RALEIGH, N.C. — Architect Louis Cherry sees the two-story structure — with its exposed beams, masonry piers, deep overhangs and shallow-pitched roof — as a “contemporary interpretation” of the Craftsman-style homes that dot Raleigh’s Historic Oakwood District.
But to some of Cherry’s neighbors, the cypress-sided house at 516 Euclid St., is Frank Lloyd Wrong, and nearly six months into construction, with the home about 85 percent finished, Cherry and wife Marsha Gordon face the possibility that they might have to tear down their dream house.
“It was very much our intention to design and build a house that people would really like and accept,” Cherry said on a recent overcast morning as he and Gordon stood in the shell of what they hope will be their master bedroom. “It was very surprising to us that there’s been this reaction, as if this is some crazy, modernist intervention.”
Decisions by historic-zoning districts are appealed all the time. But John Hildreth, a vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says this is one case with a bit of a twist.
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“In the way it’s gone forward, and with construction being as far along as it is, to have that kind of action taken, it’s pretty unusual,” says Hildreth, based in Charleston, S.C.
The fight between neighbors began in September, when the Raleigh Historic Development Commission issued a certificate of appropriateness, or COA, for the couple’s 2,100-square-foot house. A few days later, Gail Wiesner, who lives in the sherbet-green bungalow across the street, filed a notice of intent to appeal.
Cherry and Gordon proceeded with construction, saying the city advised them the appeal was merely “procedural.”
Wiesner, a real-estate agent whose home was built in 2008, said the commission’s COA panel violated several procedures. She called the design “garishly inappropriate” and said Cherry and Gordon “failed to meet their burden of producing competent, material and substantial testimony and evidence to show that their proposed project preserves the special character of the Oakwood Historic District.”
Oakwood is an eclectic mix of 19th- and early 20th-century architectural styles, from ornate Italianate mansions and mansard-roofed Victorians, to quaint bungalows and brightly painted shotgun houses.
The historic district was created in the 1970s, when residents banded together to stop a proposed highway that would have cut through the neighborhood’s heart.
Last month, the city’s Board of Adjustment voted 3-2 to overturn the certificate of appropriateness. The panel sent word to City Hall to issue a “stop-work” order.
Mary Iverson, who owns four historic homes in the neighborhood, says the Cherry house is beautiful, but it doesn’t belong in Oakwood.
“That is a leap of 100 years of design architecture,” she says. “So that’s not an evolution. That’s a, ‘So let’s go to another planet.’ ”
Gene Conti — whose 1875 Victorian was in the path of the proposed highway — likes the modern house, but hates what this fight is doing to Oakwood.
“I think it’s been unfortunate … to have this kind of acrimony all across the neighborhood and have people arguing one side or the other in a very mean-spirited way,” he says. “Oakwood is a historic neighborhood by designation. But it doesn’t mean all the houses are frozen in time.”
Gordon and Cherry say what’s happening to them is a violation of Oakwood’s spirit.
“I mean, you can’t build an old home,” Cherry said as he stood beside piles of planks and bricks waiting for construction.
City Attorney Thomas McCormick said this week that he would appeal the adjustment board’s decision in Wake County Superior Court.