#LifeatStewart / Preserving the Living History of Durham

May 19th / 2021


Preserving the Living History of Durham

The Kress Building’s Living Legacy

The Kress Building resides on the corner of West Main Street and Mangum Street, one of the most notable and highly traveled intersections in the heart of Durham. It was built in 1932 in the Art Deco style and features dazzling architecture, with floral and foliage motifs embellishing its facade and interior. 

Its location within the center of the Bull City positions this site within footsteps of downtown’s prime attractions—numerous popular restaurants and bars, the Durham Performing Arts Center, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Farmers’ Market, offices for Durham’s desirable creative, tech, and entrepreneurial workforce, and thousands of apartment units.

The Kress Building a sunset

It is also the home of Stewart’s Durham office where Project Manager Katie Hamilton, PLA, who has over seven years of design experience, plans and creates for projects across the region. A member of the landscape architecture team, she assists developers with entitlements research, re-zonings, site development, and construction documentation to bring their projects to life in the areas of local government, healthcare, higher education, and hospitality.

Katie is also former chair of the City of Durham Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). The HPC’s mission is to determine whether requested changes to the exterior of locally designated historic district or landmark properties are appropriate by state law, local ordinance, and historic preservation plans for the communities. The HPC reviews all major, minor, or master certificates of appropriateness.

The distinct flavor of the neighborhoods in Durham was part of what drew me to working on the Durham Historic Preservation Commission.

Katie Hamilton, PLA

The Kress Building, a local historic landmark, was adaptively repurposed and renovated in 2006, with 14 luxury residential condo units occupying the upper levels. The structure receives a tax abatement to ensure that the owners have more funds to maintain the property to the level needed for a historic site with landmark status. Durham’s HPC reviews all exterior changes to landmarks such as the Kress and properties in local historic districts.

Living Structures

Preserving historic buildings isn’t simply about freezing a place in time. Preservation takes into account the constant movement of life and the people who use these spaces.

“Historic buildings are living structures that should grow and change with society and the needs of residents to retain their usefulness while respecting the roots that give the building its character,” Katie explains. “As a landscape architect serving on the HPC, I focus on the holistic character of the local historic. While each historic building is individually meaningful, the value of the building’s setting and the contribution to the feeling of the neighborhood is of utmost importance to my preservation interests.”

Durham Historic Downtown

Existing

Durham Historic Downtown

Proposed

Durham Historic Downtown

Future

Preserving Character or Elitism?

Katie notes that historic preservation can be a surprisingly contentious issue. “Some people view it as a form of elitism and modern redlining, but that’s the exact opposite intent when creating local historic districts. These districts are intended to preserve the neighborhood’s character. While that preservation may come with requirements for building materials that are slightly more expensive than what is allowed outside of these districts, it also comes with protections against replacing smaller historic houses with ‘McMansions.’

“Durham’s historic districts are remarkably diverse in both housing stock and periods of significance and importance. Our landmark districts include not only a range of single-family residences but duplexes and multi-family developments. That diversity of housing stock is critical to maintaining the charm of historic districts and the ability of individuals with differing socioeconomic means to live in historic districts. 

“The distinct flavor of the neighborhoods in Durham was part of what drew me to working on the Durham Historic Preservation Commission. We also have great local partners that offer assistance to residents in these neighborhoods who need help with home repair. Right now, Preservation Durham is seeking a grant from the city through their participatory budgeting to help residents maintain their homes in these districts.”

As Katie has found, historic places are worth preserving. Behind each door and wall, and under each roof, there is a story to be found, understood, and appreciated. Organizations such as the Durham HPC are doing the work to maintain the living histories of their treasured communities.

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