Em Wilson, encore’s newest staff member and millennial extraordinaire, headed downtown to scope out the empty buildings peppering our historical city. With some research and facetime with peeps in the know, she uncovered stories from many recognizable buildings and lots around town and got the scoop on what they’re going to become…
H. JAFFE BUILDING
714 Castle Street
Year Built: 1914-1919
History: This shell housed the Castle Street Furniture Company, run by H. Jaffe and his family for half a century. Before opening the storefront, Jaffe worked as a traveling salesman. The building on Castle is purported to have been a point of interest admist the civil rights movement of the 1970s, specifically concerning the Wilmington 10. The group of activists, who were wrongly accused of a firebombing, attended meetings here. At one point, the building was halfway to being demolished when the city intervened to save it, maintaining the majority of the structure.
Plans: Historic Wilmington Foundation put it on their Wilmington’s Most Threatened Places list for several years over the past decade, but the current owner has no intention of razing it. David Brinkley of Atlantic Coast Construction purchased the property in May 2013. It’s his favorite building in ILM, so much so he has its façade tattooed on his leg. Though there are no concrete plans for the structure, he has quite a few dreams he’d like to see a reality. “I’d like to put a high-end steak house in there,” he tells—envisioning a brick patio in the back and a glass garage door that allows indoor and outdoor patrons. But his dreams don’t stop there; he has also considered implementing luxury apartments in the space and mentioned using the ample wall space to project films.
THE OLD COKE FACTORY
921 Princess Street
Year Built: 1930s
History: The block where the largest 6,000-square-foot Coca-Cola warehouse sits today, on Princess and 10th streets, was mainly residential dating up to the first quarter of the 20th century. A map of Wilmington from the 1880s indicates James Sprunt, Wilmington author of “Chronicals of the Cape Fear,” called this block home. The Barrett’s Circus and Menagerie, a travelling circus from the late 19th century, used to set up shop in the little district prior to 1900. From old newspaper clippings, it would appear the travelling show did not keep a very tight hold on its predatory cats, with instances of their jaguars going AWOL, as reported across the East Coast. In 1882 a woman named Harriet Foy reported her son was “taken away with the show,” as he wandered around the block.
The Coca Cola Corporation opened in Wilmington in February of 1904. The StarNews (née Wilmington Morning Star) reported the company was “sparing no expense” in the $5,000 uplift to establish the original headquarters on Walnut Street between 7th and 8th. The operation moved to Princess in 1919 as the company massively expanded into the international conglomerate we know today.
Plans: Owner and developer Jim McFarland has big plans for the property, which spans over three blocks and consists of several warehouses. The front section is slated for two restaurants and an office space. A brewery is opening on the east section of the block. The plan is to implement a grocery store on the northwest block. The northeast block will be either residential or parking—perhaps even a parking deck. Construction is slated to begin in the fall.
226 N. Front Street
Year Built: 1903
History: In 1903 George O. Gaylord opened the Gaylord Department Store and operated it for three decades. But the store was only at the Front Street location for 12 years. After a remodel, adding two stories, Gaylord’s was the biggest department store in the state for quite some time.
Belk Brothers bought the store in October 1915, while owning and operating 12 others across North and South Carolina. Then what generated $2 million in sales continues to operate today with 300 stores and $4 billion in sales. Gaylord retired upon the sale, and the home of largest local selection of mercantile goods in the city was turned over to the Charlotte-based powerhouse we now know as Belk Inc.
Plans: Wilmingtonians will recognize the three-story building by its mural-laden façade, painted by the Cape Fear Community College Art Club in 2013. According to Jenna Toomy from Town & Country Real Estate, the firm listing the historic building is an ideal property, since its categorized in the commercial business district, meaning the building could be split up in its uses. “You could put anything in there,” she says. “You can literally do anything. For example, you could have a restaurant on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors.”
ELKS TEMPLE BUILDING
255 N. Front Street
Year Built: 1902
History: Named after the famed fraternal organization, the Elks Temple Building used to have a large copper elk’s head hanging over its windows to welcome members. A report from The Wilmington Messenger in October 1900 indicated the organization would “hoist” novices to the organization up on the antlers of the elk, in order for the newcomer to be “inducted into the mysteries of the antlered tribe.” Today, the copper antlers are no more.
The basement of the building was home to yours truly, encore, in the early 1990s, but later on in the decade it moved out of the dark and into the space behind the bay windows on the second floor of The Soapbox. The Soapbox Laundro-Lounge—ILM’s hailed live music venue and, yes, laundromat—occupied the building from 2001 to 2013. Editor-in-Chief Shea Carver recalls listening to Outkast rehearse for their 2004 VMA performance through the walls of the building.
“It was right as they released the ‘Speakerboxxx/Love Below’ album,” she says, “and it was the soundtrack to putting encore together weekly for a while.”
Today, the building awaits to serve up some waffles.
Plans: Will it be a Waffle House? Well, it was originally planned as an all-hours diner, but such plans have been delayed. The commercial MLS states the restaurant has been “fighting and is now winning the permitting process with the City,” and they are “gearing up for interior uplifting of the space.”
511 N. Third Street
Year Built: 1900
History: The one-story stuccoed building was home to the Pickard Bleecker Automobile Company before its official dissolution in 1914. R. F. Fields of the Ford Automotive Company bought it and continued operating it as an automobile dealership for many years. Eventually, it was the site of the Allen Feed Store & Supply and even a hardware store for a time. Cape Fear Community College tried to condemn the property but the owner, Pat Delair, pushed to save it. Delair served on city council from 2006 to 2007. After passing away from a vigilant battle with cancer, the building was put up for sale.
Plans: Though the online listing advertisement mentions it as a great space for a craft brewery, the buyer did not disclose intentions for the property upon inquiry. The building is currently under contract.
MILLS GROCERY STORE
522 S. Third Street
Year Built: 1948
History: According to listing agent John Hinnant, the one-story brick commercial building originally served as Mills Grocery Store. The large-plate glass display windows have made the storefront an ideal home for commercial businesses over the years, including the grocery, an antique shop and a florist. The building was home to Herritage Equipment Company in 1976.
Plans: The property was put on the market in late June, and Hinnant says it was under contract within a week. Hinnant teases readers with great things to come.
“People will be very excited once they realize who the buyer is,” he tells. Though he cannot disclose more on the subject, he does reveal the buyers have “big plans” for the old grocery store.
523 S. Third Street
Year Built: 1897
History: The one-story, front-gable building was owned and operated by J.P. Montgomery from 1897 to 1904, who had to rebuild the structure in 1897 because of a fire.
Travis Gilbert of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society pointed out the structure on the 1915 Sandborn fire insurance maps—which are detailed guides for the city to know which buildings were susceptible to fires, and how the structures were outfitted with pipes. The map, housed in the archives of the society’s Latimer House headquarters, shows the structure surrounded by a square outline that extends onto the street. According to Gilbert, it is a common indicator associated with grocery stores, which often had porches or eaves that extended onto the sidewalk.
Plans: The building was purchased by a private citizen in April of 2016. The little house was most recently the home of Projekte Gallery and Lounge, which served as a cozy venue for local artists, with an apartment outfitted in the back of it.
BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING
155 N. Front Street
Year Built: 1969
History: A map of the city from 1882 shows the building that stood before its modern replacement was owned by A. Pope, who is mentioned frequently in Wilmington newspapers in the 1880s. Pope served as general passenger agent for the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta Railroad Company. He communicated train schedules and ticket deals to the people of the city. It is unclear how Pope utilized the building, which is pink on the Sandborn map, meaning passersby would’ve seen a brick building while walking by the site in 1915.
Constructed in 1969, the modernist building served as the downtown location for Bank of America until it moved to its 3rd Street location in 2010.
Plans: The building is currently owned by the Raleigh-based restaurant group LM Restaurants. It was reported the company planned to turn the building into a brewery; however, a representative for LM, Katherine Goldfaden, confirmed no current plans are in place for the property at this time.