The Medical Arts Building at the beginning of its current trajectory, October 1994
A residential building predated the existing structure at this address on Gregson, apparently the property of a C. W. Hallenback at the time of this 1944 plat's production.
(Durham County Register of Deeds)
None of the digitized city directories from the surrounding years record a person under this name - here or anywhere in Durham - and the frequent turnover of listed residents suggests this was a rental property. Likely tenants were as follows for the years reviewed: 1930 - Ralph B. Perkins; 1936 - John W. Rhodes; 1941 - Herman P. Conklin; 1949 - Mrs. Pauline Bowels (nurse).
Though the immediate vicinity remained largely residential, the Medical Arts Building was constructed in the early 1950s as the office for the private practice of well-known Duke and Watts Hospital pediatrician, Dr. Arthur Hill London, Jr. The southernmost portion (beyond the chimneyesque structure) was constructed first, and the northern wing was added sometime after 1959.
The Watts and Yuille warehouses are at the top of the picture, part of Duke Memorial Methodist on West Chapel Hill Street is visible at the bottom right. Only the southern portion of the building is present in this 1959 aerial. ( As an aside, John Loudermilk of "Tobacco Road" and "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" fame evidently grew up in the house visible across Gregson Street with some cars around it).
Dr. William L. London IV, nephew of Dr. A. H. London, joined his uncle's practice at the Medical Arts Building from the early 1960s.
With the construction of the Durham Freeway - first to the Chapel Hill Street interchange that immediately abuts this property and then further west - the Burch Avenue neighborhood was cut off from the rump end of the street that produced its name, now a dead end between Gregson and the highway.
(Courtesy of The Herald-Sun, looking east, 1989)
The Medical Arts Building is just above the on-ramp at the center, with the broken ends of Burch Avenue to its left and in the foreground at the bottom of the frame. Note the complete removal of surrounding houses in the three decades since the aerial photo shown above.
I don't know exactly when medical offices moved out of this building. I would imagine that they absconded slowly with the migration of most medical offices to the area around Durham Regional Hospital after it was built in 1976.
Looking southwest, October 1994
I know that it has been empty for at least 9 years [Now nearly 20 - Editor's note, Feb.2019]. The building is owned by Bill Fields, who owns several buildings on Ninth Street. He also owns the 1/2 abandoned apartment buildings just to the south of this. A sign in front of those buildings boldly proclaims "Saving another Durham Landmark. Why? Because we love you!" without any apparent irony.
This type of nuisance speculation can afflict any city, but seems to fester particularly well here in Durham. Since, as a friend of mine once said, "Durham's been coming back for 50 years" everyone's always convinced that something big is just around the corner. So these speculators, financially secure, see their big Powerball payoff, if they just.... wait.... a... little...longer.
These speculators cost all of us money, pride, and comfort in our neighborhood as they wait for the rising tide to lift their boat - without actually contributing anything to the city themselves. We have no minimum commercial code in this city, so this building can sit here like this - forever. Rumor has it that people have offered Mr. Fields large sums of money for this building (7 figures). But, rumor has it, he's turned it down because he wants more. Speculators would rather go on incurring public costs while waiting for whatever the magical number is. Meanwhile, neighboring property value suffers, and this part of town never improves, despite being 1 very short block from Brightleaf Square.
Here's a list of most if not all of the properties owned by Mr. Fields. I'd hope that posting something like this could shame someone into action, but people who care about their city and neighbors wouldn't have left a building they owned like this for a week, much less 10+ years. The lawn gets mowed, so I suppose we should be grateful.
October 2006 (G. Kueber)
In July 2008, Mr. Fields proffered this early-90's appearing rendering as his imminent plans for the structure:
This seems to have been primarily in preparation for the erection of a giant political sign on the building for the fall 2008 elections. Election season came and went, Mr. Fields' candidate lost, the sign came down, and, as of September 2009, the building remains abandoned.
As of 2014, the boards have come off the windows for the first time in a decade, and rumors abound that the building may get purchased for a parking lot to serve redevelopment of the Chesterfield by Wexford. Years ago, in the comments below, son-of-Bill complained that the abandoned Holiday Inn up the block was the problem keeping his family unable to do something productive and decent for the community with this building. With that razed and a new shiny apartment building in its place, the excuses are gone. And it's as clear as it's always been what this is about - people who care more about their dream of holding the winning lottery ticket on a property sale - "it's gonna hit someday!" - than they do about being part of making Durham a better place. Those types are like a cancer on a city that aspires to better.
05.31.14 (Photo by G. Kueber)
Rear views of the building, the side facing the freeway - looking south towards Chapel Hill St. with the new Bell West End apartment complex at the edge, and looking north with the edge of the parking deck on West Pettigrew partially visible. (Photos by N. Levy, 02.05.2019)
This building was the subject of a What's It Wednesday?! post on Open Durham's social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram), the week of February 6, 2019. Follow us and stay tuned for more finds!