Gordon building aims to survive detractors

Southard: ‘Surely, surely, the town would not allow it to be torn down …
but it would be a tragedy if it were.”

By Kevin Spradlin
PiedmontPostNC.com

SUMMERFIELD — Linda Southard cannot bear the thought of another historical building in Summerfield becoming no more than a series of memories and lasting impressions captured by artists on canvas and tapestry.

That, she said, simply will not do.

By consensus, Mayor Gail Dunham and all five members of the Summerfield Town Council rejected in January a $3.7 million proposal from an architectural services firm out of Chapel Hill to renovate the historic R.C. Gordon Hardware building located on the southeast corner of the intersection of N.C. 150 and Summerfield Road. The two-story brick structure dates back to approximately 1877, when it was known as the Ogburn-Gordon Store and owned by George J. Smith.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com  No matter the future of the Gordon building, former Summerfield resident Etta Reid ensured the structure will have a longer life by awarding it a prominent place on a large throw. A throw can be purchased for $50 from Town Hall during regular business hours.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
No matter the future of the Gordon building, former Summerfield resident Etta Reid ensured the structure will have a longer life by awarding it a prominent place on a large throw. A throw can be purchased for $50 from Town Hall during regular business hours.

The figure includes $750,000 to stabilize the building, and another $850,000 for the building to be able to obtain a certificate of occupancy in order to be open for public use. Town officials have long stated the idea is to turn the Gordon building into a public meeting space. The remaining $2.1 million would have been used for an addition to the building, plus code-required stairs, an elevator, heating, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and technology upgrades and landscaping.

The building is a key component of the Summerfield Historic District, an area of mostly residential buildings but a few commercial ones, including the Gordon building, as recognized by the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office.

As abhorrent as the idea of an addition to the building is to Southard, other options – including razing the building or selling it to someone who will tear it down – is even worse.

“I want to see it restored,” said Southard, who was raised in the Willson house only a few doors down Oak Ridge Road and recalls the R.C. Gordon Hardware building as a community gathering place. “I do not really want to see add-ons because it takes away from the historical significance. I did not like the add-on idea. It would change the building completely.”

Dunham has spearheaded an effort to try and steer the conversation towards selling the property. So far, the effort has not taken root. But people like Southard who support preserving and restoring the building are paying attention.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com Linda Southard, chair of the Town of Summerfield’s Historical Committee, ponders whether or not the historic R.C. Gordon Hardware store once included a post office after seeing post office boxes on the second floor during a recent tour.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
Linda Southard, chair of the Town of Summerfield’s Historical Committee, ponders whether or not the historic R.C. Gordon Hardware store once included a post office after seeing post office boxes on the second floor during a recent tour.

“I’m very knowledgeable about what went on and everything,” Southard said. “Only if (Dunham) will not allow the town to redo these historical buildings, then we need to find somebody that would buy them and do it. But tear down? No. You don’t do that. Surely, surely, the town would not allow it to be torn down … but it would be a tragedy if it were.”

Southard seemed to take particular issue with stance taken by Dunham, a transplant from Illinois.

“I don’t know how long she’s been in Summerfield,” Southard said. “She’s never been involved in the history of Summerfield that I know of.”

Then, with a tongue-in-cheek approach, Southard added: “And so she’s a really good one to decide what to do with it. You can quote me on that.”

Southard is a member the Town of Summerfield’s Historical Committee since 2001 and the current chair. She spoke with the Northwest Observer during a recent tour of the inside of the Gordon building. Cheryl Gore, town events planner, provided access to the building and joined the tour for the duration.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com The Gordon Hardware building is currently owned by the Town of Summerfield, but Mayor Gail Dunham has not been alone in suggesting the town sell it in an effort to put the property back on the tax rolls.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
The Gordon Hardware building is currently owned by the Town of Summerfield, but Mayor Gail Dunham has not been alone in suggesting the town sell it in an effort to put the property back on the tax rolls.

Southard attempted to stay on a particular train of thought during the hour-long discussion, but often was interrupted by a particular recollection that came to mind – sparked by something that caught her eye in a building still full of surprises.

“They had groceries up here in the front,” Southard pulled from her memory bank. “Those racks … on both sides. Back here in the back, there was a plumber.”

That scene was from the mid-1940s or so. Howard Pope was the plumber. Gordon also employed Ervin Eldridge, a blacksmith who worked from a shop behind the building that no longer exists.

“The garage was right over there, which is gone,” Southard continued. “But these four were the center” – Town Hall, the Martin House, the Gordon building and a garage once located on the northeast corner of the intersection.

Southard and Gore carefully make their way up a steep staircase to the second floor. Upon entering the wide-open space, the smell of chemicals commonly associated with old-fashioned film photography floods the nostrils. Bill Gordon, Southard said, was R.C. Gordon’s son. He worked for an area media outlet. There are four black-and-white photos still tacked to the wall – two car wrecks, one of a young woman wearing a tiara and a fourth that captured a moment in what appears to be a solemn ceremony.

There is an old – a very old – electric stove on the second floor. There is no date visible on the machine, but Southard assures all within earshot that it certainly predates herself.

As Southard makes her way through her memories, she is astutely aware of a highly motivated group of people in Summerfield who want the town to have nothing to do with the building. During the mayor and town council’s regular monthly public meeting on March 13, Geoffrey Gregg equated the building, along with the Martin House on the adjacent corner, to the 1986 comedy film “The Money Pit.”

“Any historic structure,” Gregg said, “I challenge you to find someone who’s experienced this differently … the opportunity to spend much more than you’ve budgeted. There are surprises at every turn. We don’t have the resources nor the expertise to tackle that kind of thing. Why we own the buildings in the first place is beyond me.”

Fellow town resident Doug Stanley said the town has already spent far too much money on the project with “no clear understanding how this building can be used.”

Quote_LSCouncilman Reece Walker opined during that same meeting that while $3.7 million “is way too much … it’s an important historical building and the town is lucky to have been able to acquire it.”

Walker supports converting the building to a town meeting space and hopes the future can “give that building a little bit of glory.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of the PS Communications special publication At Home, dated March 22. 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Summerfield

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