West House

Guest Post by Ellie Kinnaird

"Export the qualities of McCorkle and Polk Places, the low stone walls, brick walks, and natural landscaping of McCorkle and Polk Places are the physical essence of Carolina [and] extending their graceful balance of buildings, open spaces and trees to developing areas of campus will improve the University." That's the recommendation of the Master Plan for UNC's North Campus. What happened to that goal? It has been abandoned and our older buildings on north campus, including the unique and graceful West House, are being sacrificed for a parking deck.

Most of the capitol and bond money is going to the sciences (which is proper, since our economic future lies in these growing fields), while less and less is devoted to the arts and humanities. Fifteen years ago the Music Library was first on the capital priorities list, but plunged to tenth when the public experienced Memorial Hall's shabby condition at Charles Kurault's funeral and monies were shifted to its renovation. There the Music Building languished until the condition of the Music Library, a priceless treasure of historic publications, rare books, scores and a working musicians' library, became known to the Trustees. The Trustees pledged to find a suitable home for the collection and the music building itself. But when the Music Building plans were announced, other arts departments wanted in. From providing a suitable home for the Music Department, emerged the Arts Common Plan (download 3.7 MB PowerPoint file) with tall buildings surrounding an underground parking lot on old North Campus. But the plan is illusory, with a 15 to 20 year build out and no funds to carry it out. Even the music building has only one-half of the funds needed to start construction. There is money for one part of the Arts Common only - the parking deck.

On-campus parking is a priority of the University (despite their support of the fare-free bus system and park and ride lots). Already an intrusive parking deck is scheduled for another part of old campus, next to the beautiful and historic cemetery. And now the North Campus underground parking lot, instead of extending the grace and charm of old North Campus, will require bulldozing eight historic buildings and creating an impervious surface that cannot grow trees or sustain any of our older buildings. Our historic architectural continuity and human scale will be lost forever.

When supporters of West House object to its demolition, a new excuse to tear it down has been put forward and each time, those reasons have proved to be incorrect. For instance, the footprint of the music building has changed three times over the last three years.

The West Coalition strongly supports the Arts Common that will bring a long-neglected presence for the arts and humanities on our campus. But West House which has a unique, rich architectural and historical significance, as described in the enclosed brochure, could be the centerpiece of the Common to welcome visitors and provide information on arts programs and lectures and tours of the University. West House was built by a textile magnate, Kenneth Tanner, an alumnus of the University, in 1935 for his son and friends to live in while students at the University. North Carolina's economic vitality was intertwined with the textile industry for more than a century and West House embodies an aspect of that past for future generations.

The architectural significance of West House is of equal importance to our campus and state. The architect, M.E. Boyer, Jr., of Charlotte was one of our leading North Carolina architects. His works have been featured in Architectural Digest and many of his buildings are included in the National Register. He is responsible for saving the Mint Museum from destruction. Both the National Trust and Preservation North Carolina has called West House a treasure, the only building of its type in the country. The garden was designed by legendary horticulturist, William Lanier Hunt, author of Southern Gardens, Southern Gardeners. Dr. Hunt was also a popular garden lecturer throughout the southeast and donor of 100 acres of land to the N.C. Botanical Garden, and was a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society.

West House's educational significance is long and star-studded, including the first home of the UNC Computer Science Department, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and Asia Studies, all areas influential in our lives. And, of course, we assume the students who studied there found it of educational significance, from Kenneth Tanner, Jr., (whose family created an endowment to the University in memory of their parents, with West House being part of it), Pulitzer Prize winning author C. Vann Woodard, to Thomas Myer, for whom Charlotte's Myers Park is named.

"We express our values in what we build." To this quote from Chancellor Moeser, we could add, "And in what we destroy." Please join us in saving West House and restoring that rich architectural heritage and graceful ambience before it is too late. Please write to the UNC Trustees and Chancellor James Moeser at the following address:

103 South Building 005
CB 9100
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599

Ellie Kinnaird represents Orange and Chatham Counties in the North Carolina State Senate.

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