Wilmington — The Ice House was an icon and a treasure trove of history. Originally a portside venue in the 1800s where ice was stored and distributed, it became one of downtown’s most beloved bars in the 90s, with Hollywood as one of Wilmington’s most famous television shows. It became the stage. When the dismantling plan was revealed in the early 2000s, it was not surprising that there was a fight to save it.
However, the battle for conservation was defeated and the building was destroyed, but the planned construction of a luxury condominium did not materialize. For nearly 20 years, the Ice House once lived as one of many toll parking lots in downtown.
It can change quickly.
A plan was submitted to the city to build a 60-foot-high apartment with a first-floor commercial space on 0.37 acres of land. According to early planning documents obtained by Port City Daily, Hipp Architecture and Development is seeking approval from the Wilmington City History Conservation Commission for multipurpose 6-story development at 115 and 117 Southwater Street.
Located next to the city market, it was stripped of its historic position last year and re-qualified for rebuilding as a new and tall building, perhaps with a condominium.
Architect Clark Hip, a longtime Wilmington, said he was in town when the original Ice House was alive. Since then, he has called it a “hole” in downtown.
“It’s a shame that it’s being used as a ground parking lot that the city is trying to minimize,” he said. “This is actually an opportunity to bring a Class A residential structure to the south side of downtown.”
From ice cold blocks to ice cold beer
Prior to refrigeration, the ice was cut in New England and sent to a house on Water Street in Wilmington, explained by historian and former New Hanover County Librarian Beverly Tetterton. According to city documents, the original building (three-story masonry) existed in 1845 and was probably built by a Baptist minister.
For decades, ice was being carried from ships to the ice chamber. These buildings were insulated using sawdust, rice shafts, or another material between the outer wall and another interior wooden barrier. The boat that delivers the product featured the same design. Customers can either collect the ice from the ice house or order regular deliveries.
“It changed people’s lives as a whole, especially in the South,” Tetterton said. “If ice is formed after refrigeration-because if someone has a fever, they can be chilled with ice. It also brought something like a saloon.”
Over the years, the original building has changed and the ice industry has changed. In the late 1800s, it became a seafood market. By the 1990s, it consisted of a one-story building parallel to the riverfront and a two-story building along the Muters Array, home to an ice house pub.
The indoor and outdoor live music venues, known for their blues publicity, were attended by a variety of artists who performed on the iconic tugboat stage. It was a community problem.
“It was a really great gathering place,” Tetterton said.
The bar appeared in “Dawson’s Creek” in the first season. After it was destroyed, the teen show wrote a story about the facility burning down and rolling the camera to Dockside Restaurant as a new shooting location.
Tetterton was one of the conservationists fighting to save it. She contacted several ports such as Savannah, Charleston, and Pensacola, and she said she couldn’t identify another building comparable to the Ice House.
“So when they broke it, we lost one of the country’s rarest and most valuable buildings,” she said.
The sound of the front loader moving to the building in 2004 attracted a crowd of about 50 protesters. Reported by StarNews at the time. Some call the structure dangerous, while others call it architecturally sound. Developers have expressed demand for more housing, and opponents have questioned the true needs of the city.
Many attempts to build
This wasn’t the first time a new use for a waterfront property was envisioned. It has been planned many times since the turn of the century and approved for projects that have never seen the light of day.
Architect Hipp explained that it is difficult to build this property for a variety of reasons, including flood areas and soil.
“For properties on the west side of Front Street, the soil is often very poor due to the river,” says Hipp. “Foundation work is very expensive.”
Between 1990 and 2000, the History Preservation Commission issued several appropriate certificates to change the building. In 1989, there was a plan for a three-story brick masonry building with a balcony. In 2002, after New Hanover County blamed the structure, the design of a five-story multipurpose building was presented. In 2004 it was sold to new ownership in a condo plan.
In 2005, Myrtle Grove Enterprise LLC acquired land for $ 2.1 million. The new owner has proposed a combination of retail and residential units. Reported by StarNewsBut like all previous plans for properties, there was no movement.
Hipp has confirmed that the port property is currently a future purchaser of vacant lots. The site plan includes 61 rental condominiums from the 3rd floor.
On the ground floor, likely to be a retail store, the management office fills 2,240 square feet of the planned commercial space. The first and second floors will also have space for 49 cars on a deck of approximately 13,361 square feet.
Some units feature a captivating Juliet balcony and rails by the full-length windows. Along Water Street, there is a full dark bronze balcony and the top unit has a roof terrace.
With harmony in mind
When the History Preservation Commission reviews the project’s suitability certificate in June, it primarily looks to see if the design is in harmony with its surroundings. Jessica Baldwin leads the conversation as the city’s recently appointed historic conservation planner. This is the first new construction she brought before the members.
According to Hipp, the design incorporates similar styles to other areas in the neighborhood, such as masonry that matches the details of nearby buildings. Fiber cement board siding is intended to replicate lap siding.
60 feet is the tallest thing you can build on a property, located in a historic overlay of a commercial business district. This means that this project is making the most of its capacity. According to Hipp, the design has taken the upper level of the home head-on.
“Therefore, it just feels like a building about 50 feet high, not a building 60 feet high,” says Hipp.
If construction goes according to the Commission’s intentions, construction of the project may begin later this year or early 2023. Although still early, Hipp said the name is likely to nod to the original Ice House.