Tiny West House Tugs at UNC Heartstrings

For a building that may not quite rate “campus landmark,” little West House has generated a lot of emotion since a member of the University staff launched a campaign to save it from the wrecking ball.

West House, all 1,141 square feet of it, straddles the parking lots behind Swain Hall and Hill Hall. The one-story brick building was built in 1935 by Rutherfordton textile magnate Kenneth Tanner ’11 to house his sons when they entered the University. At the time it was a part of the old Fraternity Row.

The house has been used for military training in World War II, as the first home of the computer science department and as the home of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. It currently houses the international studies curriculum. It is scheduled to be demolished for the University’s new arts common, an expansion of visual and performing arts facilities planned for the area behind Swain, Hill and the Hanes Art Center.

Jeffrey Beam, a biology librarian who said he became interested in historic preservation after seeing old Italian architecture, began sending e-mail messages to people on campus he thought might be interested in saving West House. Among those from whom he has received support are Richard Jenrette ’51, businessman and noted home preservationist; and the granddaughter of the architect of the house.

Beam has discussed with campus facilities officials the possibility of preserving the house, possibly as a cafe among the arts attractions, or moving it to another campus location. He said Associate Provost Stephen Allred ’74, who chaired the committee that worked on a master plan for the arts common, told him that some members of the committee had been troubled about the demolition plan but that no one in the community had protested.

Beam is trying to contact alumni who might be able to influence any change in the plans for West House, and he is looking for additional historical significance.

Design for the arts common could begin next summer, but it likely would be two years beyond that before any demolitions began. Several of West House’s neighbors – Abernethy Hall on Columbia Street and old wooden structures Evergreen House and the Hill Hall annex – are scheduled for demolition.

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