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Gourmet pizzeria, bakery tenants revealed as Five Points building rehab plans advance

With the vote by City Council on March 21 to sell the city-owned building at the corner of Chapel Hill St. and Morris St. to downtown architect/developer Scott Harmon, plans for the renovation of the historic-but-tired structure are moving forward.

Harmon announced on Tuesday that four businesses have committed to the renovation project, which we featured here several weeks ago -- including an "artisanal pizza" shop planned by a once and future Durhamite, and a brick-and-mortar location for a formerly itinerant cupcake business.


The former, a business set to launch as All City Pizza, marks a homecoming for Gray Brooks, who'll debut the restaurant with wife and fellow foodie-vet Cara Stacy. Brooks is a Durham native who's worked for about thirteen years in the Pacific Northwest as a chef for Seattle serial restaurateur and James Beard Award winner Tom Douglas, most recently as the executive chef for Douglas' pizza concept restaurant, Serious Pie.

Serious Pie earns rave reviews from everyone from the mainstream media to social media food sites like Yelp to (I'm not making this up) national pizza blogs. (And given that Douglas appears to have the hype-machine bug in the PNW just like a certain guy whose name rhymes with tax-i-shaw does around here, that's refreshing to see.)

Brooks promises to align his pizza business with -- what else? -- the "farm-to-table culture of Durham." The 2,300 sq. ft. space will have visibility on both Morris and Chapel Hill Sts.

Meanwhile, the project is also promising a new bakery in downtown, this one focused on the apparent craze for cupcakes. "The Cupcake Bar" is the brainchild of Anna Branly and her sister, Katie Braam. 

Branly's name will be familiar to many as a staff member at Greenfire Development during their early growth days, and from her husband Mark's work as the owner of web development firm Neural 9.

But since 2008, Branly and Braam have sold their treats by the dozen, and purveyed individual cupcakes via local coffee-shops, though they have never tried a retail storefront before. According to Harmon:

The Cupcake Bar will sit at the corner of the Five Points building, its entrance under today's clock tower -- which, as the photo above shows, is still slated to become a neon sign if Harmon's team gets its way.

The project also has space purchase commitments from David Scarborough -- founder of downtown tech companies NetFriends and SciMed, and from Harmon and David Arneson's own firm, Center Studio Architecture.

Two first-floor retail spaces and a 2,300 sq. ft. second-floor office space remain for lease. Self-Help and KeySource Bank are supporting project funding via an SBA 504 loan structure.


Search your feelings; you know it to be true

Durham, now...more than ever...

...It's time for a cumberbund.


That rendering isn't going to help Scott's case for the neon "Five Points" sign ... it looks terrible. That thin font, just sort of floating above the building, is not at all what I imagined. I think I was picturing something more sculptural, and located on the actual structure where the clock is now, not above it. And the yellow?

Jessica @ JJsVinBlanc

Yay, two things we really needed!!


This looks amazing. I actually shuttered when the idea of the neon sign was first mentioned - but this fits in well. I think if you pulled the image back and viewed it as one point of 5 Points it will fit in very nicely. I'm no G.K. but it looks in line with previous historical photos of the area.

I can't wait for this to come together.


The original building had really neat rounded windows on the 2nd floor. I didn't think they were going to retain the smooth surface.

I like Scott and I'll be happy to see businesses at that corner again. It broke my heart to see Peacefire and Safari shut down after dealing with their slumlord.


as to natalie's point about the rounded windows in the original building - if this is a tax credit rehab, isn't that a key detail that would have to be restored, or can the windows be restored to a more recent rectangular configuration? maybe scott harmon can comment when he gets to this.


My biggest complaint is the loss of the clock...for some reason, i feel strongly that it should be there...

otherwise, i dont mind the subtle neon sign, and overall, i'm just happy to see those spaces in use, hopefully after regular business hours. we're doing so well getting businesses downtown, now lets give them a reason to stay open past 7pm...


I love the neon sign, thin font over building looks great.

And i'm happy that some really talented people are opening fun businesses there. I do feel like we are reaching pizza overload in this town though: Pop's, Broad Street, Enzo's, Mellow Mushroom, Klausies, The new pie pushers trailer, Randy's, Satisfaction, Devil's. But if it's something differnt from those then i'll welcome it..especially if it has delicious toppings like Lily's in Raleigh.


I hope there is deep dish on the menu...

Tar Heelz

Excellent proposal.

It would seem that the architectural approach is to take efforts at conserving this building's 1954 appearance. While the building itself dates back to at least 1910, there are good arguments to be made that a 1950s look better captures the architectural significance of the site.

Tenants come and go. Not sure we should be so focused on what sort of restaurant is first to occupy space.

The roof signage is great. (Take a look through the hundreds of Downtown Durham photos on Endangered Durham. A compelling case can be made that our City's various, modern sign ordinances have cost our traditional commercial centers dearly.)

Rob Gillespie

I still want to see "Renowned the world around" go up there. Of course, some would argue it's "Renowned for tearin' shit down", but that's another story.


Speaking of pizza - I just learned abruptly that Pop's Backdoor's downtown location has closed. They're running it all out of Shannon Road now. Me = DEVASTATED.

Scott Harmon

Thanks, everyone, for all the comments. The arched clock from the 1980's is definitely not long for this world. With the anticipated update of the downtown Historic District, the period of significance is expected to be advanced from 1932 up to the early 1960's. The 1954 renovation of this building is the appropriate restoration goal.

No one would argue that the loss of the original late 1800's details is a travesty...those details are simply gone and not recoverable, and creating new features to duplicate older versions of the building is not an appropriate preservation strategy. Fortunately, there are wonderful interior details from the original structure that are still in place.

Ah the sign, the sign :) Getting a price for the "Renowned the world around" sign. We'll see. There may be significant planning department hurdles to put anything on the top of the building, unfortunately. Looking forward to drilling deeper on this at the appropriate time.


Serious Pie in Seattle might be the best pizza I have ever had. Really excited about this opening.

Matt Dudek

@Scott - I bet you could do a kickstarter campaign to raise some of the money for a "Durham Renowned..." sign I would give a few bucks.

Kevin Davis

@Matt -- I was thinking the same thing.  This is the town where citizens raised money to rebuild the screen at the Starlite Drive-In, remember.  I bet many of us would chip in to a DURHAM RENOWNED sign on the top of the building.


Another example of citizens paying for restoration of landmarks: The "Bronto" at the museum on Murray Avenue after losing his head.


FWIW, I am not at all opposed to neon signage on this building or anywhere else, but I still think that this particular example doesn't look so hot and it isn't going to help convince any anti-neon folks. I agree that a Durham Renowned the World Around sign would be a good option, but something a little jazzier than what is rendered here would work for me, too. Looking back through some of Endangered Durham, I don't see any signage, neon or otherwise, that looks as plain as the rendered example.

Not to distract from the more important issue - I am very excited for the renovation to happen here, for the new businesses to move in, for Scott Harmon's office to be able to expand, for Scott's existing office to be freed up for something else (great retail location), etc. etc.


Oh, please don't get rid of the clock - without it, the building just looks ordinary/mundane. :/


"Durham Renowned Around the World" is too many words, plus it would be the butt of jokes. Now what aspect of Durham would expect outsiders to get a chuckle out of every time they pass by the sign? Crime rate, maybe??? I'm sorry, but the tag line is too outdated and open to negative interpretation. I'm guessing it was referring to a tobacco product, or at least I think I read that somewhere.

Five Points identifies the location very well, although a retro font and flair might look better. A new clock would be worth getting just to maintain a sense of recent history, and for those of us who don't have pull out our IPhone or light up our Indiglo just to check the time.


Chris: If 1954 is the year you are renovating towards, then I can't think of anything better than a '50s style neon sign to complement the structure.

Rob Gillespie

Here's the story on the sign:


I think "durham renowned" is the best way to tap into the pride of our collective history. @GreenLantern, you've always struck me as the type of person that doesn't care what other people think, why start now?

As seen on the tv show, the Office, Scranton still has their "electric city" sign, which might be the butt of jokes now but taps into the pride of the city's rich history. I would love to see "durham renowned" and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. @Scott, I'd even organize the kickstarter campaign for you if cost is an issue.


But Scott without the clock how will Marty McFly get back home from the future?!? :)

The building doesn't need a clock and if folks need a Durham...World Around sign they can check one out on the wall outside JC Penny's at Southpoint.


"and creating new features to duplicate older versions of the building is not an appropriate preservation strategy. Fortunately, there are wonderful interior details from the original structure that are still in place."

this strikes me as contradictory. the old building was beautiful in the pictures I've seen. I'm am not equally moved by the above rendering. And the stark unadorned font as branding? Neon as novelty in the 50's may have worked, but Happy Days?
Sharks and Jets, egads.


@Clif. I can understand how that seems contradictory, but I think Scott is using preservation in the sense of using and preserving as much of the materials there already. To switch back to the original design would require significantly more materials, work, and supplies, thereby not "preserving" the materials already there.

I agree, the older building is much more attractive, but I can imagine the cost to rebuild what has already been destroyed is just too much. I think this is a case in point of something that should have been preserved 50 years ago.


Would you stick with Progress, Health, Wealth, etc. or Authentic, Innovative, etc.?

I wonder if Cree would provide matching funds?

A contest to update the design among DPS students, The Art Institute, NCCU/Duke Students, etc. would be interesting as well.

I guess I'm voting for the "Durham Renowned" sign :)


M. Dudek- conceded. i suppose i think there is a level of preservation which should take precedent that is not based on the material but the aesthetics.
i'd hate to see myself as a preservationist in 30 years of molded plastic.

@Khalid: a star shaped seems appropriate. many variations i imagine.


"I think "durham renowned" is the best way to tap into the pride of our collective history."


style before substance is not something i'd take pride in. it's equivalent to American exceptionalism in place of fighting for principle and self esteem in place of intelligence and learning.
make art, not statements.

well, there's one argument.

Matt Dudek

@Clif, Maybe "best" is a bit of an overstatement. I think that sign is a fascinating snapshot or artifact of "Durham Exceptionalism." It's a piece of history, and a time I find fascinating. It is all arrogance and pompousness. It makes me picture a barrel chested man in a tuxedo, top hat, and a monocle declaring how great Durham is.

I think for the past 30-50 years Durham has been declaring who we are through RTP, Duke, the ADF, Full Frame, and now the revitalization of Downtown, DPAC, and any other number of projects. The sign is fun and jaunty and connects this high point of Durham's history to past high points.

That's my 3 sentence argument for it. In summary, it's fun!


Durham World Renowned IS a fact! And I'm not just saying that through my Dur'mite lenses.

Makes a great wayfinder as well..."Veer right at the Durham Renowned sign"

The jokes will come regardless but at some point we have to define ourselves. I actually forced a friend from Raleigh (close to Wake Forest) to meet in downtown and they were pleasantly surprised. I haven't heard too many snide Durham remarks lately.


i don't want to monopolize the conversation, but you lost me.
ballet, documentaries, R&D, and creating one's own values don't
evince dandys and blowhards. disney sells fun for 75 dollars a day.
they can keep it.


but you can't veer right at that intersection, can you? wasn't it initially ~two blocks east at Church St.? "veer" meaning not straight.

so, Khalid, you're a moderator on this forum?

Scott Harmon

I truly like the Durham Renowned...idea and don't agree that it would be the butt of jokes. It's too iconic and the larger story behind it is awesome.

City's sign ordinance has to be changed to allow ANY sign on top of a two story building. Hoping to influence some changes to this ordinance, and of course the Local Preservation Commission would have to approve any proposal.

I'll be first to agree that the neon sign is not our best shot at this. We tried a dozen ideas when preparing the submittal of the RFP to the City and ran out of time. Just haven't circled back around to change it. If we decide to go neon, we'll definitely spend more time on the design.

The offer to help with a community-oriented investment in the sign is awesome, and I gratefully accept. Let's resolve the sign ordinance first, though. And Cree will get the first phone call :)

Regarding the restoration strategy, my explanation of this is not an's direct from The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Historic Rehabilitation. The goal of preservation is not to mimic or reproduce the's to preserve actual in-place historic fabric. We can't preserve what's already gone. The 1954 renovation, while a travesty at the time, is nevertheless an important example of what was commonly done to the older buildings during the mid century. Like it or not, it's the actual story, and that's what matters. If we're going for historic tax credits, and going to meet the local Preservation Commission's requirements, we can't rebuild something that's gone. It's false history. I know that not everyone agrees with this, and it doesn't always pass the common sense test, but I didn't make the rules :)


"in-place historic fabric" has the unique ring of convenience. Why would cinder block qualify for preservation at all? iIsn't it just a facade? bBricks can be of the area. Economically, esthetically, historically, architecturally; right, not worth fighting for.

The actual story, starting when the code was written and ignoring what the Preservation Commission wasn't willing to acknowledge. Rebuild? Of course you can. I recovered hundreds of bricks from destroyed houses along Morehead Ave. I'm sure they're thousands more buried in the the landfill from the same era. More to come.

But let's change the sign ordinance.

Nick H-Johnson

Go Scott, go David, go Scott, go Daivd.


Go Scott, go David, go Scott, go Daivd.

...while a nevertheless an important example

....of what was commonly done....

The goal of's to preserve...

... a travesty at the time...

Matt Dudek

@Clif I don't want to monopolize the conversation either. My point earlier was that we, as a city, have already defined ourselves on substantive grounds. The sign isn't replacing substance with style.

And as far as fun goes, I guess we'll just agree to disagree. I think it would be Disneyland if we created a sign to look like it was historic, but I think it's different when you recreate a piece of history.

@Scott, great summary of the restoration rules. Good luck with the sign ordinance.


" I think it would be Disneyland if we created a sign to look like it was historic, but I think it's different when you recreate a piece of history."

talking about fun, i hope that tres nuanced distinction isn't lost in the glow of hundreds of light bulbs.


Quick question Scott...How was the Old Bull sign approved? It can't meet the parameters or aesthetics of the sign ordinance.

I know you have a lot of work to do before getting to the sign design stage but I wish you much luck in getting this deal done.

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