Watts-Hillandale

Watts-Hillandale

Summary

THE neighborhood known today as Watts Hospital-Oval Park is oriented east-west by its major artery, W. Club Blvd. A handsome array of houses, in the styles and types that characterize Durham's finer residential construction from the 1900s to around 1940, line this broad, imposing avenue. These attractive houses are enhanced by an abundance of large hardwood trees which create a canopy over most of the seven blocks of West Club Blvd. within the neighborhood. Although Watts Hospital-Oval Park is... Read More

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THE neighborhood known today as Watts Hospital-Oval Park is oriented east-west by its major artery, W. Club Blvd. A handsome array of houses, in the styles and types that characterize Durham's finer residential construction from the 1900s to around 1940, line this broad, imposing avenue. These attractive houses are enhanced by an abundance of large hardwood trees which create a canopy over most of the seven blocks of West Club Blvd. within the neighborhood. Although Watts Hospital-Oval Park is quite large, extending between Hillandale Road and Broad Street from Englewood Avenue north to Guess Road, its development prior to 1940 was confined to a narrow area, mainly along West Club Blvd. and Englewood Avenue. For the most part, the hotises along West Club Blvd., where the neighborhood was established, are larger and situated on wider and much deeper lots than those on Englewood Avenue, which is dominated by bungalows and basic house types from the 1920s and 1930s. The blocks connecting West Club and Englewood, particularly Alabama Avenue, display an interesting variety of styles from the first half of this century; several houses built prior to 1940 are scattered among many newer houses on Woodrow Avenue. This older area of Watts Hospital-Oval Park is anchored on its extremities by the Durham Water Works on the west end and the former Watts Hospital, now the North Carolina High School for Math and Science, on the east.

It was the move of Watts Hospital in 1910 to its new facility occupying a 25-acre tract in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Broad Street and West Club Blvd. that energized the development of the Watts Hospital-Oval Park neighborhood. Established in 1895 at the corner of West Main Street and North Buchanan Blvd., Watts Hospital grew so quickly that before it was fifteen years old, a larger installation was required. In 1909 George W. Watts, who had donated $50,000 for the establishment of a general hospital in 1895, donated another $500,000 to the hospital's endowment fund so that the new hospital building could be erected. Bertrand E. Taylor, the Boston architect who had designed the first hospital building, was recalled to exe- cute plans for the new complelt of four stuccoed buildings in the Spanish Mission style. The 1913 Sanborn Insurance Maps of Durham, the first edition of these maps to include any portion of Watts Hospital-Oval Park, indicate that only a very few dwellings, such as the two-story frame house at 1212 Broad Street, were erected on the land contiguous to the hospital grounds soon after the institution's relocation. On the basis of oral history, city directories- and architectural analysis, however, it is evident that several houses were built along West Club Blvd. - then known variously as E Street and North Road -just west of the hospital and along Broad Street throughout the 1910s; most of these houses were associated in some way with Watts Hospital. 

Typical of many of the comfortable two-story frame houses built throughout Durham at this time, these well-built houses have regular, boxey forms and restrained decoration suggestive of the Colonial Revival style. Characteristic of this fashion is the careful finishing of basic elements, such as window surrounds, cornices, and porches, which frequently are the one-story wraparound type supported by box posts. Three almost identical houses of this type, all shingle- clad, were built near the intersection of West Club Blvd. and Carolina Avenue for doctors named Adkins, McCracken (razed to provide the site for the Westwood Baptist Church) and Bitting. All of the daughters of W. T. Eure were associated with Watts Hospital in clerical or nursing capacities; Eure built his house at 2002 West Club Blvd. not long after 1910. Several houses near the hospital, such as the James Bain House at 1218 Broad Street, boarded nurses. This practice increased after 1926 when the hospital was enlarged with the Valinda Beale Watts Pavilion, designed by the local architectural firm of Atwood and Nash. Other hospital affiliates in the area were Angus H. McDonald, who built his house at 1204 Broad Street in the 1910s, and E. R. Thomas, whose circa 1920 house at 2009 West Club Blvd. is one of the most striking in the neighborhood due to the stained glass panels in many of its tall and narrow windows. Both of these men operated drugstores on Ninth Street.

Expansion westward was spurred by the extension of Durham's trolley system to the intersection of West Club Blvd. and Broad Street and by the construction of Durham's first water works in 1917 on Hillandale Road at the end of West Club Blvd. Now, Durhamites had easy access to the water works lake, a popular recrea- tion spot. The end of West Club Blvd., at the city's western edge, became more attractive for home sites as it was one of Durham's several "streetcar suburbs" with easy access to the down- town. 

Early residents of the western end of Watts Hospital-Oval Park, which originally was the northern part of a residential neighborhood known as Oakland Heights -later absorbed by Watts Hospital-Oval Park and West Durham -included W. C. Lyon, proprietor of Lyon Hardware, Daniel T. Sasser, secretary and treasurer of the Royall & Borden Company, furniture dealers, and D. C. Mitchell, bookkeeper of the Durham Lumber Company. By 1920, several more houses had been built between those houses at the west end of the neighborhood and Watts Hospital, such as the two most substantial houses on Englewood Avenue, the Neal-Ford House and the Dailey House, both located at the intersection with Carolina Avenue.

Even though Watts Hospital-Oval Park was considered by many to be "in the country" until the 1930s, construction proceeded at a steady pace throughout the 1920s. Despite the growing popularity of privately owned automobiles throughout the 1920s and 1930s, doctors con- tinued to move here because of the proximity to the hospital.  Development of the neighborhood received another boost when the Homeland Investment Company built the Hillandale Country Club, Durham's first 18-hole golf course, in 1923. Later in the same decade, Oval Park, occupying much of the 2200 block of West Club Blvd., was laid out in an irregular shape approx- Imating the oval that lends it its name.

Drawn by these new recreation spots, Dur- ham businessmen and professionals, who prob- ably included many golfers in their numbers, bought lots and built houses for themselves on West Club Blvd., Englewood Avenue and their intersecting streets. The period revival styles continued to dominate the area, the Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival being the favorites. The John T. Kerr House at 2217 West Club Blvd., with its clipped gable roofline and engaged eyebrow entrance hood, is the only pure exam- ple of the English Cottage style in Watts Hospital-Oval Park. An exception to the period revival trend is the striking I. J. Stoner House at 1106 Alabama Avenue. Built for Dr. Stoner and his family in the early 1920s, this two-story frame house, which combines Shingle Style and bungalow characteristics, is one of the most interesting houses in the neighborhood.

The triangular brackets in deep eaves is the unifying characteristic of the dozens of bungalows built throughout the neighborhood in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of these, such as the Samuel L. Greene House at 2219 West Club Blvd., with its multiple cross-gabled roofline, exhibit a rich variety in form and materials that individualized popular house types.

By 1940, the rural atmosphere of the area had almost disappeared, due to the surge in construction that began in the late 1920s, often by contractors who built houses for speculation. The south side of the 2400 block of West Club Blvd., with its row of six very similar two-story gable-roofed houses built by John Sally, is an example of this practice. Although no architect- designed houses have been identified in Watts Hospital-Oval Park, the popular stylishness and detailing of so many of the houses indicate that they probably were built by contractors accord- ing to plans published in builders' guides and magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens. In addition to the houses built by John Sally, the Brock House at 2115 West Club Blvd. has been identi- fied as the work of the local contracting firm of Thompson and Cannady.

In spite of changes in the neighborhood that include the removal of Watts Hospital and the evolution of West Club Blvd. into a major vehic- ular thoroughfare, Watts Hospital-Oval Park has remained fairly stable. Perhaps this is because, of all the almost strictly residential "street- car suburbs," it is the farthest removed from Central Durham. Many of the people who moved here in the 1920s and 1930s remain today. While several of the larger houses have been converted to duplexes or apartment build- ings, most of them are carefully maintained. Many young families, who have moved into the neighborhood in the past few years, have invested much time and money in home improvements.  

(From the Durham Architectural and HIstoric Inventory, 1980)

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