Monday, June 9, 2014

Saving the Chancellor's House

In last week's blog, we discussed the concept of adaptive reuse and gave some examples of its employ here on UNCG's campus. This week we'll look at an adaptive reuse success story that could have only happened through the joint efforts of the wider UNCG community and Historic Preservation groups.

Designed by Harry Barton of Greensboro and built in 1922, the President's Residence (as it was then called) served as home to almost all the heads of the college and university from Foust through Sullivan. When the University began leasing a home to serve as the new Chancellor's residence in 1996, Chancellor Sullivan moved to the Sunset Drive house and left the old Chancellor's house without a resident or purpose for the first time in its existence.

Chancellor's Residence, ca. 1960
The Chancellor's residence at Spring Garden St. had been in need of repairs and updates before Chancellor Sullivan's arrival at UNCG, and by 1999, the situation had worsened to the point that the board of trustees voted to demolish the house. It was thought that the cost to renovate the house had become too great and that, ironically, there was more value in the land it was on for "green space and future expansion for a signature building."

Very shortly after the decision to demolish the house was announced, a movement started by Carolyn Maness (Alumna-1946) and Jean Gordon (Professor of History-Emerita) sought to try to save the house from being destroyed. Gathering the forces of UNCG alumni, a letter-writing campaign ensued which helped to slow the demolition process. During this time also, help to save the house was recruited from Preservation North Carolina, a private non-profit statewide historic preservation organization. With their help, a compromise was reached to save the house.  If the money could be raised to move and renovate the house, there was a possibility of saving it. The estimate to move and renovate was set just at 2 million dollars and those interested in saving the house had just under a year to raise that sum.  Meanwhile, other interested groups, such as Preservation Greensboro, Inc. and current students of the University joined in the effort to raise the money. An "Afternoon on the Lawn" event was staged by UNCG student groups to encourage awareness and donations.

House on the move, June 2003
A large part of the success of the project was the clear vision for the new use of the house. Many alumni had suggested the house could be used as an admissions and vistors center, and with the blessing and support of their families, it was decided that the house would become the Jane Harris Armfield and Emily Harris Preyer Admissions and Vistors Center, named after two alumnae who had supported the preservation effort. This clear vision for the purpose of the building was an important factor in raising funds for the move and renovation. Preservation North Carolina leased the house from the University in late 2002 for a period of two years, which allowed them to move and renovate the house.

Over several weeks in May-June 2003, the house was lifted, moved, and re-set at its current location at 1400 Spring Garden St, just 900 feet from its original location. Renovations began immediately and continued through the end of 2004. The house was turned over to the University in January 2005 and The Jane Harris Armfield and Emily Harris Preyer Admissions and Visitors Center was officially dedicated in May 2005.

Armfield-Preyer Center, June 2005 (photo-UNCG Image Collection)
The Chancellor's house is an example of what can go right when communities work together for a greater purpose. Alumni, students, faculty, the wider UNCG community, and preservationists succeeded in what, at times, seemed an impossible task. The house, once deemed an insignificant building not worth saving, has been transformed into a focal point on campus. That transformation began with the effort to educate the community on the history of the building and its architectural merits. It continued with the effort to reach out and find donors and willing partners to help with creative alternatives to save the building. Adaptive reuse became the mechanism by which the house found new life as our Admissions and Visitors Center.

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