Losing history: Exploring an 80-year-old abandoned historic house before demolition

Perched atop one of the town’s largest hills is the Joseph and Lee M. Lazarus residence, constructed circa 1940. But the “Grand Dame on the Hill,” which has stood watch over the Rosemount-McIver neighborhood for almost 80 years, is set to be torn down as soon as Monday.

The tale of the house offers a singular contemporary perspective on the loss of history.

The initial owner of the house was a Russian immigrant named Joseph Lazarus, who arrived in North Carolina in the 1920s. He founded Lee’s Drugstore after graduating from the University of Chapel Hill with a degree in pharmacy. Similar to Person Street Pharmacy in Raleigh and Ashworth’s Drugstore in Cary, Lee’s Drugstore was a beloved local institution, complete with a vintage soda fountain and a roller skate-wielding delivery man.

Historic Joseph and Lee M. Lazarus house on Hillcrest in Sanford, NC.

Situated in a historic district and belonging to a well-known historical figure, the traditional brick and weatherboard Colonial Revival house appeared destined for preservation. Sadly, a string of unfortunate incidents that started with a fire and ended with the municipal council agreeing to demolish the historic house have caused it to be lost from the annals of time.

Joseph Lazarus: A historic community hero

Town historian Jimmy Haire, a member of the City Council, spoke of the house’s majestic appearance from the top of the hill.

It’s unfortunate, he remarked.

He added that Joseph Lazarus was well-liked in the neighborhood. His pharmacy was located in the famed Makepeace Building, a 1920s structure.

Front door of the historic Joseph and Lee M. Lazarus house on Hillcrest in Sanford, NC.

“There was no Medicare, no Medicaid back then,” stated Haire. “A family might not have the money to fill a prescription that a doctor writes.

Haire claimed that Lazarus had a reputation for assisting families in affording the desperately required medication. “He would say, ‘You have a $3.00 prescription. When you can, pay what you can. You require this since your mother or wife is ill.”

Of fact, Lazarus was not always able to lower his costs. “Someone had to pay him every once in a while or he’d go out of business,” Haire chuckled.

Historic Joseph and Lee M. Lazarus house on Hillcrest in Sanford, NC.

A classic community hotspot

According to Haire’s memories, the drugstore was right next to a school, so in the 1950s and 1960s, after the school bell rang, a constant stream of teenagers would head across the street to grab a booth and a vanilla Coke.

Businessmen congregate there during their lunch periods in the 1960s and 1970s. “We didn’t have 5-hour energy drinks,” stated Haire, “So they’d go up there during the mid-day slump to get a dose of caffeine to make it to the end of the workday.”

Residents might catch Clint Boyd skating through the streets on a normal summer day while carrying deliveries from the Lee Drugstore.

“There was no term called Pharmacy Tech then, but I guess he would have been considered an early pharmacy tech,” stated Haire.

Drive-thrus would gain popularity before they became huge, Lazarus realized, and in the summer of 1959 he opened the second drive-thru window in the town.

Historic Joseph and Lee M. Lazarus house on Hillcrest in Sanford, NC.

How history is lost: A fire, a death, a demolition

“The Grand Old Dame” doesn’t have the same dazzling appearance as before.

The house has been destroyed by a catastrophic fire for at least ten years, which set off a sequence of actions that resulted in an order for the home’s demolition.

Years have passed since anyone has lived in the house. Pictures depict the house covered in trees, vines, and overgrowth while the paint is chipping off the walls.

“People have dubbed it the haunted home. The eerie home. Ashley Wilson, who has been emptying the residence, described it as “the haunted house.”

Historic Joseph and Lee M. Lazarus house on Hillcrest in Sanford, NC.

2010 saw the fire. Living alone and battling cancer, Kristina Wagner lacked the funds to fix the damage.

“Kris lived in this home with no electricity while fighting cancer,” Wilson stated.

In their haste to contain the fire’s damage, the fire brigade shattered some of the house’s windows. “But with historic districts, you have to be careful with what glass you replace the windows with — and the family couldn’t afford it,” stated Wilson.

Following Wagner’s death, issues with the estate made it difficult to determine who owned what.

Over the years, neighbors in surrounding homes have sorrowfully observed the home’s decline. When the house was new, according to the neighbors, it had botanical gardens and an outdoor fireplace. There were daffodils all over the slope.

Historic Joseph and Lee M. Lazarus house on Hillcrest in Sanford, NC.

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