The History and Future of the Williams House

Cary, NC – If you have been through Downtown Cary, you likely saw how the historic Williams House has moved down E Chatham Street. Learn about the house’s history, its connection to radio in the Triangle and what will become of the house in its new location.

Williams House

The Williams House, currently in its new location

Downtown History

The Williams House on E Chatham Street was moved in mid-November 2018 from its location at the corner of Chatham and Urban Drive to across from the Midtown Square building. The house, now owned by Chatham Street Commercial, was relocated to make room for the Chatham Walk project.

The house, built in the late 1930s, stands out among Cary houses for a number of reasons. For starters, it has Streamline Moderne architecture, which is a late Art Deco style.

“To Cary, it’s a very unique design. There are no other examples like it in Cary,” said Jordan Gussenhoven, founder and owner of Chatham Street Commercial.

The construction of the house itself is also unique. It was built by the Rickman Brick Company in 1938 and has a brick floor with wire reinforcement as well as a terracotta ceiling.

“The brick mason who looked at the house said he was surprised by the design,” Gussenhoven said.

Photos of the house from decades past also show it was all white painted brick, as opposed to the exposed red brick of the building now, after the paint was sandblasted off.

Williams House

CY Jordan’s family in front of the Williams House in 1953. The radio tower can be seen in the background.

Over the Airwaves

These photos also show a radio transceiver by the house. The Durham Life Insurance company bought the land where the Williams House was originally located in 1933, before selling it to the Rickman Brick Company. The Durham Life Insurance company at the time owned WPTF, the Raleigh radio station that is still operating and broadcasting news today.

Tony Riggsbee with WPTF said the station never broadcast outside of their main Raleigh studio so there was no programming done at the Williams House.

“Power was raised effective June 10, 1933 to 5,000 watts days and 1,000 watts nights from a new transmitting site at Cary, North Carolina, some seven miles west of Raleigh. Two new 370 foot Ideco towers were installed there to support the station’s antenna,” according to the WPTF website.

Interestingly, there is another building further east on Chatham Street that housed this equipment, and it had similar architecture as the Williams House.

Williams House

The other WPTF transceiver building on Hillsborough Street

There is one other radio connection to the Williams House and it explains the commonly used name. The Williams family owned the house for only between 1939 and 1945, but their name was associated with the house because they were local celebrities. H. Felton Williams and Margaret Fussell, who both worked for WPTF, were married on the radio, which was a first for Raleigh.

Williams House

The newspaper article from the Williams on-air wedding in 1931, published in the News & Observer

Williams House Future

Now that the Williams House has been relocated, Gussenhoven said it will be restored and rebuilt for a mix of retail and office.

“We will be restoring the original portion and bringing back the white-painted brick,” Gussenhoven said. “We’ll show what it looked like in the past.”

The back half of the house was not moved with the rest of the building, as Gussenhoven said this part was more degraded than the front.

“There was water drainage damage. The back was also all structured walls so the rooms were chopped up,” Gussenhoven said. “It was more feasible to move the front half.”

But the bricks from the back half of the house were saved and Gussenhoven said they will be using them to reassemble walls in the house’s reconstruction.

The addition to the back of the Williams House will also include nods to the original architecture, Gussenhoven said.

Williams House

Render of Chatham Street Commercial’s plan for the Williams House


Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Michael Papich, Carla Michaels, Chatham Street Commercial, Google Maps and the News & Observer.

18 replies
  1. Gabe Talton
    Gabe Talton says:

    I remember my grandmother getting so torn up listening to Wrestle with Kwesell from WPTF! Kwesell was the first Republican I ever heard at length other than Jesse Helms. And I remember that one show that was like a Facebook Buy, Sell, Trade group but on the radio. The addition adds way too much square footage and dwarfs the original structure. But it is not reasonable to expect an investor to under build a prime Chatham Street property. We are lucky the original structure is salvaged.

    Reply
  2. Jim Schmid
    Jim Schmid says:

    This entire area of downtown Cary has been transformed by Mr. Gussenhovan. Kudos to him he has done a wonderful job along with Mr. Jordan. The new space will be a great addition. Looking forward to all of the future projects in the pipeline!

    Reply
  3. Jim Schmid
    Jim Schmid says:

    This is going to be another great piece to what has become a great area in downtown Cary. Chatham Street Develpment has done so much recently with much more in the works. Kudos to Mr. Gussenhovan for developing with the future in mind. Keep it going!

    Reply
  4. George McDowell
    George McDowell says:

    It is difficult if not impossible to argue taste objectively, but I say, subjectively, that ANYTHING is preferable to Cary’s profusion of rectangular brick buildings featuring sans-serif neon signs.

    Reply
  5. Linda B Fuller
    Linda B Fuller says:

    As a fan of Art Deco design, I have long admired the Williams house…I even remember when it was moved from across the street! I am glad that the salvageable integrity of the house has been kept and even like the addition that is planned. Definitely a case of preservaton married to re-purposing.

    Reply
    • Brent
      Brent says:

      I trust you’ve seen the rendering? The addition is a huge modern monstrosity.

      The tiny part of the Williams house is Barry a foyer.

      This isn’t preservation.

      Reply
      • Johnny Jones
        Johnny Jones says:

        disagree strongly, there are more rendering on the developers site. excellent marriage of new and old & perfect fit for the area. obviously a matter of taste though.

        Reply
        • Brent
          Brent says:

          It’s not a matter of taste, it’s a matter of preservation standards, and this monstrosity addition falls woefully short .

          This “marriage” is a shotgun wedding. It’s not preservation, it’s a travesty.

          Reply
          • Brent
            Brent says:

            The house was indeed in bad shape. Many of us did advocate for its preservation .

            Had the developer preserved it in its current state, that would have been a victory.

            But the planned monstrosity addition mocks preservation .

            Please no more until you educate yourself on preservation standards .

        • Brent
          Brent says:

          You are indeed entitled to your opinion. My opinion is informed by preservation standards and I know that this travesty doesn’t meet accepted standards.

          It’s truly pathetic.

          Reply
          • johnny jones
            johnny jones says:

            historical or not, the house was extremely neglected from what I’ve read could not be completely salvaged. the developer is doing a great service in preserving what is left. you should have beat this drum before it fell into this condition. please no more.

  6. Brent
    Brent says:

    The Williams House is a local treasure, with architecture almost not seen in this area.

    Although I typically celebrate the saving of a local historic property, the monstrosity addition that is planned to be attached behind the house is a travesty.

    Reply
  7. Bob C,
    Bob C, says:

    I wonder how many folks remember when under the ownership of Durham Life, that they said WPTF was an abbreviation for “We Protect the Family”. One of our first long gone TV stations telecasting from Western Blvd near Pullen Park was WNAO, News and Observer.

    Reply

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