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City of Raleigh couldn’t destroy this historic stone wall, so it’s moving it instead

·5 min read

Workers hired by the city are building a stone wall along Tryon Road that is both new and nearly 90 years old.

The three-foot-high wall was first put up in 1933 in front of the Carolina Pines Hotel at the center of a resort in what was then a remote area south of Raleigh. With a lake and a pool, tennis courts, stables and two golf courses, Carolina Pines aimed to be a Pinehurst for the middle class, with amenities to please the wealthy but accessible to people of “ordinary means,” as The News & Observer put it on opening day.

The old hotel, which became a fraternity house in the late 1950s, is now a Raleigh historic landmark, which posed a problem for the city when it began planning to widen Tryon Road from two lanes to four.

The historic status of the building includes the wall, so the city needed to avoid harming it if possible, said Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager. That would have meant putting the new lanes on the other side of the road, where the Raleigh Golf Association operates two courses.

“It would have meant putting the road through the RGA clubhouse,” Lamb said. “And nobody felt like that was a defensible outcome, to save a wall and destroy a business.”

So the city arranged to move the 275-foot wall 60 feet back from Tryon Road. As work on the road got underway last year, workers from Custom Stone took the wall apart piece by piece and carted them back to the company’s yard in Durham.

Now the workers are back, picking chunks of stone off pallets and fitting them together with mortar. The wall is new, because putting each stone back exactly where it was is not really possible, said Tom Benner, Custom Stone’s founder.

“To get it back in terms of style and shape and joint treatment and all of that, that’s really what our goal is,” Benner said. “So that it will look the same and have the same basic appearance.”

The stone is a gray, rough granite. Benner says he sees stone like it on old houses in Raleigh and he’s told it came from a nearby quarry that closed a long time ago. He assumes that’s where these stones came from, too.

The wall is essentially two walls, side by side, with mortar filling the gap in the middle and between the stones, holding it all together. The mortar is a mixture of Portland cement and sand, the same glue workers used in 1933.

“It’s amazing how it held up,” Benner said. “It wasn’t easy to tear down.”

The building technique is essentially the same as it was in 1933 as well. Workers keep an eye out for stones with crisp 90-degree angles to use on the top, and they interlock the others so there aren’t long seams of mortar that can crack over time.

“The strength is the locking together, overlapping,” Benner said. “So we always want them to bridge over as best we can.”

Benner said it took about two weeks to dismantle the old wall, and will take about a month to build the new one. The cost to the city is about $130,000.

From resort hotel to frat house

The Carolina Pines Resort and Hotel opened during the Great Depression, and despite its size and ambition, went bankrupt within a year. The hotel, a two-story colonial-style building set amid the trees that gave the property its name, remained open under various owners into the 1950s.

It had closed by the time members of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity came across it. The N.C. State University chapter was being revived and needed a home, said Bob Kennel, who was chapter president at the time, so it bought the old hotel, even though it was several miles from campus.

“It was available,” Kennel said. “And there was not property available up near the university.”

The fraternity has kept up the building and the surrounding seven acres and petitioned to have it declared a local historic landmark in 1999. The Wake County Historic Preservation Commission report in support of the designation made special mention of the stone wall and one made of the same granite near the building’s front door.

“These stone walls are both original to the hotel and for this reason and by virtue of their having remained in good condition .... have been determined as ‘contributing structures’ to the Carolina Pines Hotel historic property,” the report said.

Kennel noted that some of the same stone is found on the golf course clubhouse, which was built about the same time. The front wall is pretty and historic, Kennel said, but the granite makes it worth saving.

“There’s nothing magic about the wall, except the stone,” he said. “The stones are the tie between the golf course across the road and the fraternity house itself on our side, which has a little stone wall at the entrance to the house.”

The fraternity is losing about a half acre of land to the Tryon Road widening. The city also cut down several mature loblolly pines that stood just behind the wall. After it’s rebuilt, the city will plant 25 loblollys in their place.

The widening of Tryon Road between Par Drive and Lake Wheeler Road is expected to be finished next spring. In addition to two new lanes for cars, the road will have bike lanes, sidewalks, turn lanes and a signalized crosswalk to help golfers get from the RGA’s 18th green back to the clubhouse. Altogether, the project is expected to cost $14.9 million.

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