Lessons learned from a doomed Dilworth building

Mark West
Mark West

I have a neighbor that is more than a century old, but this neighbor’s days are numbered. This neighbor is not a person but a building, perhaps the oldest apartment building in Dilworth.

Located on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East Tremont Avenue, this small apartment building dates back to 1905 when the Dilworth neighborhood was in its earliest stages of development. It’s an unassuming brick structure with a gabled roof, but if you look at it closely you’ll see that the building has a graceful symmetry to it. As far as I know, it had been continuously occupied from 1905 until the end of January 2015. A new condominium project will soon take its place.

There are lessons to be learned. One is not to be complacent just because buildings are located within the boundaries of official historic districts. This apartment building is located in Dilworth Historic District, and I had assumed it would be protected from developers. My assumption was wrong.

The Charlotte Historic District Commission strives to preserve historic structures, but I now realize that concerned neighbors and community organizations must voice support for the preservation of imperiled historic buildings before demolition permits are issued.

The planned destruction of this apartment building has made me realize that historic preservation should involve more than grand mansions and architectural marvels. Historic districts should also include more ordinary buildings such as small bungalows, commercial buildings, and multi-family dwellings.

Actual historic buildings are what make historic districts special, not contemporary buildings that mimic the styles of older buildings. These older buildings are called contributing structures. Once they are knocked down, they cannot be replaced.

I have examined the plans for the new condominium complex. It will be an attractive, upscale addition to the neighborhood. Each unit will cost over $500,000, and that brings me to my last point. The affordable rental rates in the old apartment building made it possible for people with moderate incomes to live in Dilworth. The loss of this apartment building will make Dilworth a bit less diverse, a bit less affordable, and for me at least, a bit less interesting.

My logical mind knows that buildings are inanimate objects, but when I look at the darkened windows of the old apartment building, I have a sense that the building is remembering the hundreds of people who found shelter within its walls, and it misses them. I have a sense that the building feels abandoned and already forgotten. I wish there was a way that I could tell this old neighbor that I value its history and I will miss its presence. Good bye, old friend.

West is chairman of the English Department at UNC Charlotte.