BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Edward Turberg,  December 12, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Edward Turberg,  December 12, 2007
December 12, 2007
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Turberg, Edward Interviewer: Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 12/12/2007 Series: SENC Notables Length 114 minutes


Jones: Today is December the 12th, 2007. I'm Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass for the Randall Library Oral History Project and we're visiting this morning with Ed Turberg, noted architectural historian, lecturer, historic tour leader and, with his wife Janet Seapker, former director of the Cape Fear Museum. It is a partner in Tours By Design, which the Seapkers own and they do design and they'll tell us more about that. Good morning, Ed, and thanks for...

Turberg: Good morning.

Jones: ...visiting with us today. Tell us a little bit about your early years, about your interests, about Ed.

Turberg: Well, I was born in what Bozel Rathbone said was the end of the golden era, that was 1939. I'm a Christmas Eve baby and I was born on Long Island, New York, which I tell people in North Carolina is southern New York and we get hurricanes up there, we get the droughts, we get all the kinds of temperature changes that we find in North Carolina. And I grew up on the north shore of Long Island, around Hampstead Harbor. My mother was born at the sort of the toe end of the Harbor. My father was born on the western side of the Harbor and we were born on the eastern side so...

Jones: So you covered Long Island.

Turberg: Yes, that was home. (laughs)

Jones: I guess.

Turberg: And we grew up going to Catholic schools in Sea Cliff, which was a small community that had a wonderful old theater structure. It was like a pavilion that had an archway with stained glass in it. It was originally built as a religious campsite for Wesleyan Germans but eventually it became one of the stages for summer programs for Broadway shows.

Jones: Summer stock.

Turberg: Summer stock. So we grew up as children going down there and sitting in the seats, pretending that we were watching different programs but we were never old enough to go see the actual programs. So we grew up liking the idea of theater and the stage and, eventually, by high school, my mother was able to get us two tickets at the Metropolitan Opera so, for several years, we used to sit in the family circle up in the-- where all the hard core opera lovers sat and enjoyed the operas. We were odd Wednesday people. Every other Wednesday, we went there. But the Catholic school was very classically oriented so we learned Latin and all sorts of things.

Jones: Another language later.

Turberg: Yes. And then we moved to a town called Hampstead and that was known as the hub of Nassau County, and a strange thing happened. My parents bought my great-grandparents' house in Hampstead and it was a big city but small neighborhoods and we lived in the German neighborhood. There was an Italian neighborhood, an Irish neighborhood, a Polish neighborhood and most of these people settled in Hampstead because they moved out from New York City in the early 20th century because of all the illness. There were four children in my great-grandparents' family who died in infancy in the Bronx, New York. So they all moved as a group to the end of the railroad line, which was Hampstead, and grew up. Well, by 1951, there was a big move of black families coming north for education and Hampstead had-- and Nassau County, which Hampstead is in, had a wonderful educational program, especially music, and a lot of people came up from the south and settled in Hampstead and went to the schools, went to the churches. We grew up in what turned out to be a black neighborhood. We were the last white family in our neighborhood in 1969. My sister, who was younger than I am, by five years, she was able to have very good friends who were black students who all played in the cello and we would go to everybody's house back and forth and all that. It was a little bit of a shock, not when I came south to North Carolina but when I went into the navy in 1962, that they were still experimenting with interracial relations in service. I served on an aircraft carrier from 1962 to 1966 and we had sort of two types of people. One was a group who were from the Midwest who had never seen the ocean and, in fact, when they went to Great Lakes Naval School, they thought Lake Michigan was the Atlantic Ocean. And the others were southerners, both whites and blacks. I thought, at first, it was going to be a forceful integration because, you know, you're in very close proximity with one another but we all got along very well. It made me realize that race relationships are easy to work out if you just grow up with them. So we had that experience. We had music. We had the opera. We had music in the schools...

Jones: Would you say your family was musical?

Turberg: Yes, they were. My grandfather played-- he called it the fiddle. He played the fiddle and my grandmother would dance the Irish jig and, in fact, that's how they met.

Jones: What's your ethnic background?

Turberg: The Turbergs are Swiss but they were French Swiss. They didn't speak German.

Jones: So the Turberg, the spelling has probably changed.

Turberg: Well, Turberg is literally "door mountain" in German. But they were in the northwestern part of Switzerland, the southeastern part of France, around Bozel. And I found, on the internet, there are a number of Turbergs in Bozel. I'm very proud to think that they're probably relations because they're all professors at the university there.

Jones: That's a very educated place.

Turberg: Yes. Or they're medical scientists, in the scientific places. So they're also Turbergs. I like to think that. (laughs) And, on the other side, my mother's is mostly English but my father's father, who was Swiss, married my grandmother, who was Irish, so we have the Swiss and the Irish there.

Jones: What a combination.

Turberg: Yes.

Jones: So that's why your grandmother did the jig.

Turberg: That's right. They lived in Lennox, Massachusetts. My grandmother was born on the Tanglewood Estate so there's another connection with music. They all played musical instruments. In those days, apparently, I had learned to play the harmonica from my grandfather and my father played the guitar and my sister began playing the violin then went on to the viola then to the cello.

Jones: Well, the family could just have a musical.

Turberg: Right. Well, my brother was the one who was outside of it. My sister and I were the art side of the brain. My brother was the scientific side and he said, well, he could play the photograph. (laughter) So we went from there.

Jones: So the whole family had a little humor.

Turberg: Yes. And Long Island was a wonderful place because we were near New York City so we could go into the theater, things of that sort, but it was a hassle because the theater didn't get out until late and it was late that you were taking the train home so we would wait until things came-- Guy Lombardo had the Jones Beach Theater and there was the Westbury Theater and several other small groups, including Hampstead at the theater, they would have live performances. So we got educated that way, too.

Jones: Well, that's good, too.

Turberg: Well, then I had decided, my aunt said about the age of three, that I wanted to be an architect and she said, "Eddie knew three words: mommy, daddy and architect." (laughter) During World War II, all the men went into service and all the women and the kids moved into my grandmother's house in Port Washington on Long Island, which is a huge house. It was a two and a half storey frame house. It was built in 1790 and we all fit, each family, into a room and just loved it because we were all together and...

Jones: So was this a family that consisted of mother and children since the men were away?

Turberg: That's right. My mother had two children, my brother and myself, then we had another aunt who had a son and then another aunt who had two daughters so it was all us kids around there. What was nice is it was-- we were preschoolers so we didn't have to line up and march up to school and come back. We could play in the back. We got into all sorts of adventures and one was our interest in cemeteries. You know, Janet takes people on tours of Oakdale Cemetery. Well, across the street from us was Nassau Noel Cemetery, which is an old Long Island Cemetery and my aunt used to take us walking through there. They had a lot of mausoleums, those square structures, and we would go, my brother and I, would go and knock on the door to see who these people were who lived there.

Jones: Wouldn't you be surprised if someone come out? (laughter)

Turberg: Well, we came back and we told my grandmother, "Nobody answered. They must be away." And she said, that's my Irish grandmother, she said, "Leprechauns live there and they don't come out 'til night when the children are in bed so don't go knocking on the doors, you'll disturb them."

Jones: The wee folk.

Turberg: The wee folk. (laughter) So we used to wander through there and look at butterflies, look at flowers, look at birds, things of that sort. I don't know where I got the idea that I wanted to be an architect but I did and I don't remember anything except that old house that was-- interested me until, after the war, we moved to Sea Cliff, where I was born. We moved back to Sea Cliff and they had these wonderful Victorian houses, similar to houses we have downtown with the steep roofs and the towers and things of that sort. We used to play next door with a little girl whose father worked for Macy's so we had a lot of toys in the house and there was actually a play room underneath the roof of the tower of the house. You'd go in there and it was like being inside a pyramid because it tapered on four sides. We could be up there, especially in rainy weather, and just enjoy the sights, playing and building things with blocks. Walking around the neighborhood and looking at these old houses, which people were still keeping up because it was the post-world war and they didn't have the money to buy a new house so they kept the, you know, 15-room house until they could find a house in Levitt Town that was more easily...

Jones: Like everybody else's?

Turberg: Yeah. More easily kept up.

Jones: They were big houses. I know exactly what you're talking about. In the winter and in the summer, how did you heat and cool your houses because heat goes to the top in the summer and...

Turberg: Yeah. Slippers, bathrobes, blankets. Most of those houses in Sea Cliff were actually built for summer use. It was a summer colony.

Jones: A lot of windows to open.

Turberg: A lot of windows to open, thin walls. One particular house I remember being very interested in. It had burled woodwork on the staircase and all of the woodwork inside was stained, it wasn't painted, and they had, you know, velvet, velvety wallpaper, things of that sort, which...

Jones: [inaudible]

Turberg: Yeah, we didn't see elsewhere. And we were friends with those people but the most interesting thing about the house was it had something like six bedrooms. Not one bedroom had a closet in it.

Jones: No.

Turberg: All of the closets were in the hallway...

Jones: Oh, really?

Turberg: ...because the servants would come and get the clothes and lay them out on the bed while the person was in the bathroom taking a bath or something, then come out and all the clothes were laid out. So there was no sense in having a closet in the bedroom and I thought, wow, that is quite something.

Jones: Yeah, that is different.

Turberg: But I guess I got more interested in architecture and drawing from about the time I started in school because we were allowed to draw a lot. We didn't really have art classes but if we felt like, during a break, we wanted to do sketches and I always did houses with towers and stairs. Then I decided I wanted to go to architectural school so I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.

Jones: You did? One of the best.

Turberg: It wasn't at that time.

Jones: Oh, really?

Turberg: Because I entered in 1957 and I left in 1961 and most of the professors had either studied at or under professors who trained at the Bauhaus in Germany. Four had studied at Columbia University, where a lot of Bauhaus people ended up, and their idea of architecture was Mies van der Rohe, Skidmore Owings and Merrill Philip Johnson, people like that. I liked Philip Johnson's work because he had a touch of humor in him but the others were just glass boxes and I was very much insulted, as a freshman, when I was told that, if I wanted to design a colonial style house, it had to have the cooking fireplace in the kitchen and it had to have a privy in the back. I thought, well, why? And...

Jones: Was this the beginning of that era where I'm thinking, even today, you see glass blocks for kitchens, bathrooms, entry halls, the square box?

Turberg: That's part of that art modern movement which actually began in the 1930s and Richard Neutra was one of the architects who did a lot of that. He worked mostly in California. I think, interestingly, his architecture wasn't as popular for residential use as for schools. Schools, you had the buildings with the big, broad areas of glass, very, very simple design, simple form, large spaces that you could move back and forth in them. So I think his architecture was good for the California sunshine and for that open air feeling that they were trying to get in schools. But here on the east, the schools I attended were, you know, small-- they seemed to be smaller windows. It was all colonial style. I remember developing a blinking problem in one of my grade school classes, about fifth grade, and my parents were called to the school and they said, "Something's gone wrong with Ed, you know? He's blinking and he's twitching and all this stuff. I think he might be going to have a nervous breakdown."

Jones: Was this when you were at Brett Institute?

Turberg: No, when I was in fifth grade.

Jones: Oh, I see.

Turberg: I'm going back. And what happened was, this new classroom I went into had fluorescent lighting and they say fluorescent lights go on and off, the flicker, and my eyes were sensitive to that. So that was another reason why, when I went to architectural school, I didn't like modern architecture because it meant fluorescent lights. Well, the thing that capped it off for me was one of the professors at Pratt Institute said, he thought the only value that an old house had was the land it sat on and it was occupying valuable property.

Jones: Oh, my gosh.

Turberg: So I figured...

Jones: Who were these professors? Were they anybody that became noteworthy?

Turberg: Oh, yes. They were very noteworthy people...

Jones: They were sort of-- I guess there was a whole movement, I'm just trying to think, whole movement around that time, whether it was in art, architecture, design of cars, they came out with some screwball things.

Turberg: Mm hm. Yeah. 1957 is probably the nadir of automobile design in my book, you know? It was pieces, parts that you got at Lowe's Hardware and bolted to the back of your car for fins or things of that sort. Yes, I think it was a bad period to have been in there.

Jones: Was this the period where they started building houses with flat roofs?

Turberg: Yes. And, in New York City, somebody would buy a row house and then want to remove the brownstone facade to put a modern glass block or solid glass thing with the idea of breaking up the boring pattern of a row of brownstones and that's the beauty of the brownstone.

Jones: Baltimore.

Turberg: Baltimore is the same way, yes. Brooklyn was the same way, Brooklyn, and Harlem in New York had wonderful brick at Greenwich Village, has wonderful brick front houses from the 1840s. Those people are the ones who really fought against this modernism. When you go downtown in New York City, you're in SoHo and Husten Street area. My grandfather was born at West Broadway in 1855 and I found a photograph of the neighborhood. They were two-storey wooden houses but, later, they were replaced with these wonderful cast iron front buildings that are now loft apartments. Sort of from Greenwich Village on down, people realized that, if they let this continue, they were going to live in glass cities, it was going to be like Metropolis, and all of this historic character was going to disappear and I think that's when a lot of artists and poets and writers, musicians, moved down to the Greenwich Village area because...

Jones: It became affordable.

Turberg: Yes, it was affordable and it was historic.

Jones: And it was historic.

Turberg: Architectural.

Jones: Yeah.

Turberg: Well, I took three and a half years of architectural history under a German professor...

Jones: Where was this?

Turberg: In Pratt Institute. I just kept on going, didn't do well in my design classes and talked to my history professor and I said, "You know, I would really like to go into architectural history rather than architecture." And she said, "Well, I think what you want to do is go to Charlottesville, University of Virginia has a very good history program." And I thought, well, I'll do that but it's 1961. Before anything further happens, I'm going to get service behind me. So I went into service for four years. Went to Japan, went to the Philippines, went to Hawaii, went to Hong Kong. Loved Japan, loved the architecture and the last year of classes I took at Pratt Institute was all about Japanese traditional architecture. So I would take my friends off the ship, my shipmates, and I said, "Well, let's go to one bar to start with and one bar to end with but I'm going to take you on a walking tour and we're going to see what kind of architecture they have to offer in this little town."

Jones: Was that the beginning of your walking tours?

Turberg: Yes. (laughs) And I still get email from shipmates saying, "I remember the time we were in this town, this little section of Tokyo and you took us on a tour of the temples and I would never have looked at that. I would have been a drunkard if you hadn't saved me." (laughs) Well, later, we were stationed in Seattle, Washington, and it was the year after the world's fair and they had the big Space Needle and we went to see that because, I mean, I liked that kind of modern architecture because it was created and new for a new experience. It wasn't replacing or trying to eradicate anything old. So we went there and I took my group on a tour and pointed out the buildings, the dates and the architects and all that. We got back to the ship and one of my friends said, "Ed, where did you learn all this about Seattle? You talked about the architecture and the dates and the styles and all that stuff." I said, "Don't tell anybody, I made it all up." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, first of all, ten minutes after you tell somebody something, they forgot it and the second thing is, I was pointing out trends. This art deco building looks like a building in New York City or Chicago that I know and I know the architects of that." So they were white lies, they weren't big lies.

Jones: But they were probably in the ballpark someplace.

Turberg: Yeah.

Jones: Because of your...

Turberg: Yes. The era and the style and, you know, in the style of a certain architect. And I said, "My idea is to keep you out of the bars and get you to look at architecture."

Jones: Well, you did that, that's good.

Turberg: Yeah. It's all around us.

Jones: Right.

Turberg: And then, anyway, I went to University of Virginia...

Jones: I must stop you. What air...

Turberg: USS Oriskany and now it's at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. It has become a reef, a sunken reef and they, oh, they've got a nickname for it. I can't remember it. It was called the Big O but now it's a sunken reef and we're sort of proud of it now because it was sunken for a good purpose.

Jones: What was it?

Turberg: A CBA-34.

Jones: Okay.

Turberg: Yeah.

Jones: I used to know all them.

Turberg: Well, it was interesting because I was in combat information center, that's radar, so we had a good "scope" on what was going on all the way around us and I remember picking up a signal from a ship that I said, "You might think I'm crazy but this frequency is a Russian ship. I imagine sort of Russian freighter and they're nearing us so we need to get signalmen to signal to them." Well, it indeed turned out to be a Russian freighter. This is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was actually peace time. I left service before Vietnam really got underway. I left in '66 and I said I've tried to keep us out of the war as long as possible but my time was four years in the navy. Well, we got the message from this freighter that they had a man aboard who had an appendicitis and was there a doctor aboard? And we had a full hospital.

Jones: A floating city.

Turberg: Yeah, we had full medical bay so they high lined the man over, did the operation, sent him back, everything turned out well. The freighter hung around us for awhile, even though they were Russians, until they knew the man was okay, and the next thing, they requested a high line again so they sent a helicopter over and the captain of the freighter sent a case of vodka over to the admiral, who refused to serve any of the crewmen...

Jones: It was verboten on navy ships...

Turberg: Well, we picked up the signal, we arranged to have all this stuff done but we didn't get the vodka. (laughs)

Jones: I do know, for a fact, that, on many carriers, the flight groups in the wings that were aboard, some of the young junior officers have a very interesting way of fermenting fruit in their boots.

Turberg: Oh, I never heard that. I should have known them. (laughs)

Jones: I've actually seen it. (laughter)

Turberg: Well, radar, you'd also be a lookout so we would be up on the mast, way up high, and be able to look out all around and not be down in those closed compartments all the time so it was a wonderful way to see the world and, of course, we'd have lookout watch. We'd fight over who got lookout watch as we neared a port and I think the most exciting one was to come into Pearl Harbor because they have people in the canoes come out to...

Jones: Yeah, they still do that.

Turberg: surround us. Yeah.

Jones: The memorial for the Arizona...

Turberg: It was there, yes. And when we went to Japan, we anchored in Yokosuka and that's where the USS Missouri still was, when went there, but we never had the opportunity to go there because there was still a little bit of hesitation about us U.S. navy men storming on the decks.

Jones: And grabbing their women. (laughter)

Turberg: We were very gentlemanly.

Jones: Oh, I'm sure you were.

Turberg: The reason I went in the navy was my father had been in the air force, air corps, my brother was in the army, I had aunts-- uncles who were in the army and the marines and the coast guard and we only had one who was in the navy and I said to my father, "I really hate the idea of being way out at sea like that." He said, "Ed, wonderful things about the navy, you're always fed well, you always have a clean bed to sleep in and you're never more than three miles from land. It might be straight down but it's land." (laughter)

Jones: Your father sounds like a character. He had a sense of humor.

Turberg: Yes. I think we all sort of had.

Jones: Probably had to have.

Turberg: My grandfather was a practical joker in the family and my grandfather, after the war, I had told you about this 1790 house we all grew up in, well, after the war, my grandparents sold the house and they decided to move back to New England. But, instead of Lennox in the western part of the state, they would go to Cape Cod area and they bought a little café and gas station right across from a tubercular sanatorium where the bus that went everywhere from Boston to the Cape stopped right in front of their place. They operated that as a retirement place and all the doctors would come down to the café for coffee and sandwiches. It was sort of their lounge. My grandfather operated the gas station for awhile and then he joined the Massachusetts Archeological Society, which was a group of amateurs that, during the winter, they would take classes, lectures, and then, during the summer, everybody was assigned a dig, a plot and a dig. The idea was these areas for archeological digging were areas that were either going to become shopping centers or suburban developments, mostly in the woods, mostly farms, things of that sort, but it was a great opportunity to get people to come in and learn about archeology and do archeological research. So eventually the gas station, the gas pumps were taken out, the furniture in the café were taken out and my grandfather built his own archeological museum of Indian artifacts. When he died, my grandmother gave it to the Bronson Museum in Attleboro, Massachusetts, which is a big Indian artifact museum.

Jones: Now, let me get this. You went into the navy in 1962. That's after having spent, what did you say, three and a half years at Pratt Institute?

Turberg: Right.

Jones: But you went into combat information and became...

Turberg: Well, I'll tell you. What happened, they said, sign this paper and tell us, the dream sheet, tell us what you want to do and I said, I want to be an architect so I would like to sign up as a draftsman in the service. So they said, you took your exam and apparently the grades you got, they determined where you fit and they said I fit in electronics.

Jones: So...

Turberg: Other than the phonograph, I don't know how I fit into electronics but that's what they said. I said, "But I wanted to go into drafting. I want to become an architect and I thought this would be good training on the drafting board for when I go back into civilian service." "No, we didn't tell you, we're not hiring military personnel to be draftsmen. We're hiring civilians for that." Well, the first person I met when I reported to the ship, which was in San Diego, you sort of got into this big one mass thing at the back of the boat, everybody, before they got assigned divisions, all went, and I happened to be talking to this fellow and I said, "What are you going to be doing?" And he said, "Well, they told me I was going to be in something with the aircraft but I said I didn't want to do that. I'm good at drawing and things like that and they said, well, how about-- this is not going to be going to sea. This is going to be a port side job but how about working in the drafting office?" (laughter) So I...

Jones: So you obviously enjoyed your tour in the navy.

Turberg: I loved it. Because I got to see the world and to see a part of the world that I probably would never have dreamed of seeing, the Orient.

Jones: You know, I've heard so many people-- you were born and raised in the east coast and it would have been just as easy for you to be sent to the Mediterranean or to wherever and you go to the Far East and I think that-- I've heard people say, "Oh, why did they do that to me?" You had an opportunity to go do something you never would have done.

Turberg: Absolutely.

Jones: And which broadened your horizons.

Turberg: But-- yes, I loved it. And we were a very close knit group on the ship because we were the know it alls. We worked with navigation, we worked with making sure the ship turned in the right direction for the proper wind to come across so that planes could go into the air and the only downer was we were operating somewhere and it was very, very hot. It was in the upper 90s and you know that steel ship just heats up like an oven and they were doing a lot of air operations and the planes were shunted off by steam power so they needed all the fresh water they could, even though they had a desalinization plant on the ship, they needed all the fresh water they could for the steam to get the planes off the ship. So we would have to take salt water showers and they are the worst thing. You cannot get the soap off you and you're sticky all the time so-- and we had to take showers because it was too hot not to. But that was the only downer. Everything else was fine.

Jones: Well, good. So you were discharged?

Turberg: I was discharged.

Jones: In 1966.

Turberg: '66.

Jones: You go back to school.

Turberg: Went to school. Took-- I decided, if I wanted to go into architectural history, I could major in either art or history.

Jones: Did you go to Charlotte?

Turberg: No. Actually, I went to Adelphi University on Long Island and I said, I know too many-- know and know of too many starving artists on Long Island and in New York. I don't think there's a future for me in that. But history is something else because history continues. It doesn't stop. Every day, you have more history so, you know, that's exciting. So I took history courses and all of my professors allowed me to write any of my essays or papers based on architecture as long as it was-- I wrote about the German architect, Shinkle, of the early 19th century, and Italian architecture and English, classical architecture, things of that sort, that had some kind of tie-in with American culture, whether it's the arts, music or architecture. So I thought it worked out very well because I didn't have to write about the real meaning behind the Revolutionary War or how the Methodists and the Baptists really didn't get along in America in the early period, things of that sort. One of my classmates wrote a wonderful paper on the penal system in America from about 1790, I think it was, where a plan was developed in Philadelphia where the prison would be arranged that no prisoner would be in contact with any other prisoner. There were exercise areas and study areas and sleeping areas but all of these people were isolated because the idea was, in 1790, that the reason you get a growth in criminality when the prisoners get out is because they had the bad influences, not the good influences. I thought that's the most brilliant thing I ever read and why don't we do that and I'm still asking why we don't do that. And, of course, I got into did you see any designs of what the buildings looked like? That was what I was interested in.

Jones: That's interesting, how you were able combine the two, which makes perfect sense.

Turberg: Well, then, as I mentioned, my German professor said go to University of Virginia. So I finished off my studies at Adelphi and then I applied to UVA, not realizing that University of Virginia is a state school.

Jones: Yeah.

Turberg: And they select their A list, residents of Virginia, and then I guess North and South Carolina or West Virginia, maybe. Here I am a New Yorker requesting admission to Mr. Jefferson's school of higher learning and I was accepted. I got the letter one evening when I was all alone and there was nobody there to jump for joy with me. (laughs) I just had to sit there with the letter and say...

Jones: And savor it.

Turberg: Did I read this right? Am I going? So I did go.

Jones: That was...

Turberg: I was in classes with several people. They've gone down to historic Charleston Foundation, Williamsburg, Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, so they've done very well or stayed on...

Jones: What was the course you took?

Turberg: It was architectural history.

Jones: Architecture.

Turberg: And I said I've gotten my marching orders because it's a Masters of Architectural History, M-A-R-C-H. I decided that I was fated for that because now an architect tries to tell people what they ought to know and it's very difficult to get an architect to change his course of thinking but an architectural historian can and I decided, I'm an architectural historian so I can tell an architect what he ought to know and try to have them atone for tearing down old buildings or disrespecting them.

Jones: What did you think being at Virginia of Mr. Jefferson's work, all those wonderful buildings, as an architect?

Turberg: I loved it. I thought it was such a wonderful...

Jones: He was amazing.

Turberg: An academical village is what Mr. Jefferson...

Jones: Yes.

Turberg: ...and we always called him Mr. Jefferson.

Jones: That's right.

Turberg: And even the modern architecture was done in such a way that it blended. This campus is exactly that kind of thing.

Jones: It is.

Turberg: What I disliked about visiting Harvard University and somebody said, "Have you ever been to Harvard?" And I said, "Oh, I went to Harvard, yeah." And he said, "You did?" I said, "Yeah, I forget what day it was but I did go there." (laughter)

Jones: But their newer buildings...

Turberg: Well, they...

Jones: ...are way out of whack.

Turberg: Well, not just that but the original buildings, old Massachusetts Hall and I think the second one, and then, all of a sudden, H. H. Richardson came in, who was a brilliant architect of the Romanesque revival, if it was somewhere else and then the Gothic architects came in, people like Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson and they would do a number on the campus in their particular style and although it's interesting for an architectural historian to see all these buildings of various styles, they're all fake. The real one is the colonial one, that Massachusetts Hall, but Harvard and a lot of other universities had a feeling that you've got to express the latest architectural style on your campus. So if tastes change, you should go along with it to represent it. Now, when I take people on walking tours, we get to the corner of Fourth and Market Street and, on one side, is that beautiful temple of Israel and, on the other side, is the back end of the Law Enforcement Center, which is this post-modern thing. One joke that's told that is a little lady came and said, "I've been here before when that was going up. Are they ever going to finish it?" And other people quoted Frank Lloyd Wright saying, "If an architect makes a mistake, he can plant ivy," and we thought that would be a good thing. But I said, "Now, listen, if you're going to be an architectural historian, you have to be objective, not objecting. So don't object to that building. Be objective and see it as a piece of its time." I said, "The brilliant thing about Wilmington is, the earliest house, the Mitchell Anderson House, at Front and Orange Streets, was built in 1738, the year Wilmington got its town charter."

Jones: Now, that's the house on the corner.

Turberg: Mm hm. The big, brick house. That's right.

Jones: With the rocks...

Turberg: At the base. Mm hm.

Jones: It had...

Turberg: Well, then you go up and you see this post-modern building on Fourth and Market Street and all in between we have examples of architecture that are not phony copies, they're examples of their particular period.

Jones: I think that building was built in the '60s, wasn't it?

Turberg: Mm hm.

Jones: Was it not originally built...

Turberg: In the '80s.

Jones: Why am I thinking that originally it was scheduled to be a bank or a savings and loan or something like that?

Turberg: Across from that is a bank, a Colonial style bank that I understand has a bomb shelter under it and it was built in the early '60s. So the architectural style is sort of regressive but the basement is forward-looking.

Jones: So how long were you at UVA?

Turberg: I was there for two years and the interesting part about my experience at University of Virginia was North Carolina, apparently, has always been admired for its connection with history and architectural history as well as genealogy and I remember reading somewhere that, maybe in the 1970s, that 85% of the population of North Carolina at that time was native born, was born in North Carolina, that you didn't have a lot of influx and moving out of the area like you do other states. When I finished my studies, I hadn't even finished my thesis yet, I got a letter from Archives and History in Raleigh saying, "Would you like to come down as a restoration specialist?"

Jones: Really?

Turberg: And I said, "Yeah, I'd love to" and they said...

Jones: Now when was this?

Turberg: This was in 1972.

Jones: Okay.

Turberg: And I did come down and found a lot of my friends who graduated in former years already there and they said...

Jones: Did you go ahead and take that job?

Turberg: I took the job.

Jones: Archives in History. Who was...

Turberg: Dr. H. G. Jones. And the man who was the head of my division of the restoration section was Jack Seymour, who was a UVA graduate and eventually became the architectural historian in Richmond, Virginia. But...

Jones: So you were in good company.

Turberg: Well, they said, "Ed, let's face the fact that Raleigh's Division of Archives and History, this is the UVA mafia." (laughter) So we all immediately fit in. We had somebody else and I know I shouldn't say this but we had somebody else from Columbia University. They have a marvelous program and a super library collection of historic architectural magazines and books and things of that sort. Actually, half of my research work when I was at UVA was at Avery Library at Columbia University in New York because I found more of what I wanted there than in Virginia. But this fellow came down from the program at Columbia, which was a high gear program. Ours was a laid back southern kind of thing. You'd go out and look at a house, walk around it, look at the property, the citing, all this, and figure out, you know, why they did it this way and that way. Well, it seems that the courses at Columbia were book courses and you read this book and you read that book and this and that and I don't know that there was that much field work. We would go out and talk to somebody about a historic building and the fellow from the other school would say, "Well, let me go back to the office and I'll get back to you with a report." And he'd go back and check his notes or books or that. We would say, "Well, let's see, I think this might have happened, that might have happened, that, that." And I reported back to one of my professors at UVA because he said how are you doing there. I said, "It's fine but, you know, we're having to think a lot in the field. We don't have the books that they had at Columbia." And he said, "Well, you're supposed to think in the field. You learn in college and you put the learning to use once you're out. That's the real education, when you're out there. You don't need the books." And that, to me, was a great lesson.

Jones: When you speak of field trips, of course, Virginia is an absolute treasure trove of areas to go to. There are many other places, too, but you're right there in kind of the heart of it. Did you ever come to North Carolina or any of the Carolinas or over to Maryland or West Virginia even to do your field work?

Turberg: Before I attended UVA, I wanted to get a feel of what the south was like so I traveled through town in Maryland and West Virginia, mainly to see what the mountain cabins and things were like and then into the western part of Virginia and then over, not into North Carolina except my thesis was on Frederick Olmstead's landscaping design for Biltmore. So I got to go to Biltmore and I got to meet William Cecil and, to me, intriguingly enough, I had an old magazine showing photographs of Biltmore House in 1901 and Mr. Cecil did not have those pictures in his collection so he had a lot of photographs in his library at Biltmore showing the construction of the house. So he said, "I'll make a deal with you. You give me copies of your pictures, I'll give you copies of mine." So they went into my thesis.

Jones: [inaudible]

Turberg: Well, when I was at Pratt Institute, you know, you don't just study architecture and engineering. You also have to study maybe art appreciation, go into museums and see the art work, sculpture. They had a big graphic art program there and you almost always got shunted over to one of the big advertising firms in New York once you left Pratt Institute and the same thing with advertising. But with the architectural part of it, we really didn't have the opportunity to go out and look at things and we would study things like Biltmore House, not apartments in New York, but Biltmore House and estates because that's what surrounded us in Connecticut and Long Island in New Jersey were the biggest states. But we also...

Jones: [inaudible] in Delaware?

Turberg: Oh, the DuPont Estate, yes. Very recently. Never really had the...

Jones: [inaudible]

Turberg: Yes. But one of the courses we had to take was English literature, American literature and my professor happened to be a great fan of Thomas Wolfe's and we read Thomas Wolfe, every one of those books. (laughter) Look Homeward Angel.

Jones: And did you go up to the mountains to his home?

Turberg: Well, one of my first assignments when I came down to North Carolina and worked with the restoration branch, they said, most everybody wants to work in the eastern part, you know, the coastal area. We're going to be doing a restoration of the Thomas Wolfe birth place, which the state has acquired. Would you be interested in being the restoration specialist for that? And...

Jones: Were you?

Turberg: Yes. (laughter)

Jones: Oh, my goodness.

Turberg: So I-- Look Homeward Angel was virtually the blueprint for investigating and restoring the house. Everything about the colors and the kind of furniture and the wallpaper and paint and things like that are all in that novel.

Jones: Now, tell me again, what was your legal title?

Turberg: Restoration Specialist.

Jones: Just Restoration Specialist. Okay. His home, is that located in Tuxedo, North Carolina?

Turberg: Asheville. Thomas Wolfe. Asheville.

Jones: Well, in the city, though, right?

Turberg: Yes. Right there.

Jones: There's a place out between Andersonville and going toward Tuxedo that has a big sign, "The Thomas Wolfe Home". Maybe that's-- I don't know.

Turberg: That may be one of-- he had brothers and sisters who, I think, they're still alive. It might...

Jones: [inaudible] Okay.

Turberg: I don't know.

Jones: This is-- we're going to just say Asheville because I am not going to argue with you. (laughter)

Turberg: But, you know, recently, vandals set fire to the dining room wing of the house and I was very, very upset over that because we had done a lot of work in doing research and making sure that everything went back the way it was because it had been a rooming house, a boarding house for many, many years and then it became Mrs. Wolfe's private home and then it was turned over to the City of Asheville to operate it as a museum but the dining room wasn't really done in period and, when you think of a boarding house, I think a lot of people think of the board (laughs) the food that's served family style and the dining room was sort of the centerpiece so a lot of effort went into that. That thing was burned a few years ago but they managed to put it all back together again. Fortunately, a lot of the artifacts in the dining room and in the house had been removed for some reason.

Jones: Were you called upon when...

Turberg: No, because I was...

Jones: ...did the...

Turberg: ...long out of that.

Jones: Is that right?

Turberg: Yeah. But I would work, you know, one week I'd be in Halifax or in Edenton and then the next week, I'd be over in Asheville or Charlotte and I love to travel.

Jones: Love this place.

Turberg: And I was a bachelor. I was single. And then, at a Halloween party in Raleigh, we went to one of our Archives in History parties and I met Janet.

Jones: Why is it people meet their future spouses at parties of some particular definition?

Turberg: Yes. (laughter)

Jones: Whether it's a Christmas office party. I hear this all the time.

Turberg: Yeah. I think people are in a good mood. They're mixing. It's not a fund raising party or a political party. It's just...

Jones: And they're not working.

Turberg: ...relax and have fun and don't talk about the office. So Janet and I were put out with the cat late at night after the party was over. We would talk about historic hotels and railroad stations. (laughter)

Jones: That's what your conversation was about?

Turberg: And I thought, well, that was interesting that we met at a Halloween party because my parents were married on Halloween.

Jones: That must have been ________________.

Turberg: Well, yes, I think so. Well, eventually, we got married and Janet wanted to be married in her home parish, which is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at First Presbyterian Church there and we went up there and a lot of our friends came up with us. Well, Janet wanted to be married during the week that the lilacs were in bloom in Pittsburgh because we don't get lilacs down here and she just loves them. It's too hot down here. So we said, okay, when will the lilacs be blooming? And they said either the 17th or the 24th of May and we figured, well, the 17th is still a little cold so why don't we hit for the 24th. So we were married in Pittsburgh on the 24th of May, 1975, after all the lilacs had bloomed for a week. They were gone.

Jones: And this was on the 24th...

Turberg: 24th of May 1975. And we had picked the wrong weekend. We were just too late. But Ed Turberg is always trying to come up with a good reason for something. He said, "Janet, do you realize May 24th is Queen Victoria's birthday?" (laughter)

Jones: Well, aren't you the smart thing?

[tape change]

Jones: This is tape number two. We're going to continue talking to the very interesting conversation on the marriage of architectural restoration, architectural history with a-- he says he was a specialist a couple of times in his life but I still think that, as far as southeastern North Carolina is concerned, there is no more special person than Ed Turberg. Ed, we were talking about the Thomas Wolfe home and then your marriage to the lady of the lilacs, Janet Seapker and that you met at a Halloween parties, Archives and Mystery, in Raleigh. What was she doing at that time that brought you both together? Obviously, you had some things in common by virtue of your conversation that went on forever.

Turberg: She was a survey specialist and they were in the basement and we were restoration specialists and we were on the third floor.

Jones: Ah hah, so love bloomed in the building.

Turberg: Yes, love bloomed in the basement. (laughter) And Janet would say that survey team would go out and they'd find the old buildings and we would restore them.

Jones: I think I've heard her say that.

Turberg: And we-- I got to go down to the survey branch because my boss would never do it. He would never show his face down there because he once went downstairs and saw, on a file cabinet, a sign that said, "If you don't file these properly, steps will be taken that will utterly amaze you." So Al, my boss, just went back upstairs and, any time we needed a file, I went down to get it. (laughter) But Janet eventually became grants administrator for restoration programs and, in my humble opinion, it was so poorly directed that Janet just got totally upset. We happened to be down in Wilmington, because Janet worked on doing the National Registry Historic District for Wilmington in 1974 so she was familiar with Wilmington and the east coast. We happened to be down in Wilmington for a may fair and remember the Historic Wilmington Foundation used to have their headquarters in the Governor Dudley Mansion with the big backyard and it was a glorified yard sale. They have arts and crafts and they have old books and this, that and the other thing. It was a fundraiser for Historic Wilmington Foundation and we were there and saw a painting that Sam Bisset did of sort of a view of roofs of houses between the trees in Wilmington and I said, "You know, we shouldn't spend a lot of money but I would like that picture," and Janet said, "I was thinking that myself" so we bought the picture and took it back to Raleigh with us. In the meantime, Janet was talking to several friends, Helen Willets and others and Janet was talking about just being so down going back to Raleigh and they said, "Well, too bad you don't have training in the museum field because they have an opening for a director of the Cape Fear Museum." And Janet said, "That is my training. I studied in the museum program at Cooperstown, New York." And they said, "Well, why don't you apply for it?" So she applied for it and we got the job. And I tried to talk the head of the department of Archives and History in Raleigh to let me move down to Wilmington but keep my job in the Raleigh office because, in the meantime, the folks down at Fort Fisher said, "Ed, come on down, we have an office, we have a desk, a phone, a secretary, a typewriter, everything you need and we have other people who are connected with the Raleigh office who work down here. Tell them that we're ready to let you be here." And I said, "Can I do that and I promise, every Monday, I'll be there for the meetings." "No, we don't want to set a precedent by having anybody live out of the Raleigh area who's working in the department." And I said, "But most of my field work is out of the office." "Doesn't matter. I don't want to do this." He was the same boss who turned Janet off on her projects. So, anyway, I said, "Okay, Janet, it's either split up or I go on the road with you." (laughs) So we both quit Archives and History, moved down, Janet got the job as the director of what became the New Hanover County Museum, worked for 22 years getting that thing out of a collection of attic memorabilia into what it is now and I just went out in the field, Janet got various projects, to mostly add additions to historic buildings that the families wanted to enlarge the houses but they wanted to do it in sympathy with what was there. And that's what a lot of my early stuff was.

Jones: Let's get into that a bit. With your background and your expertise and just discussing what you told me, told all of us, were there any rules and regulations in place at this early time, which I gather is-- what year are we talking about?

Turberg: '72 to...

Jones: That's what I thought.

Turberg: ...'78.

Jones: As far as rehabbing these older homes, staying within certain parameters, being able to get special financing as long as the historic value is not damaged and tinkered with.

Turberg: There really wasn't. In Virginia, places like Richmond had programs, and Charleston, they had programs.

Jones: Alexandria did, too.

Turberg: Alexandria, Savannah, and Wilmington basically modeled itself after those forums. Lee Adler, who is one of the big architectural historians in Savannah and was responsible for saving so much of Savannah's architecture, was up in Wilmington at some meeting and Thomas Wright, Jr., introduced himself to Mr. Adler and they were talking about what you do with historic buildings and Lee Adler was the one who said, "You've got to find somebody with money to buy these buildings before they're torn down and just wait until you can revolve them to somebody who will take on a project." But it was just about the time that the National Park Service was developing their secretary of the interior standards for rehabilitation, which turned out to be the bible that you followed to-- the dos and don'ts of how to rehabilitate a building and Al Honeycutt, my boss, and I were fortunate enough to be able to go up and work with Brown Morton and his team in the National Park Service at the beginning of working out the Secretary of the Interior standards and guidelines. So I feel that I have a strong part in the success of that book coming out. We tried to get developers and architects and realtors to invest a few dollars and get copies of those because not only does it deal with historic architecture but it also tells you how to relate new construction or additions in the neighborhood, to continue the pattern of the architectural character of the neighborhood.

Jones: Was it a problem finding the artisans, I use that loosely, carpenters, building engineers and so forth to work on these because, obviously, some must have been in just awful condition, not habitable.

Turberg: Mm hm. It was fairly easy and I think an example is when the Bellamy Mansion folks were restoring one of the rooms in the Bellamy House that had burned in a fire in 1971 and they got a plasterer who was able to run a molding where you put the wet plaster up and then you take a guide, a metal guide, and you just run it along and you create this molding. And people said, "Why don't you do it more often?" Because nobody wants us to do it. They would rather go to a building supply company and buy a fiberglass cornice that you glue up. He said, "We've always been able to do that and we're always ready to do it but the market isn't there." So we, who were in the market of finding artisans and craftsmen, could find them because they were what you might call common carpenters.

Jones: Is there any truth to this story, which I've heard several times, about ________________ comparing Wilmington to Savannah ________________ size and so forth that, when let's say balustrades, columns, all kind of-- windows, doors, when some of the old downtown homes were being sold off separately that it was-- so many of them were sold to people from Savannah who were rehabbing their homes down there. Do you know that to be?

Turberg: I don't know. But I do know that, in the period of World War II, a lot of the wonderful ironwork that surrounded plots in Oakdale was sold for the war effort, collecting metal and iron for the war effort. But I think the buildings that would have been altered, not the ironwork but maybe the turned posts and balustrades, I think it was an attempt of people to modernize something or put something up simpler that was too expensive to maintain for them. I think, if any of the materials went out to Savannah or Charleston or somewhere else from Wilmington, I think it was probably the building was destroyed. Now, an interesting footnote to all this is the idea of revolving historic fabric is that manufacturers, mainly in New York City, who created the cast iron fronts of these commercial buildings, you could buy the materials out of a catalogue and bolt them together virtually on the front of your old building and create a modern looking building. If, within a certain amount of time, you decided you didn't want it, they would buy the pieces back.

Jones: Ed, when did the Downtown Historic Preservation group, you were here when they were formed?

Turberg: No, it was formed in 1966, Historic Wilmington Foundation was established, which is the year that the National Park Service Preservation program started. So 1966 was sort of an opening of the gates for getting people to understand that they were losing valuable architectural resources.

Jones: When you moved here, did you find that Wilmingtonians or the people who were living here, they hadn't yet been invaded by Long Islanders and people from Connecticut and Ohio, that they had-- do you feel the natives here had an urge, desire to take part, whether it was manpower, donations, sweat, checks, to preserve a lot of the old history or were they kind of ambivalent around it? Was it a slow process?

Turberg: I think they were very active. It actually began through genealogy and collecting family papers and family photographs and acquiring the Latimer House across from First Presbyterian Church downtown and restoring that as a project. Many of the people who were involved with the Latimer House became involved with Historic Wilmington Foundation, which was into the architectural preservation part. So Thomas Wright and the Grahams and, oh, just a whole group of people started getting interested. One of the early movers and shakers was Hannah Block, who moved from...

Jones: Yeah, Hannah...

Turberg: ...Forest Hills...

Jones: about what she did.

Turberg: ...and bought the Parnell-Empie House downtown and then got on the phone and said to friends, "There's a house around the corner for sale. You can get it for $10,000. You need to do work on it but we can find somebody to do it." And, you know, it started going. I think some cities would say it was slow but, I mean, this is a laidback kind of area so it was pretty quick, I think. So, from, say, 1966 to 1974, when Tony Wrenn and Janet Seapker did the National Register nomination for Wilmington and decided that they couldn't identify or pick out one, two, three, four, five buildings, there was too much here so they created the largest National Register area in North Carolina...

Jones: That was a monstrous...

Turberg: ...a 230 block area.

Jones: That was a monstrous...

Turberg: And everything in it is considered historic unless the owner wants it taken off the Registry. So that was also 1966 and then, 1974, that was a big move forward that I think people realized that there was value downtown.

Jones: Well, when you got here, downtown was beginning to fade and the movement, of course, was all over the place.

Turberg: Well, it was really the commercial district that was suffering because that was attacked by urban renewal. After Atlantic Coast Line Railroad...

Jones: Left.

Turberg: ...left Dodge and moved down to Jacksonville, Florida, and I understand that about half of the population lost a paycheck...

Jones: That's right.

Turberg: ...there was nothing that could be done. The committee of 100 was established to bring industries in...

Jones: To try to bring industry here...

Turberg: ...which was a wonderful thing but the commercial district was dying. It never died. The wonderful thing about downtown Wilmington is, you always had certain places, you always had the drug store, you always had the music store, you always had small groceries...

Jones: The barber shop.

Turberg: ...the barber shop.

Jones: The barber has been in business for-- and I guess, up until the time-- I heard this again last night, John Hick, Glasgow Hicks Film, he said, "I ate my lunch every day at the cafeteria until it closed. When it closed, everybody moved out." And I'm thinking, wait a minute, now, you still worked downtown. It just wasn't the same.

Turberg: Yeah. Well, I was at Dr. Sobel's[ph?], eye doctor, and the City Optical place next to it getting my glasses adjusted and I remember sitting in City Optical and looking across the street at Efords[ph?] and we sang, "Is there any hope for the north end of Wilmington?" The papers are blowing in the niches, the old entrance ways of these empty buildings and I'm afraid that somebody's going to torch this area and the whole city is going to go up in flames. And then, one day, WHQR moved downtown and Glasgow Hicks did his building, the Efords building has been done, the...

Jones: Carolina Savings and Loan has become, I don't know, all kinds of lawyers up there, probably ambulance chasers or something...

Turberg: And Joe Reeves and Mal Murray took it on themselves...

Jones: Yes, they did-- well, with three other people.

Turberg: Yeah. When everybody around them was heckling them, they were going to lose their shirts, and the developed the Cotton Exchange...

Jones: They did.

Turberg: ...and just wonderful...

Jones: They had a consortium but they survived. The others moved on to other things and still here, you know.

Turberg: But another amazing thing-- this is getting into modern architecture, which I also like, a lot of what's being done in Wilmington, and that is the Timmy Corporation decided to build a hotel down...

Jones: That was the biggest thing that happened here.

Turberg: That is only the second time that a building was built in Wilmington with the express purpose of having a river view. If you look at the Murpeson[ph?] Bank building and all those other buildings, they are facing away from the river because that's where all the wharves and the ships and the ragamuffins were. But Timmy decided to look at the river for the view and to bring people and the other one, of course, was the custom house, the federal building, which, since their business was what goes up and down the river, they had to face the river. But it was a wonderful thing that the Timmy's did to that-- to build a hotel like that downtown and the other thing I like that other people won't agree with me is that we have Cape Fear Community College downtown. I think it's wonderful to be in a downtown city and have a college there.

Jones: I think their problem has been with so many people is that Cape Fear Community College seems to be devouring so much of the downtown area that pour the growth of this place and for what the future might bring is going-- they've got a place to go. Let them go, you know? That's interesting. On the subject of the customs house, have you ever thought how kind of too bad it's been that the old market place is gone?

Turberg: Yes but I'm even sorrier that the market house that was built to replace it is virtually gone. The old market house is original the cast iron building between Water and Front Street and then, eventually, all of the farmers and grocers and dairy people moved around to South Front Street where they now have the arcade where the crafts are now. That was the later market house. Well, I've got a photograph of it that I got from the library or the museum, a color postcard blown up, of the market house and it looks like a church. It looks like a cathedral with a big pointed roof and large windows and two towers. A number of years ago, a couple of men came into town and they were looking for something to purchase and do a big rehabilitation on and they were looking at that market house and I said, "Have you ever seen a picture of it in the 1880s? You could put that back, you know." And they were very excited about it but they went around and they couldn't get anybody to help them financially to do it. But, yes, we lost that but I think that it would have had to go eventually because there was no room for it in the traffic of downtown Wilmington with that old cast iron market house right in the middle of the street.

Jones: Ed, tell me this and tell all of us, what do you, I'm trying to word this kindly but I don't know how to do it, what do you feel have been our greatest losses for historic value, of buildings or using up space that should have been left as it was? What do you see the future for not just Wilmington but southeastern North Carolina growth over into Brunswick County, the huge development process?

Turberg: Well, I think the first thing that I'm distressed over having lost but I think there was no way to change it was the loss of Atlantic Coastline Railroad because the buildings were so wonderful. I mean, they were of their period. It was a densely populated area. The buildings were fairly large, massive buildings downtown and, as a sideline, I guess that's one reason I like seeing Cape Fear Community College there because it's put back that close knit architecture. Just from an architectural point of view. We never had a downtown park or plaza or town green. I think everybody was too busy developing the city from an early period and the only real park we have is next to City Hall along Princess Street. So I think a loss that we never thought of creating is the fact we don't have a nice downtown park but then, on the other side, I always try to look the good and the bad, on the other side, we have a killer river walk.

Jones: That is wonderful.

Turberg: I mean, that is the star...

Jones: People can actually walk it.

Turberg: Absolutely. And go all down and look up the hill and see historic Wilmington and look across at the battleship and nothing else is quite like that in a historic city. The architecture that's gone, I think a lot of the high Victorian mansard roof towered houses have long gone, houses along North Third Street and North Fourth Street. That was as beautiful as South Third and Market Streets, big houses, but I think they had to go. They had to go because they were too big. They were old-fashioned and you can't force people to like the architectural style that you like. Somebody, just the other night at a pre-Christmas party, asked me what my favorite architectural style is and I said, "It's easy, it's Queen Anne because it's all the styles rolled into one."

Jones: Yes, it is.

Turberg: You don't have to pick and choose. And especially by the post-World War II era, those places had faded out of fashion and nobody wanted them and you couldn't sell them. And houses where the library is now, which used to be Belk's Department Store, which was a wonderful reuse of a building, there are wonderful old houses there but I can't say I'm disappointed because it happens everywhere.

Jones: I heard somebody recently said that preserving history is a wonderful thing but there comes a time when a building has reached such obsolescence it's best to clean it up, take it down, and put something else in its place as long as it's not totally out of character with the neighborhood. I thought, [inaudible] if you could say the places that ________________. It becomes obsolete and-- cost-wise and it won't do anybody any good. What you can do is incorporate with a new structure and give credit to what's [inaudible]

Turberg: Well, a number of vacant lots in the residential historic district are having new housing put up and some are-- generally, they are nice because they are plain, simple houses, maybe one storey bungalows or two-storey houses and the simplicity of architectural features make you focus more on the architectural form and character and how it blends in with the fanciful architecture around it. But I think that the tendency is to overpopulate these areas and, if a house might be deteriorated, go ahead and tear it down because now you can build a new house on it that everybody sort of likes. So I think the temptation is there that, now that we have architecture that you can build a simple dwelling for somebody, now let's start looking for the empty lots or the deteriorated houses and we're right back to my professors in Pratt Institute saying, "The only value of the old house is that they're taking up valuable property. So get rid of them and put something new there."

Jones: What do you think, you're involved with this constantly but what do you think is the future and I'm talking short-term. Ten years is becoming a long span of tremendous changes. We're seeing that. What do you think is the future of, let's say, Wilmington as a city, the development, and as a destination place, why? Is it our history? Is it the beauty of the place? Is it a combination of things? We have tremendous art community. When I say the arts, I'm talking music, theater, paintings, whatever.

Turberg: Mm hm.

Jones: The beach. You can play.

Turberg: I think it's fishing, golf, the beach and the movies. Those are the big things.

Jones: Is that right?

Turberg: And, of course, the weather. I mean, why are you coming southeast from Ohio or southwest from Maine to live here? Because you're just sick and tired of the bad weather and, fortunately, we can get 13 to 20 inches of snow for Christmas like we did back in 1989 and realize that that's why we're called North Carolina. You get very good climate changes. Just this week, we've been experiencing it, from the 50s to the 70s and then, over the weekend, back to the 50s.

Jones: It creates personality changes, too.

Turberg: But I think people see and there was only one instance where both Janet and I were absolutely appalled when somebody said, "Until I came to Wilmington," this person, "this was a sleepy little town that had gone nowhere."

Jones: An individual said that?

Turberg: An individual said that.

Jones: Is that individual still riding a horse around here?

Turberg: I don't know if they're here or not. I think the mafia took her away. (laughter) Wilmington has been so important from the very beginning, from the 1730s. Wilmington has always been international. Wilmington has always traded with Europe and up and down the coast, from Boston all the way down to Jacksonville and to Miami, the Flaglers connected with the Kenan family, developed Florida. We were always international. This was no sleepy little town. We had important people. In the 19th century, we had vice-consuls living in Wilmington who were vice-consuls for all sorts of European countries and they were stationed here in Wilmington so we never were a sleepy little town. We were always international in character but a lot of people who came to Wilmington, I think, found, first of all, Wilmington and North Carolina, they're very gentle and loving people. I mean, Wilmingtonians really don't want to say anything mean about you.

Jones: No, you know, this is-- I'm glad you brought this up because there is a very well known dowager type in town and I love her to death, she really is, and she is-- you take a look at her, you can just see Wilmington 50, 60 years ago.

Turberg: Mm hm.

Jones: And one night at a dinner party, there was a lot of discussion about, once again, the convention center, et cetera, all these other things and there was a little trouble in heaven as far as the Historic Preservation group was concerned before the changes and such and this woman said, "Well," she said, "you know, I don't know anybody who's doing anything any more." And I said, "Don't you ever, don't you even go down and volunteer? You're from here and you love it." And she said, "I don't know those people." She said, "Once a year, I send a check. That's it." And the way she was talking was she did make a few other remarks but they were not condescending. It was a gentle woman who was showing her displeasure at the rapid changes and the rapid growth of people from somewhere else here and that she didn't have a handle on it yet because she was [inaudible] and I think that I've [inaudible]

Turberg: Well, we do run into people of that sort. I don't, fortunately, because the people I deal with want help in getting a historic plaque put on their house or having the research done or advice on listing the house in the National Register of Historic Places or helping them get tax credits for doing a rehabilitation for their house. So the people I meet are the people who are already converted to preservation.

Jones: Now, are these people who came here from somewhere else?

Turberg: Elsewhere.

Jones: Yeah.

Turberg: And a lot of them have had experience where they were and I said, "Well, don't tell me this is how you did it in Connecticut because you were following the same guidelines and standards that we are because we send everything to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. They are the people who give the approval so we're all working in together." But when Janet and I first moved to Wilmington in 1978, we decided we didn't want to own a house and we were going to rent for awhile so we rented a house in the 200 block of Nun Street right downtown and it was so nice because we'd sit out on the front porch or work in the garden and people would walk by or exercise their dogs or cats and stop and chat and walk on. A lot of them were still old timers...

Jones: Feel like...

Turberg: Yes. And William Whitehead was there and people like that and we really got acquainted and were immediately accepted, even though we were Yankees from two different parts of a troublesome north. And we were just welcomed with open arms and we went to dinner parties and things of that sort and talked about gardening and this and that and the other thing and had a great time. Well, then, in 1985, we decided to move to what was at the time called the Almost Historic District, Carolina Heights...

Jones: Which is great.

Turberg: ...up near Oakdale Cemetery. Well, there, nobody sits out on the porch. They're either in the den watching TV or out in the backyard playing with the dog or the kids and that closeness of village, a little town that never got anywhere, is lost. I think maybe that's what a lot of people who move in from a city elsewhere coming in are hit with the fact that people move around in and outside in the downtown area and they think, oh, this is more like a sleepy little southern town and they don't realize that, you go a little below the surface, and everybody is very, very interested in it. They may not be active because I think a lot of people are worried that they're going to be ignored. Now, I know that I can stand up on a orange crate and orate as long as I have breath to talk about why we should preserve things and what the future should bring and all of those things and I know that, five minutes after I'm dead, they're going to say, "All this stuff that Ed wrote, put it in the trash." We're moving ahead from here. So I don't worry about the future. The future is not history yet so what...

Jones: That's interesting. The future is not history yet.

Turberg: ...but what people-- well, what people complain about is-- right now, I hear some people complaining about the north side, that they're building these huge condos, these apartment houses and I say, well, I rather like it because I liked walking up and down Fifth Avenue in New York City and seeing these apartment houses. I think it makes it look more like a city. But I don't know enough to make a judgment on them until I know that they're fully occupied or is this simply an investment for somebody trying to use some money that he doesn't have to pay taxes on or can skirt certain issues, i.e., over building. The disappointment in going out to the shopping areas is how many of these mini malls are being built when you have, across the street, numerous stores that are empty?

Jones: One of the things that struck me when I first started coming here many years ago, and continued and still continues, is the absolute plethora of these mini malls or strip malls. And the one thing that really gets to me and I think everybody else, too, you can't go from one to the other. You have to come out in traffic and go right back in there. How many beauty parlors and flower shops and tattoo parlors do you need, you know?

Turberg: Well, we were talking about what-- some of the disappointments I feel are one is never have we ever been able to get a successful supermarket downtown and that has been requested for many, many years.

Jones: Why do you suppose that is?

Turberg: When we lived downtown, we would go across the bridge to Leland, to the two grocery stores over there because it was easier than going down Oleander and fighting all that traffic. The companies say that they've done studies and the values don't add up. They just don't have the kind of income that they feel that they would need. It's an excuse. They simply don't want to build down there. There are two buildings, I think one of them is gone, up near Taylor Homes, which has now been destroyed and they're going to build new houses in there, that was obviously an A&P supermarket because it had that little cupola on top of it that was turned 45 degrees so you could always tell it's an A&P. They did a colonial building but they turned the cupola. And then the other one is near New Hanover High School which is now I think either owned by Coca-Cola or the city and it's a garage but that was a store, also. But we all would like to see something downtown and it's not happening.

Jones: I know. This is a complaint I've heard over and over and I couldn't agree.

Turberg: The other thing that really upsets me is the eventuality of the other side of the river being high-rise apartments. I want all of that area around the battleship to stay exactly like it is. I want it to be a federal nature preserve.

Jones: But do you suppose that that is-- I understand that, for a long time, now, there have been feasibility studies done, that, because the ground is marsh-like, that it would be a stupid thing to do?

Turberg: Well, I've talked to several people who are interested in getting in on the development, architects and backers and engineers, and they say it can be done. It's a little expensive but it can be done. And I said, you know, I have a solution to the whole thing where you can have housing of a modern style and also preserve the landscape and the silhouette of that side, build underground houses. (laughter) Submerge them and have skylights. And, of course, we calmly and quietly and peacefully end the conversation because they know it's not going to go anywhere.

Jones: What do you think about the influx of all these people and the huge growth of Brunswick County? Many of them, I know, shop and work in Wilmington, live in Brunswick County but Brunswick is growing with-- they've got their Wal-Marts and their Harris Teeters, et cetera, et cetera, hotels, too. Is that going to add to-- and congestion downtown, along with the development of downtown, taking away some of the bars, the after hour bars and such, taking it back to more of a village like you were taking about. Can that work together?

Turberg: I think it can but what is disturbing is the fact that all of these suburban developments are more or less gated communities and, when Landfall first opened, my question was, is the wall there to keep them in or us out? And I never got the answer. But it is an isolating effect so now, if you go down on highway 17 going down to Myrtle Beach, you're getting through all these areas and you go through Leland and Belleville and places like that that you know are going to develop as gated communities.

Jones: Oh, they can hardly wait. Sell their double wide and...

Turberg: And I doubt very much if anybody who moves into those gated communities is going to know more than two or three other families there. Somebody had told me that, one day, they live in a gated community out in Leland, they decided it would be nice to invite neighbors and friends over to their backyard to have an ice cream social. A woman who had been invited called them up and said, "I have never heard of such a thing and I am not going to attend." She was not from here. You could tell she wasn't because she wasn't kindly. (laughter) And he said, "Okay, that's fine. You just don't have to come." And he said, "But I felt hurt that this person said, 'Well, I've never heard of such a thing so it shouldn't happen.'"

Jones: In other words, this person could have said, I'm sorry, we can't come, period.

Turberg: Exactly.

Jones: Yeah.

Turberg: So, anyway, the problem, I think, of...

Jones: [inaudible]

Turberg: I think the problem of suburban development is going to be the fact that you don't create a neighborhood. We go to visit friends in Landfall and they know the person on this side and that side but you say, "Who lives over there?" "I have no idea." But you live downtown and you sure know because you get acquainted or they acquaint themselves with you and I think even on the north side in those condominiums, it's not going to be like a New York City apartment that you never knew until you bumped into the person in Paris that they lived across the hall from you. I think you're going to get to know these people.

Jones: It's my understanding that this area, though, had a huge influx, well, we do have businesses moving in, corporations, GE is getting more contracts, et cetera, but the other thing is, the role of technology, that the growth of the midlevel, upper level executives who live here on a plane, once a week, once a month, go up to Raleigh, go to Charlotte, go to New York, wherever they have to go, they come back here and work out of their home. As long as they're paying their taxes here, who cares, you know? But that is probably something that we can experience almost anywhere but I don't know. Because Wilmington is a destination place for retired but it seems, too, those in their 30s and 40s are coming here for their quality of life.

Turberg: Mm hm. Yes. Yes.

Jones: Less stress. The kids in a neighborhood situation...

Turberg: Well, and I was looking at a magazine that had some advertisements for New York City apartments that you don't rent any more, you have to buy them, and a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment is selling for $2 million.

Jones: They're co-ops, which have to be approved by...

Turberg: Exactly. I mean, so who does want that? Yes, it's great to walk down the stairs and walk across the street and up three blocks and be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or go across the park and see an opera or a performance like the Philharmonic but when you're paying $100 a ticket for those things and $200 a ticket for a Broadway show, you're not going to be doing it as often as you think you might because of living in the convenience of New York City. I mean, it's much better being here and waiting for a good show to come to Thalian Hall or Kenan Auditorium.

Jones: I wanted to pick up on that. Part of what has happened, probably since you've been here, is Thalian Hall and they're continuing to grow and build. The arts community. So you can compare New York, yes, but there's only one New York. There's only one Paris. There's only one London, you know? If you want to see them, go there. But what you, as an architect, as an historical buff, a history buff who's very knowledgeable, I want to get into that. I want to get into the tour business and Janet had mentioned one time about a lot of business from people from the British Isles, your tourists by design, which is a marvelous title.

Turberg: Tourist by Degrees.

Jones: By Degrees. And how do you do this? And that's going to be another hour. So what I want to ask from you is are you game to come back, let's say, any time after the 8th or 9th of January and give us another morning?

Turberg: I'd love to.

Jones: Because...

Turberg: I'm flattered that you want me to talk.

Jones: ...we have-- there's so much more to go. You see, you are so knowledgeable about-- for someone who's a non-Wilmingtonian and I have found that most-- with a few exceptions, those who come here but, with your background and your love of history, love of architect and your soul mate has the same interests, and you people have dived right in but you have an understanding and these are important.

Turberg: Well, one thing...

Jones: And it gives our listening and watching audience a sense of the past, the present and why certain things are going to happen in the future that many people don't understand.

Turberg: Well, one thing I would like to say before closing and I think it's one thing that is maybe the icebreaker with a lot of people, I'll go into their homes and they may just be starting a rehabilitation, they want to know what to do, or they are just finishing up or they have finished and they want to see if the building might qualify for historic plaque or something and I go in and they apologize immediately that the house isn't in a condition to really look at and I said, "Listen, I work with houses that are deteriorated and try to work with the owners to get them up into a state where they can be occupied comfortably." I said, "I'm not from Good Housekeeping, you're not going to get a seal of approval because I don't give those things. I'm here to look at history and tell you what you should save and what you can change because remember one thing, you should never dust. Let everything be dusty because history-- dust is history unfolding." Dust is history unfolding. So leave it that way.

Jones: I've got to put that down, too. That's great. I can just see me putting a sign up in some room in the house, dust is history unfolding.

Turberg: Well, not too long ago, I think the New Yorker magazine had an article entitled, "English love dirty books."

Jones: They do.

Turberg: Of course, everybody would read that article. Well, it referred to the fact that, in English libraries, you don't take the books off the shelves but maybe twice a year to dust them and get the dirt off them.

Jones: I know that is probably true when I visited the Long Hall Library University in Dublin. The longest room in the world, floor to ceiling books, people on these elevated ladders. It was that time a year, it was their once a year and it takes all year to do this, to dust the books with guess what? Feather dusters.

Turberg: Yes, I've seen that in private homes in England.

Jones: I couldn't believe it. We were told, this is very-- you can see them up close.

Turberg: Yes. It's fascinating but the architect-- I had an architect who replaced me when I left my job in Archives and History. It took an architect to replace me and he was wonderful because he worked on both modern architecture and on restorations and he was the one who I know many people have said it before but said it in a way that it was riveted in my mind and that is, when you finish the restoration of a building, it should look and feel like an old building, not a new one.

Jones: That's true. Ed, thank you. Let's aim for sometime in January.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign