The proposed rehabilitation of Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, N.C., is moving forward, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The group has completed an official assessment of the house’s structural conditions and chosen a path of initial action alongside the four New York-based artist-owners, Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Ellen Gallagher and Julie Mehretu.
“We are committed to realizing the artist-owners’ dream of seeing this home preserved and reborn as an act of social justice and a tribute to Ms. Simone’s unapologetic pursuit of musical, personal and political freedom,” Tiffany Tolbert, senior field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in the group’s official statement.
In an interview with the Herald-Journal, Tolbert said the conditions assessment found that the home’s foundation was sound, as was the house overall, but many of the materials on the home’s exterior are in need of repair.
Tolbert said the owners were presented with two paths for restoration: They could go the route of temporary stabilization, to prevent any further deterioration, or they could have the house undergo more permanent repairs. The owners ultimately decided to begin repairing the house, focusing on repairs that will prevent further weather damage, particularly from moisture.
This work, which will begin in the spring after an architect is chosen, will include repairing and painting the siding; repairing or replacing the roof, depending on further inspection; and repairing the windows to seal out moisture. The work will focus on the exterior, leaving the interior work for after a plan of how the home will be used has been developed. Tolbert said the work could begin as early as April.
The home was designated a “national treasure” in June, coincidentally coinciding with the Juneteenth holiday. The four artists had purchased the house when it was up for sale and in danger of being demolished in 2017, and later partnered with the National Trust’s African-American Heritage Action Fund to find a way to restore and reuse the home.
Tolbert will be heading to Tryon on Valentine’s Day for a planning session with The Nina Simone Project, which has acted as the local point-of-contact for the project.
“Frankly, I can’t think of a better Valentine’s gift to Tryon, to North Carolina, and to the United States,” said Crys Armbrust, founder and leader of The Nina Simone Project.
The National Trust, along with the owners and local artists, preservationists and project partners like The Nina Simone Project, the World Monument Fund, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Preservation North Carolina, the N.C. State Historic Preservation Office and UNC-Asheville, among others, will hold a “visioning workshop” in May in Tryon to discuss ideas for the future use of the house. Members of the public not directly associated with the project will be able to participate as well, though not in person.
“There will be opportunities for the public to weigh in, but it won’t be a public meeting,” Tolbert said. Tolbert said that ideas from the public would be included during the vision workshop’s discussions. The format for public discussion and submission of ideas is still being developed.
Armbrust declined to discuss any specific ideas that his organization will be bringing to the May meeting, but he said that he would support uses that “emphasize broad community dialogue and stress positive, personal-growth opportunities, especially for young people.”
“My greatest hope for the project is exactly what is happening: the mindful preservation of an integral historic structure closely associated with the early growth and development of Dr. Nina Simone, a music icon and civil rights activist of global merit,” Armbrust said.
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