Preservation Durham: Places in Peril
Why it’s important
The striking orange building just past the railroad tracks on Trinity Avenue was once a pivotal business for Brodie Duke’s Pearl Mill Village. Built by local entrepreneur Joseph S. Woods and his wife, Lou Ella (Walker) Woods, in 1924, this grocery store with rooms for rent above served the district for decades until its conversion into an apartment house in the early 1960s.
The grocery is the only documented store to have served the district until development of a small commercial corridor accelerated on nearby Foster Street in the 1930s. After the passing of her husband in 1934, Lou Ella Woods, who lived around the corner, kept the grocery running until just before her own death in 1963, at which point the property was passed to her daughter, Nancy, and became the Woods Apartments. In 1990, the property was sold again and became the Watson Inn.
Today, the Pearl Mill Village historic district, which lies directly across the street, is the only intact remnant of one of Durham’s four primary mills and is a testament to Durham’s history as a major textile producing center.
Why It’s in Peril:
The property is for sale after its lot size was reduced to allow for development of the Trinity Lofts next door. Poor drainage is an issue along the lot’s western edge and ongoing deterioration of the interior has led to structural concerns. The parcel is priced at $189,000, and while the structure itself has sparked general interest in the community, many worry that the price tag is too high to attract a buyer.
The property is ripe for development into a local business that can serve the surrounding area in much the same way as when it was first built. The property falls within the Downtown Design District Supporting Area 2 (DDS-2) and has no restrictive covenants or other restrictions on development apart from following those guidelines. The bottom floor consists of one large open room with high ceilings (suitable for an eatery or café), while the top remains subdivided into eight large rooms with heavy wooden doors and transoms (suitable for offices). Expanding the Pearl Mill Village Historic District to include the building would make renovations financially attractive to developers by making the property eligible for state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.