Sunday, May 29, 2016

Save the ca. 1911 Grimes-Russell House!

The North Main Neighborhood, both in the Historic District that is the main north-south artery through the neighborhood and in the many adjoining blocks to the east and west, is renowned for its intact residential architecture ranging from the late 1800s to the 1930s. Our predecessors worked diligently throughout the 1980s to ward off the commercial creep that often happens to main arteries in municipalities, successfully retaining the residential character of the neighborhood.  One can only imagine the beautiful homes that are now lost to fast food restaurants along the Innes Street corridor, and we are proud that our history and culture have remained intact.

That said, there are a number of 'at-risk' homes within the neighborhood's boundaries, and frankly throughout the City of Salisbury.  The number of abandoned homes here, once reported to be at roughly 700-800, is now more like 1200+.  We can thank a devastating recession for some of this, but not all.  We can more likely attribute this to weakly written ordinances that allow demolition-by-neglect.  But...enough about that!  What do we do?

The North Main neighborhood recently lost the Miller-Cress House, a circa 1900 Victorian home at 108 W. Steele Street, first to fire, then to neglect...and finally to demolition. With it went the former ca. 1930 art-deco petro-station at the corner...also a victim of fire/neglect/demolition.  This home and accompanying commercial remains were additionally daily victims of larceny, vandalism, graffiti, and were completely unsafe structures.

The large foursquare home at 816 N. Main, the ca. 1909 H.C. McDaniel House, is slated for demolition in the immediate future.  While the home has unquestionably been neglected, a failing stormwater pipe under the sidewalk (and the road?)
that runs across the property has compounded the problem.  The City's Historic Preservation Commission ruled that unless the owner, who is an elderly woman now residing in a rest home, could bring the house up to code in 90 days, or find a buyer, this home will suffer the bulldozer.

And on December 10th, 2015, the City of Salisbury brought the ca. 1911 late Victorian cottage at 918 N. Main Street, the Grimes-Russell House, before the Historic Preservation Commission with yet another request for demolition.  

This home, damaged by fire, is one of the few remaining homes remaining in Salisbury that features a granite pebble-dash exterior finish, an exterior coating that enjoyed a heyday between about 1890 and the 1930s, when the arts and crafts movement spearheaded the rediscovery of traditional building processes.  We know of few other exterior finishes that can stand the test of over 100 years of the elements!  (Note:  Under current land use ordinances, when a property in an historic district is presented for demolition, the request cannot be denied, but can only be stayed for up to 365 days to allow the owner to find some options.  Please review the Historic Guidelines in our side bar, Chapter 6: Demolition

The proposed demolition of this property has proven to be contentious.  The preservationists in the neighborhood and surrounding areas would like to see the home saved.  Others are tired of the presence of such a dilapidated structure, understandably, and want it GONE - no discussion necessary.  As neighbors, we understand both schools of thought.

We need to remind the folks who are ready to swing the hammer of the more wide-reaching repercussions than just improving the view in the neighborhood.

(1)  Forcing demolition of a property such as leaves yet another vacant lot along the corridor.  As we lose historic properties, we are also in danger of losing the historic designation overlay that protects these properties.  No one is building historic infill in Salisbury.  The likelihood that the vacant lot will be built upon is slim, and if it were to happen, it would likely be a new investment property that would tip the already teetering scale of 50/50 rental/owner occupied balance here.  Additionally, the potential for commercial infill runs high on a main artery such as North Main Street.

(2)  The property values will drop significantly in the neighborhood as more vacant lots appear.  918 N. Main Street is listed with Rowan County at a $17,811 tax value and $14,300 land value in its current condition.  If the home is removed, the land alone will likely be worth only $5,000.  However, if someone were to rehabilitate the existing structure, the tax value could increase to as much as $150,000 ~ a favorable condition for all the surrounding properties and for the City and County revenue streams through property taxes.

(3)  Forcing demolition of a property such as this places additional undue hardship on the property owner.  When the city demolishes a home like this, the cost gets transferred to the owner in terms of a lien against the property.  If the owner cannot afford to maintain the property, much less renovate and restore, levying additional costs his/her way are not the way to cure the symptom.  The owner is more likely to abandon the property.  The city then becomes the owner and caretaker of such.

(4) Demolition of a structure in the historic district is an irreversible step and should be carefully deliberated. Once historic resources are destroyed, they can never be replaced.

The housing crash that began in 2008 meant fewer developers were buying land for subdivisions. And with our urban growth boundary, there has been less land freed up for such development. That's a success as it relates to curbing sprawl beyond our downtown neighborhoods. Even if a developer could build exponentially more houses in the 'burbs by creating whole subdivisions, individual lots in Salisbury should now represent the chance to make a higher profit per house. 

A case in point is the Fulton-Mock-Blackmer house ~ another huge home that had faced major fire and neglect damage. Many in the West Square neighborhood and the City of Salisbury also vehemently wished for this eyesore structure to be demolished, and many believed that no one would have the determination and resources to perform a restoration on such a massive project.  However, once this circa 1820 home had been stabilized, it brought a buyer that performed near miraculous restoration and it was recently a prize feature on our annual October Tour 2015, and is now home to family and value to the neighborhood.  

Not only can renovation save money today, but a rehabbed historic home is more valuable in the long run than a new house. It’s just too expensive today to duplicate the way craftsmen built the homes that make our neighborhoods so special. If a house is more than 40 years old and in a historic neighborhood, there are real advantages to repairing it and getting folks to move into the home. 

The best thing you can do is to help our neighborhood find a buyer for this home at 918 N. Main Street.  It will take quite a bit of work and investment to stabilize this house, but we can't afford to keep losing homes in the neighborhood. The owner wishes to sell it, so that's half the battle!  Click >HERE< for the owner's advertisement on  For just $7,000 (or less), the right person(s) can begin the path to rehabilitating this vintage home for the good of the entire area!

Help us save this home!  Yes ~ it will take vision, hard work, and money....but it will be SO worth it!

The North Main Neighborhood
Salisbury, North Carolina 28144 / NOMA North Main

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