Purity & comfort in an empty mattress store in Durham

The Lakewood neighborhood in Durham is home to an eclectic assortment of businesses, both present — the Simonetti Historic Tuba Museum, the Scrap Exchange, African Land — and past — an early 20th-century amusement park and a 21st-century organic mattress store.

The store moved out a couple of years ago (the building at 2009 Chapel Hill Road is now for sale). I shot this photo shortly after all of the mattresses had been removed but the shop’s slogan remained on the wall.


Remnants of an organic mattress store, Chapel Hill Road, Durham
©2014 Lisa Sorg

Sun Trust

A woman was reading in Black Wall Street Plaza in Durham, an umbrella propped up to shield her from the sun. Later I noticed the SunTrust ATM in the background, with the same color scheme as the umbrella.


Durham street preachers: Read and heed


Five Points, downtown Durham

Above, a street preacher, May 2016:  “Read and heed. I hope you listen.”

Below, children from Mt. Zion Christian Academy, May 2015:
“Repent. You will be judged.”


©2015, 2016 Lisa Sorg

Las Amazonas: No Loitering

lasamazonascross 2.jpg

Formerly an amusement park on a trolley car line, the Lakewood Shopping Center now  looks threadbare, with a Food Lion, Dollar General and a dozen or more vacant storefronts.

A few doors down from B&T Tobacco,  Las Amazonas was a Mexican restaurant and bar that seemed to keep erratic hours. I never went, but some (male) friends who had been there said Latinas were hired to dance — and only dance — with male customers, mostly Latino.

Las Amazonas appeared to have closed a while ago, although it’s hard to say when. I passed by the place this morning and noticed someone had broken its window. But when I looked through the hole and saw the wall mural, I realized the purpose of this place was to remind its patrons of home.



Filling the empty lots: Durham development

Gary Kueber of Open Durham called this lot “the strangest downtown property.” The former furniture warehouse lot at 120 W. Parrish St., between Alley 26 and the old Jack Tar motel, had been abandoned for years. And then it was redeveloped by Arthur Rogers — he did the Citizens Bank building, home of Bar Virgile — into artful small office/start up space.



Photo by Lisa Sorg ©2014

Rogers had to navigate a lot of bureaucracy to build an here: Nearby Mechanics & Farmers Bank actually owned a sliver of the property, which was designated by a metal inlay in Alley 26. As creative infill development, this lot illustrates that imaginative, positive placemaking is possible.

There’s a lot of anxiety about a changing Durham, some of which is documented in an exhibit, Durham Under Development at Pleiades Gallery, on view through March 6. This photo, shot from the parking deck of the Jack Tar Motel in December 2014, is part of the show. I remember looking over the edge of the deck (I’m a bit afraid of heights) and after my queasiness dissipated, recognized the striking geometry of the scene. And Doodleman, the yellow figure in the alley, is peeking over the edge.

I share the anxiety — about affordability, about displacement and gentrification — and have covered it extensively for the INDY and Bull City Rising. However, I also have hope and no small amount of fascination about our changing city. The changes need to be equitable and inclusive. The changes must not diminish Durham’s most endearing qualities: Its diversity, and what the Japanese would call wabi-sabi, the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

We want progress, but we don’t want sterility and exclusivity. Fortunately, Durham CAN, People’s Alliance, the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit are all keeping important issues in front of city officials, who, for the most part, are equally concerned.

These days, you can’t — or I should say, it’s difficult — to get to the top of the old Jack Tar because it is also under development. It’s being transformed from a ’60s motel that eventually became squatters’ quarters and an old-school coffee shop , which was displaced for construction, into a swinging boutique hotel, due to open in a year.

boy in coop garage

Photo by Lisa Sorg ©2014

This photo is also in the show. In November 2014, I met several boys playing in the shell of the future Center for Child & Family Health. It is part of the Kent Corner development that includes the Durham Co-op.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and the boys were horsing around in a building under construction, as boys  and girls  will do. (I could definitely envision myself doing the same at that age, and apparently even at the ripe old age of 49.)

All My Children Day Care and the West End Community Center used to be on this property, but they were demolished. While it’s too soon to assess the impact of Kent Corner—it opened about a year ago—on the largely African-American neighborhood, it’s important to ensure that the development does not displace longtime residents.

A wall was outside of the frame, and another boy was hurling himself over it. That explains the silhouette of his feet. In addition to the geometry of the shot (yes, I’m into geometry), there’s a certain innocence about this young man that I felt endeared to.

What will Durham look like when he grows up? Will he benefit from the city’s progress? Or will he be excluded? We owe it to him that he has more educational, vocational, and personal opportunities as the result of the renaissance.

Only the only: the odd beauty of Ahoskie

green church

The town of Ahoskie, North Carolina, welcomed me with a speeding ticket, and send me back home with images of a place I have yet to make sense of.

Like most small towns, it is struggling to keep its place in the world. Jobs have evaporated. Shopping has been exiled from downtown to the suburbs or nearby cities. That said, I found the town beautiful because it lived up to its nickname.

soldier 3 copy

At 36.28 degrees latitude, Ahoskie, population 5,000, is nicknamed “The Only One,” because it is the only such named town in the world. True: I have never seen a church decked out in green and white like the one in Ahoskie. Or a painting in a storefront like the one on Main Street. Or a metal sculpture of a soldier like the one in No Man’s Land Park.

soulfoodweird painting colortrain bench

On the street, a found painting ©Japan


japanese painting 2.jpgInitially, I paid little attention to the gray bench seat, apparently from a van, slumped on the curb along Kent Street. Then I saw the discarded painting, propped up on a cushion, and realized this could be one of the greatest street finds I’d ever encountered.

To say it’s a painting sells it short. The lake and sky are painted in what appears to be watercolor, but the rest of the piece is constructed of natural materials: bark, wood and moss.


The paper on the back of the painting is stamped with ©Japan, which means these pieces of nature were likely collected in that country. Since there is no artist’s signature, perhaps the artwork was mass produced. Nonetheless, it bears the mark of the individual. Somebody tapped those metal brads into the wooden island, glued the moss and the bark.


I came home, and my husband, Dennis, and I immediately hung it on a living room wall. We shined a lamp on it so we could analyze it more closely.

“You know, it’s kind of sophisticated,” I told him.

“Sophisticated enough for us,” he replied.