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Does owner's racism justify tearing down a National Historic Landmark in NC?

Richard Stradling and Anna Johnson, The News & Observer on

Published in News & Features

That’s a big reason for removing the designation now, say members of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission. In a two-page statement, commission members said Wakestone became a landmark solely based on Daniels’ life and work, not because of the house’s architectural significance, and the city’s picture of Daniels was incomplete.

“Facts about Daniels’ racist activities, which were excluded from the original application, detract from the home’s value as a resource worthy of Raleigh Historic Landmark designation,” the commission members wrote.

They agreed with Murray that the home would not likely be designated a landmark today.

“The decision to de-designate the home does not erase the history of Daniels’ life and legacy,” they wrote. “It makes his legacy more accurate.”

The application to de-list the home acknowledged that the Masonic Lodge of Raleigh had been trying to sell the property for years, and noted that the historic designation and the association with Daniels made that very difficult.

Still, the decision to sell was wrenching, said Lloyd Johnson, president of the Raleigh Masonic Temple Corp., comprised of members of the three local lodges — Hiram 40, Raleigh 500 and William G. Hill 218 — that shared the building. Johnson said it had fallen into disrepair, to the point that the lodges no longer felt it safe to rent the building to outside groups.

 

“We tried for quite a while to try to find a solution to allow us to stay,” he said, “but it was just too little too late.”

The Masons bought Wakestone in 1950, as World War II veterans swelled the ranks of the lodges, which outgrew their former home on Fayetteville Street. By the late 1950s, the Masons had built a 22,000-square-foot wing onto the back, with a commercial kitchen, a large dining room and an auditorium that seats more than 200.

But by about 1980, membership in the Masons had begun to decline. Not only did the lodges not need that much space, it fell to a shrinking number of men to maintain it, said Jonathan Underwood, secretary and historian with the Grand Lodge of North Carolina.

“Everything was totally out of scale, with that site, that house, that auditorium built on it, that it very much became a source of frustration within a generation after it was built,” Underwood said.

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