There’s a big fight going on right now over whether Guilford County should save the Otto Zenke building at 400 W. Washington St. in downtown Greensboro or bulldoze it into oblivion.
Some Guilford County commissioners say the structure is a historic treasure that needs to be preserved while others say it’s a dangerous dilapidated dump that should be unceremoniously leveled as soon as the Sheriff’s Department officials who now occupy it can find a new headquarters.
The fight to save the “historic” building is being led by two Democratic commissioners – Kay Cashion and Carolyn Coleman. Cashion said recently that the building has a great deal of history and should be preserved, and Coleman made a motion at a commissioners work session earlier this month to do just that.
Everyone admits the building has problems: It’s subject to flooding; many floors have shifted and aren’t level; parts of the balcony are considered unsafe – and recently the building has had a problem with snakes. Over the years, some have seriously claimed the building was haunted, though it doesn’t appear that will be a key factor in the decision making process.
The building is named for Otto Zenke, a well-known Brooklyn-born designer and interior decorator who moved to Greensboro in the 1930s. Zenke, who died in 1984, used the building as a showroom and office before Guilford County bought the property and moved the Sheriff’s Department’s administrative offices into it.
Guilford County is considering tearing it down to provide parking on that spot, but Cashion, Coleman and others who consider the building historic don’t want to see that.
Commissioner Alan Branson said the county needs parking in that area and he isn’t moved at all by the arguments.
“What the hell is historical about it?” Branson said this week.
Guilford County Sheriff’ BJ Barnes also said the building needs to come down. He said the only nice thing about it is that it does have a “swimming pool” after very heavy rains.
Barnes said, “It’s not historical. Part of it is from 1967. The front part could be historic – but it’s not.”
Barnes said that while the front part of the building was constructed much earlier, that section of the building was moved to 400 W. Washington St. from a previous location which Barnes said disqualifies it from being classified as a historic structure.