Coloring Outside the Lines: Imagining Fayetteville Street’s Future

Above is a video recording (watch it directly on YouTube) of a virtual meeting hosted by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and Interface Studio where they take attendees through some of the things coming out of the Downtown Raleigh Economic Development Strategy project currently in progress. We’ve mentioned this project earlier in the year and this video is worth watching as it focuses mainly on Fayetteville Street. The team shares ideas that may lead us to new ways to reinvigorate the street.

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A Walk Around the Char Grill Block

In June, the city’s neighborhood meeting calendar posted an update for a possible rezoning for properties along Hillsborough Street including the beloved local spot, Char Grill. The news picked it up. Comments were made. Opinions were everywhere.

To be clear, the rezoning request has not been submitted as of this writing but I want to mention two items right up front:

  • Char Grill owns their lot and plans to incorporate a Char Grill location in any new development
  • Comments from them suggest a thoughtful development with respect to any historic structures nearby

Instead of typing out comments online and looking at Google Maps (well I did some of that) it was time to get a steak junior and walk the block.

NOTE: I call it the “Char Grill Block” since that’s the most important thing there (let’s be honest) but not all properties are planned for a rezoning.

From the neighborhood meeting notes, the following properties seem to be targeted for rezoning. Char Grill is on the southern end about midway between Boylan and Glenwood.

Walk the Block

Let’s start with Char Grill and go clockwise around the map shown above. Since the rezoning application hasn’t been submitted yet, I’m also not going to get into possible heights and conditions today. Let’s just look at buildings.

Char Grill doesn’t need an introduction here. Open since 1959, the burger and fries spot has one of the best walk-up windows in downtown. It’s not exactly a drive-thru in the modern sense but plenty of space is given to parking also.

On the corner of Hillsborough and Boylan is a closed gas station. Built in 1952, it has gone through a variety of gas and car service brands. Today, it seems to be used for parking for nearby construction projects. When I was walking around, there is work going on for something in a retail space across the street at Bloc 83 and the workers were parking here.

Next is a gravel parking lot. Not much else to add here.

The environmental engineering firm Smith Gardner operates out of a few houses on this block also. Along Boylan, is this red brick house from 1910. Employees probably park in the adjacent lot.

At the corner of Boylan and Willard, we have Elmwood. Elmwood is a beautiful house from 1813 and is currently used as office space. Elmwood sits on the National Register of Historic Places. The side yard along Willard is a gravel parking lot.

Finally, there are two more 1910 homes along Willard being used as offices by Smith Gardner, shown above. Their backyards are basically gravel parking lots also. Turns out, all three houses that Smith Gardner is using is owned by the same company.


No details are out there of what is going to be built, we’re not at that stage yet. I feel in the minority here as Elmwood, not Char Grill, is the property I’m most interested in with respect to any new developments. Of course, people are most distracted by the Char Grill being demolished, the youngest building mentioned in this post, but I’m in the camp that honestly thinks they could use an upgrade. (or at least a serious power wash)

For me, Char Grill’s walk-up window is fantastic. If the new development can get a Char Grill in there with an active walk-up window, some outdoor tables, and indoor seating like their newer locations, it’ll still be a hit.

Focusing on the older homes behind Char Grill, you can’t help admit that there is a lot of gravel parking spaces that could be used more efficiently. The brick building at 14 North Boylan could be moved to sit on Elmwood’s gravel lot. If you do that, you square up a nice property for some taller development. It could look something like this.

Again, just speculation but the houses can be saved and the red square in my sketch up here can be developed. If the houses continue to be office space, parking can be tucked inside the new development.

We’ll get back to this once the rezoning is submitted and discussion by planning commission and city council takes place. Until then, keep eating steak juniors.

Mapping Raleigh: Buildings by Year Built

Lately, I’ve been less active on the front-side of the Raleigh House of Connoisseur but have been heads down working with creating a new map. I don’t think I’m finished and honestly, haven’t even started any type of analysis, but I wanted to put an update out there and share something with readers.

TLDR? Just go here to the map.

The Background

I was inspired when I stumbled on this map of Paris, introduced by the tweet shown below. Technically, it was something I wanted to see if I could build for Raleigh but also, it would be interesting to see how the buildings of today have held up. Are we seeing “mass teardowns” as some people think? What other questions might we begin to answer?

I then found the “ingredients” on the city’s open data websites around Raleigh parcel data and using the “year built” field, I starting analyzing over 130,000 pieces of data.

The Map

The map I put together shows Raleigh’s existing stock of buildings as of May 2022. It’s important to note that this is a snapshot in time, not buildings constructed over time. For example, if a home built in the 1950s was torn down for a new construction home in 2015, the parcel would show in the 2010s decade, not the 1950s.

Please note that the property shapes have been optimized so that the map is somewhat usable. Don’t take them literally.

I grouped properties by decades with an additional “Pre-1920s” category. This was driven mostly by number of buildings as the counts before 1920 is pretty low. Here’s a bar chart.

That it?

Probably not. I’m releasing it into the wild and see how it sits for awhile. We are discussing it on the Community on this thread so if you have any questions or thoughts, please join us.

I’m hoping to continue tinkering with this map and see what we can extract from it. Questions I have could be:

  • Are there neighborhoods that have been completely turned over?
  • Are certain neighborhoods less susceptible to teardowns than others?
  • Where do you see a mix of buildings being produced at a constant rate?
  • Why is the building count in the 2010s so much lower?
  • How might annexations and border expansions played a role over time?
  • How might protectionist overlays, like NCODs and historic overlays, played a role?

Expect follow up posts in the future.

Moving Houses All Over Downtown Raleigh. A List.

Pictured above is the Pope House on South Wilmington Street. Currently a museum run by the city and registered historic landmark, the house belonged to Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, a doctor and prominent businessman in Raleigh who would later run for mayor in 1919. It is also the only African-American house museum in the state of North Carolina.

100 years ago, this block of South Wilmington Street was covered by homes and the Pope house fit in nicely. Today, it’s floating in an ocean of surface parking with high-rise office towers nearby.

A collection of lots on the southern half of the block is currently going through a rezoning. (Z-1-22, pdf link) The request is to increase the height allowed from the current seven stories to a new limit of 20.

Construction in the area is taking its toll on the Pope House.

During a meeting with the Raleigh Historic Development Commission in March 2022, it was reported that construction from nearby Charter Square probably contributed to some structural damage to the house. To help with this rezoning case, it was asked if other construction techniques could be used that would not damage the historic structure.

The rezoning has not reached the city council for ultimate approval yet but it may be time to consider a serious move and uplift to the Pope House Museum.

A case NOT to move houses

I recognize that buildings and structures that remain on their original locations is a far-superior representation of the time that they once served. I can’t imagine what the 500 block of South Wilmington Street could have looked like with a variety of single-family homes. The Raleigh of the 1920s is practically another reality compared to today and at least for me, during my visit of the Pope House a few years ago, you could get a sense of it’s prominent location.

Dr. Pope’s house was close to East Hargett Street, or Black Main Street, which he and his family frequented. He also graduated from nearby Shaw University. You can kind of “travel back in time” and get a sense of the connectedness that his family had in the area.

If the house was moved a few blocks to the east, for example, placed between new construction homes of the 2020s, that history and sense of place, even if you have to really imagine it, is pretty much lost.

There are also practical issues such as major damage during a move, the cost of moving a house, and securing a new location. Think of the logistical challenges of moving a historic home through the streets of downtown Raleigh.

A case FOR moving houses

It just seems so simple. Move a house away from a site and you save it from demolition. We’ve done this before and it happens all over the country.

The house that once was a home may be reused as an office or even hotel. There is of course the risk and the cost but if a house is moved, it may stand for a hundred more years, continuing to tell its story.

Demolishing a house, or any structure, can also be seen as disrespecting the value that it currently brings. The materials and work that went into the house just vanish and end up in a landfill, most of the time anyway. To move a house, it saves that value and transfers it to another location. There’s a sense of sustainability here.

The List

When it comes to the Pope House, there are no plans to move it as of this writing. At the same time though, I did want to create a list of notable house moves around downtown Raleigh to kind of show that it’s not a far-fetched idea. If there is anything that I may have missed, let me know and we’ll get it added.

Guest House Raleigh

The boutique hotel, Guest House Raleigh, was originally located at 114 East Lenoir Street. On a cold Sunday in February 2017, along with its neighbor at 112 East Lenoir, the houses were moved to their current locations on Bloodworth Street.

For more, I’ll pass you over to an article in Walter Magazine as well as some great photos on the hotel’s Instagram page, the best being the one embedded below.

Merrimon-Wynne House

In 2008, the Merrimon-Wynne house was moved from it’s location on North Wilmington Street to its current location on Blount Street. It was only a two block move but the house has some considerable size and is one of the largest house moves to take place in Raleigh. It used to sit about where the Elan Apartments are today.

Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Building

Probably the largest move to take place in downtown was that of the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad building shown above. The building was used as offices for the railroad for a long time and sat on the 300 block of Halifax street. Note, this street doesn’t exist anymore as the state government complex built over it all.

They did move the office structure to the west onto Salisbury Street sometime in the 1970s to where it sits today. More on that, with older photos, in this post on Goodnight, Raleigh.

Andrew Johnson Birthplace 

North of downtown is Mordecai Historic Park which contains a house that is the birthplace of President Andrew Johnson, born in 1808. It’s original location was somewhere on the 100 Block of Fayetteville Street and has been moved three times.

In 1975, it found it’s way to Mordecai Park where it still stands today. More on that story here.

Levin-Tarlton House

I actually have a post on this move. This house was moved off of 208 North Harrington Street before The Metropolitan apartments were built. The house currently sits at 414 New Bern Avenue. There is some fun video from Instagram in the post so do check it out.

Quick Mentions

  • The Lincoln apartments on East Hargett Street was built on a block that only contained single-family homes. I talked to the developer of that project once and he told me that many of the homes there were actually moved instead of torn down. They sit in various spots south and east of that building.
  • Several of the elegant mansions on Blount Street were actually moved from a spot nearby to their current location including the Capehart House and Lewis-Smith House.
  • The Hume House and the Tucker House on Person Street are also not on their original locations.

Photo Gallery of Raleigh Station in 2018

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Outside waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

With the opening of Raleigh Union Station only a few months away, I just had to capture the look and feel of Raleigh Station, our current train station on Cabarrus Street. This post is basically just a bunch of photos for posterity to show the station that has served Raleigh since 1950.

If you can make it down there in the next month or two, it is such a drastic difference between the upcoming station and the current one. It really feels like Raleigh leapfrogged our next train project and just went two levels higher instead.

The splintering wood, the rusty metal, and the washed out signs basically show a station that has reached its end-of-life. The interior is nothing but functional however you can’t help but admire the downtown view.

I’ll be referring to this post in the future but for now, enjoy the photos.

Google maps aerial of Raleigh Station.

Google maps aerial of Raleigh Station.

Exterior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Exterior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Exterior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Exterior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Exterior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Exterior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Interior of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Skyline view from the boarding area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Signs of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Boarding area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

An out-of-date map of downtown Raleigh outside of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Boarding area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

One of the entrances to Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Current boarding area of Raleigh Station with new platforms for Raleigh Union Station in the background. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Boarding areas of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Platform waiting area of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

Boarding areas of Raleigh Station. January 2018.

A Walk Around Caswell Square

Graffiti on a building in Caswell square, December 2016

Some of the locals at Caswell Square, December 2016

Caswell Square has made the news recently as a piece of the state-owned land is being considered to be sold to a private developer. A few buildings on the square are planning to be renovated for medical offices. The North Carolina Council of State needs to approve the sale of these properties.

At first, it doesn’t sound like a big deal but if you aren’t familiar with Caswell Square then allow me to inform you.

Caswell Square is one of the original squares of the William Christmas plan. This plan laid out the street network for Raleigh and was to include five public squares, owned by the state.

You almost certainly have heard of Nash and Moore Square, operating as parks today, and also Union Square, where the historic North Carolina Capitol building sits. Lesser known Burke Square has the Governor’s Mansion, also called the Executive Mansion, and finally, Caswell Square.

Bounded by Lane and Jones Streets to the North and South, McDowell and Dawson to the East and West, Caswell Square, for over 100 years, has had state government buildings on it.

Interior of Caswell square, December 2016

Interior of Caswell square, December 2016

The entire block is now consumed by buildings and surface parking. Some of those buildings are even empty and boarded up. Still owned by the state, they sit waiting to be torn down or for renovation work to take place.

As part of the Governor’s plan, called Project Phoenix, to revitalize the state government complex in downtown Raleigh, a portion of Caswell Square, owned by the state since the birth of Raleigh in 1792, is up for sale for private use.

Plans for medical offices in now empty buildings are on the table as millions of dollars in renovations would take place in the old buildings on the square. The sale would generate $1.75 million to the state.

Preservationists have come forward and claimed that the state should not offload the historic piece of property as it dates back to the original plan of Raleigh, the Christmas plan.

Below, are the three empty buildings being discussed for sale. They are located primarily along Dawson Street, next to each other, starting from the corner of Dawson and Lane.

Empty building on Caswell square, December 2016

Empty building on Caswell square, December 2016

Empty building on Caswell square, December 2016

The Oral Hygiene Building.

For me, I’ve been a huge supporter of the ideas in Project Phoenix but this one makes me pause. Offices can go anywhere but public squares aren’t being planned anymore. I’m not sure I agree with those that want to sell of parts of Caswell Square.

First, let’s take a look at what it’s like around Caswell Square. Below is a Google Map I made. (If you can’t see it, click here)

The square is in green, in the center, with the eight blocks surrounding it loosely categorized. We can notice a few things:

  • To the east and south of the square, the properties today are largely dominated by state government properties, mainly offices and museums.
  • The museums are a relatively new addition compared to most of the other offices, having been there for decades.
  • To the west, you have the fringes of Glenwood South residential, a relatively new addition (The Metropolitan is under construction now)
  • A mix of commercial activity exists to the east and north of Caswell Square including law offices, the Days Inn hotel, Babylon restaurant, and other office space. I would consider this very small scale.
  • Edenton Street United Methodist Church has also owned land, been a presence nearby for quite some time.

The eastern edges of Glenwood South and the state museums are basically the new, the momentum, with the church and state government offices being the old, the legacy downtown. They are starting to mix and this brings us to Caswell Square, stuck in the middle.

We don’t know yet the impact of Glenwood South and how much it’s success could cause more development to the east. Hillsborough Street projects, with 301 Hillsborough being close by, could also impact uses at Caswell Square in the future. Work on Project Phoenix within the government complex could create new uses for Caswell Square.

You also have all the work taking place along Capital Boulevard and the square loop at Peace Street.

NC School for the Blind and Deaf

Caswell Square historical asset, the NC School for the Blind and Deaf. Read more about it on Goodnight, Raleigh.

In my opinion, the future is bright for downtown and taking this opportunity to sell off a historic piece of land for a cool $1.75 million isn’t the right way to go. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the state government complex was built, lots of land was acquired, some with eminent domain. I’d like to see some of that land sold back to private hands for reuse first before even thinking of carving up a major piece of Raleigh history.

I’m not sure I’ll see the day but I’d like to see the state government clean up and efficiently use the properties with no historical significance, the northern end of downtown, before they start discarding history.

NC State offices in the Caswell Building

NC State offices in the Caswell Building at the corner of McDowell and Jones Streets.

Instead of immediate gains, I’d like to see the state, partnering with Raleigh, to use Caswell Square as a way to boost nearby activity. It just so happens you have a top 5 visited attraction, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, in the state nearby to the square. With the Nature Research Center recently completed, maybe a park extension in Caswell Square could boost the museum’s profile and bring more tourism to the area.

Surface parking around NC State government buildings.

Surface parking around NC State government buildings.

To the east of Caswell Square sits a massive surface parking lot. Parking consolidation is easily a project that the state should undertake, freeing up new land for either more office buildings (mixed-use office buildings by the way) or to be sold for private use.

Ideas like these could have long-term benefits that if done well, could bring the state much more than $1.75 million.

The discussion to sell the land was on the agenda for the Council of State last week but a decision was delayed until a future meeting.