Friday, May 11, 2012

Five years and growing!

Come see the changes taking place in the best little area east of Downtown.

On Saturday June 9th from 10am - 3pm neighbors will open their homes for the Fifth Annual Cleveland + Holloway Home Tour. There will be more than 20 homes on display with owners and renovators on hand to discuss their process and ooh and ah with you over completed projects.


Amazing wonders to behold!

Come see the smallest house in Durham!

Watch the puppies romp in the Downtown Durham Dog Park!

Explore the wandering houses of Cleveland Holloway that just packed up and moved up the hill!

The purpose of our home tour is to showcase the neighborhood and its diversity in people, houses and opportunity.

We want more neighbors!

You get to explore our neighborhood and we all get a fun event that helps fundraise for neighborhood projects like
  • The Underemployed Neighbors Fund
  • Halloween
  • Downtown Durham Dog park maintenance
  • Summer Spades tournament
  • Stream clean-ups
  • Park Beautification
And maybe you’ll be the lucky winner of the Bull City Burger & Brewery $50 gift card that will be hidden somewhere outside of one of the houses on the tour.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Moving House

Cleveland-Holloway was treated to something of a parade last week. Two historic homes were moved--very sowly-- from Queen Street to lots on Gurley Street. The houses will be renovated and made available for sale.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Meet the Neighbors: Joe Webb, a.k.a. "Mr. Joe"

Mr. Joe was one of the first neighbors that Matt and I met in Cleveland-Holloway when we moved here in 2008. He is known to many as a mentor and giver of sage advice, and on any given day, several neighbors and friends can be found gathered on and around his porch on Oakwood. Over birthday treats and various gatherings I've caught bits and pieces of his story, and knew that he'd been in this neighborhood close to thirty years. So it was an honor to finally sit down with him (and his friend of many decades, Bo Docher) at his house, to hear more of his life story and what it's been like living in Durham all this time. Here's some of his interview. I know it's long! Once you get this man talking, there's no stopping him. Enjoy.

* * *

Full name?

Joe Cornelius Webb. I was born September the 28th, 1939, in Franklin County. Louisburg.

What was your family like?

We was ordinary people. Like everybody else. Easy to get along with if you let us. I had three sisters and twelve brothers. Twelve of us boys. See, we were like the twelve disciples. I was ninth.

I been in Durham over fifty years. I worked at Duke forty. I was in Durham way before then. I didn't go to Duke til '62. Worked til 2002. I worked in the hospital... we did the laundry. Running the machines, washing clothes.

Where were you staying then?
I stayed on Mangum Street. Queen Street, Murphy Street, Alston Avenue, and here. And Ottawa. I moved from Ottawa to here.

What brought you to Durham?
Tired of farming.

Was Duke your first job when you got here?

No. Worked at a grocery store. Hayes and Son [?] Grocery store. Downtown, but it's tore down now. Right down below Kress before you get to the railroad tracks. On Mangum Street. I used to work at Kress. Darkroom, maintenance work.

It had to be in the 50's [that I came to Durham].

What was Durham like then?
It was Durham then. I don't know what it looks like now, but it was Durham then. We had two way streets like it is now. Then they changed it to one way then they changed it back. I remember when Walgreens used to be downtown. Kress's. Baldwin. Rose's. Silvia's [?]. I remember all them. Silvia's had a 5 and 10 cent store on top and the basement was a grocery store. And a young men's shop. I remember when Sear's used to be where the health department's at now. Bus station used to be up there on the corner of Dillard and Main Street.

What kinds of things was there to to downtown? Was there a movie theater?
Yeah, the Uptown.

What was a good weekend in Durham like?

Every weekend was good to me. Went out and enjoyed myself every time I wasn't working. Went out enjoyed myself, went out clubbing, went out to the Stallion Club out there on 55... enjoyed myself. Biltmore used to be on Pettigrew. The Uptown was on Church Street.

Do you remember a time when all that started to change?
It changed after Martin Luther King. Started changing then. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I'm free at last. Martin Luther King. That's when he got assassinated and and that was the year when John F. Kennedy got assassinated. I was in Durham then. The people changed. It got so they hated each other more. Whole lotta change. So much change.

Bo: Black people used to have a separate bathroom and they discontinued all that back in the late '60s. And they started making everything equal, jobs, hiring more women, more black businesses, different stuff.

Do you feel like things changed for you then?
I know it did. ...I used to be over there on Mangum Street where Channel 5... I remember it was all houses back then. Coming back toward town by the Pepsi-Cola plant there used to be a flour mill, Occoneechee flour mill, over by Mangum Street. Make you flour and stuff. Roxboro and Pettigrew, used to be a little old service station there.

What was your favorite year?
It's hard for me to say, 'cause all of them were good to me.

Favorite neighborhood?
I don't know what they called Mangum Street then... Macmillon? It changed when I came to Durham.

When did you come to Ottawa Street?
I stayed on Ottawa twenty-eight years. I started out rooming. As people would leave, I'd take that room. All of them would leave, I had four rooms upstairs. 511 Ottawa. That big blue house. It was a two story house, but they changed it over since Graham had got it, they changed it over to a one family house. But it used to be, you'd go in downstairs, or you could go upstairs.

I remember the man, Mr. Riddle, he would run the store next door, that little old store, he would run that. He got killed in that store. They was trying to rob him.

Bo: Seventy-something... Sevent-eight, I believe.

Joe: By the time I got back, they had brought him out of the store, put him in the ambulance. [?]-Bryant picked the body up. Everybody went out there. He was a good man in that neighborhood.

Bo: I wish we had a whole lot of them like him.

Joe: Me too. He was a good man. Only thing he had wrong.... only thing hurt him... his wife.

Bo: His wife was mean.
Joe: She won't nothing but the devil. I seen her truck coming to bring him Pepsi-Cola in crates. I seen her take every one of them, throw them on the floor and bust them all to pieces.

Bo: She didn't want him to do nothing unless he asked her. She wanted to be the boss, and were the boss, 'cause he would give over to her. But she didn't ever changed him between people. He would always treat people good.
Joe: He lived down on 70.

Can you tell me about this neighborhood back in the 70s?

I didn't run up and down here too much. Naw. I knew some people up here, but not too many. [Primitive] was a dirt street. I knew everybody up there on Ottawa. You know that man drives that green truck? He was living over there on Ottawa. Most of the people living on Ottawa are dead.

Compared to now, were there more people or less people living here?

Was it safe back then?
A whole lot safer than it is now. A whole lot safer then than it is now. Didn't nobody bother nobody too much.

When did it start getting worse?
It really started getting worse when drugs came out.

Bo: when the started closing the plants and services stations, that's when it started coming out.

Joe: I ain't been in but one fight since I been to Durham. First night I came to Durham, right up by the bus station. A guy thought they were gonna get my little money. I took that stick I had... got on the bus and went down to my cousin's house. They tried to... "Hey Mister". One walked in front, one walked behind. I stepped out between them. And he asked me about money... he shouldn'ta asked me that. I know I had some on me 'cause I just had finished farming. I had money in my pocket.  I had pretty good money in my pocket. I was a stranger. They didn't know me, they thought I was a guinea pig. I was a guinea pig. But they got the worse end of it. Yep. 
That's not a warm welcome.
It was a welcome for me to do what I had to do to keep them from getting me. I welcomed them good. See, I ain't worried I'm in the hood.

When I first came to Ottawa, it wasn't called Ottawa. It was Forest then. They changed it over while's I was living on Ottawa.

I ain't never had no trouble. I could hear shooting. I'd just come on in the house and close the door. A bullet ain't got no eye. I'd never know which they were shooting, but I know which way I went. In the house.

[The conversation made its way back to Mr. Riddle.]

Bo: He was so good to people, that's what I can't understand.
Joe: I couldn't understand it neither.
Bo: If he had something you wanted, all you do is ask.
Joe: Ask him. I had went to him and said, Mr. Riddle, I'm going home today but I ain't got no money. Just like that. He'd say, what do you want? I'd tell him, he'd let me have it. He'd say when you pay it back, pay it to me, don't send it to my wife. He wife was named Maxine. He was alright.

What do you want to see happen in the neighborhood?

I'd like to see them fix up like I done to my yard. If everybody fix their yards up and try to get along good with each other.

What's your advice on how to get along with people? You seem to get along with everybody.
Just work with each other and make everything go good. You don't charge me for everything you do, I ain't gonna charge you for everything I do. Some things you do for people, you ain't supposed to charge them for.

Bo: If you want to live neighborly-like, you gonna treat people like neighbors. Something you want to know, or need you to do, ask them. And try to have a conversation with people when you got time. That makes a big difference. Just say you got a visitor come to spend time with someone living in the neighborhood, introduce them. If you seem them in the street, you don't have to spend a whole lot of time, just, 'this is my brother, this is my sister, so and so, live in New York', or whatever. I mean, that's how you get to be a neighbor.
Joe: And too, it makes people pay more attention, like you leave, say, I'm going out of town, Joe, keep an eye on my house too.

It's always gonna be some like that. I ain't gonna tell no lie, and I ain't trying to hurt nobody's feeling. But you know, it's still some hard-nosed black people, and still some hard-nosed white people. Me and my cousin used to come up Ottawa, there was a woman lived on Ottawa, and when she'd come up we'd speak, she wouldn't say nothing. We'd keep going. We'd come back through and speak, and you know what she told us? 'I don't appreciate  you n** speaking to me'.  And about a month later, she came down to the house, want a conversation with us about buying [my] house! We talked to her, and we didn't talk rough to her. See, the old saying is true. What goes up comes down, what goes around comes around. It'll do that. I always said one hand watches the other.

I had a good supervisor down at the laundry. Mr. Parish [?] He had a house down on the water... Beaufort? Had a big house down on the water. I went when we left the laundry, I'd be gone Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday morning I'd be coming back. Three or four times.

He retired and I had another boss, he was just as good. I can't think of his name.

Were you ever married?

No. Didn't have time.

I loved my life the way I lived it. I enjoy myself. Do about what I want to do... I sit back and think about my life, what I went through, and it's all good. I don't think I want to go back through part of it, though. Some of it, I wish I could go back through it.
What's your favorite time?

Back in my late twenties, thirties. If I could go back there, I'd hurry and go back. I enjoyed myself.

What did you enjoy?
You won't want to hear all that! I don't think so! I'll tell you so much, but so much I can't tell you, now.

If you could give some advice to kids in their early twenties...
You think they would listen to you?!

Let's just say that they would.
Number one, stay off of drugs, leave them drugs alone. Everybody mostly take a little drink now and then, just don't get too much in you. Some people just good as gold until they get some alcohol in them. Then I can't stand them. Stay out of trouble. That's what they got that place down yonder for, waiting on you to get in trouble.

Bo: Number one, treat people as you wish to be treated. That's the number one key. If there's anything you can be able to do to help a person help themselves, don't hesitate. And being sassy to older folks, that's a number one.
Joe: That's the worst crime you can get.

People tend to gather around you for advice and company. What do you think makes people do that?
I growed up around my daddy. My daddy used to make most of his things. Tools he worked with. And I stuck around with him, and I learned how to do things like that. That's why people come to me and ask for advice. Running up farming, you learned a lot. Doing things on the farm, then you can use some of that in your yard. I don't forget where I come from. I try to help other people with it. Some listen, some don't.

You got any big plans for your yard?

Keep it looking good.

Who do you think has the best yard in the neighborhood?
Me. I ain't tellin' no lie. And I ain't bragging on myself, now.

What's your favorite time of year?
Summer. I don't have to worry about [the heater]. The older a person gets, the blood starts thinning. 

I think [this neighborhood] is heading in a good direction. It's done changed a whole lot. You can see a big difference. When I was working at Duke, I used to walk from Ottawa to my job. To the West End, about 20 minutes. I'd be coming down the street walking, taking my time. I worked nine or ten hours a day. Some days my supervisor would say, what time can you come in in the morning? I'd say, what time you want me to come? I'd say, 2, 3 in the morning. I'd be there at 3 o'clock. I'd work til 8, 9 that night.

I had a girlfriend. 27 years. I come home to get her, take her back to the job. If she'd get sleepy, I'd make her a pallet. All that linen in there. I'd make her a good pallet in the office, let her lay down there and sleep. Mary-Ann. She stayed out there with me til I got ready to come home. I told you. I enjoyed myself.

She died on Ottawa. She just got sick, it was just her time, far as I know. I was laying in the bed beside her when she died. It didn't scare me, though. If you were going together, 5, 6, 7, 10 years, you lay in that bed, you think I'm going to jump up and run? Naw, it didn't bother me. No. [She was from] here in Durham.

Do you remember riots?
I remember the National Guard was here. I stayed down there used to be Motel 6. It was cold. They would bring the car tires to burn down there to stay warm by, we couldn't let nobody in or out unless they had ID. I was working as a security guard then.

Bo: We used to have curfews then.
Joe: I was working at Duke, working 12 hours a day, 9 hours a night. With the curfew. I could go anywhere I wanted to go, I was working with the people working with the national guard.

Bo: I worked at Durham Business College in security too, and that was about the worst that I seen, far as riots.

[Below: Mr. Joe, 2010]

Joe: The national guard, they'd be at schools, go around every school in Durham, checking them. I been there. I've seen people get busted in the head with bricks, bottles, everything. Right down on Main Street where the Uptown movies used to be. Bunch of girls, boys, standing there, just looking. Like it was something sweet to look at. If I wasn't working, I wouldn't be out there. 'Cause I know somebody be throwing and knock the shit outta somebody. I know one guy, come up here, had a lot of mouth. Started a whole riot up there on Main Street. Black was talking to white. And that's what messed it up. That guy got... bricks, bottles, jail, everything. They had people in that jail house, you couldn't even feed them. People had to carry 10 tubs of stuff down there so people'd have something to eat in that jailhouse. I seen all that happen. Breaking out windows and everything. And when that guy run Uptown Movie. He said, I'll shut this door before I let any n*** in here. He didn't let them in there, neither. But he closed it up. Then it changed over so anybody could go to it. But he didn't, he closed it up.

Bo: there was a restaurant over up on Holloway Street, said before he'd let black people sit down in there he'd just serve everyone at the window. And that's the way he did. He didn't want black people coming in to sit.

Joe: I went home one weekend, white boy down there (he's a good ol white boy, too, we called him Bo Jay). He used to like to eat at my momma's house.  [To Bo:] He's the one I told you 'bout had that Chevrolet that run under the tractor trailer, cut the top right off, just like somebody took it off with a handsaw. But he kept that car, kept it running... we'd be riding around with no top. That was a nice Chevrolet. We went to Spring Hope, he said, come on, Joe, let's get us something to eat. We pulled up at a cafe, got out, went to the door, the man said, 'what do y'all want?' He told him. He said, 'well I can fix you a plate, but I ain't gonna fix him one'. Bo Jay said, 'okay, go on and fix me one then'. The guy fixed a nice plate, set it in Bo Jay's hand, he just turned around and went like this: [mimes flipping the plate upside down and smashing it on the counter]. He said, 'you eat that. you know I ain't gonna eat that'. We ran right down to my mama's, sit at the table, mam fixed up something to eat. Sure did.

We started hauling wheat. Ms. Gaye [?], that's the lady we were farming for. She put me and him on the truck hauling wheat to Spring Hope, Wilson, Rocky Mount, Henderson, to sell the wheat while ther... [?] Shouldn'ta never did that. Every liquor store 'tween where we could see, we were stopping at 'em. We were drinking banana brandy. We'd get us a pint. Hauling wheat in that big ol' truck of his. Just had a good time, me and old Bo Dig.

I did go to New York City, when I first got here, that first week. I just wanted to leave for a while and come back. I went to New York City, I come on back. I got back home on a Friday, Saturday morning I had a job. I worked til I retired. I changed jobs twice, til I got to Duke. I wanted Duke to start with. When I got to Duke I thought, I ain't changing no more. And I stayed there til I retired. I loved that place! I can't even recall what a good time I had. Everything was good there. Mm, mm, mm. Now that's one place I wish I could go back through again. I really enjoyed it. I think about that a lot now, I'll be sitting there laughing... I'll be laughing about what good a time I had. I enjoyed every day of it. I didn't have to worry about nothing.

What made you finally stop?
It was time to stop. I'd put in 40 years, said, I don't want to work up to where I can't walk. They wanted me to stay on and be a leader. Naw, man.  The did good for me. They give me a party, a big dinner. I got a red tool box sitting in there full of tools. Give me a money tree... a leather coat. They set me up. They did good for me when I retired. I enjoyed it. Didn't want for nothing.

[Above: one of many certificates that line Mr. Joe's living room honoring his perfect attendance at work.]

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Meet the Neighbors: The Alstons

I was happy to sit down with one of our neighborhood's longer-term residents, Mrs. Christine Alston, who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1960s, and ask her about her life. Her daughter, Bernice, who grew up in the house on Queen, also sat with us.

Both preferred not to be photographed directly, so included here are shots without their faces. My questions are included only when needed to understand the responses; otherwise, I omitted my questions to avoid redundancy and keep the story flowing.

Meet Mrs. Alston and family.


I grew up in the country in North Carolina, near Dunn. I’m a country girl. Raised in the country, so have to be a country girl. And got the country ways. Don’t like this new stuff going around.

We kids would make swings -- put a rope around and tie it around a stick, then according to how much you’d weigh, you’d fall. Every time I’d put one up, I’d make my sister try it out, and she’d fall and hit her head. Mother would run out of the house and scream. Decent fun.

My people believed in the church, holding hands, children in front. They preach in the morning, and had a big turnout in the afternoon. Everyone would bring a basket with food, packed with food, and set it on the table – pies, cakes, meat, strawberry pie.

Mother called me a tom boy because I liked to climb the trees and jump the fence. I could jump a fence in a minute. She called me a tom-boy girl. My parents farmed, chopped the cotton, chopped the cucumbers, squashes. After the man got the machine to do all that, no more. They had the T-model cars back when I was a kid.

Mother used to tell us about it – how she come up as we was growing up. She told us about slavery time and we listened to her.

When company came, the company would eat first, then Mother would call us kids in to eat. My parents taught us to know to do the right thing, to know how to speak to people and treat people, and know how to go to church and serve the Lord. And to obey them. We couldn’t sass them. If we sass them, we’d come up to the house and run up under the bed. There were 11 children. All of them did not live. I’m next to the oldest, not the oldest girl.

A picture of 402 Queen, circa a long time ago

Mrs. Alston talks about the picture, stored in her Bible, above.

How / when did you find this neighborhood, this house?

Urban Renewal was buying all the houses and making people move out of them. They were supposed to build more houses and they didn’t do it. I got out and looked for a place. I was in Durham already. Made me move out of the house I was in, that’s what I’m getting at, so I came out and looked for [another place]. I wanted that house next to you (this house). Used to be a nice Principal from Central I told “If you move I want that house.” Well, now I like this one, because the owner was very nice. The rent man gave my baby [Bernice] a bedroom suite.

How did you meet your husband?

On the street. I met him in North Durham. [Laughs.] I didn’t exactly meet him on the street. I used to see him on the street and I fell in love with him. I’m a picker – I don’t take everything I see, I have to watch you and see what you are first, to see if I like you.

He’d be out behind the new Heath Department. There was houses and places of business all down there, until that bridge on Roxboro. Movies, drug stores, fruit stands, cafes. Taxi stands. It was black only at that time. I used to go up there in the drug store, that man fixed us the best soda you ever put in your mouth. They had good doctors, now they don’t have good doctors. Rent was cheaper, $9 a month, and $15 a month.

I used to live in East Durham. Stayed with my Mother and Dad a long time before because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Johnny Cash said, “If you’re looking for someone the rest of your life…go here, go here…” I like Johnny Cash. "Fell into a hot ball of fire," I used to get mad at my husband and I’d play it on the record player. He’d put his head down, and smoke, and get that funny look on his face. He died in 1999. They don’t make them like that anymore.

I used to work in the factory, night and day. Up there in Liggett Myers. They have a line big as the table, I’d pick up paper and sticks out of the tobacco. Clean it. Now people are so careless, not wearing a hair net or being clean. Then, they got talking about tobacco poison, man jumped high, it closed.

On the weekend we’d go to church, then after church we’d go to lunch. I’d come home and cook sometimes. I’ve been a smart old soul. I used to take [Bernice] from here over on Fayetteville to Sunday school, walk and take her. Catch me a cab and go back there in order to be there when service start.

I used to go to Carolina Theater. But I used to like Center Theater the best, right there by the post office.

Picture of picketers protesting segregation at Center Theater courtesy Open Durham – follow the link to read an interesting post about the theater’s history and the above civil rights protests.

I liked Bing Crosby. A man used to be there playing the organ before the movie went on. I liked that too. Once I overstayed my time [at The Center] and Daddy was waiting for me, standing on the porch. I got a good talking to. Wasn’t supposed to be out that late. I used to live way out by the Robinson Tobacco Factory, by the underpass on Fayetteville. Walked all that way.

[Around here] when they built the library I thought it was nice. There used to be woods before that, and a service station.

What advice do you have for young people, or medium-aged people like me?

Someone told me you’d ask something like that because I’m older than you. I think the young people growing up now should obey their parents more. Learn how to pray because I think we have turned our faces from our Lord to the devil face. Little kids run out in the street and get run over. United States is the best and richest, thanks to the Lord. We turn our back against them.

Mrs. Alston with a picture of Jesus she found

I remember, it was kind of rainy that day, I was looking for a job, and I happened to look on the ground, so if I see a bible I’d pick it up. But I saw Him, and I picked it up, and I knew it when I saw Him.

Maybe the man Jesus was black, not white.

No, he was white. God made us both the same. He painted me black, and you white, but we’ve all got the same creator.

Why did he give me this big nose? He must not have been paying attention while he was making me.


What’s essential for a happy life?

Marry a good man, he treats you nice, you agree with him he agrees with you, you go the right way, serve the Lord and treat people nice, don’t do too much yabba yabba talking. It’s no use.

If a person gets sick or something, come around and help him. My Grandma, they’d come see her, and bake fresh rolls. When time to go home they’d go home. Can’t be too greedy, because He’ll take it from you.

Keep a good heart and you know how to treat people and talk to people. We can’t be good to nobody now. We’ve turned our face away from Him. When we sing now, what kind of songs do we sing? We sing anything we want to. I am a witness, I’m a sinner. I’m a witness to him, what he’ll do for you.

What would you like to see happen in this neighborhood?

[Bernice responds: “A good neighborhood watch would be excellent. We need Police around, checking in at night.”]

When I go somewhere, I want it to be just like I left it. No shooting. I’d like to hear some praying. People used to come up and down the street praying.

[I asked about her experience of the Civil Rights movement, the sit-ins, and more]

My mind goes like a typewriter. [Both sides] were going wild. They really didn’t know how to act and they didn’t want them in there. They didn’t know how to act in there.

What do you love about this neighborhood?

[Bernice says: “It has gotten more quiet. It’s not bad like it used to be…crime rate is better now, kind of peaceful. But people know each other”]

She’s about right. I don’t know. I’ve been here so long. I just fell in love with it. My husband loved it. Don’t have to catch the bus. More beneficial. I’ll say that.

When I say “Mrs. Alston” what do you hope people think?

You know, this world has got so wicked.

[Bernice says: “That you’re a nice lady, and a friendly lady…”]

I’m a nice lady, and I loves to pray to Jesus, and I'd help somebody if I could. I like to pray for people who haven't got the right mind. We’re not taking our time anymore.

When did you take up guitar? Will you play a song?

[Both laugh] No I won’t play a song [on camera]. I got to get me another one, this one over here has got no tone to it. I know Rob tuned it, but it's got no tone. [Strums]

Monday, January 16, 2012

Whose Park Is It?*

Some people say you should not live in the past, since it holds you back. There are extremes to every idea, and maybe we can meet in the middle: acknowledge the building blocks, then use them to jump to other things.

The past: Syba on the land that would become the 1st Downtown Durham dog park; Dec 2010

As a kid, I wasn’t always nice. At the slightest insult from neighbor kids, I’d retreat inside my yard, close the gates, and say, very unimaginatively, “Get out of my yard!” In my young defense, some of the neighbor kids were responsible for what we would now call crimes against humanity had they been adults. Regardless, boundaries were conceptualized and enforced. The importance of land and ones space is particularly present in my hometown of Seattle, where high hedges and fences barricade front yards, moat-puddles forming inside.

Rob + front yard in Seattle's Capitol Hill. Hedged yard in background, Dec 2011

Since I was so accustomed to these barriers, I was particularly taken with the historic Southern porches that awaited us with our move to Durham in October 2005, open and inviting. You yell from your porch, wave, drink with your neighbors, ask them how they’re doing, watch the action on the street. Your porch is an ecosystem.

Before moving to Durham, we were advised: “Why Durham? Move to Chapel Hill.” Set on Durham, we came here anyway and began exploring. I asked a few people if there was anywhere we should not move. “The East side,” was a frequent response, “It’s dangerous.”

Immediately interested, Rob and I decided to drive through the East side and find the scary. After being pulled over on Driver Street due to our Washington license plate (“There is a heroin problem in Seattle, Ma’am”) we made our way to what is now known as Cleveland Holloway. On Queen Street, a sign caught our attention: “Stop the War.” Agreeing with the sentiment, it might as well have said, “Welcome home.” As luck would have it, the sign owner was just walking up to her house.

We asked her about the neighborhood. In short, best decision she ever made, great neighbors, close to everything. The woman, who we now know as Natalie Spring, pointed us to a house two doors down that had been vacant for two years. One month later, November 2005, we bought our home. Our story might have been different had we listened to the advice of a man on Oakwood: “It’s a horrible place,” he told us. “I’m taking my family and moving out to the country.”

Realtors wouldn’t touch this place; we’d tried to enlist a few, but all said “You don’t want to live there,” or my favorite: “The places you’re sending me are scaring me.”

The abandoned homes just had colds, if homes had immune systems, and the streets had a few viruses, or business being conducted on them, but other than that, our conclusion was: What’s so scary about this area? Our guess was a mixture of (un)conscious racism, fear of poverty, and discomfort with the aforementioned business transactions.

We wanted some place walkable, bikeable, urban, vibrant with life of all socio-economic, ethnic/racial, gender, orientation, and age-stripes. Kind of like Title VII. Nothing too fancy and proud of itself either, but a healthy compost of individuals and history that makes for the most nutrient-dense of neighborhoods.

Our new home was a mess. A tree branch had fallen through the roof, and leaks splattered everywhere. The home inspector asked: “Have you ever seen ‘The Money Pit’?” and Rob’s face went grey.

Living room + Rob circa 2005

Shattered glass in the windows and doors, stains splashed on the walls and floors, faucets shooting out water when the water was turned on…most residents of this neighborhood know the language of this kind of project.

As a new resident, I took frequent walks with our dog Syba. These walks helped build relationships, made me aware of developments in the neighborhood, and informed my work in organizing. One time, a cop slowed down as I made my way down Mallard toward East End Park. “Ma’am?” he said politely, as if to a lost child, “This is a dangerous area you’re walking in. Do you know that?” I was a bit annoyed … would he caution or ‘protect’ non-white residents similarly? “This is my neighborhood, and I feel safe,” I shot back, and continued to the Park.

East End Park is one of my favorites. Technically just outside our neighborhood, it’s close by and sits below Mallard, in a sweeping mini-canyon of green trees and grass, bordered by the busy won’t-stop-for-you Alston.

It looks better in the Spring

And in the snow (2010):

Its home is our mini-industrial area, a hodgepodge of old brick warehouses and smokestacks; though much of it still remains abandoned at the moment. You never know what you will find in the park: sleepers, picnickers, b-ball players, or walker-throughers like me. Maybe you’ll even find a dog.

Osita, now with Mike & Jana. Came running up to Syba and I at East End Park. Here, Syba reluctantly sharing.

A stream, or mud shaped like a stream, borders the North end of the park. A bridge over the muck leads you through to the back end of the railroad tracks, past garbage, and into the edge of our neighborhood. Crossing East at Alston, the park continues as a jungle gym and three tennis courts, where Rob has suffered not only embarrassing losses at my hand, but a tennis net injury that left a scar suggesting he tangled with a shark.

Around this park, I’ve found dogs running loose with chains dragging behind them, slides transformed into beds with legs jetting out the end tunnel, and a water-works sprinkler that turns on with a hand sensor to cool you in the summertime and scare Syba.

I use the monkey bars to pull myself up with arm exercises, and apparently I’m not alone. I ran into a man doing similarly recently. The same man bounces a basketball around the tennis court, door closed, around and around the edge of the court. I’m not clear why he doesn’t do this at the basketball court, since it is often empty at the time, but there must be a reason.

In the evening, the park is full of tennis players. A woman told me she keeps watch, which is why it is so clean. It’s a great space to go and study your Greek on one of the picnic benches, and let your dog sniff around, hopefully not to find a #2 sliding down the wall of the facilities, as I did one day.

On our way home we pass Oakwood Park, at Oakwood (or Dillard) and Holloway, more central to our neighborhood. Once a sad little place where slides and benches were beds, the park has received a lot of love this past year.

Neighborhood volunteers (not me!) painted its trash bins bright red, added pedestal tubs to host small porcelain-encased gardens, and welcomed new swings to the space. A fancy neighborhood bulletin board sits outside the park, thanks to the teamwork of neighbors Dylan and Harris.

Neighbor Maureen lugged water to the park all summer to keep the transplanted bushes alive. New paint coated the fence and surfaces of the park, and though it still hosts a few sleepers and non-kid “meetings” in the gazebo, I can’t tell you how happy I am when I walk by the park and see actual kids playing on its bright equipment and enjoying this space. This Spring, Maureen and Natalie plan to plant the garden.

Circling around down Holloway to Roxboro, passerby are now greeted to a Syba-on-steroids art cutout mounted on the fence of our third park, the Downtown Durham Dog Park, along with several other neighbor dog representations dotting the fence, crafted by our own Lena and David.

More on this park in a moment.

This park, together with the lot catty-corner from Oakwood Park, were the two places that changed the course of history for this neighborhood that would become Cleveland-Holloway in name (the actual and living neighborhood predates me and our organization by decades, with a rich history and experience -- and poor history and experience -- shared by many).

View of the lot from Oakwood Park that would change our history.

When I think of the Occupy movement, I think of our beginnings as an organized body in the neighborhood.

Around 2006, I began email correspondence with Donna of Durham’s Real Estate Division to find out the status of the long strip of land behind the back yards of Queen Street between Elliott and Holloway. She wrote back that they were surplus City properties, and she would notify me as soon as she knew more or they went for sale. I followed up and inquired further, but still no word.

In 2007 we stood out in our back wooded yard with Gary Kueber and Keelee MacPhee – two of our first friends in Durham. We were telling them how this back yard would be like a private retreat. Gary was silent. It was then we learned that the City had plans to donate the land behind us, as well as the land across from Oakwood Park, to two non-profits.

On the surface this sounds great, like the sort of thing we’d support. One of the non-profits would be a transitional home for the chronically homeless. The other, across from Oakwood Park, would have been a lockdown facility for youth who had a history of sexual assault…right next to the Durham Rape Crisis Center. But the latter’s poor choice of location and lock-down nature was not the only concern, and Eleni asking both to “Get out of my yard!” were not simply a matter of proximity. There were a few problems with the projects.

At that time, the vacancy rate of homes in our neighborhood was astounding. Practically every other house was boarded up, or an illegal group home, a slumlord rental, or on the verge of being torn down. Though the neighborhood had some wonderful residents, it was sinking under the weight of all that had been put into it, or taken from it.

Natalie characterized the moment: One of the things that I find so interesting about that time is that we were all just surviving. I used to live behind Sheldon when he was on Elliott but had no idea he was on Holloway. We were all there and nice but had never come together. It's funny to think of now how small the space is, but then, every street was like walking to the moon.”

To address the first non-profit, Natalie and I met with Housing for New Hope, suggesting they buy and repurpose some of the existing vacant homes, rather than building a separate industrial structure. Weave the individuals into the neighborhood, rather than isolate them.

Secondly, we felt that our neighborhood was already host to quite a number of social services. We firmly believed that the people of the neighborhood deserved to have something positive built in the neighborhood for a change: how about a small grocery store, a park, a community center? Why not spread around social services for the good of all communities – what better way to rebound then to be surrounded by a healthy, well-balanced neighborhood. In short, we don’t want to kick out these good and needed services – just not only be composed of them. Compounding this issue was the recent talk that our library, the main positive service in the neighborhood, would be moved away from our neighborhood to the center of downtown.

The third problem was, wait a minute, I had inquired about the land and had emails to prove it (which later were used to help overturn the deal). Why weren’t the residents, particularly those who inquired directly, consulted at all about these plans for the land in their neighborhood? The larger issue was: we were not even considered or asked.

What struck me when we first had a need to organize was, holy crap, we’re here, but we do not have a voice. The importance of being an entity had never been so clear to me. A few people advised us to move out while we still could. Natalie recalls, “Harris and I were told we needed to sell our Queen Street home before the deal went through.” Yet, with characteristic pluck, then invested more in the neighborhood: “We bought our house on Oakwood instead.”

Gary, continually helpful and critical in our getting organized (including through his blog Endangered Durham, now Open Durham) recommended about ten people to connect with over email, suggesting we start a listserv. We already knew Keelee on Dillard. Then, immediately, we met Faye, the wonderful current and former owner of many houses on Holloway that she saved through her purchases; Frank and Dolly, the fun and eccentric Bed and Breakfast owners who had been here for 15 years or more already; and Sheldon, the awesome landscaper on Holloway. We also met Chris, who had been in the neighborhood for years with his family, but as a City employee was less involved in our organizing for obvious reasons.

One day I called Gary to ask him what an appropriate name would be for our neighborhood, since he had the historic background to advise us, and we needed an identity. “Cleveland-Holloway would make sense historically,” he explained, and gave details.

Our core group was formed, and we met and began to strategize about how to stop the land transfers. More people became involved. Emails flew back between us and the City Council members. Natalie and I flyered the entire neighborhood in the warm July sunshine to invite people to join us. I was struck when Mrs. Bell on Mallard not only invited us up for ice water, but brought out a bowl of ice water for Syba. Neighbors were upset: they wanted people to fill the vacant houses, I heard again and again: we don’t need another facility.

The City Manager at the time, Patrick Baker, showed up to our meeting and was astounded by the anger in the room. We weren’t even on the map. No one knew we were here. This was just the place and space that no one went to unless necessary. Soon, I created and we all circulated an online petition throughout Durham. We had the support of other neighborhoods, and John Schelp was particularly helpful in advising us in the early stages. We also created a printed version of the petition, and Natalie and I went around and got signatures from our neighbors. “I need a grocery store,” many said. “Or a nice park.”

“We had hundreds of signers to our petition from all over Durham,” Natalie recalled. “We also had almost 100 neighbors sign the petition we took door to door. We spent hours talking to neighbors to explain all that had happened and everything that could happen. Even Mr. Arthur walked up to City Hall to speak and stand with us.” Mr. Arthur was over 80 at the time, and has since died -- he was profiled in our blog post here.

Natalie conducted extensive and integral research that led to the questioning of the organization hoping to open the lock-down youth-offender site on Dillard, Dominion Ministries (subsequently sued by Durham County).

We began our blog, this one. Natalie and I interviewed residents, to show that real people inhabited this feared space. I started doing walking tours, and even walked a news team through our streets, to show people it was not scary.

I toured City Councilwoman Diane Catotti through our neighborhood, and Mike Woodard showed up at several events. Natalie toured around others, fielded questions about the neighborhood. Basically, we wanted people to care. To know that there are good people here deserving consideration. In the meantime, Frank, Dolly, Faye, Keelee, Sheldon, and our core group continued to fight to keep homes on Holloway from being demolished and many other actions.

We began getting media attention. Several articles were published about our efforts. This was becoming a full-time job. I cannot recall how many meetings we went to, emails we sent, and discussions we had, but the initial fight that led to our neighborhood formation was all encompassing. We ate, drank, and slept all things neighborhood. Natalie and Harris began hosting weekly Monday potlucks on Queen Street for neighbors. Natalie recalls, “We took over our weekly dinner to strategize. More people across Durham heard about Cleveland Holloway than I think anyone wanted to hear!”

We realized that it would be important to show people that we’re not just an area to be a dumping ground without thought; we needed careful planning, revitalization, and consideration.

Neighbor Catherine wrote this wonderful piece to summarize the situation: Things You Can Buy for a Dollar.

The land transfers were rescinded by August 2007, and a few months later, Dominion had officially pulled out of the neighborhood.

Soon we were sitting around the table with the City working on a neighborhood plan for Cleveland-Holloway. The plan became less relevant, as more and more people became curious about this funky little neighborhood that fought for its interests and won. Vacant homes began to be occupied, people were moving in. Rob gave an eager young realtor his first tour of the neighborhood by bike – Ken – though this was way after we won the land transfers and had momentum.

Protecting homes from being knocked down was a continuing struggle. One day in March 2008 I came home sick from work, and noticed a bulldozer on Ottawa.

I went up there and called everyone I could think of – Natalie, Gary, Faye, the Independent Weekly, Jim Wise – the reporters came out, neighbors came out. The bulldozing crew said the house had to go.

Too close!

I stalled them by talking and asking them to wait. Hours passed and photos snapped, a small crowd gathered. Finally, due to a call from Faye, another neighbor Eric Westrom came and spoke with the men. “How much will it take for you to leave?” he asked. “$900.” And by some act of coincidence, he just happened to have this in cash. He forked it over to the men, and they pulled away the bulldozer, which had been inches from the home. I cannot describe how good it felt to see that bulldozer back up, but I'll try: It felt like a mountain stepped aside. (But a really, really, bad mountain!)

Years later, we are happy to have worked collaboratively with the City on several projects, including Oakwood Park and the Downtown Durham Dog Park. Natalie spearheaded the discussions, and we invited new and awesome City Manager Tom Bonfield to a tour. We showed him some of our continuing challenges, and proposed a dog park for the land that still remained vacant after all these years and the battle over it. We were tired of seeing it strewn with trash, right at one of the gateways into our neighborhood.

Working with the excellent Senior City Planner Rosetta Radtke, and a committee of caring neighbors including Rafe, Mike, Jana, Dragana, Rob, Dave, Lena, and Maureen, Natalie and I were able to help take the space that was a trash-filled lot, and the source of our upstart, and make it into the first Downtown Durham Dog Park. Neighborhood volunteers worked all day to prepare the park for opening -- James, Doug, Harris, Natalie, Dave, Lena, Jennifer, Matt, Mike, Jana, Alex, Rafe – and our friend Bonnie. Jennifer took the footage here. The park remains City space, and its future began and continues to be uncertain.

Such is life. But there is one thing for certain: a few of us came together and fought for our shared space. More of us have come into the neighborhood and brought diversity of character and spirit, and continue to work hard on making this a good space for all. If I have left anyone out of this process, do let me know! It was not intentional.

I can’t say how nice it is to have so many people watching out for the neighborhood now -- gardens, events, projects, community homes. Sharing space means work beyond a Kumbaya circle: Synthesizing contrasting visions of what the space should become. (A little arguing keeps relationships alive and honest, after all.)

Speaking of honesty, I just visited my grandmother, Nana, in Seattle. She’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s where she knows who she is, but little else such as time, place, or person. The past is truly lost and she lives only in each moment.


Despite her loss of language (“Boom, boom, boom!” is frequently used to describe speed), she said something to me that I won’t forget -- unless I too get Alzheimer’s: “I never say something that isn’t true. And when I say the truth, I cry.”

She then grabbed her glass of watered-down pink wine, looked at it intently, and said, “Come to Mama!”

Back to the present. What’s next?

* Title inspired by “Whose Art Is it?” by Jane Kramer: -- excellent book

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