BRIGHTLEAF SQUARE / WATTS & YUILLE

The Watts and Yuille tobacco warehouses were constructed in 1904 and named after two executives of the American Tobacco company. The warehouses are very similar in pattern to the Toms and Hicks warehouses on Duke St. (West Village Apts.), both sets of which followed a similar pattern to the earlier Walker Warehouse, which had been built in 1897.


Watts and Yuille Warehouses, 1970s


The original Brightleaf ‘courtyard’.

The warehouses were used up until the 1970s by Liggett and Myers. They were sold in 1980 to a development company headed by Terry Sanford, Jr. Along with architect Eddie Belk, they began the first ‘downtown’s comin’ back’ project, renovating the warehouses as retail on the first floor and office space on the second floor. Early tenants such as Fowler’s and Morgan Imports helped make the project successful and a ‘proof of concept’ of what could be done with fallow warehouse space in Durham.

The initial configuration of the buildings, while innovative, reflected the accepted ‘mall’ ideas of the time. Almost all businesses were entered off of a hallway inside the building. Only Fowler’s (where Chamas is now) had an exterior entrance. The central courtyard, although pleasant enough was primarily a pedestrian walkway rather than truly functional space.


Brightleaf courtyard, ~2000

The courtyard, while pleasant enough, had no clear definition or order to pedestrian space. Building access reads as difficult with iron fencing and the stairway facing away from the entrance to courtyard.

By 2004, even megamalls like Southpoint had embraced the idea of a streetscape. Ken Kauffman of Urban Retail Asssociates (who also worked on Union Station in DC) persuaded Sanford to revamp the courtyard and buildings such that the stores had exterior entrances off of the courtyard with outside dining and other ‘street furniture’/lighting that made the courtyard into functional public space. The result (designed by landscape architects Coulter, Jewell, and Thames and architects Roughton, Nickelson, and Deluca) is a space that is far more pleasant, even vibrant on weekend nights when the weather is good.


Brightleaf Courtyard, 2006.

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