The (High) Rise of Cameron Village

Ask any Cameron Parker to point out the nearest skyscraper and they’ll nod to the 5 floors of 290 units at the corner of Oberlin and Clark. Though I will not ruminate over the controversy of the height of Crescent Cameron Village and 401 Oberlin, I do want to take a moment after I lift my jaw up off the floor and mention how Crescent’s rents are the highest per square foot in all of Raleigh. See how Crescent dwarfs Bailey’s Fine Jewelry in the foreground of the image below? The rent almost dwarfs the prices of the bling inside the local jeweler.

Crescent Cameron Village

I’ve overheard neighbors and friends refer to the south end of Oberlin as the Grand Canyon.

Cameron Village

Each time modernist architecture is demolished to make room for a modern monstrosity, I can’t help but wonder what Cameron Village founder and developer, Willie York would think today, nearly 10 years after his passing. Would he be proud of the exponential growth his shopping center is achieving? After all, he is one of Raleigh’s (and the nation’s) pioneers in commercial development as we know it today. Or, would he be displeased with the compromise on Raleigh’s urban, Southern charm?

In order to gain more insight on Cameron Village, I started doing a little bit of research both online and at the library (which is conveniently located in Cameron Village!).

Cameron Village: A History 1949 - 1999 by Nan Hutchins. Mainly wanted to include the picture of this book because it depicts how the shopping center appeared in 2000!
Cameron Village: A History 1949 – 1999 by Nan Hutchins. Mainly wanted to include the picture of this book because it depicts how the shopping center appeared in 2000!

It all started after WWII when York returned to residential real estate in Raleigh from his time in Jacksonville building homes intended for military families. Our beloved shopping center was the first of its kind between DC and Atlanta, modeled after Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza circa 1927.

Cameron Village
From North Carolina’s Capital, Raleigh by Elizabeth Culbertson Waugh. Photo Credit: Albert Barden, circa 1949

As it turns out, Cameron Village has been through a boatload of changes over the past 64 years! The surge of the suburban sprawl inspired many popular downtown businesses such as Stephenson Music Company, Woolworth’s, Boylan Pearce Department Store, Hudson Belk, and more to relocate or expand to Cameron Village. And can you imagine a vibrant nightlife complete with a live music scene happening beneath the floorboards of such establishments during the 1970s? The 80s and 90s brought upon makeovers featuring vaulted canopies seen on the cover of the book above that were undoubtedly analogous to teased bangs.

Cameron Village has seen it all, including the rise and fall of Sears, but continues to grow because of York’s relentless desire to grow. A former business partner of his was actually concerned that York might build too much too quickly. But that never stopped York’s eagerness to continue to push for rezoning and the construction of apartments and single-family homes in the surrounding Cameron Village neighborhood. His original plan specifically included the potential for business growth. To answer my own set of questions earlier in this post, I think that despite what his personal tastes in architecture might be, he would be proud to see the hustle and bustle of Cameron Village.

I’ve watched Cameron Village evolve for several years now. In fact, one of my most vivid driver’s ed memories includes an evening drive to Cameron Village from Apex High School. Since then, I’ve gawked at Uniquities’s price tags, steamed duvet covers during my retail stint at Lavender & Lace (now occupied by Sugarland), enjoyed Village Drafthouse’s many brews, picked out my dream engagement ring at Bailey’s (dreams come true!), and boycotted the world’s largest Chick-fil-a. This shopping center has made such a big impact on the capital city. I am still uneasy at the sight of Raleigh’s own Grand Canyon. But as much of an emotional influence Cameron Village has on Raleigh residents like me, it is first and foremost a business; a vehicle to make money – not nostalgia.

A view of Raleigh from Harris Teeter - what was formerly the roof of Sears in 1949.
A view of Raleigh from Harris Teeter – what was formerly the roof of Sears in 1949.