Timeline for the Louis Cherry / Marsha Gordon House, 516 Euclid, Raleigh NC
"The Cherry/Gordon house is an example of modern architecture trying hard, very hard, to be on its best manners—in essence, to be a good neighbor. It’s hard to imagine how Cherry could have designed a house that fit in better than the one that now stands half-finished on Euclid Street, unless he were prepared to throw in the towel and produce a make-believe Victorian." -- Paul Goldberger, Vanity Fair
Want to help with the enormous legal costs of defending houses like these from lawsuits ($50,000+)?
The site in Raleigh NC was previously an empty lot.
The 2100-square-foot house was designed in 2013 by owner/architect Louis Cherry. Because the house is in the Oakwood Historic District, Cherry received the mandated Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) building approval September 9, 2013 from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission (RHDC) after fully complying with the RHDC’s requirements.Cherry started construction on October 24.
On October 1, neighbor Gail Wiesner (515 Euclid, across the street) went before the City Council to complain about the RHDC ruling. The Council listened politely. Then Wiesner and her attorney, Andy Petesch, appealed the RHDC ruling to the Board of Adjustment (BOA) on November 17, appearing before them in December 2013. The BOA deferred discussion until January.
Note that contrary to published reports, Wiesner filed the appeal AFTER Cherry started construction, not the reverse.
Former NC Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said, "It is a living district and should continue to allow new construction consistent with the RHDC guidelines,” Conti wrote to the Raleigh City Council. “When a house receives RHDC approval, it should not be reversible just because some residents don’t like it.”
Christopher Roberts, President of the American Institute of Architects / Triangle Chapter
wrote the Mayor and City Council in support of Cherry and RHDC.
The BOA's reversal became official March 10. Here are the minutes from that meeting. WRAL reported that night as did WTVD.
Cherry's attorney Nick Fountain said his client's options are to re-apply to the RHDC, file an appeal with the Wake County Superior Court, or both.
On March 11, Preservation North Carolina's Myrick Howard wrote about the issue in the News and Observer.
On March 12, someone (not Cherry or Gordon) started a Twitter account speaking as the voice of the "house." The "house" has an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. This person's identity is as yet unknown. About the same time, someone (not Gail Wiesner) started a Twitter account representing themselves as Gail Wiesner. The latter account has, appropriately, been shut down.
The Indy did a followup story, as did Todd Morman, the guiding hand behind Monkey Time, clip above. Fast forward to 8:20.
On March 13, Cherry and Gordon wrote to the City Council. Midtown Raleigh News reported: Raleigh City Attorney Dorothy Leapley said the board failed to establish whether Wiesner has the right to challenge Cherry’s permits. She said Wiesner would need to offer proof that her property value will be affected – something that didn’t happen during Board of Adjustment hearings. “The courts said simply living across the street wasn’t good enough in itself,” Leapley said. Leapley said Wiesner’s role is among several issues the board failed to resolve. The attorney also said the ruling needs to be based on the “physical environment” of the entire Oakwood neighborhood, not individual streets or homes.
12 former RHDC Chairs (1969-2008) wrote the Raleigh City Council urging them to appeal the BOA ruling.
On March 17, the Editors of the News and Observer wrote: "The Raleigh City Council has some serious rule-changing to do. Cherry and his wife never should have been put in this position. Should the board’s ruling stand, the couple could lose a fortune in having to tear down a perfectly good (and perfectly appropriate) house. They should not have to hire a lawyer to fight this. The city has an obligation to see to it that the Board of Adjustment’s ruling is overturned. This was a huge error in judgment. And it must be corrected." Later that day, WNCN reported that Cherry and Gordon urged the City Council to pursue an appeal.
On March 14, a closed meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Oakwood took place. The long-standing neighborhood preservation group, going back decades, has not taken a public position on the controversy. The meeting was covered by WTVD with comments by Preservation North Carolina's Myrick Howard.
On March 18, the Raleigh City Council discussed the matter in closed session as reported by WTVD. NCModernist announced a press conference for Friday, 11am, at the house. Gail Wiesner and Joy Weeber stop giving on-air media appearances.
On March 19, NCModernist's George Smart appeared on Todd Morman's Monkey Time, above, to discuss Modernism in Raleigh and the Oakwood controversy.
On March 20, opposing Oakwood residents announced their own press conference for 10am Friday at the Jones Street home of Ellen and David Nightingale. Hours later, the City of Raleigh announced it will file an appeal to overturn the Board of Adjustment decision, covered by WRAL and WTVD.
There was also a report and video by Allen Breed of the Associated Press which was syndicated to newspapers around the world. Photo by Breed above of Gordon and Cherry; their house is on the right, Gail Wiesner's 2008 house to the left.
The Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors sent this letter to City Council in support of the City's decision to pursue an appeal of the BOA.
On March 21, opponents of the Cherry/Gordon house held their 10am press conference on Jones Street, left, including Will Hillebrenner and Mary Iverson. According to reporter Colin Campbell, who took the above photos: Society for Preservation of Historic Oakwood issues statement on today's opposition news conference: they "are not speaking for the Society."
An hour later, NCModernist held their press conference at the Cherry/Gordon House, right photo. NCModernist Board Chair George Smart announced the NCModernist Legal Defense Fund, with comments by Marsha Gordon and Louis Cherry. 35 supporters from Oakwood, Raleigh, and the Triangle attended, covered by WNCN, WRAL, and WTVD. People from all over the country have contributed and continue to do so.
On March 30, the house made the front page of the News and Observer, featuring a video by Colin Campbell. On April 7, Cherry and Gordon obtained an injunction in Superior Court to allow construction continuation for completion of the roof, siding, heating, and other necessities to prevent damage.
The Cherry/Gordon House has become one of Raleigh's tourist attractions. Here's a Segway tour group going past what has become a regular stop.
On April 13, 65 enthusiastic supporters gathered at the Modernist home of Mack Paul to celebrate the kickoff of the NCModernist Legal Defense Fund. Special guests included owner/architect Louis Cherry, the star of Monkey Time (Todd Morman), and owner Marsha Gordon.
On April 17, an opposition group called Oak City Preservation Alliance created a nonprofit LLC and later a website. Organized by Paula Huot, who is also the moderator for the non-aligned Society for the Preservation of Oakwood neighborhood listserv, OCPA actively opposes the Cherry/Gordon house as well as a condo development in Charlotte. Other incorporators include Mary Iverson and Heather Scott.
From left, Mary Iverson, Will Hillebrenner and Heather Scott. Photo by Allen Breed.
On April 29, architecture critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Goldberger of Vanity Fair wrote about the house and NCModernist's Legal Defense Fund. That story was echoed by the News and Observer and Triangle Business Journal then with extensive detail and video on April 30 by the London Daily Mail.
The TODAY Show on NBC did a segment on May 1. Al Roker commented at the end, “They got their plans approved by the city. They got permits. Come on!”
On May 6, blogger Maureen Rogers of Boston spread a little love, as did these bikers above!
On June 28, led by Dave Weisner (husband of Gail), a fundraising BBQ was held in Oakwood to support their case.
On July 13, the New York Times reported on the controversy which magnified the case around the world once again.
On August 17, NCModernist held a special LDF fundraising event at a private museum in the historic district of Hillsborough NC.
Mike Welton covered the case in two articles in his blog Architects+Artisans plus a subsequent article based on the blog on the Huffington Post.
In August, according to WNCN, Donald Mutrud said the modern home is why he decided to buy on the same block. "That was one of the deciding factors to pull the trigger on my house," Mutrud said. Mutrud along with supporters believe the house is a good thing for Oakwood. "There is a group of us that wants to make sure that it's known that we think it's compatible with things in this district," Mary Dillon said. "That will add to the richness and diversity of the neighborhood."
The case went to Wake County Superior Court over two days in August. NCModernist covered the trial via Twitter. Judge Elaine Bushfan was brought in from Durham to provide impartiality. News coverage came from WTVD, WRAL, the News and Observer, and even the Daily Mail in the UK. Watch Day 1 and Day 2 streamed by WRAL.
Meanwhile, the "house" continued to tweet and became famous.
On September 10, City of Raleigh attorney Dorothy Leapley issued this memo to the City. On September 11, WRAL,Architect Magazine, and WTVD all reported an upcoming ruling in favor of the Raleigh/Cherry/Gordon team.
The formal ruling was issued September 15. As summarized by the News and Observer, it said:
Wiesner didn’t have legal grounds to fight the house, which was initially approved by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission nearly a year ago. Wiesner couldn’t prove she would “suffer an immediate or threatened injury distinct from the general community." This means she had no legal standing to bring action against Cherry/Gordon. Bushfan also determined that the city’s Board of Adjustment overstepped its authority when it yanked approvals for the Modernist house. “The Board of Adjustment improperly reweighed the evidence and substituted its own judgment for that of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission,” she wrote. The ruling allowed construction to resume on the Cherry/Gordon house.
In October 2014, the neighborhood came together to landscape the Cherry/Gordon front yard in an old-style "yardraising." Gail and David Wiesner filed to take the case to the NC Court of Appeals. However, the Raleigh Board of Adjustment decided to drop out of the suit.
In November 2014, NCModernist and OCPA joined forces to oppose an unrelatedLandmark de-designation case in Raleigh. And later that month, Cherry and Gordon finally moved in.
The NC Court of Appeals heard the case in August 2015. Representing Wiesner, attorney Andy Petesch argued that standing was established simply because Cherry/Gordon's house was "incongruous" with the rest of the neighborhood, thus causing his client "special damages," none of which he could specify.Additional arguments on how the RHDC acted encouraged more questions from the judges about Wiesner's standing, for which Petesch cited the Sanchez and Mangum cases as precedent. Cherry/Gordon's counsel Phillip Harris pointed out these cases actually support Bushfan's ruling, and that speculative arguments or simple differences in architectural tastes are not special damages and do not establish legal standing.
In February 2016, the NC Court of Appeals found Wiesner had no legal standing and ruled in favor of Cherry/Gordon. Coverage here, here, and here. The house celebrated on its Twitter account.
In March 2016, Wiesner appealed again, this time to the NC Supreme Court, which declined to rule on the case in August of 2016. The matter appeared to be closed.
On February 7, 2017, Gail Wiesner, her husband Dave, Don Baucom, Paula Huot, and Matthew Brown appeared before the Raleigh City Council concerning final approval of Developmental Guidelines for all Raleigh Historic Districts (not just Oakwood). Discussions on these guidelines have been going on nearly ten years with countless public hearings and RHDC meetings. It was to have been summarily approved at this Council meeting. However, the Oakwood group put forward a last-minute revision to eliminate any Modernist houses or even renovations in ANY Raleigh Historic district, as follows:
The City Council voted to approve the Guidelines without this language.
In March 2017, DWELL covered the saga.