Unless you’ve been swathed in media-proof bunting for the past few months, you probably couldn’t miss the unfortunate architectural saga unfolding on Euclid Street in Raleigh’s historic Oakwood neighborhood.
Al Roker clucked over it on NBC’s Today show. The Seattle Times duly picked it up for the benefit of West Coast modernists. And architecture critic Paul Goldberger swooped down like a deity from New York, just to see for himself and issue an unbridled judgement for the readers of Vanity Fair.
In a McLuhan epoch of media’s triumph over message, here was a public relations blitzkrieg that pulled no punches. And it’s had its effect.
“A neighbor has taken a brutal beating,” says Mary Iverson of the Oak City Preservation Alliance (OCPA). “She’s been obliterated by the press.”
“She has been painted with a very black brush, when all she’s been doing is standing up for her rights,” says OCPA member Don Becom.
They’re referring to Oakwood resident Gail Wiesner, who had the temerity in fall 2013 to appeal a certificate of appropriateness granted architect Louis Cherry for a new Craftsman-inspired residence he designed for a tight little lot across from her home.
Certainly she was within her legal rights to do so. And, armed with an effective attorney, she won. Cherry stopped construction on the home in April, though winning an injunction to continue work that would protect the property, as an appeal worked its way through the legal system.
Citing the Cherry home as a catalyst, OCPA was formed six months ago to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood known as Historic Oakwood, with its structures built between 1880 and 1939. Historic Oakwood is protected by guidelines written and revised over the years by city staff, based on state statutes. It’s those guidelines that members of OCPA believe have been violated by Cherry.
“We see the Euclid Street house as a threat,” says Iverson. “Our concern is that builders will come in with carte blanche to build anything here. The guidelines would lose their consistent interpretation of the last 40 years. We are shocked at the way they’ve been interpreted.”
“If we start to allow outliers to come in, we could lose our historic designation,” adds OCPA member Heather Scott.
Cherry’s home, the group alleges, violates guidelines for the historic district, including a style they say is modern rather than conforming or even Craftsman; a scale that’s disproportionate to the single story homes surrounding it; and materials that are counter to what’s prevalent in the neighborhood.
“It’s beautiful and his work is gorgeous, but the problem is it violates the state law and the enabling guidelines for historic designation,” says Scott.
Cherry, the group suggests, continued to build his home at his own risk, once Wiesner’s appeal was filed in November. “She had the right to appeal,” says Scott. “And he had the right to appeal too, but I wish he’d take personal responsibility, and not blame the neighbors.”
The Wake County Superior Court will hear arguments from both sides on Monday, August 25; a judgement is due within weeks.
No one expects an easy end to the controversy, however.
“We fully expect an appeal no matter what the outcome,” says Iverson.
And, one surmises, plenty of publicity.
Tomorrow: The evolution of Oakwood, from architect Louis Cherry’s perspective.