A historic home in Northgate Park that once housed a children’s museum but has been empty for two years will transform into art next month.
Durham artists will memorialize the home at 404 W. Lavender Ave through a Durham Parks and Recreation volunteer project. Occasional flooding has left the city-owned property in decay and poor shape, unfit for rental and unfit for the city to use.
The Open Art Society, which is co-organizing the project, is still searching for artists to participate. The Society is a platform for artists to work in public spaces and engage in creative ways with the community. Artists will be able to perform and display work they’ve created based on the site. This will be an open-ended project with no creative restrictions on the artist. The Society’s founder and lead organizer, Jessica Moore, said the house is a creative prompt.
Durham Parks and Recreation owns the deconstruction project.
“This house has some sentimental value to the community,” said Beth Timson, Assistant Director of Park Planning and Education with Durham Parks and Recreation. “Not only did it house the caretaker almost 50 years ago and once housed the Children’s Nature Museum, but it is possible—but not proven—that the stonework on the house, which will be saved, was work done by a Civilian Conservation Corps group working out of Butner, a federal camp that was once next to the town, in the late 1930s.”
The home was built in the 1930s. In 1946, the building housed the Children’s Museum. Years later, the Museum moved to Murray Avenue where it became the Museum of Life and Science. In the 1950s, the house served as the residence of the caretaker of the Barfield Recreation Center, which used to be a recreation center, named after the family who gave the land for the park, in Northgate Park that burned down in the 1970’s. The city designated the house a historical landmark. Despite its historical significance, deconstruction was the best option, said Timson. Since last summer, Northgate Park Neighborhood Association (NPNA) partnered with Parks and Recreation to discuss options for rehabbing the house. Timson said the home’s stonework made it a poor candidate for whole house relocation. The only other option was demolition.
Because the house sits within the Ellerbe Creek floodplain, regulations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency restrict the repairs that could make the home useable, said NPNA President Ian Pond.
“The city, Parks and Rec., and NPNA delved in to many options to repair/restore the property and use it,” Pond said. “The conclusion after several meetings was that there was no practical way to use the building which then led us to discuss deconstruction and to leave the stonework in place in memorial.”
The home’s history is precisely what is saving the house from devastation. The home’s stone chimney and porch, and stone foundation, will remain on site to be used as a piece of sculpture and as seating during community events. Also, some of the dismantled materials may be used for benches.
“Creating art about the house isn’t just about the physical structure of the house, it’s about the history of the space and the neighborhood that surrounds it,” said Moore. “The house gives everyone a focal point to begin a conversation about our community and if all goes well with the deconstruction the neighborhood will have a new open space formed from the beautiful stone foundation and chimney.”