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2021 Award of Merit: Morganton

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

202 South Sterling

2021 NC Main Street Award: Design

Best Historic Rehabilitation Project

  • Thornwell Properties, LLC

  • Stout Studio Architecture

  • Southeastern Preservation Services

202 South Sterling Street in downtown Morganton was, at one time, occupied by the Burke Garage Company, the second oldest Ford dealership in North Carolina, and later by Giles Motor Company until it closed in 1986. In 2018 it was purchased by Allen and Jean VanNoppen of Thornwell Properties, LLC. Their vision was to renovate the former dealership in a manner that preserved its history, architecture, quality construction, and prominent position in the community, while meeting the need for additional downtown residential, office, and retail space.

The property’s historic preservation and adaptive reuse plan showed the second floor being renovated into apartments with access to a rooftop deck. The first floor incorporated a retail store in the front third, an office space in the middle third, and indoor, secure, private parking in the back third for the second floor residents.

Thornwell Properties hired Stout Studio Architecture of Charlotte and Southeastern Preservation Services in Asheville to complete the rehabilitation. The $2.1 million historic tax credit project included preserving the historic garage and retaining it as a functional private parking garage for residents; retaining the original pressed tin ceiling, mezzanines, balconies, and terracotta tile floors in the front space; preserving original Tupelo tongue and groove flooring, except in cases where deterioration created unsafe conditions; rehabilitating the second floor for six residential units (three one-bedroom and three two-bedroom dwellings); preserving existing heavy timber framing on the second floor and leaving it exposed; preserving and leaving exposed the existing masonry walls of the second floor; and installing new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems sensitively, to protect and reflect the original architecture. In addition, windows and doorways were preserved and protected; original masonry and decorative elements were cleaned, preserved, and protected; and any additional architectural elements required by code or purpose were designed to aesthetically match the original design.

The property is now home to Thornwell Books, a new bookstore and coffee shop in downtown, VanNoppen Marketing, and six apartment units. Over 16,000 square feet are occupied, fourteen people are employed in the building, and all six residential units are leased and generating $900 to $2,000 a month in rent.

In October 2021, Thornwell Properties, LLC, was recognized with a Gertrude S. Carraway Award of Merit for the preservation project at 202 South Sterling Street from Preservation North Carolina.

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