Family fights to save historic building

Family fights to save historic building
January 13
14:38 2021

One of the biggest benefits of preserving Black history is to make sure it does not get wiped away and erased from our memories. Another is to make sure it gets passed along to the next generation, so they are aware of what those who came before them accomplished. Myra Williams is attempting to do just that by saving a physical piece of her family’s history.

Williams’ great-great-great grandparents, John and Nannie Kilby, built the Kilby Hotel and arcade in the connected building next door. The Kilby Hotel stood until June of 2014 before being demolished. Now the arcade is scheduled to be brought down this month after being deemed structurally unstable by the City of High Point.  

Williams is hoping to somehow save the building due to its historical value. The property sits on Washington Street in High Point, which has a rich African American history.

“It wasn’t like an arcade, it was like an underground bar or nightclub,” said Williams. “They ended up building it before the Jim Crow era and they used it as a place for the people who stayed in the hotel to be able to go for night entertainment.”

According to Williams, the hotel and arcade were a part of the Negro Motorist Green Book and were also frequented by several African American entertainers during the Jim Crow era. She feels the historical value, along with the family history, is enough to save the building.

“It is said that Ella Fitzgerald, The Supremes, and a few others that we don’t have any actual documentation of, visited the Kilby,” she said. “The Kilby, during Jim Crow, was listed in the Green Book and of course, during that era the Green Book consisted of places where African Americans would be safe.

“The Kilby was one of the places they could stay and the arcade was somewhere they could have night entertainment and not be seen by the masses.”

Williams stated The Kilby Hotel and the arcade were put on the National Register of Historic Places due to the significance of the building and the architectural design inside of the building. The hotel was built first, then the adjoining arcade was built around 1940.  

Ownership of the land was lost by Williams and her family due to taxes not being paid on the property for several years that they were not aware of, she said. A family member was supposed to handle those duties, but apparently they did not follow through, which caused the property to be lost.

“We lost ownership in 2020 because my uncle was supposed to pay back taxes and he did not; he stopped paying taxes on the land,” Williams said. “He was the one that was responsible for keeping up with the maintenance of the building, even though he and my mother shared ownership.

“He signed over the land because he did not want anything else to do with it and did not tell us that it had back taxes. We found out it had back taxes owed on it when they (the City of High Point) tried to demo it, and this was in 2013.”

Williams said the taxes had been delinquent for some time on both properties by the time 2013 came. She stated the family attempted to make payment arrangements; however, they were unable to do so.  

Getting the property back is not the number one priority for Williams. Her focus now is to make sure the building continues to stand.

“It has significant value to the African American community,” Williams said about the building. “It can probably still be used as a historic building on Washington Street for the African American community. It has a lot of history because it is the oldest standing building on the street right now. It just has a great story to tell.”

Over the past few months there has been a movement from the community and local organizations to fight to keep the arcade standing. Bryon Stricklin, chairman of the Washington Street Business Association, has been a major contributor in the fight for the arcade.

“The fact that the street, in and of itself, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and that tells you everything you need to know, because you don’t just get on that list if you don’t have any historical value to preserve,” said Stricklin. “It was a haven for Black people to come and set up shop, because we are talking about the days of segregation and Jim Crow and Black people made do.”

He heard about the possible demolition of the building at a city council meeting, and after seeing several buildings torn down on Washington Street in the past, he felt he needed to do something to not see it happen once again.

“To preserve the buildings on that street is to preserve the history and the value of what that street means to the city,” he continued. “That in turn is what will help continue to promote more future economic growth, is when you’re able to celebrate these things and give them their just due.”

The building was scheduled to be demolished, weather permitting, this week. According to Stricklin, they have been able to coordinate with the city inspector and given 60 days to come up with a plan to save the building.

“That is a success story and I am going to give a shout out to the City of High Point, because that right there is a step in the right direction, especially when you talk about reconciliation and division within the community, and I am very thankful for that.”

Stricklin says the plan is to have a structural engineer come out to evaluate the status of the building. A comparison will be made about the cost to demolish the building versus the cost of restoration of some sort.  

“What I needed was some numbers and an evaluation based on the condition of the building and then I’ll take that to the inspector and the inspector will take that to the council and they will make a decision on whether we have enough traction to move forward,” Stricklin said about the plans for the building.

Based on the history of the building and Washington Street as a whole, Stricklin is hoping to have the building restored in a capacity that would best serve the community.

“I would like to have a network of business entities to come in and help facilitate the operation of the building,” he said. “That would include having the Historical Preservation Society involved, so whatever we can promote from a historical perspective can be esteemed as important and significant to the future, particularly when it comes to people visiting the city.”

Stricklin stated he would also like to see an office inside of the building to help cultivate Washington Street from a community outreach perspective. He also feels the building could be a way to get at-risk youth off the streets and into something positive through music and entertainment.

Williams said she is thankful to have individuals like Stricklin fighting alongside her and her family to save the building. Her hope is to have more people in the community back their efforts so the history can be shared with everyone.

“It does give us hope that they will keep the building and I hope the community and public figures continue to support,” she said. “It should be looked at as a piece of history that’s worth saving.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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