Trinity Park - You Have a Teardown Problem

Another house in Trinity Park prepares to meet the landfill this week - at 930 West Markham Avenue. It becomes ever clearer that Trinity Park is suffering from the type of neighborhood destruction that has been relatively uncommon in Durham until recently - people who have the cash to pay $230,000 + demolition costs for a vacant lot to build their new house. Just gotta get rid of that pesky bungalow.

Looks like it was a hellhole inside.

Every few months I get in a rhetorical jab at Trinity Park for the ongoing resistance to Local Historic District status, and in that vein, I have a new slogan for TP:

Durham's Lil' Slice O' Raleigh
(with insincere apologies to Chapel Hill)

Raleigh, for those who don't know, has been undergoing a feverish teardown-and-replace spree - where primarily mid-century houses are replaced with McMansions. A very good website to check out to catch up on what our eastward neighbors are dealing with is Over the top/Inside the Beltline.

It's only been a few months since TP lost the apartment building at 403 Watts St., torn down for the next door neighbor's garden expansion.

403 Watts before.

403 Watts, potting soil.

It's been a few years since the wonderful old Queen Anne house of DC May (see DC May's business downtown here.) on West Club was torn down for several new houses

And the old farmhouse Victorian on the southeast corner of North Duke and West Club was torn down to be supplanted with townhouses.

I don't hesitate to give TP a hard time - simply because, unlike East Durham, I don't need to convince anyone that it has beautiful architecture and great tree-lined streets that help make it a desirable place to live. But that success and desirability can be a neighborhood's undoing - as people moving in want the positive externalities of the neighborhood and their suburban-style house. The arguments are typically along the lines of "it wasn't really in very good shape/about to fall down" or "it wasn't one of the nice houses in the neighborhood" or "it's just one house".

Except where, as a community, do you draw the line? At 1 house x 10, 1 house x 20, 30, 40? If the neighborhood becomes pockmarked with Garage Mahals, when does Trinity Park begin to lose its essential character?

I'd argue that it may have already started.

I'm not going to offer a local historic district as a panacea. I'll write again later this week about just how weak our local historic ordinances are. But it's something - at least a potential opportunity for public input and dialogue rather than bulldozers-in-the-night.

The question is, do TP'ers care about their historic buildings enough to get out in front of the bulldozers and preserve their neighborhood? I would argue that it is far more globally threatened by this trend than it was by a 7-story condo tower on a parking lot at Lamond and Watts. Will they bring that level of passion to the table, or accept the slow attrition of historic structures with a lie-still-and-think-of-Great-Rooms stoicism?


I used to live a couple houses away from there. When I saw the house going down on Friday, I wondered if you were going to note it.

Maybe whoever it is that puts their new million dollar house on that corner will also be the person who gets speed bumps on Gregson / gates to the neighborhood on Markham. Then the rest of us who live nearby can finally declare war.

today we were out walking in TP and stopped for a good look at some new construction. the next door neighbor was out in her garden so i asked-- it was the lot that had a graveyard on it.

she seemed pretty distressed about the house-- it's size on the lot, and the architecture of it. she also noted that there are still some slave graves on the property that she said are not being treated with respect.

so anyway, at least one person over there is unhappy about the changes in the neighborhood.

thanks for the link to over the top. my mom lives in budleigh in a house my family has owned since it was built around 1946. she's going to be selling it this year and she's terrified it'll just be torn down.

I posted a question to the Trinity Park listserv asking about what was going on with this house as it appeared demolition was interrupted shortly after it began. The couple who purchased the house responded, saying that they had intended to restore the house, including making repairs to the foundation. Upon closer inspection, the foundation was in much worse shape than their inspector had originally thought, and so they decided to demolish the house and replace it with another 1-story structure fitting in with the character of the original house.

Not knowing much about preservation of historic buildings, I don't know how easy it is to lift a house and replace the foundation beneath it, though I have seen it done on several other houses in Trinity Park that have been restored. I do know that some houses in this neighborhood have been made over extensively, to the point that only the original framing and maybe some of the original siding is kept.

This raises the interesting question of what counts as preservation. Is it preservation if you demolish a house and build in its place a new one that looks the same from the outside as it would if you had taken a piece-wise restoration approach?


Good question about what constitutes preservation when you substitute out components of the original house. I don't think there is a definitive answer - just that few people adopt a hard line about preserving kitchens and baths, and certainly about safety issues like wiring or lead paint - and just as few would say that a replacement/replica constitutes preservation. From a sustainability standpoint, more preserved is obviously better.

It's certainly possible to replace the entire foundation, although I can't imagine that the entire system needed replacement. While not cheap, I can't imagine that once you factor in demolition and building an entire new house that things wouldn't even out.


People will always have some excuse why they didn't restore a structure, and instead tore it down. If you look at pictures of structures, say, in Colonial Williamsburg or Old Salem before and after their restoration, you'd wonder how they ever saved the old building.

It can be done if one truly wants to... only laziness and lack of soul will prevent one from restoring a house.

Well I live in Trinity Park and I'm disgusted.

Yes, that house sat very low on the ground, probably on rocks. Surely Kountry Boys house movers could have come in & jacked up that house & rebuilt the foundation, as has been done for other houses in the neighborhood. Seems that might have been less expensive than a teardown.

On a related note, a week or so ago I spent over half an hour on the phone with a man who wanted to purchase a house in Trinity Heights and tear it down so he could build his dream house. He was very confused about the differences in local & national historic districts, and the roles of the Historic Preservation Commission and Preservation Durham.

He argued that the house just needed so much work that it *had* to be demolished. When I questioned if he had considered using preservation tax credits, he said no. So I asked him if 30% tax credits would help his numbers. "Umm, yes, but that would be a lot of trouble."


So then I told him about the Tate house on Markham and the value of a lot of publicity in helping find the right person to preserve it. I assured him that any contributing property in Trinity Heights would deserve the same bright light from those of us who care about historic preservation.

This gentleman was not so interested in publicity. I guess if education doesn't do the trick, the fear of public embarrassment might. The thing is, some folks cannot be embarrassed. They want what they want when they want it and be damned to the neighbors, be damned to the neighborhood.

And that is why we need protection with teeth in it.

My TP house is currently on the market, and one of my fears is that someone will buy it and tear it down. I think the thing that will keep that from happening is that I live on one of the less-prestigious blocks of TP.

But, a few houses up the street from me, a cute, small bungalow is about to be turned into a McHouse:

So maybe it's only a matter of time ...

lisa b.,

Place a conservation easement on your property before you sell it.

You may enjoy a tax benefit from the restriction but at the very least 1) you will have given yourself some assurance of the home's protection and 2) you will have shown a willingness to back up your wishes with actions (and your own $$).

I'm pretty sure the person who sold that house is very very sad that they are trying to tear it down. I've been inside. It needed roof work and foundation work. The interior was pretty amazing.

You can place protective covenants on your house, just as Preservation Durham does with the houses we sell though the Endangered Properties Program. Here is the link to some info and a template for covenants. If you need help, call Preservation Durham. Also, Trinity Park neighbor and attorney Lisa Logan has handled a number of the EPF houses and I recommend her as being quite knowledgeable.

Right now, that is the best way to protect your house. It has not, in my experience, impeded the sale of a home. I've resold two of the houses PD saved and the covenants were not a negative concern to the buyers.

It is Monday night at 10:00PM just drove by 930 W. Markham and the house has been completely reduced to rubble! Why?!
I see at the Durham County public record tax website that the new owners paid $ 232,000.00 just 3 months ago on 12/18/07 for this 2,928 sq. ft. house.
And now it is gone....I read on the listserve where the new owners Don and Sheila Goldstein wrote that they were "forced" to demolish their new house, due to the poor foundation. Yeah, right..., how stupid do the Goldsteins think we are?!
It is obvious they will most likely build a McMansion. How sad.

How is it "obvious they will most likely build a McMansion"?

Am I missing something?

Welcome to the Party Trinity Park. Hope Valley has been having its historic housing stock torn down for McMansions for over 20 years. So far we have lost homes like W. K. Boyd, W.C. Davison, F. H. Kenan, R. N. Barringer. Homes by architects like Charles Barton Keen, and Hackeny and Knott have been destroyed. We are just starting on National Register work here in HV and are hoping to change some minds about teardowns.

When architects or designers tell homeowners that homes must be torn down, it usually means that they don't have enough imagination to work on them. Why do people buy homes/lots in these neighborhoods anyway? Maybe because they like the look and feel of an established place? Well tearing it down and removing what you like about the community doesn't help maintain that character. It does not help property values to have some cheaply built out of character monstrosity move in next door or worst of all, as we have seen down south here, empty lots where beautiful homes once stood.


The foundation only had problems on the porch. An entirely new roof was put on in December 2006. I can imagine that fixing a foundation is much cheaper than building an entirely new house as we are currently do that very thing to our house. If you have the money to purchase a house and land for 232k then tear it down, I doubt you are going to build a house the mimics the style and character of the original.

Also, in tearing down that house, they cut down old growth trees on the lot. Those trees cannot be replaced.

Shame on the Goldsteins. May all your permits be held up and your contractors be feckless.

In a conversation with the listing realtor I was left with the impression that the house would be marketed as a teardown. I was horrified at the notion, as the house had so many quirky, original features that would be impossible to replicate. It seems like a little industry-specific education could benefit the real estate world.

Evidently, the former owners put a great deal of work into the interior of the house and are surprised and saddened by its destruction, so that doesn't sound very consistent with marketing as a teardown.


Oh please.

I showed the house and nowhere did I see in any of the MLS or marketing documents any mention whatsoever of the possibility of a teardown. The listing agent told me in writing that she had it looked at by a contractor prior to listing and that all it needed was $50-75K of work and then it should be then worth at least $400K.

Does anyone know if they at least saved any of the fixtures or the FP mantels? That house should have been deconstructed, not just sent to the dump!

Realtor "A"

The City should be required to publish ALL demolition applications, and apply a 90 day waiting period to all teardowns, regardless of where the house is located.


I am the previous owner of 930 W. Markham. The house had over 30k worth of work put into it. I was assured that the Goldsteins would continue with the rehab. That was beautiful home with amazing woodwork, doors, fireplaces and quirky charm. I am devastated and utterly disappointed


That's really sad - I'm so sorry they tore down the house that you put so much care and effort into.


To clarify a few things.930 W. Markham was marketed as a home that was move in ready , but could be further rehabed. 930 W. MArkham was a home, not a lot to be sold. The current "owners" misrepresented and clearly just want a Mc Mansion. Ugh. I am in town this weekend and will probably loose my mind when i see it.

...and, since someone asked, they saved (as far as I can tell) none of the three original mantles, the 3 inch thick wooden doors, or any tshred of the original craftsmanship.

I live in Trinity Park (across from the former DC May house) and am opposed to the creation of a local historic district. If neighbors want to preserve old homes, why don't they put a conservation easement on their properties? Is it lack of education / marketing of the program? Fear of diminishing the value of their property since it can't be made into a McMansion? As Ellen states that should be a non-issue.

Hi Allison,
I wonder why you oppose the local district designation. It doesn't do the same thing as the protective covenants on individual houses.

I'd be delighted, but cannot imagine we could get a majority of TParkers to place covenants, whether due to cost, inertia, or apathy. Let's say you get covenants on your house - then all your neighbors do teardowns and put up McMansions, you are in trouble (or Raleigh). If your neighbors just make stupid insensitive renovations, you are not protected either. And let's say 1000 homes do get covenants, well, who polices and enforces them? Preservation Durham? We don't have the staff or the funding to do that work at that level. We're usually broke (Hi! send money!) and have way too much on our plate already.

Go here to see what Watt-Hillandale has done and click on the link to Neighborhood Protection Plan.

I understand that Gary plans to put up a post on district designations soon, and that he thinks that what we have in Durham re: local designation is not strong enough. I agree with him, and look forward to his comments. We can do a whole lot better in Durham than we have, and if we are to retain what we have, we need to get on with it. Now!

Yesterday I drove by there and it was just a pile of boards and rubble. It was sickening.

And to find out (up-thread) they didn't even attempt to salvage any of the salvageable things such as the doors, mantles, sinks, of the era is further sickening.

The hell of it is that I'm sure the fair market value of the house, if kept and renovated, would've far exceeded a modern-day house, even if it "fits" the style of the neighborhood. It'll now NEVER BE a restored 1930's bungalow.

Even crappy foundations can be repaired without breaking the bank, but if there is enough money for a tear-down, then there's enough money for a foundation repair.

Bottom line: it'll never carry the value of an authentic, restored 1930's bungalow. It'll always be a short-sighted move--an imposter, with less value than the original.

The whole thing is just disgusting and short-sighted and won't be forgotten I hope.

I had a shocking view the other day through what had been the front of the house. Even from the street, I could see that the original trim, hardwood flooring, unpainted doors on the second floor, etc. were all still intact and awaiting the swipe of the backhoe.

As offensive as I find the ignorant removal of yet another contributing structure, I find it even more unconscionable to go about the demolition in this way. At least the (insert offensive adjective here) person who tore down the duplex on Watts for his garden showed a glimmer of sense in at least allowing some salvage to take place first.

Although it's true that state laws skewed towards the rights of individual property owners do not allow local commissions to deny a request for demolition, the Durham HPC can - and usually does delay them for up to a year. The commission can also require a property owner to document the property and salvage anything of value prior to demolition.

While these conditions have little impact on an absentee slumlord who can happily wait out a 365 day delay, it has stopped this sort of thing from happening in other Durham neighborhoods on several occasions.

A mandatory delay coupled with a little education about the environmental and cultural costs of demolition (plus maybe a small does of public embarrassment and peer pressure) might have saved this home. Maybe not. But without a local Trinity Park district in place, we're left to bitch on Gary's blog and sneer at the Goldsteins when they move in.

I'd support a local district, and I think it's a no-brainer.

Dear Anonymous 7:18,

Then you need to post your reasons for support of a local district to the TP listserv and participate in the ensuing discussion. Then get the attention of the board to push passage along. It cannot be just me speaking on this issue.


Do people quit reading comments after 29? I hope not....

I'm not a contractor, but here's my (strike) condensed (/strike) version of why preservation loses in the typical dilemma of whether a house with a major problem can be saved:

Note 1) Contractors generally do and know new construction. It is much bigger business, it has formulas and accurate cost estimates, and it lends itself to predicting margins and bidding numbers that make everyone happy.

Note 2) Renovating often involves more unpredictability, cans of worms, overruns, delays, and questions as to what will make inspectors happy. This is especially true when people who are used to new construction try to do it for the first time.

Note 3) Investors don't like unpredictability -- anyone see the Wall Street Journal lately?

Note 4) A known product with a known cost gets sold to homeowners even if they kind of wanted to renovate because it is "safer" and "easier" to sell the new building, and very hard to get a contractor to give a hard bid on a major renovation.

Note 5) Mortgage lenders like hard bids.


a) Alert homeowners that they can renovate with the right contractor and the right type loan/mortgage. It is also paramount to explain to people that they can have adjectives like "solid", "impressive", "hand-worked", and "stunning" if they are willing to accept some like "imperfect", "funky", and "out-of-level". Their alternative in new construction is "standard", "available", "plastic", and "mass-produced" (probably somewhere far from home), to go with what they're told they want: "efficient", "up-to-code", "convenient", and "new". Don't forget to consider how long they get to keep the last adjective.

b) Grab every GC, sub, handy-man, and carpenter who is good at and likes renovation and pass their names around, give them pay raises, and get them to train a new generation. Now that it appears that investors can not double their money in sub-division developments all over the country, maybe some of those teams of "build a town" crews can be re-tooled to do what most of us in old houses are happy to pay well for: renovate. I'm doing this right now at my house.

c) Invite everyone we know to visit our old houses that the allure of old character will draw in the next generation of home-buyers.

In the mean time, let's work on getting a local district in OND before it is too late, eh?


You missed one other small teardown associated with Trinity Park. When they tore down the "farmhouse Victorian" on the southeast corner of Club and Duke St., they needed to deepen the lot to build the six townhouses, one single-family house, and one garage apartment that they stuffed on one lot. So they apparently purchased a strip of the lot at 807 W. Club and tore down the brick garage that went with the brick craftsman bungalow at that address.

There are also teardowns in the making across the street at 708 and 710 W. Club Blvd. These two cute, brick, sort-of-Tudor-revival houses have been empty for awhile. There is a real estate sign up advertising 6 acres of land there for sale as commercial property. I can't imagine what could be built there. It's close to I-85, but there is a deep ravine and some unattached property that would limit access and visibility from Duke St. But it can be yours for $1.5 million, which suggests that the buyer won't be purchasing them as fixer-uppers.

But whatever happens, you can't blame it on Trinity Park. The north side of Club Blvd. is not considered part of Trinity Park (though the south side is) in defiance of all geographical and historical logic. (The Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory, for example, shows Trinity Park extending to I-85.) But when including both sides of Club in Trinity Park was suggested a few years ago, the idea was rejected.

When someone proposes building a Jiffy-Lube and a convenience mart on those six acres, I'm sure we'll hear from Trinity Park.

I think everyone needs to cut the Goldsteins some slack. I think it is assuming a LOT to think they are jumping for joy having spent over $230K (plus demolition costs) just so they can build a "McMansion" on a super busy corner. And don't forget, that house was for sale for quite awhile.

As for the "Victorian farmhouse" on the corner of West Club and Duke... um, does anyone even remember the state of that house? If memory serves me correctly, it burned at some point, and was in such a state of disrepair that it was beyond renovation. Do I love those townhomes? No, but they are much less an eyesore than the previous house.

I met the woman who previously lived in this house (and extensively renovated it) tonight. Doesn't sound like she had a problem with the sales process - sounds like she came out of it assured that they loved old houses and would continue the renovations. You just can't make the argument that it 'needed' to be torn down - it's ridiculous.

I guess the point about the house on Club and Duke is that it was in bad shape, so TP shouldn't have a historic district, because it would delay someone building a bunch of condos in its place? Thing is, if you had a local district, you could have initiated a demolition-by-neglect action against the old owner years ago, instead of just watching it deteriorate and depress the rottweiler.


I grew up at 930 W. Markham, from 1978, when I was born, to 1987. My parents had a fair amount of renovation work done, including fixing up the foundation. When I found out it had been torn down, I went over to say my goodbyes and salvage what I could. One of my favorite features of the house was the low slate porch, so I salvages as much slate as I could haul, and probably got enough for a small hearth. I live in a rental house right now, but when I own my own place, I'll find a new place for these beautiful stones.

Thanks for making note of this in your blog. I do hope the owners of the lot will do something decent with it.

Hi Ellen, that was me posting on Allison's computer. I think my reasons for opposing a local historic district are pretty well known, so I'll skip the long diatribe that I inflicted on Gary when he was taking the pictures for this post. Suffice to say that I have no problem with the one year delay in demolition -- everyone who reads this site knows the problems with NIS -- but it's the CoA that I don't like.

I'm really happy that you have asked the TPNA board candidates for their views on preservation. The writeups in the newsletter were nice, but it seems the elections are a mere formality in lieu of a serious discussion on the topics that have divided the neighborhood in recent years (e.g., McPherson hospital).

I'm about halfway through the WHHNA document that created their local historic district, and it's fascinating. Does a similar inventory exist for TP, and if not could I be of service in creating one? I've read HPSD's durham historic inventory book and its section on Trinity Park (I use it on my walks), but a more comprehensive document might help to focus discussion on the preservation issue.

About six months ago I said that 1411 Gregson was too expensive to be sold as a teardown ($400K), never thinking that folks would pay $230K for the one in this post! Sheesh.

I recall that the Goldsteins said on the listserv that they were building a one story house on this site. That is a lot of money per square foot when all is said and done.

what's with all the mcmansion talk? can someone explain how a 1 story house can be a mcmansion? it's a pretty small, long and skinny lot, i'd have a hard time imagining it being replaced by a giant house.

Ok Anonymous,
All the "McMansion talk" is taking place for the simple reason that right down the highway at Raleigh inside the belt line, "McMansions" are being built in older established neighborhoods.
Since the new owners (if you read the previous posts from the disheartened seller) lied to the seller about fixing up the house originally, how can anyone believe them now. Now, that they are saying their new home will be one story about the same size as the original house.
Time will tell as the new house is being constructed.....if what they say is true, or if they end building a monster house, upstaging all the older homes in the neighborhood.
I look forward to revisiting this post in a couple of months.

Oh, this is really dismaying. My husband and I are looking for a home in the Trinity Park neighborhood because we love the cozy features and wood work and history of the old houses. These are aspects that are impossible to replicate in a new construction.
We are having a hard time finding a home in TP as not that many houses have come on the market and it's heart-breaking to hear of one being sold only to be destroyed.

Back where he came from, at the very least, people who are thinking of building from scratch on hold lots have offered the existing home for moving to another place so that will continue to be a fabric of the community.

I really like Ellen's idea of putting restrictive convenants on existing houses so that they can't be torn down.

The empty lot (muddy hole) left behind after the tear-down is an eye-sore now. How embarrassing for the new owners of this property (as if the tear-down wasn't enough of a black eye).

The fencing on the Gregson St. side is falling over, there are weeds around the lot that are knee-high or taller, and it looks terrible.


Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

Well here it is Dec. 08 and I see that a peculiar looking (upside down roof design) house is being built at 930 W. Markham. It is definitely one story but so large that it looks there will be no yard, just a small driveway to park in. I pity the poor neighbors you will have to get used to looking at this strange looking house! Time for Gary K. to revisit this location with updated pictures of this horrid design.

Yes, please do! I have my eye on the rehab candidate at 916 W Markham, but I don't know if I will be able to get my financing in place quickly enough. If I find out someone buys it as a teardown I'll be absolutely ill. Especially since its "twin" next door is so charming. (Sidebar: anyone have "insider" info on 916? Just curious...)

The new house at 930 markham seems interesting! It could bring forth a new vitality to TP. Although its not the same bungalow from the 30's. I spoke with the Architect, and its going to be a "green" home with many features that may provide TP a good example for newer construction. A way to build responsible, efficient, a direction which seems to be just as important as preservation. Personally, I'm all in favor of preserving, revitalizing, keeping the original character and fabric that defines a neighborhood, and gives a city like Durham its identity. But, I feel we also need to be good stewards of our environment too. I'm hoping this house is an alternative model for new construction and continues to raise awareness and education in green building and sustainability. I think this could be quite advantageous to the neighborhood. We'll see...


You can't really be 'green' by tearing down a house, no matter what fancy gizmos are in the new one. You waste so much energy and resources by destroying the old house and its embodied energy (the original energy that went into building the house) extracting all of the new materials necessary to build another house, and expending the energy to build it - that it takes many years of high-performance energy savings to see a net benefit. It is far, far more 'green' to update an old house with high-efficiency systems.

This is just adding less insult to injury. It's also, in my experience, a common response by demolishers over the last few years to re-brand their action - or simply feel less guilty about it themselves. Once calling something 'green' becomes fully and completely meaningless (I'd say sometime in the next year,) that'll probably stop.


The owners at 916 W. Markham are preserving the house. The walls and floor plan are to remain as is. The extant trim is to remain. The kitchen and bathrooms will be updated, but within their original footprints. The upstairs will receive a new dormer to bring the hallway and bathroom up to code (code mandates 7' of headroom in over 50% of a given living space), but it will not be visible from the street. They will also be insulating with spray foam in the attic as there was nary a shred of insulation in the house. No tear down here. It is a wonderfully intact house and they will keep it so.

Thanks for that update TrinityNative! I'm sorry I wasn't the one to snap it up, but I'm glad to hear the old girl is in good hands.

Great News! Trinity Park doesn't have a teardown problem. They have a Golden Leaf Award winner! In a downtown ceremony, the Durham City-County Appearance Commission (chaired by Preservation Durham's own John Compton) gave a Golden Leaf Award for Residential Properties to. . .Trinity Park Townhomes. These are the buildings at the corner of Duke and Club. There to celebrate this remarkable architectural triumph was the Mayor, Bill Bell.

So crank up the bulldozers. In Durham, tearing down houses gets you an award.

Maybe we can call it the Jeff Monsein Golden Leaf Award?

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