‘More than just bricks and mortar’: UNC Naval Armory faces demolition

By Kristen Snyder

The bricks of the memorial pathway line the entrance of the Naval Armory, engraved with the names of Carolina’s service members to remind cadets of the legacy that guides them — but perhaps not for much longer.

“If the armory is torn down, their memory will also vanish,” Air Force Cadet Katie Goldman said.

 This year, Goldman wonders if her team will be adding to the memorial pathway. She is not sure whether to begin engraving bricks or end the tradition and wait for the pathway to be destroyed with the rest of the armory.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s plan

After UNC-CH finalized its 2019 University Master Plan, the Naval Armory fell under the list of buildings set for demolition. The plan envisions a new Institute for Convergent Science at the current armory site.

Surface 678 is the architecture firm providing planning for the new proposed layout. The university expects the institute to give STEM majors a place to connect, expand their research and develop participation in the market.

But for cadets like Goldman, memories of weekly drill sessions, leadership classes and late-night bonding might soon be replaced by the rubble of the armory and its broken traditions and legacies.

Goldman recalled the day she was contracted into the Air Force in the shadow of the American flag flying over the armory. She, and other first-years, stood tentatively before the lieutenant colonel and swore allegiance to the Constitution and the U.S. to lay down their lives, should their country require it. For her, that memory lives closer to her heart than to her mind.

 “I would have the same reaction as if they bulldozed the Old Well or the planetarium or the Bell Tower or the Dean Dome,” Lt. Col. Mark Clodfelter said.

Clodfelter taught at UNC-CH from 1994-1997, serving as the Aerospace Department Chair while also heading the Air Force ROTC program. Clodfelter trained over 70 Air Force cadets in the halls of the armory. He showed them the pillars of the Air Force, not only as a military branch, but as a brotherhood.

 In the drill deck, Clodfelter reminded cadets to strive for excellence in their performance and their morale. He bonded the cadets together as a family, inspired by the belief that they will fight in the greatest military for the greatest country in the world. 

“This building is a symbol of that…the commitment to service and if necessary to lose one’s life in that service to the nation…and thus you take this building down you have lost that symbol,” Clodfelter said.

 Clodfelter and other members of the community have rallied around the armory in the hopes of saving both the building and the memories within it.

Preserving history

 “The armory is more than just bricks and mortar,” Rob Rivers, a member of the UNC-CH Naval ROTC Alumni Association, said.

 Rivers has worked closely with Sandy Henkel, to form a preservation committee to advance the status of the armory as a historical landmark and preserve its place on campus. 

Henkel spoke of the building’s assets, which make it unique and augment the committee’s case.

“Obviously historical significance based just on World War II and the service that this building gave to the UNC- CH, to America… and under architectural significance.”

 In 1940, then-UNC President Franklin Porter Graham, fought to save the university by bringing naval funding to campus. His success brought new buildings, a foreign language program, a pre-flight school and one of the first Naval ROTC programs.

The Naval Armory was designed by Archie Royal Davis, a leading architect at the time in North Carolina, and built in 1942 to meet the needs of the ROTC program. Henkel said that Davis’ design further contributes to the historical significance of the building.

The design of the building was meant to reflect the colonial look of the Carolina Inn while also giving a modernist approach to the inside. The drill deck placed in the center of the armory was built to fit the needs of trainers preparing midshipmen to serve as leaders. One of those trainers was Gerald Ford.

 But in 1996, all cadets and midshipmen were consolidated to the armory as the university accepted more students, and there was less of a need for military training. The armory became the military hub of UNC-CH, as it remains today.

Yet, ground is still set to break on the site in 2027.

Why the Naval Armory?

Many, including Rivers and Henkel, are confused. Other potential demolition sites, like Whitehead Hall and Venable Lot, provide more economic and strategic sense than replacing the armory.

 The armory is still used for its intended purpose. Moreover, it is valued amongst current students, alumni and visitors who recognize the building’s significance to the university’s history. 

 Rivers and Henkel spoke to the willingness of Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and the UNC-CH Board of Trustees to recognize the significance of the armory. While they determine the university to be receptive, the main question still goes unanswered.

What aspects of the armory set it apart from other antiquated buildings on campus for demolition?

 The answer: no one knows.

 UNC-CH Facility Services declined an interview about the building’s deficiencies. There seems to be limited documentation indicating why the armory and institute cannot exist simultaneously.

For those who train and work at the armory, that answer is not only necessary but deserved.

Four years from now, a student might walk past a construction site on a North Campus corner. They won’t know that the bricks that surrounded the armory may very well have been laid by the Pre-Flight Naval school. They won’t know that Davis constructed each element with the hope to augment the training of future officers in the United States military. They’ll forget that there used to be a flag for cadets to salute and remember the UNC-CH military legacy that existed since World War II.

 Or, they might just walk past a historical landmark. A symbol of military service and tradition. And perhaps, they might just see a few more engraved bricks in the ground.

  Edited by Preston Fore and Lauren Fichten.