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Planners and preservationists join forces to encourage historic rehabilitation.


You can't tell by looking at the rambling two-story house on Gorrell Street that it once played host to some of the world's finest black entertainers.

It looks like one of a number of dilapidated homes in southeast Greensboro, with boarded-up windows, peeling paint and a shaky frame surrounding its five tall stone chimneys. Even the sign, once lit to welcome overnight guests, is rusted so that you can barely read the words ``Magnolia House Motel.'But when Sam Pass looks at the house, he sees past the problems. Pass, who bought the house recently with plans to restore it, sees a grand and ornate city landmark, a tribute to the history of the city's black community.

``The Magnolia was one of the first - if not the first - black motels in Greensboro,' Pass said Monday. ``During the era of segregation, the celebrities that worked what they called 'the chitlin' circuit' used to stay there. It's housed people like Joe Tex, Count Basie, Ike and Tina Turner. Jackie Robinson supposedly stayed there.'

Pass' dream is to restore the wood and gray stone house and have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But before that can happen, he needs to locate funding for the project - which could total more than $100,000 before restoration is complete.

He'll begin seeking that money this week, when the city of Greensboro hosts a two-day workshop on historic preservation and community development.

Thursday and Friday, representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the N.C. Division of Archives and History, and local preservationists will help Greensboro residents learn how to finance, renovate and maintain historic homes, particularly in low-income areas. It's one of the most comprehensive programs the city has sponsored since the Ole Asheboro neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places four years ago. The workshop will include:

panel discussions about federal historic preservation guidelines;

advice for handling rehabilitation pitfalls, such as lead-based paint removal; and

comparisons with other communities dealing with preservation in low-income neighborhoods.

The highlight of the two-day workshop will be a presentation by Addie Powell, an architectural historian from Augusta, Ga. Powell has spent years researching African-American architecture, and has traced 19th-century buildings in black communities back to their African origins. A presentation on the Ole Asheboro and Arlington Park rehabilitation efforts will follow Powell's talk Thursday night.

``We're going to try to do some education in the area of historic preservation,' community planner Mike Cowhig said. ``These are the things that the Asheboro and Arlington Park neighborhoods have been asking for for a long time.'

On Friday, area lenders, contractors and inspectors will walk workshop participants through the steps involved in buying and rehabilitating an older home. Cowhig hopes it will provide an opportunity for people to consider buying one of the 10 boarded-up houses the city owns in the Old Asheboro community.

So far, only a few people have entered ``serious' bids for the houses, he said. By showing residents the financing options available to them, Cowhig believes the workshop may encourage more folks - like Pass - to take on one of the renovation projects.

Pass, who lives in the Ole Asheboro neighborhood, already has begun gutting the inside of the Magnolia House. He wants to fully restore the house to its condition in 1890 - the year city records indicate it was built. Then he hopes to open it as a boarding house for female students in school at nearby Bennett College and N.C. A&T.

``I bought the house because of its historic value in the African-American community,' he said. ``It's a heck of a big project. But the city - the whole country - needs it. We're making something happen to preserve our strong heritage.'



What: Preservation workshop

When: Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., dinner program 6-8:30 p.m.; Friday: 8 a.m.-noon

Where: Thursday's sessions will be at the Greensboro Hilton, 303 N. Elm St. Dinner Thursday and Friday's sessions will be at The Depot, 300 E. Washington St.

Cost: $25 for complete workshop; $10 for Thursday dinner program only. Free to residents of Ole Asheboro and Arlington Park. Reservations required; call 373-2349.


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