Cameron Village: The shopping center forms the most notable feature of Raleigh’s Cameron Village subdivision, a 158 acre development bounded on the west by Oberlin Road, the south by Clark Avenue, the east by N.B. Broughton High School, and the north by Wade Avenue. The complex also includes single-family residential areas and apartments, mostly constructed between 1948 and 1953 reflecting the postwar economic and demographic changes. J.Willie York of York Construction Company, which moved to Raleigh in 1910, and J.W. York Realty developed Cameron Village. By 1954 the five year old shopping center, at the time the largest in the southeast, included forty stores, thirty-eight offices, a movie theater, and parking for 1500 cars on its thirty-six acres.
Less than half a mile from the campus of North Carolina State University, the growth of Cameron Village symbolized and profited from the rapid expansion of Raleigh westward following World War II. Constructed two decades before the shopping mall era, the shopping center featured retail shops on ground level with parking close by. The complex resembles even the in 1990s a network of individual strip malls. The area is divided into six blocks separated by streets. A parking lot partially surrounds each sprawling one or two story building, originally constructed of Roman brick, Crab Orchard stone, and redwood.
Unlike the later malls which brought downtown indoors, this shopping area provided an improved, horizontal downtown with ample parking filling wide open spaces. During the 1960s Cameron Village featured numerous large fashion and clothing retailers, a department store, a supermarket, and dozens of specialty shops and offices. By the beginning of the 1970s, the shopping center had to adapt to the flamboyant competition from the malls, such as North Hills and Crabtree Valley, featuring newer, larger, and, often, national chain stores, indoors amid plains and multi-leveled decks of parking. Simultaneously, the thrust of Raleigh’s growth turned northward.
Some large, established tenants departed Cameron Village, which responded in two obvious ways. The shopping center added a second, above ground parking level around some of the buildings, closing the parking gap at an aesthetic cost. In the southeastern corner of the complex the developers constructed an underground retail, dining, and entertainment space, called The Cameron Village Subway, in imitation of Atlanta’s then new Underground. Featuring the noted nightclubs The Frog & Nightgown and The Pier, the Subway closed in the 1980’s. [After the Raleigh police began extensive surveillance and enforcement of illegal drug use in the parking lot.]
Cameron Village itself, however, continues in business in 1996, undergoing a $17 million overhaul. George York serves as the third generation of his family to manage Cameron Village. It maintains a larger percentage of locally owned businesses than the malls. Despite the parking deck and mature trees, the six block shopping center and the residential sections still resemble the original plan.
For more information: Blackwell P. Robinson, The North Carolina Guide (1955)
Fred Park, “Real Estate’s 2nd/3rd Generation,” Commercial Real Estate Today, (Summer 1996)
The Insiders’ Guide To The Triangle, (1995)