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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Conversation to save local historic sites renewed

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The May 28 announcement of Historic Wilmington Foundation’s 9th annual Most Threatened Places List was preceded by a preservation success story: the recent purchase of the Murchison Building.

Wilmington’s only true skyscraper , located at the corner of N. Front and Chestnut Streets, was sold at auction despite issues from overdue maintenance. The Greensboro buyers have pledged to utilize preservation tax credits and restore the building as an integral part of the downtown streetscape.

“We’re really excited for this iconic skyscraper to be in good hands today,” said Executive Director George Edwards.

Although the foundation’s role in the Murchison Building save was limited, Edwards said he hopes a spot on the list will spur conversations about other historic sites in need of new ideas and renewed effort.

“That’s what this list is about on an annual basis: education, publicity and an opportunity to open discussion for people,” Edwards said.

The 2014 list is the largest since 2008 with 13 opportunities to preserve the area’s historic fabric in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick Counties.

Edwards attributes the growth to education efforts like a traveling exhibit of the 2013 list and mounting development pressure. Out of 13 listings, eight were whittled from 12 nominations and four rolled over from previous lists.

“Some people know they’re on the list because they’re repeats or specifically solicited. Others are nominated and then it becomes my job to do more research on the site and reach out to those people,” Edwards said.

The Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage on N. Lumina Avenue came to the attention of the foundation through a nomination.

“Someone nominated [the cottage] because it’s part of the vanishing species of small beach cottages and I’m sure the lot is worth 20 times the value of the house,” Edwards said.

The 924-square-foot cottage and its waterside lot come with a hefty $1.095 million price tag. The cottage is valued at a meager $65,000.

Edwards said a handful of beach cottages have landed a spot on the list before, but all have met the same end—a wrecking ball. He hopes the Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage will meet another fate.

“We have not listed things on the beaches for several years simply because almost before we could list things at the beaches, they were gone. Here is perhaps an opportunity to frame the discussion that might lead to a creative way to save this cottage,” Edwards said.

An on-site rehabilitation is preferred but Edwards is open to any opportunity to preserve the structure.

“I’d love to see it stay where it is and be restored. I’d hate to see it packed up and bulldozed, in the back of dump trucks and hauled off to the landfill,” Edwards said. “It’s better to save it in a new location than lose it because in another 15, 20, 30 years, except for a handful of other cottages, there won’t be any way to tell what once graced the beach, and what was once the lifestyle everybody sought. It’s been largely wiped out.”

Other additions to the 2014 list include the Market Street Corridor between 17th Street and Colonial Drive and brick streets in Wilmington’s historic district.

Edwards said calming the Market Street Corridor, the primary entrance to the downtown historic district, by shrinking the street back to two lanes is a priority. As part of a citywide reclamation effort, Edwards called for brick streets currently paved over to be systematically uncovered and maintained.

For the full story on the Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage’s spot on the list, check out the May 29 issue of Lumina News.

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