Monday, October 22, 2012

Chancellor's Residence on the Move

In 1922, the Building Committee of the Board of Directors at the North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG) reported that the state government had approved a measure to allow for the construction of an official home for the president of the institution. This home, according to the official meeting minutes of the Board, would give the president a residence "where he can be at all times in close touch with the faculty and student body." Greensboro architect Harry Barton (who also designed the Quad, Aycock Auditorium, and four other campus buildings) was tasked with the construction.

Chancellor's Residence, circa 2003
This stately Georgian home served as the official residence for campus leaders from President Julius Foust through Chancellor Patricia Sullivan. During the years, it served as a home and a site for hosting special events and dignitaries. Robert Frost, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madeleine L'Engle, and William F. Buckley were all entertained there. But in 1996, Sullivan moved from the residence to a home in Irving Park, which the campus continues to use rent-free thanks to a contribution from the Bryan Foundation.

The Chancellor's Residence stood vacant for three years, and campus trustees and administrators began to debate the home's future. Could it be renovated, or should it be demolished to make way for new construction? In September 1999, the Board of Trustees voted to raze the building, noting that a major renovation of the home into office space would cost more money than constructing a new building  and citing an opportunity for development of new office space on the valuable site.

Alumni and other concerned citizens quickly spoke up. Letters flooded into offices of campus administrators, and letters to local newspaper editors were published asking the Board to reconsider. But in 2000, the demolition recommendation proceeded with approval from the UNC Board of Governors and the Council of State. The organization Preservation North Carolina (PNC) began advocating for the residence's renovation, arguing the building's importance based upon its connection to UNCG's history, its contribution to the appearance of the campus, and the prominence of its architect. Just three weeks before the house's scheduled demolition date, UNCG administrators gave PNC until mid-2001 to raise the estimated $1.8 million necessary to relocate and renovate the building. PNC was able to privately raise the necessary funds (after a few deadline extensions), and on June 7, 2003, the 420-ton home was moved to its new location (900 feet from its old site). Private donors also funded necessary interior and exterior renovation work.
Chancellor Sullivan and former Chancellor William E. Moran
with the Chancellor's Residence on its moving day, 2003

In 2005, the Chancellor's Residence officially reopened as the Jane Harris Armfield and Emily Harris Preyer Admissions and Visitors Center. As PNC noted in a letter to supporters of the project, the house could continue its usefulness and "provide enticing space for student recruitment and alumni development ... [and] bear witness to the major advances in the higher education of women made during the 20th century in North Carolina, while helping shape the future of the university."

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