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Restoration of the Historic Raleigh Times Building

The majority of Empire Properties’ historic properties are adaptive reuse projects, due to time and cost constraints, as well as to often-limited information to guide a restoration. However, in the case of the Raleigh Times building, Empire Properties decided to rebuild the structure back to its original state as much as possible because of its small size and its previous significance to the city of Raleigh, as home of the local newspaper.

Piecing Together the Past
Based on the date on the pediment of the building, the Times building was built in 1906. Although the top five feet of the building are missing the pediment along with much of the cornice detail, the original construction date could be determined via old photographs. The newspaper served a high-profile purpose in Raleigh. As such, there are a number of excellent photographs documenting the building’s original design, which served as a credible resource in restoring the building.

Empire Properties also purchased old bound volumes of the Raleigh Times from a vendor at the flea market who understood that the company had purchased the building. The information found in the newspapers provided data about the publisher and which part of the building was occupied at that time. Additionally, an advertisement in an old newspaper identified one of the downstairs tenants. The tenant was the grandfather of the landscape architect for another Empire Properties’ project, who was able to provide some information about that particular shop.

From a man selling newspapers at a flea market to a relative of a former shop owner, creating a network of people who know the history of downtown is as key in redeveloping old buildings as the written documentation itself.

Digging Up History
The building was designed in the classic style common among mixed-use structures during the turn of the century. The bottom level featured two storefronts with a staircase in between for access to upstairs office space. In this case, the upstairs tenant at 12 1⁄2 East Hargett Street was the Evening Times newspaper, later purchased by the Raleigh Times. The two retail tenants downstairs were The Office Supply store in 12 East Hargett Street and the Electric Shoe Shop in 14 East Hargett Street.

At some point between the initial construction of the building and 1913, the Raleigh Times expanded into the space of the former Electric Shoe Shop. An internal staircase was built inside the rear wall of the building to connect the two spaces so that editors and reporters could go upstairs without leaving the building through the front door. This connection was removed during later renovations and was one of several areas of structural failure discovered when recent renovations began.

Based on the writing on plaster walls, an addition was built onto the back of the building in 1913 to expand the space for the Raleigh Times. It is likely at that time another staircase was built to connect the two floors of the newspaper, and the previously added internal staircase was removed. The presses also were added in the back of the first-floor addition. When the original foundations and pits were excavated, a number of lead type pieces were found between the floorboards of the second-floor rear space. The type setting therefore likely was done on the second floor in the rear, while reporters and office support worked in the front of the building on the first and second floors.

In the 1940s, the building was renovated into a jewelry store. To increase retail frontage and window space, the tenant removed the masonry column and the original staircase entrance, and spanned that entire distance with a steel beam to make it one storefront. At the same time, a considerably smaller staircase was reestablished in the storefront of 12 East Hargett Street, almost cutting that frontage in half.

During the 1960s, the pediment was removed and the façade was clad with aluminum. (The aluminum was later removed during the 1980s, but very little restorative work was performed on the building.) An aluminum storefront was added, and the new owner put a wig shop in the former location of the jewelry store.

Recreating History
When Empire Properties purchased the building, it removed the modern storefront and the original millwork of one-half of the façade was exposed. This provided the exact profile and dimensions of both sides of the storefront along with necessary information to justify the design to the Historic District Commission. The storefront later was rebuilt using a rich mahogany, based on the remaining original millwork and a photo of the building from 1912. A new curb also was poured at the sidewalk.

Following completion of the demolition work, an assessment was conducted to determine what needed to be done to repair the walls and plaster. An enormous amount of structural work was necessary to repair the space occupied by the previous three staircases, as well as to repair the rotted structure from major roof leaks in the middle of the building. Since the water had been seeping into the building and running down the walls for years, much of the brick needed to be re-pointed and the brick walls need to be re-plastered.

Most of the brick on the Times building was painted, and the original brick could only be seen where it wrapped around the columns. When the column on the east side of the building had to be rebuilt, it was repainted instead of stripped, due to the unusual cinder type of brick and to conform to the original treatment.

The building incorporated three types of millwork. In the front, the windows and doors had typical 1920s grooved trim. The only exception was one of the windows on the east side, which looked more turn of the century but was original since it still had the porcelain insulation drilled through the wall and the trim. The back half of the building was done in a very utilitarian plank design. It was assumed because it was used for back-house functions, not much money was spent on it during the 1913 renovation.

Since the roof had to be repaired, much of the structural repair and bracing was done from the top, so the existing wood ceiling in the back half was not disturbed. More bracing also was added to accommodate new mechanical units, and a chase with bracing was added to accommodate the planned restaurant and bar on the first floor.

A beam that spanned the original eastern storefront and the middle staircase came from the 1940s renovation to expand the store. The beam was removed and a pipe column was inserted where the original masonry column had been. The pipe column was clad with brick to bring back the original dimensions and character of the storefront. All of this particular work was accomplished in one day.

When excavating the first floor of the building, a concrete press pit that was used to print the Raleigh Times was discovered. The walls of the pit were left intact, and hardwood flooring was installed around them. Heart pine was chosen to match the existing flooring next door.

In order to create a kitchen for the planned restaurant and bar, a door was cut from the 12 side of the building into the building next door, where there was an existing kitchen from a previous tenant. In acquiring the space for the kitchen, Empire Properties decided to open a coffee shop in the 8 - 10 East Hargett Street space.

In early 2006, the Times Bar opened at 12 and 14 East Hargett Street to much acclaim, and the Morning Times Coffeehouse opened at 8 - 10 East Hargett Street later the same year.

Celebrating the Old in the New
Researching the Raleigh Times and the building to tell their story turned out to be the same as telling the story of Raleigh itself. The paper covered everything that happened in Raleigh, down to who got what in a will. So, when designing the interior finishes for the space, many original elements were retained yet supplemented with modern industrial elements.

To preserve that sense of history within the renovated space, photographs of memorable events and Raleigh natives line one wall of the bar, while front pages from several of the city’s papers grace other walls. A 1912 photograph of the newspaper delivery boys also spans a 20-foot wall at the entrance to the bar, and several images of the building over the years were placed in the window wells at the rear of the bar. The many layers of aging wallpaper, paint and plaster on the old walls are covered in Plexiglas. The existing tin ceiling tiles were painted and new tiles were installed on the 14 side of the building. Lastly, the sign on the window was designed to replicate the original gold leaf sign based on the 1912 photograph of news carriers in front of the building.

In March 2006, several dozen former Raleigh Times reporters gathered for a reunion in the Times building, sharing stories, newspaper clippings, T-shirts, press passes and photographs from their days at the Raleigh Times. During the celebration, Frank Daniels Jr., who eventually purchased and subsequently closed the Times, made a gracious appearance. And since the Times Bar officially opened, family members of John Polk, longtime editor of the Times, have visited the bar and shared their stories. The restoration has served not only to preserve the building, but also the stories of a newspaper and its city.

Now a haunt for the local press, a place for downtown workers to gather for a drink, and a hip late-night spot, the Raleigh Times building is enjoying a rebirth while it continues to celebrate its past.

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