Preservation panel trying to salvage piece of Blackmer House history
By Noelle Edwards
A Historic Preservation Commission committee is making a last-ditch effort to save some piece of history related to the Blackmer House at 112 S. Fulton St.
The committee was formed to try to convince the house’s owner, Jonathan Blackmer, to find a way to restore and preserve the house rather than demolish it. On Thursday, members of the committee discussed a letter to be sent to Blackmer as the time for negotiations runs out.
Blackmer received a certificate of appropriateness for demolition in October from the history group, which also put a 365-day delay on such action. The intent was to give the community and the commission time to find a way to save the house.
The year draws to a close Oct. 9, and efforts to find a solution that preserves the 1821 structure have been unsuccessful. The latest attempt by the committee, an April 9 letter, received no response.
“It’s hard to tell if he does plan to go forward with the demolition,” said Judy Kandl, a committee member.
The letter the committee revised Thursday said the history group will assume Blackmer plans to demolish the building, given his lack of response, and asks for any photos, drawings, descriptions or other information he can provide about the home’s history.
The North Carolina Historic Preservation Office requires the city to create a historical record for any structure listed in a National Register Historic District that is to be demolished.
Committee members noted the city has helped create these histories in the past and would probably help in this case as well.
Still, they would like to have Blackmer’s help.
“It doesn’t make sense to go from ‘I’d like to make it a museum’ to ‘I have nothing to contribute,’ ” said Susan Hurt, a committee member.
She was referring to the desire Blackmer has expressed in creating a memorial or museum of some sort for his parents, the house’s former owners, actors Sidney and Suzanne Blackmer.
Blackmer earlier said he would sell the house if it could be kept as a public building with at least one room devoted to his parents. He has said he isn’t interested in selling the house to become a private home again. However, he can’t afford to restore the house to make it inhabitable.
The house has historical significance for the city beyond its age. It served as a residence for out-of-town girls at Salisbury Academy in the 1800s before it was turned into a private house.
In addition to working on a letter to Blackmer, the committee discussed what might happen next.
Chris Branham, Code Services Manager for the city, said at any point, even before the 365-day delay is over, Blackmer can apply for a demolition permit.
Before his application could be granted, a hearing would be conducted.
After the hearing, or after Oct. 9 if the hearing were to come first, the permit would be granted. Blackmer would have six months from that point to start the demolition.
If nothing happens, the permit would expire after six months and he would have to go through the process from the beginning, back to getting a certificate of appropriateness.
If Oct. 9 comes and goes and he has not started the process of getting a demolition permit, he will have six months to do so. After six months, the certificate of appropriateness will expire.
He can renew once more, for another six months. After that, like with the demolition permit, he would have to start the process from the beginning.
If nothing happens after Oct. 9 ó a demolition permit or renewal of the certificate of appropriateness ó the only recourse the city or the Historic Preservation Commission has is for Branham to inspect the house and determine that it doesn’t meet minimum housing standards and must be demolished.
If Blackmer were to still do nothing, the city could have the house demolished after two-and-a-half years, leaving Blackmer with the bill in the form of a lien.
There’s yet another caveat, though. Branham can’t go into the house to inspect it without just cause, something like seeing structural problems that don’t meet minimum standards just by looking at it from the street. He could also go inside if at least five citizens sign a petition asking for an inspection.
So theoretically, the house could sit for years more without being restored or demolished.
The committee’s next step is to finalize the letter to Blackmer and hope for a response.
“There’s nothing else for the committee to do because … there’s nothing else we can follow up with,” said Kandl.
Added Hurt, “It’s too bad.”