In honor of Historic Preservation Month, we will be featuring a local historic property each week during the month of May. The featured properties will be showcased on the Town of Cary social media pages as well as this page. We hope you will check back each week to learn about these special places in our community!
The WPTF Radio Transmitter Building
Date of Construction: 1941
Location: 833 E. Chatham Street Original Use: Radio Transmitter
A rare example of Streamline Moderne (or Art Moderne) architecture in Wake County and one of the oldest surviving radio transmitter buildings in North Carolina, the WPTF Radio Transmitter Building was designed by noted local architect William H. Dietrick and began transmitting in May 1941. Exemplifying the simplicity of Streamline Moderne architecture, the brick building features rounded corners, bands of metal casement windows, a flat roof, and intact light fixtures on the interior.
North Carolina's second oldest commercial radio station, WPTF was founded under the name WFBQ by Will Wynne in 1924 but soon changed its call letters to WRCO (for Wynne Radio Company). When the Durham Life Insurance Company acquired the station in 1927 the letters were again changed -- this time permanently -- to WPTF (an acronym for We Protect The Family). Broadcasts were made from the building at 833 E. Chatham Street until ca. 1987, after which the broadcast moved to a new Raleigh location and now only the towers and transmitter at the Cary location continued to be utilized.
An interesting fact: WPTF was the first radio station to live broadcast a wedding in the Raleigh area. The wedding took place on air in the WPTF studio, and was between H. Felton Williams, a WPTF radio engineer, and Margaret Fussell, the staff pianist who provided live music for the station.
William Henley Deitrick (1895-1974) was a distinguished and prolific Raleigh architect for half a century, whose firm grew into one of the largest in the state, with projects from the coast to the mountains. Although he began his career in the Beaux Arts tradition and designed many buildings in revivalist styles over the years, he was an early leader in modernist design from the 1930s onward, and in the post-World War II period his firm employed such notable modernist architects as G. Milton Small, Jr., who designed key modernist works. The firm’s best-known projects range from Deitrick’s reputation-defining Needham Broughton High School in an Italian-inspired mode to the modernist landmark J. S. Dorton Arena, designed by consulting architect Matthew Nowicki and completed by Deitrick’s firm. Dietrick was also the architect for the Cary High School, now the Cary Arts Center.
The details discussed and historic images were sourced from the WPTF Radio Transmitter Building Historic Property Survey, an article from NC State University Libraries on William Deitrick, and a recent article on the WPTF building by ABC News.
The C.F. Ferrell Store
Date of Construction: 1928
Location: 1928 Morrisville Carpenter Road Original Use: Hardware Store
Did you know that the C.F. Ferrell Store is listed as a contributing structure in the Carpenter National Register Historic District? The Carpenter Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and is described in the nomination form as a well-preserved rural crossroads that retains its village character and depicts the vital interplay between agriculture and commerce in Wake County’s Development.
The area began to flourish when Charlie Ferrell decided to set up shop; Charlie Ferrell had joint or full ownership of eight different businesses that served and helped sustain the operations of area farmers and the community at large – from lumber to funerals. Ferrell wisely located these businesses at the communities’ crossroads of commerce, now Morrisville-Carpenter Road and Carpenter-Upchurch Road. The remaining store and warehouses, along with the historic Carpenter Supply Store across the road, still mark this original crossroad and signify its agricultural roots. This property is an excellent example of a country store; the store sold general merchandise, very similar to the Carpenter Supply Store. These utilitarian buildings and their land contribute to the Carpenter Historic District’s integrity of setting, design, materials, feeling, and association.
The building retains its original storefront with recessed entry, metal shingle roof, and German siding (a.k.a. Cover lap or Dutch lap siding). German siding is distinguished by a hollowed channel that produces a deep shadow line and helps shed water. Other notable features include exposed rafter ends, metal finials marking the peaks of the roof, and a shed-roofed front porch. The rear porch is also original and enclosed in the late 1930s for additional storage. The high windows on the first floor were added in the late 1940’s to help cool the interior. In addition to these structural details, the open area behind the store used to be the Carpenter baseball field from around 1910 until the 1940’s.
View a document detailing a complete timeline of events revolving around the C.F. Ferrell Store, which was prepared by CUBE Design + Research as part of a Cary Historic Properties Assessment.
The details discussed and historic images were sourced from the Carpenter Historic District Nomination Form, which was prepared by the Wake County Historic Preservation Commission, and a Historic Properties Assessment that was prepared by CUBE Design + Research. Visit this page for more information on Cary’s National Register Historic Districts.
The Cary Theater
Date of Construction: c. 1946, renovated 2011-2014
Location: 122 E. Chatham Street Original Use: Movie Theater
The Cary Theater was the first indoor movie theater in town and was a place that Cary citizens could go to see not only films but live performances – performances from Patsy Cline and Lash LaRue to name a few!
According to Thomas Byrd’s book "Around and About Cary" (2nd Edition, 1994), P.D. Gray, Sr. and his brother F.R. Gray owned much of Cary's business district in the early 1900s, including a vacant lot at 122 East Chatham. When they died in the 1930s, the son and daughters of P.D. Gray, Sr. (Patrick, Eugenia, Mary Alice, and Lucy Clyde) inherited their father’s and uncle’s holdings. In 1946, Paul Chandler purchased the lot at 122 East Chatham Street from the Gray heirs and built the movie theater - the first new building built downtown since the Masons erected their building (modern-day Ashworth's) in 1931. The original building was two-stories, constructed of brick, and has a stepped parapet roof which was previously visible from the east elevation.
The building only operated as a theater for around 10 years, after which the Chandlers used it as a clothing store called Cary Clothiers. According to Wake County deed records, the theater building stayed in the Chandler family until 1984 when it changed hands. The building was then used for an auto parts store for a short time but fell vacant until 2011 when the building was purchased by the Town of Cary.
The building then went through a renovation process that included the removal of the 1977 mansard roof to expose the original brick façade, an expansion to the building, and the installation of a new marquee. A three-story addition was constructed adjacent to the theater to provide additional support space and the potential for community and commercial uses, including rental/lease space. This all culminated in the 2014 opening of The Cary, our wonderful local multi-use cultural facility with a focus on digital arts, including film, and youth and amateur theater and music.
Although the theater has gone through multiple uses and has had some alterations and additions, it is a great example of the successful renovation and reuse of a historic building. So next time you are downtown, stop by and have a look inside The Cary, maybe even catch a show!
The Original Cary High School
Date of Construction: Original Building: c. 1870, Current building: 1939
Location: 101 Dry Avenue Original Use: Private School
The 1939 Cary High School, currently the Cary Arts Center, is the third building erected on this spot since the late nineteenth century. The first building was constructed when lumberman and town founder Frank Page and his wife Kate purchased land in 1854 along the new railroad tracks in what is now downtown Cary. Frank reserved one of the parcels in his 1868 town plat for a school and by 1870, a two-story frame building had been erected using lumber harvested from the site and cut at Page’s mill. This school was known as Cary Academy, a private boarding school overlooking Academy Street that continued to develop and grow into the early twentieth century. By 1896, Cary Academy was renamed Cary High School.
In 1907, just days after the N.C. legislature authorized funds to establish a statewide system of public high schools, Wake county used the newly available state funds to purchase the school, making it North Carolina’s first state-funded high school.
In 1913, a two-story-on-raised-basement brick building replaced the original frame Cary Academy building at a cost of $30,000. Graduates from this newly constructed school could get a diploma in academics, agriculture, home economics, or teaching.
Although the 1913 building was at one point considered “the finest rural high school building in the state,” by the mid-1930s Wake County was seeking funds for a new building. The new building, equipped with the most modern facilities and technology, was constructed in 1939 and dedicated in March 1940, with a ceremony covered prominently in the Raleigh News and Observer and attended by many state and local dignitaries.
The 1939 school continued in use for all grades until the 1960s, when it was converted to house junior and elementary grades. By 2003, all grades were attending school in new buildings elsewhere. This allowed for the building to be purchased by the Town of Cary, which converted the building to its current use as the Cary Arts Center. The Cary Arts Center was designated a Local Historic Landmark in 2017 and continues to be an integral part of the Cary community.
For complete details on the school’s history and architecture, go to the source: The Cary Arts Center Historic Landmark Designation Report, by Cynthia de Miranda, MdM Historical Consultants, 2017.