In Raleigh, N.C., the Saga on Euclid St.

General / People / Places / August 21, 2014

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.


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Mike Welton

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on December 24, 2016

I owned a historic house in Oakwood 27 years ago (it is still there) and still care about what happens there. This issue is very serious because of the precedent it sets for future preservation and development in Oakwood.

Has there been an update?

on August 24, 2014

She followed all of the rules. The day after he obtained his COA, she filed her intent to appeal. This has happened in the past in Oakwood and each time the builder under appeal WAITS to build. He is legally allowed to either wait to build, or go ahead and pull permits and start building because it’s a risk both to build and to wait to build. However, if the builder decides to go ahead and build under an appeal it is at his own risk. This was made clear to the builders in this case. She has a right to file an appeal and did so as quickly as possible. I don’t know her but I can’t imagine she could have ever guessed that the builder would plow forward so quickly and build to 80% with appealed building permits. It’s his right! But I do wish he would take personal responsibility for his choices. Others have filed appeals in the past and have not been made out as villains like this. The difference is, he built and is now blaming her.

on August 24, 2014

The irony of a REALTOR, suing her neighbor who followed the rules, got all the appropriate approvals & permits to build a house, because SHE doesn’t like it speaks volumes abut the erosion of Private Property Rights in America today. Don’t REALTORS take an oath to Protect those rights? Oh, and what about that Code of Ethics she swore to uphold?

on August 22, 2014

An awkward or narrow lot may be a variance issue, but should not have any special considerations in regards to guidelines. I think it’s important not to confuse my use of the word modern as contemporaneous, but modern as a style. There are no MODERNIST homes built during the period of significance that defines Oakwood. And I agree it is important to recognize the importance and contributions of professionals that have volunteered their time and expertise. Their contributions are invaluable and they deserve continued and perhaps elevated support in the way of resources. That being said…interpretation of the guidelines is not open ended, regardless of resume.

on August 22, 2014

Sorry J. I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone who has invested in the improvement of any great historic neighborhood whether or not we agree on this issue. And you’re right a property is a property. However consideration has always been given to those awkward shaped lots which required unusual designs. Perhaps if the Cherry lot and the lot across the street had been narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow, the homes on both lots would be deemed less offensive by more people.

However, I disagree with your assessment that there were no modern homes that existed during Oakwood’s period of significance. When the Craftsman era brought some of Oakwood’s nicest homes, THEY WERE MODERN. Very few homes were built in Oakwood between then and the time of the adoption of the Historic guidelines because people were moving out, not building.

Since their adoption, the Historic District guidelines have always been the rules by which new construction was deemed appropriate. Those judging almost always included legal, design, real estate and other trained professionals who were tasked with determining whether the proposed design appropriately utilized elements of the homes built during the period of significance.

Since the adoption of the historic district design guidelines, NO new home has been built which “purely” adheres to any “style” whether Craftsman, Victorian or otherwise. Every one was someone’s interpretation of those elements which the historic district design guidelines deemed important, just as this home is Mr. Cherry’s. They were reviewed by trained professionals and deemed appropriate as was his. People weren’t always happy. But they didn’t go to court.

on August 22, 2014

Also, Eddie…the guidelines do not specify different rules for remote streets within the district vs. more prominent streets within the districts. The same guidelines and laws apply to all streets within the district. Other districts have and are losing their historic designations because of tear downs. It’s happening and is not a far fetched or irrational fear.

on August 22, 2014

The design doesn’t meet the required design guidelines for the Oakwood historic district. It also breaks the state statue stating that new construction must be of a style represented by contributing structures from the period of significance. There were no modern homes that existed during Oakwood’s period of significance. Many members of Oak City Preservation have lived in and contributed to the revitalization of Oakwood for 40+ years and are absolutely true preservationists.

on August 22, 2014

To suggest that the construction of a small contemporary home on an unused lot on a remote street in the Oakwood Historic District will lead to the mass demolition and replacement of contributing historic homes is ludicrous at best.

A much more relevant concern should be the diminished value of the “real” contributing structures, when new indistinguishable “historic copycat” homes are built and dilute the visual significance of the true historic homes.

To do so is not, nor has it ever been the mission of true preservationists who created and administered the guidelines or of those of us who have followed those guidelines and pioneered the revitalization of Oakwood and other historic neighborhoods during the last 40 years.

on August 22, 2014

The writer fails to mention the lady making such a fuss lives in a north Raleigh transitional style home built in 2008. Enough said.

on August 21, 2014

See Section 4.3 subsections 6,7,8,9,10 and 11. The state statute is even more clear if you would also like to see that.

.6 Design new buildings to be compatible with surrounding buildings that con- tribute to the overall character of the historic district in terms of height, form, size, scale, massing, proportion, and roof shape.
.7 Design the proportion of the proposed new building’s front facade to be compatible with the front facade proportion of surrounding historic build- ings.
.8 Design the spacing, placement, scale, orientation, proportion, and size of window and door openings in proposed new construction to be compatible with the surrounding buildings that contribute to the special character of the historic district.
.9 Select windows and doors for proposed new buildings that are compatible in material, subdivision, proportion, pattern, and detail with the windows and doors of surrounding buildings that contribute to the special character of the historic district.
.10 Select materials and finishes for proposed new buildings that are compatible with historic materials and finishes found in the surrounding buildings that contribute to the special character of the historic district in terms of compo- sition, scale, module, pattern, detail, texture, finish, color, and sheen.
.11 Design new buildings so that they are compatible with but discernible from historic buildings in the district.

on August 21, 2014

Weisner’s argument (and that of the OCPA) relies on a dubious reading of the RHDC guidelines, which actually encourage contemporary new construction.

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