Sunset Park Historic District
The Sunset Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Sunset Park Historic District's period of significance begins in 1914 when the first houses were completed in the neighborhood and extends to 1957 when the neighborhood was more than ninety percent developed.
The Sunset Park Historic District is a roughly 225-acre neighborhood located approximately three miles south of downtown Wilmington and adjacent to the Cape Fear River. This largely intact neighborhood is significant in the field of community planning and development because its picturesque location above the Cape Fear River made it the first subdivision in the area oriented to the river as a recreational and scenic attraction. The long, curvilinear boulevards designed to include landscaped islands, in addition to a park overlooking the river, reflected the desire for a sylvan retreat removed from the bustle of the center city.
Developed by the Fidelity Trust and Development Company, the 1912 plans called for an upscale development aimed at attracting the more affluent segment of the Wilmington population. The developers extolled the advantages of living outside the city and promoted the recreational opportunities afforded by the proximity of Greenfield Lake and the Cape Fear River. Purchasers were promised all city conveniences including streetcar service, electric lights and gas, sewerage, macadamized roadways, concrete sidewalks, and artesian water.
Originally intended to attract Wilmington's upper class business and professional people, the two world wars and the economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s had a direct impact on house construction. The developers initially promoted the California Bungalow as the appropriate house style for the neighborhood. The company built a number of the bungalows for sale, but also encouraged property owners to build custom designed houses.
The beginning of World War I resulted in the transformation of prime waterfront property into shipbuilding and cargo handling to meet the war needs. Small frame houses were constructed by Victory Home Corporation to meet the demand for housing by the influx of military families and shipyard workers. Although construction slowed during the depression years of the 1930s, the expansion of the shipyards during World War II again resulted in the erection of a large number of modest dwellings to meet the increased housing demand created by an expanded workforce in the Wilmington area. Twenty-seven Minimal Traditional and Ranch houses, twelve garages and sheds, and one Moderne church built between 1954 and 1957 are contributing resources as they are a continuation of the development and architecture of the World War II and post World War II period. The architecture of the neighborhood is an eclectic mix of popular national styles and building materials favored over a period of a half of a century, especially those years surrounding the First and Second World Wars.
Sunset Park: Historical Background
Until 1910, Wilmington was North Carolina's most populous city and had the advantage of river and rail commerce that had an impact on the life and economy of the region. Flowing directly to the Atlantic Ocean, the Cape Fear River brought economic prosperity, community pride, and self-esteem to its residents which was mirrored in the public and private buildings that combine to form a collection of outstanding architectural styles of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Incorporating in 1735, the city's boundaries gradually expanded eastward from the banks of the river. By the turn of the twentieth century, the city's easternmost boundary was Seventeenth Street, although development remained concentrated close to the river. The city, like much of North Carolina, was entering a period of growth and urbanization, and was ripe for the development of residential suburbs.
On March 9, 1912, The Wilmington Star noted the sale of a large tract of land opposite Greenfield Mill Pond Lake approximately three miles south of Wilmington for a "first class residential park." Mr. T.F. Boyd of Hamlet, North Carolina, sold the 600-acre tract to the Fidelity Trust and Development Company for $35,000. Envisioned as a high-class neighborhood by the Fidelity Trust and Development Company, the planned community had advantages of high ground overlooking the river, accessibility to picturesque Greenfield Lake, and a pleasant environment with mature long leaf pines and live oak trees. The new subdivision was established between the Federal Point (Carolina Beach) Road and the Cape Fear River. The riverfront was reserved for use as a park, while the remaining land would be subdivided into 50- by 150-foot lots. Setback restrictions of twenty-five feet were imposed to provide for attractive front lawns. The eastern border of the development along the Federal Point Road was to be screened by hedges with arbor gates marking the four entrance streets. Macadam boulevards, ninety-feet wide, on-site artesian water, electric lights, and a sewer system were provided as part of the plan of improvements. The California Bungalow style was selected as the appropriate design for the neighborhood.
Members of the development company were C.E. Greenamyer, president, C.C. Chadbourn, vice president, and D.N. Chadwick, secretary and treasurer. S. Zulaskway of Atlanta was engaged as the real estate agent for the company. An office was set up at 14 Princess Street in Wilmington. In April, the company offered a prize of $10.00 for the suggestion of a name for the 600-acre development, and the winning entry, submitted by Montrose Bain, circulation editor of the Wilmington Star, was "Sunset Park" (Morning Star, April 3, 1912).
In a full-page advertisement in the Wilmington Star on October 3, 1912, the developers predicted a 30,000 population increase in Wilmington during the next decade brought about by "additional factories, mills and railroads, unprecedented increase in our warehouse, cold storage, and railway terminal facilities, and notable expansion of our water shipping, retail, jobbing, wholesale, fruit and trucking interests." The ideal site for accommodating the increase in residency was Sunset Park, "The Subdivision Beautiful," which they predicted would appeal to Wilmington's most affluent citizens.
The initial sale of lots began on October 7, 1912, and to spur public interest in the project, the developers bought a full page in the Evening Dispatch, October 5th newspaper, publicizing the event, including a bird's eye view of the proposed development. The following poem was also published, which extolled the benefits of buying property in Sunset Park.
Beyond the placid waters/Of Greenfield's lovely lake,
It reaches to the "Dram Tree"/Made famous long ago;
Regardless of the prices/It costs to reach the mark,
With granolithic sidewalks/And streets macadamized,
Each man who owns a cottage/That he can call his own,
Each lot will have its sewers/To take the filth away;
The sun will shine in daylight/Electric lights at dark,
To each prospective buyer/We'll offer terms to please,
No painter can portray it/His brush would be too dark,
The management of Greenfield Lake arranged for an Italian string band performance the day of the auction. It was anticipated that attendees would walk down Federal Point Road from Greenfield Lake to view the improvements underway at Sunset Park (Evening Dispatch, October 5, 1912). The Sunday of the first auction, an estimated 2,000 people visited the site. Sale of lots at the auction exceeded initial expectations. Of the 1,640 lots on the plat, 110 were intended to be sold on the first day of the auction. The event was so popular, however, that at the end of a brisk day of business, 147 lots were sold to 103 purchasers, each lot ranging in price from $600 to $1000 (Evening Dispatch, October 7, 1912). By week's end, the number of sales had increased to 200. Construction of new homes was underway by January, 1913 (Wilmington Star, January 5, 1913).
The executed deeds included a number of covenants that would help assure continuity of design as well as an atmosphere of bucolic affluence. For example, the buyer had to agree that no dwelling would be erected that cost less than $2,000.00 on the north-south oriented side streets, while a dwelling located on the principal east-west boulevards had to cost at least $3,000.00. A twenty-five-foot setback for each building was required, outhouses were forbidden, as was the sale of alcohol and the construction of manufacturing or mercantile establishments. Like many upper-class neighborhoods in North Carolina, another deed covenant specified that none of the lots in the subdivision could be sold or rented to any person other than of the Caucasian race. The company, in turn, promised that the streetcar line and service from the City of Wilmington would be extended to Sunset Park within four months and that an efficient gas and electric lighting system and telephone service would also be extended to the residents of Sunset Park. It was stipulated that the purchasers would have the privilege of connecting with the sewerage and water system of Sunset Park without charge and would have the right to use the system free of charge for a period of five years from the date of the executed deed. The company also promised to construct a system of granolithic sidewalks four feet in width along Central Boulevard and along Adams Street.
Among recreational activities offered to new homeowners were swimming and boating on Greenfield Lake, fishing on the Cape Fear River, tennis, and baseball in the sandlot across the Federal Point Road from Sunset Park. The first time a big-league baseball team visited Wilmington was in March, 1913, when the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Nationals (a.k.a. Phillies) came to the port city from Fayetteville. Two thousand fans attended the game at Sunset Park, which was won by the Phillies 5 to 1. In November, 1913, several local people formed a Wilmington baseball stock company and successfully raised money for the needs of a baseball team in training, including a grandstand, bleachers, and a new baseball diamond to be located on land immediately south of the Sunset Park neighborhood. The Phillies baseball team selected Wilmington and trained at the new park in 1914 and 1915. Because of logistical problems, however, the team departed after the 1915 season (Wilmington Star, July 23, 1984).
Plans were also underway by C.E. Greenamyer, president of the Fidelity Trust and Development Company, to build a large tourist hotel on the northern edge of Sunset Park, overlooking the Cape Fear River. Plans included surrounding the hotel with golf links, tennis courts, summer houses, and other features which would contribute to the attractiveness of the grounds (Morning Star, August 7, 1913).
In March of 1915, in an attempt to generate further interest in Sunset Park, the development company built for sale thirty bungalows between Central and Northern boulevards. Each bungalow was to be of individual design, although all would be based on the general design concept of the California bungalows. The houses would contain from six to eight rooms and be fitted with all the modern conveniences. The average price of the new homes would be approximately $4,000 and they could be sold on the monthly payment plan, a new concept for the City of Wilmington. At the same time, ten private homes were in the planning stages and eighteen houses were already built and occupied (Morning Star, March 25, 1915).
In addition to this activity, the Fidelity Trust and Development Company completed a tennis court in the Sunset Park development for the free use of its residents and their friends (Morning Star, April 3, 1915). On November 10, 1915, the Morning Star reported that Wilmington architect Burett Stephens was accepting bids for construction of seventeen houses at Sunset Park. Stephens, an architect and engineer from Chicago, had relocated to Wilmington after being put in charge of the design and construction of the Swift Fertilizer Works located on the Northeast Cape Fear River (Morning Star, November 30, 1907, p.4). Several days later it was announced that Rhodes and Underwood, well-known contractors in Wilmington, were awarded the contract for the construction of the houses. The total cost would be between $40,000 and $50,000. The houses were to be located at different points in the development and would be placed on the market as each one was completed. The average selling price was expected to be around $3,750 (Wilmington Dispatch, November 22, 1915).
On February 28, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany and the American nation geared up for battle. The riverfront skirting Sunset Park was chosen as the site for two shipbuilding operations. Work on the Carolina Shipyard south of the subdivision commenced on May 6, 1918. The Liberty Shipyard was erected at the foot of Greenfield Street, one-half mile to the north. An onrush of defense workers to the area generated a rush for housing throughout the city. Sunset Park, being closest to the new shipyards, experienced a boom in residential construction. But the emergence of the shipyards along the riverfront and encroachments by the railroad and heavy trucks through the development virtually eradicated the picturesque river view which was the main attraction to the neighborhood (World War I file, North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Library).
On April 28, 1918, the Wilmington Dispatch reported that the Fidelity Trust and Development Company signed an agreement with the United Realty Company's general manager, O.T. Wallace, whereby the latter company would take charge of the sale of Sunset Park property. Mr. Wallace stated: "no selling campaign would be inaugurated at this time owing to the fact that a very valuable portion of this property lying adjacent to the Carolina Shipbuilding Company's yard, through which the county is now building a fine new concrete road and through which also the trolley car line is being extended, had not been developed. All lots are off the market until improvements can be made in this section, and as early as possible a special sales day will be named, when all will be given an equal chance at the lots."
The auction for the property, situated adjacent to the entrance to the shipyards, took place on May 17, 1918. Thirty-five lots, which had been rezoned for commercial use, were put up and sold. It was the original intention to offer twenty-five lots at the sale, but the demand was so great that ten additional lots were offered and sold (Wilmington Dispatch, May 28, 1918).
The Victory Home Company, Wilmington's million dollar house building corporation, began constructing houses in Sunset Park in June of 1918. The company was formed when the Emergency Fleet Corporation was building ships at the Carolina and Liberty yards and there were not enough houses in the city to accommodate the number of workmen moving to Wilmington (Wilmington Dispatch, June 16, 1918).
The end of World War I reduced the need for ship construction at the shipyards, but the operation had become firmly entrenched in the region's economy. In 1920, the Liberty Shipyard was acquired by a Newport News, Virginia, firm that planned an expansion of the facilities over a five-year period. The Carolina Shipyard was auctioned to Gordon & Freeman of New York and negotiations began to turn the land over to the Texas oil company for a depot. In June, 1921, the Victory Home Company decided to sell the forty-four homes and seventeen vacant lots owned by the company in Sunset Park (Wilmington Dispatch, June 14, 1921).
The board of education for New Hanover County announced on January 6, 1920, that a contract had been awarded to Rhodes & Underwood for the construction of a new school building in Sunset Park, the cost of which would be $15,000. The January 7, 1920, edition of the Evening Dispatch, reported that the Sunset Park school would be "of the most modern and approved type, and will consist of four rooms." Although initial plans called for a three-room school, the rapidly increasing attendance in the area necessitated a larger building.
As the 1920s ensued, several subdivisions in and near Wilmington began to draw prospective purchasers away from Sunset Park and into Forest Hills, Brookwood, and Oleander. The Great Depression had a dramatic economic effect on the region as elsewhere in the nation, substantially slowing housing starts in all the developments until the late 1930s. The threat of war in 1940 and 1941 reactivated the shipyards. The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, a subsidiary of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, began a four- to five-million dollar expansion to provide facilities for fitting twenty-four new ships over a twenty-four month period (World War II file, North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Library). Again, Sunset Park buzzed with renewed activity; the undeveloped cross streets became energized as serried ranks of Cape Cod and minimal traditional houses were constructed to provide housing for shipyard and railroad workers.
In 1941, the Marsh Realty Company, one of the largest real estate firms in Charlotte, acquired approximately six-and-one-half acres from the Sunset Park development company. The parcel, located near the northwest corner of Sunset Park, was not included in the initial layout of the neighborhood. Thirty, five-room frame houses were erected on the parcel, with financing through the Federal Housing Administration (Morning Star, August 21, 1941). The company added a new east-west oriented street to the development along which they built the new houses. The street, located between Burnett Boulevard and Harrison Street, was initially named Park Terrace. The name was later changed to Madison Street, after President James Madison.
The multitude of defense industry and military camps established in the Cape Fear region moved the Baptist State Convention to establish a mission at Sunset Park on September 6, 1942. The first meeting was in a tent, but construction commenced on an education building within a year (Morning Star, July 4, 1948). Sunset Park Methodist Church was organized on February 7, 1943 (Morning Star, July 27, 1947). Both organizations erected handsome, Colonial Revival-style churches within the community.
Sunset Park was annexed into the City of Wilmington on January 1, 1946. The residents of the neighborhood opposed a previous attempt made in 1919 to annex Sunset Park into Wilmington and the idea was not pursued further at that time. The city promised to provide the neighborhood with fire and police protection, waste removal, street and parks maintenance, street lighting, and sewer system services as soon after January 1st as possible. Previously, Sunset Park water and sewerage facilities had been furnished by Gholston Company, incorporated in 1935 (News Dispatch, December 6, 1945).
The North Carolina General Assembly established the State Ports Authority in 1945 on the former Liberty Shipyard property. New wharves extended north from Central Boulevard to the outflow of Greenfield Lake. In 1966, the port had doubled in size, extending south to Southern Boulevard. In 1977, north and south extensions were made. Finally, in 1988, a 900-foot southern wharf extension was created and container cranes were installed to produce a state port that skirted the shoreline for a distance of a mile, effectively cutting off Sunset Park's access to and view of the Cape Fear River (World War II file, North Carolina Room, New Hanover County Library).
Houses continued to be constructed in the neighborhood in the years following World War II, as returning veterans built affordable houses in the close-in Wilmington suburb. Although the Sunset Park neighborhood was essentially built out by 1960, house construction continued sporadically over the next forty years. A neighborhood association was established in the early 1990s for the purpose of stabilizing, improving, and beautifying the community while protecting it from commercial encroachment and retaining its quiet, residential character.
Community Planning and Development
In the years between 1900 and 1930, America completed its transformation from a largely rural to a predominantly urban country, with accompanying suburbanization for all classes in all sections of the country. In this period of rapid growth and social change, the trend toward suburbanization, which had started in the nineteenth century, accelerated. Transportation and utility systems reached farther into undeveloped areas on the periphery of cities. Fields and farms gave way to suburban residential tracts, their straight streets, sedate planting, and classical-style houses reflecting the new formal design of the City Beautiful Movement. Economic and social as well as architectural distinctions continued to determine the character of the specific suburban neighborhoods, while racial restrictions also maintained the separateness of the neighborhoods (Smith, p.27-28).
Wilmington's initial planned, early-twentieth century suburban neighborhoods were located east of the city. Carolina Place [see Carolina Place Historic District], established in 1906, and Carolina Heights [see Carolina Heights Historic District], established two years later, were expansions of the natural progression of Wilmington's development as it spread eastward. The neighborhoods were located along extensions of existing city streets and utilized the grid plan already in place. These two neighborhoods, joined by Wincoa Terrace, Brookwood, and Forest Hills in the mid-1910s and 1920s were close enough to downtown businesses and shopping that residents could avail themselves of public transportation and also use private automobiles. The electric streetcar lines, or trolleys, ran a circuit throughout the city and extended the line ten miles out to Wrightsville Beach along the Shell Road (Wrightsville Avenue).
Sunset Park differed from the suburbs located east of the city in several ways. The development was the first in the city to take advantage of the scenic and recreational opportunities afforded by the Cape Fear River. It was distinctly removed from the city by several miles in a previously undeveloped section of New Hanover County. The design of the neighborhood was also the first in the Wilmington vicinity to incorporate some of the innovative design concepts introduced by the Olmsted brothers, noted early-twentieth century landscape architects. This was a time period and a generation with a strong appreciation for nature. America's first National Parks were established in this era and the conservation movement blossomed. Landscape architects, such as the Olmsted brothers sought to bring this consciousness to city planning. The Olmsteds implemented their innovative 1912 design concepts in Charlotte's Dilworth neighborhood [see Dilworth Historic District] by softening the initial grid plan through the incorporation of a web of curvilinear streets, taking advantage of the area's natural topography (Hanchett, Charlotte's Neighborhood Planning Tradition).
The Fidelity Trust and Development Company of Wilmington planned to develop their 600-acre holding into a high-class residential park, on a scale similar to Ansley Park in Atlanta, considered to be one of the most fashionable suburbs of any Southern city (Morning Star, April 3, 1912). The developers of Ansley Park were inspired by the movement for more naturalistic suburban neighborhoods which was taking place in the early years of the twentieth century. Taking advantage of the rolling topography, civil engineer Solon Zachery Ruff designed a harmonious plan of streets, parks, and building lots for Ansley Park. The development also featured a curvilinear arrangement of streets, numerous parks, and a wide range of eclectic and period house styles. Landscaped streets and parkways, including carefully aligned curbs, smooth front lawns, and bordering shrubs and trees, helped to create the appearance of a vast public park (Hohenstein, forward to Historic Living in Ansley Park).
The Fidelity Trust and Development Company hired civil engineer C.L. Becton in 1912 to assist with the design of Sunset Park. Located approximately three miles south of the city along the banks of the Cape Fear River, the Sunset Park developers advertised the property as "a park of pines with every city convenience" (Evening Dispatch, February 5, 1914). Popular design concepts of the day incorporated into the new development included three main curving boulevards with landscaped plazas, tree-lined streets, a meandering river front parkway, and uniform house setbacks resulting in spacious front lawns. Promised streetcar service extended to the development would provide swift and economical transportation to the city. Recreational opportunities afforded by the proximity of Greenfield Lake and the Cape Fear River were also promoted. Promises of free tennis courts, boating, and fishing enticed center city residents into purchasing their little piece of suburban paradise.
Of the initial 600-acre tract, only about 225 acres were actually developed. Plans for a grand tourist hotel never materialized. World events beyond the control of the developer overtook and transformed the initial concept for the neighborhood. The development's prime river front property, which was to have included a park and perhaps a marina, was shortly absconded by shipyard and railroad enterprises at the advent of World War I and then, again during World War II. The construction of custom-designed houses for an elite clientele gave way to quickly constructed tract housing to accommodate the huge influx of military personnel and shipyard workers to the Wilmington area. By the middle of the twentieth century, the few remaining lots were filled in primarily with modest brick Ranch houses. A three-acre lot on the northern side of Southern Boulevard and an approximate one-acre lot on the southeast corner of Adams Street and Sunset Avenue were set aside for parks in the early 1950s, both currently owned and maintained by the City of Wilmington. The Sunset Park Historic District retains its original layout with the exception of the elimination of Riverside Drive. Of the three pairs of pergolas originally planned to mark each boulevard entrance to the neighborhood, only one pair was built at the entrance to Northern Boulevard and they continue to stand sentinel. A canopy of live oaks shading Sunset Park's main boulevards, in addition to extensive plantings of mature shrubs and trees, continue to emulate the park-like environment that was favored by early twentieth-century American designers and planners.
Sunset Park's developers envisioned a high-class neighborhood for Wilmington's discriminating citizens. The development's principal drawing card was the location of the 600-acre tract on the banks of the Cape Fear River. The riverfront was to be reserved for use as a park, while the remaining land would be subdivided into 50- by 150-foot lots. The Fidelity Trust and Development Company initially planned to build houses on the lots and sell them on the payment plan to buyers. The appearance of the subdivision would be modeled on that of Ansley Park in Atlanta. The California or Craftsman Bungalow style was selected as the appropriate design for the neighborhood. The neighborhood was not developed in any particular order. Early on, houses were built by individual lot owners, although the majority of the early houses built before World War I tend to be scattered along the east-west boulevards and the easternmost cross streets, close to Carolina Beach Road.
Although a number of Craftsman bungalows were constructed during the early years of the development, the developers set the stage by building rather large, Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts and Craftsman style houses situated prominently at the entrance of Central Boulevard on the corner of Carolina Beach Road. The 1913 Chadwick House at 416 Central Boulevard was built for D.N. Chadwick Jr., the secretary-treasurer of the Fidelity Trust and Development Company. Perhaps the most sophisticated rendition of the Queen Anne style built in Sunset Park, the frame two-story house features a side-gable roof with a tall octagonal corner tower and a wide wraparound porch supported by Tuscan columns with an attached porte-cochere. The fenestration includes a random arrangement of patterned-glass windows with transoms.
Several more modest versions of the Queen Anne style were built in the early years of the Sunset Park Development. Located adjacent to each other on Washington Street, the Eli Cavanaugh House (2015 Washington Street) and the Snipes House (2019 Washington Street) are nearly duplicate designs. Both constructed in 1914, each house presents a gable-front facade to the street. The first level features a side-hall entrance flanked by bay windows, while the second level features paired two-over-two sash windows. Two-story bays on a side elevation and one-story hipped-roof front porches enliven each house.
Although the Queen Anne was the dominant style of domestic building during the period from about 1880 until 1900, it persisted with decreasing popularity through the first two decades of the twentieth century. The Sunset Park Queen Anne style houses are perhaps among the last gasp of houses built in this style in the Wilmington area. Although numerous examples of the full-blown Queen Anne style house are located in Wilmington's downtown historic district [see Wilmington Historic District], few were built in the early twentieth-century streetcar suburbs. Carolina Heights, developed concurrently with Sunset Park, has only two houses exhibiting the influence of the Queen Anne style. Similar to the houses in Sunset Park, they are classified more by their shape than their decorative detailing, which is minimal.
Across Central Boulevard from the Chadwick House is another impressive house built for C.E. Greenamyer, president of the Fidelity Trust and Development Company. Wilmington architect James F. Gause designed the 1913 Greenamyer House (417 Central Boulevard) as a large two-story Arts and Crafts house with a hipped roof, wide eaves, and stucco walls. The house includes attached porches on the front and east elevations, as well as an attached porte cochere on the west side. Sidelights and a three-part transom enhance the central entrance. Born in Wilmington in 1885, architect James F. Gause is best noted for his design of the Saint Andrew's Covenant Presbyterian Church and the Kenan Memorial Building. A February 13, 1913, article in the Wilmington Star, announced that J.F. Gause has "plans perfected or in the course of completion, for a number of dwellings at Sunset Park." He died in 1922 at the age of thirty-seven.
The Craftsman style represented an independent western movement in American architecture. Its guiding force was the English Arts and Crafts movement, which rejected the mass reproduction and mediocre design associated with the Industrial Revolution in favor of the beauty and "honesty" of traditional handcraftsmanship and natural materials. In America these ideas were widely disseminated in the pages of the Craftsman magazine, published from 1901 to 1916 by the furniture maker and designer Gustav Stickley (1848-1942). Based upon the simplest and most direct principles of construction, the style was adapted for countless small houses and bungalows. It found its most sophisticated expression in the California work of Pasadena architects, Charles Sumner Greene (1868-1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870-1954). [see:Charles and Henry Greene.] Trained in the manual arts, these brothers were craftsmen who often became involved in the actual building of houses. Interiors included open, flowing floor plans, inglenooks, and he use of decorative banding with a predisposition for the horizontal (Carley, p.208).
The Foursquare is a simple two-story square house with a low-pitched hipped roof, and a balanced facade. Built during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the house design was influenced by the simplified massing of Queen Anne houses and the contemporaneous Arts and Crafts movement. One-story wings, porches, or carports are clearly subordinate to the principal two-story mass. Hipped dormers are common as are full-width, single-story front porches and double-hung sash windows.
Although Arts and Crafts style, two-story Craftsman style and Foursquare houses scattered throughout Sunset Park, the majority are located along Northern and Central boulevards. For the most part, they were built in the early to mid 1920s. Typically, the houses are two stories in height and display hipped roofs with deep overhangs. A one-story porch with hipped roof shelters a central door flanked by sash windows. The upper level fenestration normally consists of paired sash windows arranged on either side of a center line. Victory Home Company built the houses on the north side of the 400 block of Northern Boulevard. They include two Foursquare houses, as well as several two-story Craftsman-style houses. The 1924 G. Ivan Palmgren House at 409 Northern Boulevard and the 1923 E. Freeman Pittman House at 417 Northern Boulevard are typical of the Foursquare house built in Sunset Park. Both feature a hipped roof with deep overhangs and a hipped roof porch across the front elevation supported by massive square posts. Each has a hipped-roof dormer centered on the roof of the front facade.
The 1928 J.H. Hesketh House at 405 Northern Boulevard and the 1924 E.V.H. Peschau House at 413 Northern Boulevard are good examples of the two-story Craftsman-style house found in Sunset Park. Each has a side-gable roof with deep overhangs and exposed rafters. They also feature a one-story attached porch supported by paired and tripled square posts and nine-over-one sash windows. There are a total of seventeen two-story Craftsman-style houses and five Foursquare houses in the Sunset Park Historic District
Designed for an affluent clientele, the two-story Craftsman houses had a relatively short life, with the style being out of fashion by the 1930s. But Wright and the Greene brothers were among the first American designers of their generation to emphasize comfort and convenience, and their concepts of human scale and sensible plans helped to shape a growing phenomenon of the time: the affordable small house for the middle class. The open floor plan, clean lines, and human scale associated with the style made a permanent mark on American architecture, particularly small-scale suburban house design.
The majority of houses built in Sunset Park in the years preceding and immediately following World War I were of the one-story Craftsman Bungalow style. During the 1920s, precut houses became popular, partly due to the demand for new housing and partly because they made possible home ownership by middle-income buyers. A full-page ad for Quickbilt Bungalows, produced by the A.C. Tuxbury Lumber Company of Charleston, South Carolina, was illustrated with an isometric, furnished plan in the April 7, 1920, Wilmington Star. That same year, the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan, established their second precut-house plant in Wilmington, North Carolina. Established in 1906 by brothers, W.J. and O.E. Sovereign, the Aladdin Company marketed pre-cut homes that could be shipped by railroad and assembled on site. They offered a wide variety of modest house plans at affordable prices. Aladdin Company's promise of low cost, quality materials, flexible plans, and speed of construction attracted numerous property owners in Sunset Park. The September 12, 1920, Wilmington Star carried an ad from the Aladdin Company stating that seventy of their houses had been built in Sunset Park alone. These dwellings express the popular Craftsman Bungalow or larger two-story Craftsman houses.
Approximately eighty one-story Craftsman-style bungalows are interspersed throughout the Sunset Park Historic District. The houses are characterized by gable roofs with deep eave overhangs with exposed rafter ends and supported by oversized brackets. The houses normally include an attached or engaged porch spanning an asymmetrical three-bay facade. Porch supports are varied-simple square-section posts, some resting on brick piers singly or in groups; brick corner pillars, classically-inspired columns, and tapered posts on brick piers being the dominant types. A particularly fine illustration of the Craftsman-style Bungalow is the 1927 Frank King House located at 2036 Adams Street. The house features a gable-front roof with triangular eaves brackets. The gable-front porch across the center and south bays is supported by brick posts and enclosed by decorative balustrades. A patterned-glass transom surmounts the central door with six lights in the upper panel. Similar patterned glass appears in the flanking windows.
As the 1920s and 1930s ensued, several custom-designed residences appeared along the western or river ends of Sunset Park's boulevards. Based on historic precedent, period revival houses were popular during the first third of the twentieth century, especially for residential architecture. The term "period house" indicates that although differing in style, all period houses identify with the decorative vocabulary of an earlier period. Styles were suggested by appropriate massing, proportions, materials, and a few well-chosen details. Distinctive characteristics include a garden setting, irregular fenestration, and vernacular roof shapes to suggest an indigenous local style. Ornamentation tends to be minimal, but carefully executed. Fine effects are achieved through the handling of quality materials for color and texture (Rifkind, p.101).
The 1927 Tudor Revival style Grant Elliott House at 38 Northern Boulevard is based on English precedent, as seen in the half-timbering in the front gable. The custom designed house was featured in a full-page ad of the September 25, 1927, edition of the Wilmington Morning Star. The style emphasizes steeply-pitched, front-facing gables, ornamental half-timbering, and front-facade chimneys. The Grant Elliott House, constructed of light tan brick, features gabled roofs and a tall front gable that incorporates twin, arched French doors at left, a tripartite window in the center, and an entrance with an arched and bracketed hood at right. Additional fenestration includes paired six-over-six sash windows and casement windows, in addition to triple French doors on the east elevation.
The 1930 John Woollerton House at 122 Northern Boulevard is an anomaly in Sunset Park. Similar to other period houses, the French Eclectic-style John Woollerton House is based on precedents provided by many centuries of French domestic architecture. The steeply pitched hipped roof is an identifying characteristic of the style. French Eclectic-style details evident in the John Woollerton House include an L-shaped plan with a high hipped roof over the main block and a steeply-pitched, gable-front roof over the projecting front ell. A tall, sixteen-over-sixteen sash window is centered on the projecting ell. Masonry quoins and a brick denticulated cornice highlight the asymmetrical facade. The one-story house features a curved entrance porch nestled between the main block of the house and the gable-front ell.
The popular Colonial Revival style house is prominently represented in Sunset Park Historic District. The Colonial Revival was a dominant style for domestic building throughout the country during the first half of the twentieth century. Following on the heels of America's centennial celebrations, the Colonial Revival style emerged in the early 1880s. The style, which borrowed heavily from early American architecture, particularly Georgian and Federal buildings, was largely an outgrowth of a new pride in America's past. Among the leaders of the movement were the partners at McKim, Mead, and White who had made a tour of New England's historic towns in 1878. Although early interpretations of the style tended to be free interpretations with details inspired by colonial precedents, during the first decade of the twentieth century, Colonial Revival fashion shifted toward carefully researched copies with more correct proportions and details. Colonial Revival houses built in the years between 1915 and 1935 reflect these influences by more closely resembling early prototypes than did those built earlier or later. The economic depression of the 1930s, World War II, and changing postwar fashions led to a simplification of the style in the 1940s and 1950s (McAlester, p.326).
The majority of the traditional Colonial Revival-style houses in Sunset Park Historic District were constructed during the 1930s and 1940s. Two neighboring houses located on the west side of the 1900 block of Jackson Street are representative of the style. The Francis O'Crowely House (1914 Jackson Street) and the Louis Vowell House (1922 Jackson Street), both built in 1940, are two-story houses with side-gable roofs, symmetrical facades, and attached one-story sun porches. The 1945 Francis Newton House (12 Northern Boulevard), located on a high bluff at the western end of Northern Boulevard, more closely resembles a Georgian Revival-style house. Inspired by the classical Georgian style popular in the late eighteenth century, the two-story house features a hipped roof, a five-bay symmetrical facade with a central two-story pedimented pavilion, and a prominent entrance framed by pilasters and a swan's neck pediment. The house is balanced by a one-story wing on the east side and a one-story garage on the west side, each attached to the house by a short hyphen.
Two church congregations in Sunset Park also chose the Colonial Revival style for their edifices. The Sunset Park Baptist Church at 231 Central Boulevard, built in 1950, features a raised, pedimented portico supported by Roman Doric columns and pilasters and a tall stepped tower over the entrance. A two-story annex, built in 1961 and located adjacent to the church, was also rendered in the Colonial Revival style. The original section of the Sunset Park United Methodist Church, located at 406 Central Boulevard, was built in 1943 as a dual-purpose education building and sanctuary. An attached, freestanding tower with an octagonal belfry and tall steeple was part of this original building. The congregation added a new sanctuary to the front of the original building in 1953. It features a gabled, pedimented roof with a round window and an entrance porch supported by paired, Tower of the Winds columns.
Many of the houses in the Sunset Park Historic District are variations on the Colonial Revival style. The Cape Cod house form, found throughout the district, is the most common form of a one-story Colonial Revival house. As a form, it originated in the early eighteenth century and was loosely patterned after early wooden folk houses of eastern Massachusetts, usually with the addition of Georgian or Federal inspired doorways. Cape Cods were built throughout the Colonial Revival era but were most common in the 1920s and 1940s. Typically, these brick or frame two-pile houses feature gable dormers, steeply-pitched roofs, and a three- or five-bay symmetrical facade with a central door and classical door surrounds. The 1941 Richard Burnett House at 1901 Jackson Street is a good example of the Cape Cod house found in the Sunset Park Historic District. The one-and-one-half-story brick house features a steeply-pitched side-gable roof, a three-bay symmetrical facade, a central entrance flanked by wide pilasters, and three gabled dormers.
The majority of the houses in the Sunset Park Historic District can be classified as Minimal Traditional houses. These houses proliferated as a result of a housing shortage for military personnel and shipyard employees during World War I and again during World War II. Development companies built many of the houses and it was not uncommon for them to be rented for several years before becoming owner occupied. Federal laws enacted in the early 1930s encouraged home ownership by expanding the available financing for the purchase of owner-occupied dwellings. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) encouraged home ownership through its approval of properties for Federal insurance for privately-financed mortgages, housing subdivisions, and rental housing. First FHA mortgages required a twenty percent down payment and monthly payments amortized over twenty years. The FHA also established national standards for the home building industry. House designs publicized by the FHA in publications such as Principles of Planning Small Houses were updated periodically. Circulars addressing issues of prefabrication methods and materials, housing standards, and principles of design were also distributed (National Register Bulletin, Historic Residential Suburbs, p.49).
The small or minimal traditional house endorsed by the FHA was typically no larger than six rooms, was void of nonessential spaces, picturesque features, and unnecessary items that would increase their cost, following their principal for "providing a maximum accommodation within a minimum of means." Houses generally consisted of two to three bedrooms, a bathroom, a small kitchen, and a larger multipurpose living room, arranged in a variety of floor plans. Similarly designed houses were grouped together in cul-de-sacs and along streetscapes, varying the elements of exterior design in ways that avoided repetition and gave the neighborhood an interesting and pleasing character (National Register Bulletin, Historic Residential Suburbs, p.61).
Based on a simplified Tudor Revival style of the 1920s and 1930s, the minimal traditional house generally exhibits a dominant front gable, a large chimney, and a lower roof pitch, while the facade is simplified by omitting most of the period detailing. The houses utilized a number of building materials, including wood, brick, stone, stucco, concrete block, shingles, or stone, or a mixture of these materials. Many were also sheathed with asbestos shingles or aluminum siding, both considered the newest and most up-to-date siding available in the 1940s. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber, was not widely used until the early 1940s when it was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation. Combined with cement, asbestos shingles were virtually indestructible, did not decompose, and were resistant to heat, chemicals, and water.
The majority of the Minimal Traditional houses in the Sunset Park Historic District can be found on the north-south oriented cross streets. The Marsh Realty Company from Charlotte built an entire block of these modest homes on Madison Street in the early 1940s. Apparently, they would build one at a time and as soon as it sold, they would start the next one. Several of the original homeowners still occupy a few of these houses. Several additional companies that built a number of minimal traditional houses during the war years include the Moore-Fonvielle Agency and the Franklin Agency. Many of these houses can be found along Burnett Boulevard, Harrison Street, Van Buren Street, and Monroe Street.
By the early 1950s, the Minimal Traditional house was being replaced by the Ranch style, which dominated American domestic building through the 1960s. The Ranch house was a symbol of the postwar American dream: a safe affordable home promising efficiency and casual living. California architects introduced the Ranch house with a low, horizontal silhouette and rambling floor plan in the 1930s, finding inspiration in the one-story plan of the Spanish rancho of the Southwest. By the late 1940s, this new house type had caught on across the country. With its open kitchen/living area, the Ranch was specifically geared to casual entertaining. The integration of indoor/outdoor living promised by the one-story layout featuring sliding glass doors, picture windows, and rear terraces and patios was a key selling feature for middle-class families (Carley, p.236).
There are seventy-three Ranch houses found sporadically throughout the Sunset Park Historic District. They were primarily built in the 1950s and early 1960s on vacant lots, which didn't sell during the frenzied construction of the war years. The houses are clad with a variety of materials including brick veneer, vinyl or aluminum siding, and asbestos shingles. Two Ranch houses were constructed with concrete block. The one-story Ranch houses in Sunset Park are identified by their low-pitched roofs, asymmetrical facades, broad chimneys, picture windows and two-over-two sash windows with horizontal lights, and occasionally, attached carports. Typical of the Ranch houses in Sunset Park are two located adjacent to each other on Jackson Street. The 1957 Bill Watson House at 2025 Jackson Street and the 1949 James Lennon House at 2043 Jackson Street are both one-story frame houses with asymmetrical facades. Each house features low-hipped roofs, broad interior chimneys, picture windows, and engaged front porches. The Lennon House also includes an attached carport.
Larger family size in the 1950s, along with the introduction of television and high-fidelity phonographs, created a demand for greater separation of activities. The split-level house provided increased privacy through the location of bedrooms on an upper level, a half-story above the main living area and an all-purpose recreation room on a lower level (National Register Bulletin, Historic Residential Suburbs). The J. Ellis Maples House at 2076 Harrison Street is the only example of a split-level house in Sunset Park. It was built in 1940, surprisingly early for the house type. The frame L-shaped house with front and side gables features a raised basement on the south side with living space on two levels, with front steps leading to the one-level north side.
A third church in the neighborhood was built in 1957 for the Jehovah's Witness congregation. The (former) Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witness Church (303 Northern Boulevard), situated on the northeast corner of Northern Boulevard and Adams Street, was built in the Moderne style. The Jehovah's Witness Church features a flat roof with a wide overhang, geometric building shapes, smooth stucco walls, and jalousie windows in the clerestory. A high transverse wall bisects the church's facade, and acts as the "sign'' for the church name, similar to modern commercial buildings of the 1950s and 1960s.
Outbuildings are numerous throughout the Sunset Park Historic District. Typically, they are small one-car frame garages with gable-front roofs and weatherboard siding dating to the period of significance. A number of the buildings have been enlarged to include a second-story apartment. Small frame garden sheds are also a common occurrence in many of the yards.
The Sunset Park Historic District remains an intact neighborhood with well-defined boundaries. The architecture is a diverse mix of architect-designed, early-twentieth century houses in several styles including Queen Anne, Craftsman, Arts and Crafts, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival. It also includes Wilmington's largest concentrated collection of more modest minimal traditional, Cape Cod, and Ranch houses. The winding, tree-lined streets, large landscaped lots, recreational parks, and variety of popular twentieth century house styles continue to attract people to this suburban Wilmington neighborhood.
Ames, David L. and Linda Flint McClelland. National Register Bulletin. Historic Residential Suburbs, Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, 2002.
Carley, Rachel. The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1994.
Evening Dispatch, The (Wilmington, NC) issues from 1912-1945.
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Hohenstein, Louis forward to Historic Living in Ansley Park.
McAlester, Virginia and Lee. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992.
Morning Star, (Wilmington, NC) issues from 1912-1984.
New Hanover County Deeds, Register of Deeds Office, Wilmington, NC.
Reaves, William clipping file for Sunset Park, North Carolina History Room, New Hanover County Library.
Rifkind, Carole. A Field Guide to American Architecture. New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1980.
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Sunset Park Neighborhood Architectural Survey Report created by Edward Turberg and Beth Keane, 1996. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch.
Survey Files for Sunset Park created by Edward Turberg and Beth Keane, 1996, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch.
Wilmington City Directories (1915-2001), North Carolina History Room, New Hanover County Library.
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Wrenn, Tony P. Wilmington, North Carolina, An Architectural and Historical Portrait, The University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1984.
† Beth Keane, Retrospective, Sunset Park Historic District, New Hanover County, NC, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.