Raleigh modernist house supporters raise money, as opponents rally

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

— An advocacy group for modernist houses launched a legal defense fund Friday for a controversial house in the Oakwood neighborhood, while opponents of the home made their case a few blocks away.

The bitter divisions in the historic Raleigh neighborhood were apparent Friday as both sides held front-yard news conferences an hour apart offering vastly differing views on architecture.

N.C. Modernist Houses chairman George Smart says his group will raise money to help Oakwood homeowners Louis Cherry and Marsha Gordon with their legal bills, which Smart expects will run $20,000 to $30,000. The group will hold a fundraiser on April 13.

The NCMH Legal Defense Fund also will provide support to other modernist houses at risk of demolition. Smart mentioned several mid-century modernist homes that have faced the wrecking ball in Raleigh recently, including the 1950 modernist Paschal House off Glenwood Avenue that once drew praise from architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Today, we’re here to fight for a house barely 5 months old,” Smart told about 35 supporters in front of the Cherry-Gordon house. “No one should endure what Marsha and Louis have endured in trying to build this house. We don’t want to give neighbors essentially the power of condemnation.”

But across Oakwood, a group of about 20 residents said they think the Euclid Street house could set a bad precedent for the neighborhood, and they say the appeals process is working to protect it.

Mary Iverson said she supports the recent Board of Adjustment ruling that yanked permits for the modernist house that had been approved months earlier by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission. She said the house looks out of place in Oakwood.

Iverson said the historic guidelines were approved decades ago to allow new construction without detracting from century-old homes. “Anything that was built since then has blended in and fit well,” she said.

Opponents of the house said they “sympathize” with Cherry and Gordon’s predicament but think they should have postponed construction until the appeal was resolved. They declined to say whether they want the house demolished – a possible outcome if a Wake County Superior Court judge upholds the Board of Adjustment’s vote.

“We’re willing to let the legal process take its course,” Oakwood resident Will Hillebrenner said.

Gordon said she was cleared to break ground after the historic commission’s approval. “When you have a building permit from the City of Raleigh, that means you should have the permission to build,” she said.

Hillebrenner said he and other neighbors were “very disheartened” by the historic commission’s vote, and he said the commission needs more representation from historic district residents. The commission, he says, has “reinterpreted” Oakwood’s rules “in the past couple years,” though he declined to offer examples.

Though Cherry’s house doesn’t look much like its neighbors, Smart said it “draws in important design elements of the neighborhood” and was tweaked to address concerns from the historic commission.

“It was very important to me to build a good Oakwood house,” Cherry said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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