A MOD landmark in Durham, North Carolina.
A whimsical take on the Modern canon, The Durham, a boutique hotel located in the heart of North Carolina's Bull City, is a retro throwback, a carefully curated experience geared toward the design aficionado. Filled with sleek furniture, graphic patterns, and colorful accents, the recently restored six-story icon is a wink and a nod to North Carolina's architectural pedigree. I recently made a visit to the Mid-Century hotel to see if this lively gathering spot was worth all of the fuss (spoiler: it is)- so here are five things to know about The Durham.
1. Located in a former bank building.
Sure, it might seem like the perfect home for a boutique hotel now, but originally, this splashy structure housed the Home Savings and Loan Bank.
And before that?
An Art Deco-style movie house, the Center Theater, occupied the site but was demolished in the mid-1960s to make room for the new (more modern) financial institution.
2. Designed by Perry C. Langston.
Eye-catching and exuberant, the design for the Home Savings Bank utilized blocky geometry, sharp angles, and ribbons of glass (not to mention that soaring stair tower) to depart from the typical classical language of financial institutions. Designed by architect Perry C. Langston (who was responsible for a number of bank buildings across the country), the structure's recessed entry, hidden behind a row of tapered white and yellow columns, leads to a bright and airy two-story lobby with a hovering, curvilinear mezzanine. Opened to the public in 1969, the dramatic, free-flowing space would have, undoubtedly, made quite the impression on the bank's first customers.
3. Sat empty for years.
After the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, the Homes Savings Bank became the Mutual Savings Bank. But later, that bank too would surrender the property, leaving one of the city's most recognizable pieces of architecture vacant. Lucky for us, the building wouldn't stay that way.
4. A rehabilitation inspired by history.
In 2008, a group of Duke University grads (spurred, no doubt, by the low real estate prices of the recession) purchased the empty bank and (eventually) planned its conversion to a small, 53-room hotel. Inspired by North Carolina's innovative design heritage- think Black Mountain College or North Carolina State University's storied architectural program- plans for the new hotel kept the streamlined facade intact, while the interior was renovated to compliment the building's modern design. The Los Angeles-based firm Commune (of Ace Hotel fame) created spaces awash in playful patterns, clean lines, and period-appropriate furniture. The striking black and white tile floor at the hotel's entrance recalls the work of artist Anni Albers (who taught at Black Mountain College), while the multi-faceted pendant lights reference the iconic (and recently-demolished) lobby at Hotel Okura in Tokyo.
5. More examples of Durham modernism are just steps away.
Staying at The Durham means a good deal of great architecture is within walking distance. Just across the street, the Jack Tar Motel, another of the city's Mid-Century landmarks, has been recently restored to all of its "Monaco Blue" glory. The North Carolina Mutual Building, designed by Welton Becket, and Milton Small's Home Security and Life Building (now the Durham Police Headquarters) stand a few blocks away.
So if you're ever in the Triangle, The Durham is definitely worth a look. If you can't spend the night, catch a glimpse of the city from the very popular roof top bar or grab a coffee downstairs in the impressive but surprisingly cozy lobby.
And as always, thanks for reading.
Image at top:
Courtesy of the Herald Sun.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.