Living Arts currently lives on the corner of Foster Street and Geer Street in Durham, sharing the upstairs of the “Trotter” Building with Crossfit Durham and the downstairs with Homebucha, B-U-tiful Salon Studio and the administrative office’s of Durham Central Park, Library Foundation, Durham Farmers Market. The building itself was born when the Leathers Family constructed “Hometown Sales and Service” in the 1940s at what is now 410 Geer Street.
Durham was in a larger process of expansion and centralization throughout the early 1900s. “Black Wall Street” refers to this era when black-owned banks were immensely successful and supported black-owned businesses in downtown Durham. This, coupled with tobacco and textile industries that capitalized on land that had already been held and farmed by plantations and sharecroppers before the Civil War, created prosperity for both black and white communities, though cordial and collaborative, still “separate but equal”, especially in wealth.
Though Durham was named “Capital of the Black Middle Class”, the city was still plagued with racial inequality. The split in the Durham community deepened by pressures of the Civil Rights Movement to racially segregate, as well as gentrification from urban renewal that displaced thousands of disproportionately black residents and businesses.
In 1963, the Trotter building became the headquarters of the North Carolina Fund, created by Gov. Terry Sanford, which created poverty-reduction programs with direct community input and support. After a series of businesses took up shop on Geer St. in the latter part of the 20th century, Geer Street was transformed again by entrepreneurs in the early 2000’s at the cost of immigrant-owned businesses, a community center, and low income residences.
Bob Chapman of Traditional Neighborhood Development Partners renovated the building in 2012 and has created an event space and a home for many local businesses, including the Living Arts Collective, since 2017.
Living Arts Collective allies with people of color and those who have been marginalized by the systems of our past and present. We aspire to hold the space with consciousness of this history and continue to be open to learning how to be a part of the movement forward.
410 West Geer Street was built between 1943 and 1947, and apparently first housed a business called “Hometown Sales and Service”. The business was run by the Leathers family; they were dealers of Kaiser-Frazer automobiles.
In 1951, it became the headquarters of the Hospital Care Association, the George Watts Hill insurance concern started in the 1930s.
In 1961, the HCA built new headquarters on S. Duke St.. The building at 410 W. Geer then became the Durham headquarters of the North Carolina Fund, created in 1963 by Gov. Terry Sanford, who said the following at the inauguration of the program:
“It is not enough to have here the most powerful nation in the world and then admit we are powerless to find ways to give our young people training and job opportunities. In North Carolina we want to go into a few communities and say to the leaders of school and government and welfare and health and charity, let’s see if together in a few neighborhoods near here we can’t break the cycle of poverty and give these children a better chance.”
Per the website for the documentary “Change Comes Knocking”, the NC Fund encouraged communities around the state to create local agencies called “Community Action Programs” (CAPs). For 5 years, the Community Action Programs implemented “innovative and experimental actions” with the input of low-income members of the community. More info about the NC Fund is available here.
Looking northeast from West Geer, 1970.
(Courtesy University of North Carolina)
By 1975, the building housed Carolina Office Supply, and, in 1990, Blue Cross Blue Shield was once again utilizing the building (BCBS-NC evolved from HCA.) By 2000, the building was housing Strawbridge Studios, a photography studio.
This building and the former Texaco/Sinclair station next door are currently owned by Bob Chapman of Traditional Neighborhood Development Partners. Kudos to Chapman for actually proceeding with renovation in the Central Park area, and doing a fine job with the adaptive reuse of this structure and the gas station next door. This structure is now referred to as the “Trotter Building” – which Chapman named after a family member who owned a jewelry store in uptown Charlotte.