiled here more often.

The gray house on W. Club was tastefully designed so that the back doesn't look entirely like the back of a house. And if you lived near Gregson & W. Club, you wouldn't want to face the street either. Of all of those homes on those blocks, only four face W. Club, and two of those four are hidden behind fences, trees, and landscaping.

I consider myself to be a preservationist. But I am also a realist. Preservation is possible when the right person comes along with the financial backing, the know-how, and the determination to put a lot of work into old homes like the DC May house. But in my opinion, when houses like this sit empty for years, slowly rotting away without anyone stepping forward to save them, having four energy efficient houses where there was one is not a bad trade. That corner of Norton now has a great sense of community and contributes to the neighborhood in ways that one big house on one big lot possibly never could.

We recently went through (and in many ways are still going through) an economic crisis that contributed to a great housing bubble, a rash of foreclosures across the country and a big shift in the housing industry. Durham is not immune to or unaffected by that. The Prohibition House in Old West Durham was a tasteful and lovely renovation; however it has been on the market now for what? A year? More? The financial viability of old homes like these is just not a cut-and-dry science.

I might also mention that the Cole-Couch house that you wrote about in another post has had at least two junk vehicles parked on the street for months now, slowly sinking into the pavement, which makes that lot much less visually pleasing than the four new houses on the corner.

I love Durham because we love our city, our history, and our buildings. We put a lot of effort into saving a lot of them, and where some fall through the cracks we often have very interesting and progressive contemporary infill like the butterfly house on Gregson. This variability in our neighborhoods brings a great diverse and interesting population to our lovely city. If you want to live in a place where history is stiffly revered and things don't change, I suggest you move to a place with an active historic district like Hillsborough. Preservation goes beyond just the house on the lot, it goes to the street, to the neighborhood, to the context of that site and how it is developed. This blog (both the posts and the comments) has been very harsh on both this site and the Gregson street site, and I think it has been an unfair and poorly informed treatment.


So buying a house for $210,000 on Gregson and Markham that needed less than $50k in work-- it makes more financial sense to bulldoze it, not salvage anything, and build new construction on the site ending up with a larger house.

I don't quite agree with that. Having been inside the house that was destroyed and watching the previous owner restore it, I can say that it was no where near "too far gone". In fact it was a perfectly lovely and livable home.


Your arguments are all over the map. I realize that you disagree, and feel some personal insult at disparagement of the loss of the DC May house, but, to summarize:

1) Developer tried and had no choice but to tear down the house.

2) Opinions of those that disagree with you may come from preservationists, but not realists.

3) An unsold historic renovation on Virgie Street (priced above $300K) can be extrapolated broadly to mean that entire market for historic renovations is volatile/unpredictable.

4) Retention of historic architecture leads to abandonment of vehicles.

5) A single example of a un-profiled house can be extrapolated to a bias towards profiling failures of preservation on this site.

6) I (?) can't understand the need to erect a large privacy fence in front of a house because I don't live on Club Boulevard - which means I must live adjacent to a quieter/less traffic-laden road.

7) You disagree with my opinion (and I suppose others.) Your opinion is the correct standard for the community, and therefore, I should move to Hillsborough.

8) Building new houses on this site has created community in excess of that which would have been created with the preservation of the DC May house - whether on site or elsewhere.

This is probably the most useful and relevant part of the argument - or maybe it's just more interesting to me because it's somewhat topical and not the same scattershot arguments I've heard a few dozen times when I offend something that someone has a vested interest in, and they unload in all directions.

The interesting discussion is what the highest and best future use of the Club Blvd corridor is? Are we making decisions in reaction to the corridor rather than seeking to change the corridor? Would the sense that people have that they need to wall themselves off from the street change if the land use on the other side was different (which I'll get into more when I finally finish my Northgate post.) If one is going to tear down the historic architecture on the south side of the street, and you have this much land, shouldn't it actually be taller higher-density residential rather than a cluster of single family homes? I personally think that a 5 story apartment building (similar to other historic ones in TP) would be a more appropriate use for this site than 4 single-family houses. At the basis the developers got in for, they might even be able to keep some units affordable, and might even feel that they needed to do so because of Club Blvd.

Overall, there is an awkward tension between TP, Club Blvd., and Northgate. As the houses are torn down or moved (because that pressure will continue) I hope that it is redeveloped in such a way that, in concert with a taller and better Northgate site, creates a more pedestrian oriented, higher density activity center between Buchanan and Duke. Again, I'm previewing my Northgate post, so I'll stop there.


Previous anonymous poster here.

My comments were not meant to be an argument; they were responses to the previous comments.

The point I was trying to make (and apparently failed at) is that I think these four houses are a good contribution to the neighborhood. I think there are a lot of variables that go into the viability of preservation efforts, and in the instance where the right person didn't come along at the right time to save the DC May house, these four houses are a good use of the land.

The point you, GK, (and C, and RWE) make about this area being ripe for mixed-use high-density development I think is a fantastic idea. That would make for a nicer transition into downtown than the lovely Suntrust/Tripps/Wachovia and their sea of parking spaces.

It is a shame that more of those 5-story apartment buildings aren't built these days; they are exactly the kind of neighborhood housing type variability that I was talking about and that I appreciate about Durham.

Is the rumor that I have heard about a hotel going in there where construction has started true? That could be a step towards some higher-density development in this area.

Residences on both sides of Club along with office and retail could certainly make this area more comfortable for the pedestrian. Right now the accidents happening at the Gregson/Club intersection are so frequent it's a little scary to be in the area without a hunk of metal around you.

I heard it was going to be a hotel as well. That's at least what the letter from the city stated when the zoning issue came before council. As a neighbor in the immediate vicinity, we were given notice to issue disagreement. Personally, I hope that whatever it is will bring business and vitality back to Northgate Mall. I would like to see it full again before anyone develops the lot (currently for sale) behind the two old bungalows on Club just East of the Club/Duke intersection. Of course, that's also my bias since my backyard faces the giant wooded ravine area up for sale and b/c I LOVE the two empty cottages on Club. (They'll probably tear them down.)


I do hope you will continue eastward on Club, including the new townhomes at Duke and Club and my neighbor Michael at 909 W. Club. As I understand it, 909 W. Club is almost as old as my house; David Auerbach and his wife sold it to create the oddly shaped parcels behind it, a fine example of high density green development (five single family houses that share a garden, an outdoor kitchen, and a driveway off Norton St.).

With regards to Northgate, I think it's best future would be something akin to Cameron Village, as I suggested in this BCR post:

It's worth pointing out that the Bowman family that owns Northgate has faced opposition from TPNA on the redevelopment of the north side of Club. A restaurant was proposed next to Tripps, but after vocal complaints it was abandoned in favour of the grassy no man's land where my dog defecates daily. Whether this is the "highest and best use" of the land is up for debate. With regards to the site of the DC May house, the highest and best use was clearly met as evidenced by the lack of buyers wanting to save the house (despite valiant efforts by Preservation Durham). Personally, I think four single family homes are better than a big block of apartment buildings, but I would have been happy either way compared with a crumbling hulk across the street.

The houses on Club have walled themselves off from the street due to the larger issues of traffic and crime. This is true even of my own house, where I've let the holly and magnolia trees grow unfeasibly large to dampen the noise. The only person using the front door is the postman.

Oh, and those vehicles aren't abandoned -- just old. They're for sale if you'd like to move them: my 1985 4Runner "monster truck" is at my country house, and my 1972 Chevy pickup will return with me tomorrow. The Honda Civic belongs to my former tenants and should be towed away soon; in the meantime I'm using it to store my back issues of American Gentrifier magazine: http://www.panopticist.com/2005/01/american_gentrifier.php

DC May was my husband’s great grandfather  Early in our marriage (1995) we drove by the house My husband remembered being inside it as a little boy  We were surprised when a second cousin said it was being demolished  They had not even known about this, but were able to salvage the entry hall chandelier at the 11th hour  That art deco chandelier is so lovely and fine  It is hangs in their entry hall  now  I hope other family members were able to salvage some of the fine hardware and other interior elements  


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