In Durham, the train tracks are still there, but the station, sixty-five-foot Italianate tower and all, is gone. In its place is a multilevel parking deck. Cars go by on the four-lane section of road beside it—part of the loop built around the city’s center. Looking at the site today, it is hard to imagine that the massive structure once vibrant with passengers boarding and disembarking was ever there in the first place. But for the past four years, bringing the city’s demolished or neglected historical buildings back to life has been Gary Kueber’s self-appointed task.
Kueber is the creator of Endangered Durham, a massive blog of about a thousand posts that tells the stories of particular buildings, street addresses, and pieces of infrastructure. Most of these entries include a brief narrative along with archival photographs, maps, or postcard illustrations of the properties standing in contrast to images showing how things look today. But the website is more than a before-and-after: Kueber adds commentary that reflects his commitment to historical preservation and reuse.
“We like to consider ourselves more enlightened,” he wrote of activists today who think the 1968 destruction of Durham’s Union Station to make way for automobile traffic was tragic, “but then, so did they—convinced that no one would ever ride the train again.”
Kueber is the chief operating officer of the Durham real-estate development firm Scientific Properties, a job he was recruited for partly because of his work on the website; his path to his current career is not unlike one of the hidden histories he writes on his blog. After graduating from Duke with a double major in zoology and English, Kueber spent a year working in a cardiac catheterization lab, but left for his hometown of New Orleans to attend medical school at Louisiana State University. In 1997, he returned to the area to begin a residency in internal medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Still, he decided to live near downtown Durham. Finding his house bordered on one side by the Durham Freeway and the one-way thoroughfare of Duke Street on another, Kueber says he began to question his surroundings. “I thought, ‘How did this all come to be?’ ”
He entered private practice in primary care, but after a few years, realized that medicine wasn’t the right fit. He had been reading journal articles about the health effects of physical environments. Cities built to encourage pedestrian traffic led to people living longer, happier lives, while those that didn’t led to inactivity and isolation, and, consequently, illness.
Kueber pursued master’s degrees in public health and regional planning at Chapel Hill. In 2006, while he was completing his studies, he began making posts to the Endangered Durham site, which he originally conceived of as a way to alert Durham’s citizens to buildings in danger of being demolished. “I thought I had two or three months of material,” Kueber says. But soon, his curiosity took over, and he began to document the city’s land-use and architectural history, one address at a time. In the process, he’s managed to create a miniature archive; he is currently reconfiguring the site to preserve his work and make it easier to access and search.
He spends many of his free hours researching, talking to local historians, and taking pictures. A few times, he says, he’s been walking beside a freeway embankment or scouting an empty parking lot with camera in hand, and “people stopped their car and called out, ‘Hey, you’re the Endangered Durham guy!’ ” Kueber laughs. Who else would it be?