Historic Wilmington Foundation releases list of most threatened places

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George Edwards, executive director of Historic Wilmington Foundation, Ramona Bartos with the state preservation office and Kent Stevens, president of the local foundations board of trustees, announce this years list of threatened historic sites during a ceremony at the Jaffe building on Castle Street. Photo by Hilary Snow.
George Edwards, executive director of Historic Wilmington Foundation, left, Ramona Bartos with the state preservation office and Kent Stevens, president of the local foundation’s board of trustees, announce this year’s list of threatened historic sites during a ceremony at the Jaffe building on Castle Street. Photo by Hilary Snow.

George Edwards would like, eventually, to say there were no area structures or sites in need of saving.

Until then, Edwards, the executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, will keep putting out the list.

That list–a compilation of the region’s most threatened historic places–was released Wednesday during a ceremony at the dilapidated H. Jaffe Building on Castle Street. Wednesday’s announcement marked the 10th such release by the Historic Wilmington Foundation, timed with Historic Preservation Month, since 2006.

“This was an exercise we engaged in to try to raise awareness of the value of historic places,” Edwards said.

It’s also a way, he said, to help further the discussion on repairing and maintaining irreplaceable landmarks in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties.

The 1920s-era Jaffe Building–once a thriving furniture store that later served as a meeting place for the black community during school integration and the Wilmington 10 trial–is included in this latest list of seven buildings, cemeteries, churches and schools.

Three general categories–wooden windows, Rocky Point school buildings in Pender County and Pender’s Rosenwald schools–also were considered in “threatened” status. Rosenwald schools was the name given to educational institutions for black students in the early 20th century.

For many of the sites, this isn’t their first go-round on the list, Edwards said.

Included on this years list is the Fowler House on Front Street, which most recently housed the Taste of Country restaurant and is now in danger of being demolished. File photo.
Included on this year’s list is the Fowler House on Front Street, which most recently housed the Taste of Country restaurant and is now in danger of being demolished. File photo.

The Fowler House, 225 S. Front St., for example, returned this year as its fate remains unknown in the midst of an ongoing debate between the City of Wilmington and the property owner.

Most recently home to Taste of Country restaurant, the building has severely deteriorated but is still repairable, according to the Historic Wilmington Foundation. The group listed the property as threatened in 2012 but removed it the following year when a sale seemed imminent. However, the sale fell through and the house has fallen further into neglect over the last year.

“The good news is we’ve made a lot of progress since organization was started 49 years ago,” Kent Stephens, president of the Historic Wilmington Foundation Board of Trustees, said. “The bad news is, here we are again doing this list. It feels a bit like de ja vu. But that’s historic preservation–it’s one step forward, two steps back sometimes.”

Since the list’s origination in 2006, Edwards said 109 properties have been highlighted. Six of those have been lost to demolition and eight have been saved. Ten “stable and hopeful” sites remain on the list, he noted.

Although not in immediate jeopardy, the Murchison Building, 201 N. Front St., was deemed worthy by the Historic Wilmington Foundation of watching, with the hopes that a new owner will take aims to rehabilitate the downtown landmark.

Read related story: Murchison Building ‘saved’ as buyer emerges

“While the wins and losses seem small, it’s not unusual,” Edwards said.

Ramona Bartos, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, agreed.

“Take off the specific names on this list and this could be quite a lot of communities in North Carolina,” Bartos said, noting the uniquely strong partnership Historic Wilmington Foundation has with the state preservation office.

Edwards said one way to curb dilapidation and demolition–often the most viable options for long-neglected properties–is to educate owners on the importance and continued economic viability of restoration. The state’s historic rehabilitation tax credit–wiped from the budget for this fiscal year by a majority of conservative lawmakers–was a great motivation for preservation, he said.

Although not in immediate jeopardy, the century-old Murchison Building on Front Street did make the Historic Wilmington Foundations watch list. File photo.
Although not in immediate jeopardy, the century-old Murchison Building on Front Street did make the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s watch list. File photo.

“Sometimes if you get a good tax incentive, then it will even prompt people to get on the national registry [of historic places],” Edwards said in an earlier interview. “Tax credits are critical. Even though all the talk is about them coming back at a lower level…I think [some amount] would be sufficient and would still appeal to homeowners.”

The N.C. House’s version of the 2015-16 budget includes an essential reinstatement of the historic tax credits, retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year and extended through 2021. The measure would still have to pass the Senate, which is currently reviewing the House draft as it devises its own proposed spending plan.

“I think the preservation community thinks, let’s bring it back and show it works, and I think it will. And then we can go back in a few years and show that it’s working. And then we can request additional money for credits,” Edwards said. “It’s a wait-and-see. But everybody is pushing hard to get the credits back.”

The 2015 Most Threatened Historic Places are as follows:

  • Flemmington-Oak Grove Cemetery, 612 Sampson St., Wilmington
  • Ferrell Coleman Cemetery, private property in Ash (watch list)
  • Joseph Hewett, Sr. Cemetery, 1193 Kinston St., Holden Beach (watch list)
  • Wooden cemetery markers, Brunswick County
  • St. Mark’s AME Zion Church, 755 Village Road SW, Shallotte (watch list)
  • Reaves Chapel, Navassa
  • Leimone Homestead, 2802 U.S. 117, Burgaw
  • St. Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, Pender County
  • Rocky Point school buildings, Rocky Point
  • Rosenwald schools, Pender County
  • Fowler House, 226 S. Front St., Wilmington
  • Historic wood windows, lower Cape Fear region
  • H. Jaffe Building, 714 Castle St., Wilmington
  • Brick streets in Wilmington’s historic district (watch list)
  • Murchison Building, 201 N. Front St., Wilmington (watch list)

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.