An arts vision for a historic Durham space.

By Kim Alexander

Julio Cordoba

When Julio Cordoba surveys the third floor of the building he owns in Durham he envisions an expansive art gallery  and dance studio space occupying the western end.  He points to the exterior end wall of the imagined dance hall, indicating where windows can be reopened and to the opposite wall where mirrors and a barre might be installed.  The Cordoba Center for the Arts exists both in present reality and in the future vision of a businessman who spent time in New York’s East Village and its cultural influences.

Once a textile mill producing bags for the tabacco industry, the buildings of the former Golden Belt Manufacturing Co. have been approved for Durham Historic Landmark status in the last year. Since 2001, entrepreneur Julio Cordoba has owned the anchor building, originally constructed in 1901. Even prior to the dot com bust, Mr. Cordoba’s initial office suites plan for the former factory included arts-centric features. The economic circumstances of the last decade have forced consideration of alternative space-use options, resulting in new occupants at 923 Franklin Street.

A potential theater space?

After the collapse of a portion of the ceiling at Liberty Warehouse on Foster Street in 2011, The Scrap Exchange found urgently needed shelter within The Cordoba Center for the Arts and since has settled comfortably into its new home. More recently Liberty Arts, a non-profit artist collaborative sculpture studio, relocated into bays on the ground floor of the arts center, adjacent to The Scrap Exchange. Though artist bay space is limited at the moment, future spaces may become available for artists working in other disciplines, such as ceramics or glassblowing and forming. Regardless, additional rooms within the evolving arts center complex function as venues for other art disciplines.

Appearing somewhat innocuous when viewed from its exterior, an open-air event space known as The Platform inspires creative use, flanked by a patinaed red brick wall and exposed side facing a raised train track bed (still in use, but traveled only once each

The Platform

morning).  A reminder of the structure’s original function, The Platform is a connector from The Cordoba Center for the Arts (in the original anchor building), to the recently restored Golden Belt Arts/Residential/Commercial complex.  At the end of March, The Platform served as a space to host Brew Durham 2012, a fund raising event for The Scrap Exchange.  In May, another group plans to hold a one-night pop-up art event there.  Though some minor alterations and improvements are planned for The Platform, the event space will retain its industrial appearance and appeal for those seeking a uniquely accessible event venue.

Second floor space, already being used for performance and recording.

In another part of the building, live theater performances (including Titus Andronicus by Delta Boys Theater Company) have been held in the second floor loft, overlooking the Liberty Arts bay space. Another group plans to utilize the same loft to record a musical performance. The current configuration of this extended loft space, in conjunction with a rustic wood floor and ceiling, offers appealing acoustics for performing art events.

As he guides us through and around the building, Mr. Cordoba lists other aesthetic features that would enhance the envisioned arts center: a natural light-infusing atrium, a courtyard, green space for a sculpture garden. He also adds to the “wish list” a local brewer to restore and occupy the multi-story tank on the property and proposes the brewery name – “The Tank”. The possibilities for future use seem as limitless as the expanse of creative arts disciplines.

Ample green space at the rear of the building, with the "Tank" on the right.

Before future plans can become reality, the building will require some repairs and restoration. At first glance the folded sheets extending from the third floor ceiling appear to be an art installation. However, the intended function serves to funnel rain water into catch bins. The roof should be replaced, and floors be repaired before the envisioned gallery and dance studio may move forward. As Mr. Cordoba states, “The bones are here for a fantastic arts center,” should an interested developer become available, or arts groups be willing to take on the challenge.  With the increase in arts venue access offered by The Cordoba Center for the Arts, the Bull City stands to gain economically as well as culturally by creation of an arts attraction and destination strongly rooted in Durham history.

Third floor space - artist and dance studios?

Kim deftly operates a laptop keyboard somewhere in RTP during the day, while in her off hours she enjoys cooking, perusing farmers’ markets, volunteering and exploring the Triangle arts scene and scenery. You can reach Kim at her email.”

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[…] Center for the Arts – The Scrap Exchange and Liberty Arts have relocated to this historic building found in the Golden Belt complex.  The Scrap Exchange debuts “Re-used with Care” in […]