"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." - Oscar Wilde
Living and working at 502 Pollock is the education in history I always wanted. I began collecting ancient or at least vintage items that spoke to me since childhood. A throne-like chair with lions heads and feet, kutani plates with beautiful bugs to surprise you when you’re done with dinner, a tile from a church in Saint Petersburg with faded Russian saints. My first ambition when I graduated with a degree in English Literature was to move to Washington DC and land an internship at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The winds of fate, however, pushed me towards future not past technology, and I ended up a video game designer.
I left North Carolina and spent twenty years creating software in Los Angeles, a city infamous for obliterating its past. Yes, there are a handful of adobe structures here and there that date back, but few structures are honored with that longevity. In 2007, my parents moved from New York City to the town of New Bern on the inner banks of eastern North Carolina. Visiting them over the years, I discovered a postcard village which wears its three hundred year history with pride and panache.
When my family decided to create Wit Clothier, there was a strong temptation to buy an existing business already thriving in an established space and infrastructure. That was before we walked into 502 Pollock Street and looked around. Like the kutani plates I still treasure, the building spoke to me and I listened.
The house was built in 1848 by a man of considerable wealth named Edward R. Stanly. The stories we’ve collected about him and his life are colorful and contradictory. I think I will have to dedicate a series of blog entries to each “fact” we’ve unearthed about him, and let you decide what you believe and what you really want to believe. All accounts of his story agree that he was President of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad, which is why the tracks go right by the house so he could watch his trains go by. The building next door on Hancock Street, which is in considerable disrepair, was built about the same time and was Stanly’s office as well as the kitchen and servants’ quarters.
Essentially, the ground floor are enormous, heavily ornamented parlors. Reading through the 1972 application that awarded the Stanly House a place in the Register of Historic Places, the words that describe the architecture inside and out are redolent and evocative. Curvilinear corbels, sawn pierced scallop bands, spandrels, pressed tin wainscot, Ionic columns flanked by Tuscan antae, plaster medallions and gaslight chandeliers. All in white, and currently with thick industrial carpet. The second floor is less ornate, and the two bathrooms are positively Spartan, hardly updated since the building was a North Carolina USO headquarters in the 1940s through the 60s. There’s a basement that’s finished enough that a local architect made it his office a few years back, and a perfectly charming attic with peeling paint but garrets and wrought-iron around the windows that makes me think of Paris.
We had been looking for a place to start a shop, featuring our own brand and curated samples from other manufacturers, and we found a show place. We were also looking for a place to call home and there is space to spare for bedrooms and – for the first time in this old building’s history – a kitchen.
Please follow with us our journey with 502 Pollock Street as we honor its past, but make it our own.