Our View: Can the Kilby be saved?

Oct. 12, 2013 @ 07:49 PM

The Kilby Hotel has a long, colorful past as a lodging, entertainment and business venue for black travelers and High Point’s black community during decades of segregation and after.
But the future of Washington Street’s storied, former hotel could well be short.
Last Monday, the High Point City Council voted 6-3 to deny a request by property owners to extend the city’s Oct. 21 deadline for making progress toward repairs. After that date, barring work that would cause the city to stop proceedings, city officials will commence obtaining authorizations the city needs to demolish the structure built 100 years ago.
The city is pursuing demolition because planning, zoning and legal officials believe the structure is unsafe and that the city would incur liability if someone were injured or killed by debris falling from the building. Within the past two or three years, the roof of the building caved in, resulting in damage to its three levels of floors.
The property’s owners, Burnie McElrath of High Point and her daughter, Myra Williams of Greensboro, during Monday’s meeting told City Council that an engineer’s report prepared for the family earlier this year notes exterior walls are “in surprisingly good condition.” They contend the structure is not in imminent danger of collapsing.
Family members also told City Council they were working with Guilford County and state historic preservation officials to identify funding sources for preservation measures that could save the structure.
Money, as usual, is playing a key role in this matter. The family members have said they don’t have the estimated $175,000 to $300,000 to stabilize, clean-up and protect the structure to prevent demolition. Williams said Thursday that she is trying to get a charitable organization designation set up so contributions to the preservation effort could be tax deductible. Some community leaders such as Lawrence Graves also are trying to help.
But any solution will be complex. And no one seems to have one.
Perhaps some kind of private-public partnership might be possible in order to provide the organizational structure needed to undertake such a preservation and fundraising project. Maybe something could be done in conjunction with an effort to save John Coltrane’s boyhood home a few blocks away. At the very least, a concrete plan to alleviate the city’s safety/liability concerns is needed ... and soon.
The Kilby Hotel, the Kilby Club it housed, and other attached businesses were at the heart of High Point’s black business and entertainment community during the early- to mid-20th century. It would be a huge loss if the hotel and its history — both oral and recorded — were lost. Time for action to preserve it is running short.