Preservation Durham

Neighborhood Conservation Award: The Cookery
Nov. 09, 2013 @ 08:47 AM

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By Preservation Durham

The Cookery

 1101 W. Chapel Hill St.

The modest brick building at West Chapel Hill and Carroll streets has been a hub of community activity for nearly a decade. 

Built between 1920 and 1923, it started its life as a neighborhood A&P grocery store.  In the 1940s it was a dry cleaners and lunch counter; in the 1970s it housed the Sallam Cultural Center, a vibrant jazz club; and then finally the Durham Food Co-Op, which closed in 2008. 

Once the building was up for sale, Nick Hawthorne-Johnson saw through the years of bare-bones maintenance and impromtu fixes.  Realizing how pivotal this building is for the commercial blocks of West Chapel Hill Street, an area that serves the diverse West End and Morehead Hill neighborhoods, he immediately knew he wanted to buy the space.

Hawthorne-Johnson, a licensed contractor and co-owner of Bull City Restoration with his mother, Hettie Johnson, already knew the neighborhood well, having bought and renovated 14 residential properties nearby.  After identifying a need for commercial kitchen access for food entrepreneurs in Durham, Hawthorne-Johnson brought his wife, Rochelle, an artist turned entrepreneur, into the development. 

Together, they rehabilitated and transformed the building into a commercial kitchen and a beautiful event space.  The Front Room utilizes salvaged materials from historic Durham buildings to create a space that evokes Durham’s history.  The pair have also kept and expanded the murals that distinguish the otherwise architecturally plain building, including the colorful Pauli Murray mural, the Durham Food Co-Op mural and a Pepsi-Cola advertisement uncovered during the renovation.

While the Cookery is a clear success, having launched many new Durham food businesses and providing much-sought after event space, the renovation is also a lynchpin for the revitalization of the West Chapel Hill Street corridor.  A new grocery store and restaurant have opened across the street, and Self-Help is currently planning a large commercial development adjacent to the Cookery, which will house, among other things, a co-operative grocery store.  Not only has the Cookery established itself as an important feature in Durham’s emerging culinary identity, but it ensures this community landmark will continue to play a role in Durham’s success.

The Neighborhood Conservation Award was instituted in 2002 to recognize individual projects that advance the preservation of Durham’s historic neighborhoods. While the category is broad, it allows Preservation Durham opportunities to acknowledge a wide range of efforts that might otherwise go unnoticed or unrecognized.

The award places particular emphasis on neighborhoods that are financially challenged and on structures threatened by demolition. It also seeks to recognize elements of the neighborhood landscape that are essential to telling a cohesive story. In addition, this award has gone to new construction projects that have been built with sensitivity to their historical surroundings.