Historic preservation chief role

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 9, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Cynthia Cole Jenkins’ enthusiasm for the Stokes-Snider House is contagious.
As she walks through the neoclassical revival home for sale at 324 N. Fulton St., the new director for Historic Salisbury Foundation describes special features in each room, interrupting herself often to laugh or share stories inspired by the house from her own childhood.
She points out pocket doors in the parlor, hidden for years until the foundation pulled up the carpet, allowing them to roll out.
A small nook off the dining room flooded with sunlight, probably used to grow and display plants. A massive attic with not one, not two, but three cedar-lined closets.
And her favorite — a large, airy kitchen, complete with pantry and farmhouse sink.
“This is the perfect kid house,” Jenkins said. “If I were 20 years younger, I would buy it myself.”
Jenkins and Historic Salisbury Foundation will host a cocktail party fundraiser Friday night at the 4,700-square-foot home, which they will decorate with affordable furniture, rugs and window treatments to show how a modern family can live in a house built in 1922.
Jenkins’ descriptions and love of detail likely will do more to sell the $390,000 home than any yard sign or flier.
As Jenkins enters her third month at the helm of one of Salisbury’s preservation power players, Friday’s unique event says a lot about her attitude toward historic preservation and the direction she will take Historic Salisbury Foundation.
“You don’t need a $50,000 secretary and a houseful of antiques to live in an historic home like this,” Jenkins said.
Historic homes sometimes intimidate people, including young families and new homebuyers. But older homes provide good value for their price and can offer higher quality construction than their newer counterparts, Jenkins said.
“I believe buildings need to be lived in and used,” she said.
And the best use of the Stokes-Snider House, whose special features include two jack-and-jill bathrooms, two staircases, a sunroom and more nooks and crannies than an English muffin?
That’s easy.
“This house needs six kids running around and about four or five dogs,” Jenkins said.
• • •
Jenkins wants younger people to appreciate historic preservation. For that to happen, preservationists need to reach out, she said.
Preservation awareness and education top a list of goals for Jenkins in her new job.
“I want people to understand the importance of historic structures today,” she said.
The rising popularity of sustainable development could boost her efforts. Jenkins sees historic preservation and sustainability as one and the same.
In the past 50 years, America has become a disposable society, including abandoning old homes and buildings, she said. Preserving and reusing those structures can maximize the use of existing materials and infrastructure, as well as reduce waste.
Not to mention, preserve the historic character of a city, she said.
Plus, it’s usually cheaper to rehabilitate an old building rather than construct a new one, Jenkins said.
“You’re almost always better off using what you’ve got,” she said.
As part of her sustainability campaign, Jenkins wants to pursue the infill of vacant lots in the city.
“There are a number of spaces in the core of Salisbury just screaming for buildings to be built on them,” she said.
The foundation owns 17 properties, including several vacant lots purchased to prevent the wrong type of construction from going up, she said. In most cases, the foundation has no specific plans for these vacant spaces.
“Sometimes, you just have to play a waiting game,” Jenkins said. “Preservation is a profession of patience.”
And sometimes, patience isn’t enough. The former executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, Jenkins and other preservationists filed a lawsuit in 2004 against Charleston for approving plans for a 10-story hotel on historic Marion Square, which they argued was too high.
The legal battle continues, and Jenkins said she believes the case will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
• • •
In 2011, Jenkins would like to sell two properties: The Stokes-Snider House, donated to Historic Salisbury Foundation when Kate Mills Snider died in 2006; and the 1882 Bernhardt House at 305 E. Innes St., which the foundation re-purchased last year after it was foreclosed with another owner.
Some will consider that goal unrealistic in today’s economy, but Historic Salisbury Foundation managed to sell four properties in 2010, making it the envy of many historic revolving funds.
The foundation has been successful at finding people willing to buy homes in transitional neighborhoods. Jenkins calls these folks pioneers.
“It takes a person with foresight and vision and fortitude to go in and turn a neighborhood around,” she said. “I’ve seen that work in Salisbury a number of times.”
Highlighting architectural gems in an historic neighborhood, such as Brooklyn South Square, can attract homebuyers, she said.
So can appealing to their pocketbook.
“They are getting these homes at a better price,” she said.
• • •
During her two-month tenure, Jenkins hasn’t directed any official efforts regarding two controversial historic properties in Salisbury, the Shober Bridge and the Blackmer House.
“Those are on the back burner right now,” she said.
The foundation is waiting to hear Norfolk Southern Railway’s reply to a surprise decision last year by Salisbury City Council to pursue rehabilitation, not replacement, of the wooden bridge on Ellis Street.
Local preservationists have been trying for years to salvage the Blackmer House at 112 S. Fulton St. The 1821 house is tied to the late actors Sidney and Suzanne Blackmer and also to the city’s early development.
So far, Jenkins’ time has been consumed with repairs at the Bernhardt House, preventing a home demolition on Kesler Street and aiding the creation of the Salisbury Historic Preservation Master Plan.
May is National Historic Preservation Month, and the foundation is hosting a number of events including the annual Historic Preservation Awards May 26 and Friday’s cocktail fundraiser at the Stokes-Snider House.
Originally home to Dr. J. Ernest Stokes, one of the South’s eminent surgeons, the property still features his former medical office, now used as a potting shed.
Dr. John Whitehead invited Stokes to Salisbury in 1899, and together they championed the Whitehead-Stokes Sanitorium, which grew over the years to a 60-bed hospital at the corner of North Fulton and Liberty streets, a block away from the house.
Arnold and Kate Mills Snider were only the second owners. Jenkins is hoping to find the third owners Friday.
The Stokes-Snider House is in move-in condition. A young couple or family would not have to break the bank to add a few touches like new faucets and awnings to update the house and live quite comfortably, Jenkins said.
Want to go?
What: Cocktail party fundraiser for Historic Salisbury Foundation
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Dr. Stokes-Snider House, 324 N. Fulton St.
Why: To raise money for Historic Salisbury Foundation and interest potential buyers. The house will be decorated to showcase modern living in an historic home.
How much: $25 to attend the party, $390,000 to buy the house
RSVP: Buy tickets online at www.HistoricSalisbury.org, by phone at 704-636-0103 or in person at 215 Depot St. The deadline is Thursday.
Parking: Available at First Baptist Church, 223 N. Fulton St.