111-113 E. Gate City Boulevard: Long Ago a Synagogue, Now A Million-Dollar Orphan in Downtown Greensboro

This 1910 duplex is the last trace of a residential neighborhood in the 100 block of the former East Lee Street. The address is 111-113 E. Gate City Boulevard, and the owners have put the house and its tiny lot up for sale for $1.06 million (yeah, I laughed, too). The lots on either side are vacant. The Union Square campus is across the street. The duplex is the only residence on Gate City Boulevard for blocks in either direction. It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1910, downtown Lee Street was overwhelmingly residential.

The property’s early history is largely ecclesiastical. The earliest recorded owner is “Tr. Yearly Mtg of Frnds.” A “Friends Church” was listed at “Lee nr Elm” from 1896 to 1908, probably occupying an earlier structure. The property was bought in 1909 by the Greensboro Hebrew Congregation, which became Temple Emanuel 40 years later. The 1909-10 city directory lists the congregation for the first time, showing its address as “Lee nr Elm,” so the duplex apparently served as their synagogue. The Rev. Gedalyahu Mendelsohn was listed as rabbi (today I learned that certain rabbis do use “reverend” as a title). The congregation sold the property in 1924 but bought it back again in 1929. They sold it again in 1945. From 1946-52, it was owned by the N.C. District of Assemblies of God. Since then, the duplex appears to have been a residential property.

The current for-sale listing provides little information about the house itself, aside from its unlikely price (it does say there are three units, but it looks like it was originally a duplex, so that’s what I’m calling it). The listing’s only photo is from Google Street View (as is the one above). County records show it to be 3,300 square feet ($320/square foot). The house sits on a standard 0.14-acre residential lot, so the price extrapolates to about $7.42 million per acre. That might fly in midtown Manhattan, but it doesn’t seem likely in downtown Greensboro.

Click to see it larger.

At any price, the property’s future isn’t likely to be residential. It hasn’t been much of a location to actually live in for decades. There are some apartments above the stores around the corner on South Elm Street, up the street a ways, and there’s a condo building around the corner on Arlington Street (behind the used car lot next door). Southside is a couple blocks to the northeast. But for a house facing Gate City Boulevard, those places aren’t neighbors. It’s out there by itself, living on borrowed time as it has for decades. The property changed hands five times between 1993 and 2001. Its owner since then has moved to another state. And wants a million dollars for it.

The other side of the street has been given a new life with the Union Square campus. That’s still a work in progress, though, and, at the rate it’s going, its progress may be measured in decades. It’s not inconceivable that 111-113 E. Gate City could provide a toehold if some of that progress could spill over across the street. Whether that happens or not, a 1910 duplex might not figure in anyone’s plans.