Preservation Durham Old Durham Home Tour

The Center Bowling Alleys Building, 204 Rigsbee Avenue
May. 18, 2013 @ 08:57 AM

In 1937 two buildings were built in the 200 block of Rigsbee, completing the area’s conversion from a neighborhood of small Victorian houses to a part of the growing commercial downtown.

The southern building was a traditional store housing the McDaniel, Ervin & Hinshaw Hardware Company. The larger building to the north was the Center Bowling Alleys, at the time, Durham’s most modern recreational facility with full-size, automated 10-pin bowling. On the street, the two buildings shared a unified Art Moderne façade of gleaming glazed buff bricks and decorative tiles.

Both the bowling alley and the hardware store were iconic Durham businesses in the mid-20th century. The bowling alley was marked with a sheet metal sign in shape of a large bowling pin that hung perpendicular to the building. The M.E.H. Hardware sign was even grander — a neon and metal affair in late Art Deco fashion. 

By the 1960s, the bowling alley closed and the hardware store moved away. During the 1970s and ’80s, the buildings on Rigsbee were demolished one by one, with only three remaining by 1990. In 1998, a catastrophic fire gutted the bowling alley building, and the shell stood open for nearly 10 years.

In 2000,  the husband-and-wife team of architects, Vandana Dake and John Warasilla, bought the hardware store building and refitted it for their business, Alliance Architecture. Then, in 2002, they bought the burnt-out shell next door and set to work rehabilitating it into new office space and 10 residential condominium units, including their own home.

The 2,400-square-foot Dake-Warasilla unit is deep, of course; after all, the building began its life as a bowling alley. From the threshold of the entry you can see all the way through a succession of public spaces to the bank of windows overlooking Rigsbee Avenue. Note that the interior walls are plain, white and devoid of distracting details like moldings or baseboards. The recess at their joinder with the floor makes them appear weightless — neither resting on the floor nor hanging from the ceiling.

Everywhere the structure is exposed. Bright yellow oversized steel beams carry the new roof and ceiling above the level of the old roof which is marked by the put holes in the walls left by the original joists. The beams add strength to the old building and drama to the new residence.

In the center of the unit is a light well. Interior windows and transoms share the light. Throughout the unit, rich materials were carefully chosen to warm the space. In the baths, sandstone from Rajasthan clads the walls in tiles and mosaics. In the kitchen, the countertops are cast quartz; the cabinets are walnut veneer. Note the backsplash of writeable glass. In the dining area, the magnificent walnut dining table was designed by John.  The window in the top displays grains and curry. The benches purposely join guests at the table.

The large living room beyond is flooded with light and warmed by the wood-burning fireplace orb. Note how the bedroom is part of the larger living space when the track wall is left open. The unit is not cluttered with a profusion of freestanding furniture. The openness allows pieces of special meaning to stand out, like the mango-wood bed from Jodhpur and Vandana’s grandmother’s intricately carved chest. As Vandana explains, she and John are more interested in spaces than things.