In the late ’90s, the dilapidated façades of these former tobacco warehouses made a perfect backdrop for Kevin Costner’s down-and-out scenes during the filming of “Bull Durham.”
Nowadays, movie directors seeking landscapes of despair should look elsewhere. The place is very different since local developer Blue Devil Ventures hired J Davis Architects and Barnhill Contracting to resurrect the five structures built between 1899 and 1926. Spanning the better part of five city blocks, the historic site is now home to 209 funky loft-style apartments, 61,700 square feet of office space, 44,250 square feet of retail fronting downtown Main Street, and a 463-space parking garage.
Eco-friendly in its adaptive reuse of existing structures and proximity to public transit (the site abuts Durham’s Amtrak station), the project is also thoughtful in its landscaping. Exterior courtyards connecting the buildings provide greenery and usable outdoor space, while simultaneously housing bio-retention cells with vegetative sand filters and a recirculating rainwater collection system.
Although the original warehouses were fairly utilitarian, the team was careful to preserve what one historian described as “brick bravado” exterior masonry—evidence of a little design one-upmanship between tobacco magnate brothers back in the day. The site’s original character also lingers in former loading docks, bridges, and ventilation devices, which were converted into project landmarks.
“Virtually every elevation is a front elevation, so we had to be clever about playing up the positives, while hiding things like trash collection and electrical transformers,” notes architect Bill Egan. “We also had to educate ourselves about what was of value and what was not. That meant peeling away layers of non-historic additions, while maintaining those that were deemed to have merit and relevance.”