Historic status sought for Washington Street

Jimmy Tomlin, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.
·3 min read

Mar. 20—HIGH POINT — It's been nearly 15 years since the city of High Point designated a local historic district, but that may change if a neighborhood preservation society gets its wish.

The Washington Street Preservation Society, established more than a year ago in an effort to preserve and protect the historically African American Washington Street community, wants the city to designate the area as a local historic district. In December, the group sent a petition to city planners — signed by dozens of property owners from the proposed district — requesting the designation.

"The Washington Street Historic District contains the most cohesive, intact collection of early to mid-20th-century commercial, institutional, ecclesiastical and residential buildings associated with African American history in the state," the petition states.

"These properties are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. The purpose is to protect this historical area from any and all encroachments."

The community was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, but the Washington Street Preservation Society wants it to be given a local designation as well, which would create an additional layer of regulation designed to keep the buildings from losing their historical appearance.

With the local historic district designation, most improvements to the exterior of a structure or to the lot itself would require approval of city planning staff or the city's Historic Preservation Commission, said David Fencl, senior planner for the city.

Benjamin Briggs, president of the High Point Preservation Society, supports the proposal to have Washington Street designated as a local historic district, particularly in light of the current national trend to make historic preservation more equitable.

"There are many voices that have contributed to our architecture and our unique sense of place, so Washington Street would be a logical candidate to become a historic district," Briggs said. "It is the result of a chapter of American history with segregation. Many of those buildings were built by African American business people, and many were designed by African American architects, so it becomes an important narrative in our community."

Long recognized as the heart of High Point's Black community, Washington Street has symbolized that community's ability to persevere and succeed for generations. During its heyday in the 1960s, the nine-block district was made up of more than 50 businesses, as well as churches, civic organizations and educational institutions.

According to Briggs, the other question that must be asked in considering historic district status for a neighborhood is whether that particular community actually wants that designation. The petition presented to city planners indicates that nearly all of the Washington Street property owners support the proposal, said Phyllis Bridges, a spokesperson for the group that submitted the petition.

"We explained to every one of them what this designation would mean, and no one hesitated to sign it," Bridges said. "They all supported it."

The problem, she said, is that the city has been slow to act on the proposal.

"We submitted the petition by email on Dec. 7, but they keep making more hoops for us to jump through," Bridges said. "Now we're being told it has to be presented to the Historic Preservation Commission, and they will guide the city as to the proper steps to make this happen. We're supposed to be on the calendar for their April meeting, but we don't know yet if the commission wants to hear our case."

Fencl confirmed the commission will meet April 8 but said the agenda has not yet been determined. He also pointed out the process for designating local historic districts takes time.

"It's a fairly long process that involves a number of steps," Fencl said. "It's definitely not something that can be done overnight."

High Point currently has three local historic districts: Johnson Street Historic District (designated in 1987), Sherrod Park Historic District (1991), and West High Avenue Historic District (2007).

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579