The University’s Naval Armory building, scheduled for demolition, has received a boost to save it.
The building has been slated to be torn down to make way for modern science facilities. But after pleas from some alumni and politicians not to raze the building, the UNC Board of Trustees voted in May to remove the armory from a list of campus structures scheduled to be demolished under the University’s 2019 Master Plan, which lays out the University’s long-term strategic goals for its landholdings.
Built in the 1940s to train cadets for the U.S. Navy, the armory houses the University’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program and was in the first tier of buildings scheduled for demolition. The University planned to build the Institute for Convergent Science on the site.
The armory’s removal from the list is welcome news to Rob Rivers ’73. A former F-8 Crusader fighter pilot, who as a student participated in the Naval ROTC program, Rivers co-founded the Naval Armory Preservation Committee to save the building.
“We were thrilled that the Board of Trustees took that action,” Rivers said. “I’ve communicated with Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, and I’m waiting on a response to ask if, in fact, with the BOT decision in hand, the administration is recognizing that the armory is worth saving and is an integral part of the campus.”
An article in the July/August 2022 Carolina Alumni Review highlighted the fight led by Rivers and the preservation committee, whose members include Marianne Waldrop ’87, Sandy Henkel ’88, Jeff Kennedy ’87, Mark Clodfelter ’87 (PhD) and Andy Flores ’95. Waldrop is chair of the Naval ROTC Alumni Association Board of Directors.
Rivers and other preservation committee members met in 2020 and 2021 with Guskiewicz and other University leaders to discuss preserving the 80-year-old, two-story brick building, which was designed by Archie Royal Davis ’33, the architect behind the Carolina Inn and Morehead Planetarium. But Rivers was told the University was committed to assign better space for the ROTC program and said the armory is insufficient.
The Naval Armory is where presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush trained. Baseball great Ted Williams, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and iconic football coach Bear Bryant taught cadets there. With such history, Rivers said the armory should be recognized as an iconic UNC building similar to Old East and the Bell Tower. He said the committee would like to shift from preserving the building to raising funds to repair it and to recruit more midshipmen.
The Armory is currently home to about 140 ROTC students, including midshipmen and cadets, and has gained support in recent months, Rivers said.
N.C. Sen. Ted Budd toured the building with Rivers and other committee members on May 25. Rivers said Budd supports keeping the building, as does N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis, state Sen. Valerie Foushee ’78, and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper ’79 (’82 JD).
Board of Trustees Chair Dave Boliek Jr. ’90 said the fate of the armory is still uncertain. “I know that some ROTC members, as we heard during our presentation, look at that physical space as their home on campus, and until or unless we have an absolute solution that seems to be viable and workable to the ROTC, I think the immediacy of needing to remove the NROTC building from the demolition list was a necessary thing,” Boliek said after the May trustees meeting. “It gives us some time.”
Boliek said future Board of Trustees members may put the building back on the demolition list.
At the board meeting, Capt. Andrew Hertel, who manages the Naval ROTC programs at UNC, Duke University and N.C. State University, told the board how essential the armory is to the daily life of students in all Carolina ROTC programs. “It is so clear to me, based on my experience at three different schools, how incredibly important it is to have a home that is easily accessible for our students,” Hertel said in an interview. “This home away from home at Carolina helps build a team with high esprit de corps. And teams with high esprit de corps win — period.”
Rivers said he will continue fighting to save the building.
— Laurie D. Willis ’86