Blackmer home will likely be torn down soon

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
Jonathan Blackmer’s family home at 112 S. Fulton St. has been in limbo for years. Badly damaged by a fire in 1984, it sits vacant and forlorn, although the raccoons don’t seem to mind setting up camp there.
Blackmer says there’s “a very real possibility” that he will soon tear down the home he grew up in as the son of Sidney and Suzanne Blackmer.
When a fire tore through the home in 1984, the insurance had lapsed, and Suzanne Blackmer could not afford to rebuild it. The home sat vacant for decades while she lived in a New York City apartment. Now, it’s owned by Jonathan Blackmer.
Over the years it has been shored up several times by Historic Salisbury Foundation in anticipation of its eventual restoration.
That restoration, however, seems increasingly unlikely.
In 2008, Blackmer asked the Salisbury Historic Preservation Commission for permission to tear the house down, explaining that to restore it would be “astronomically expensive.” He estimated the cost at $400,000.
In an alternative scenario, Blackmer agreed to donate the house to “any public use” — which would rule out those who might want to restore the home as a private residence. His only stipulation, he says, is that one of the rooms be set aside as a place to display memorabilia from his parents’ stage and film careers.
In 2008, a certificate of appropriateness for the request to tear the house down was approved. But demolition was delayed for a year as a grace period to give the Historic Preservation Commission time to explore options in saving the house.
Of course that grace period has long since expired, and no plan that meets Blackmer’s stipulations has been proposed.
Blackmer still holds out some hope, however small, that demolition can be avoided.
He says he would love to donate a collection that includes stills from his father’s silent film “The Perils of Pauline,” as well as playbills, scripts, movies and letters his parents wrote to one another.
“They need to be archived somewhere. Why not here?” he asks.
“My goal is to have something in this town that reflects his (Sidney’s) contribution to the arts, to North Carolina and to the city of Salisbury,” says Blackmer, who believes his father’s accomplishments are greater than most people know.
Back in 1919, actors were poorly treated by management, Jonathan says. His father helped to lead the first strike on Broadway, which led to the creation of Actors Equity. He also worked with Gov. Sanford to create the North Carolina School of the Arts, Jonathan says.
“People forget that,” he adds.
Blackmer’s position is that unless someone comes forward now, the reasonable thing for him to do is to have the house demolished so the land can be sold.
When might that happen?
“Soon,” he says.
The home dates back to 1821 when it was constructed by John Fulton. It was used as a residence for young girls who attended Salisbury Academy.
In 1848, the building became a school under the guidance of local leaders, including John Ellis, who later became North Carolina governor. A.J. Mock acquired the property in 1863, and Sidney Blackmer purchased the home from the Mock family in 1931.