By CATHERINE KOZAK
HATTERAS VILLAGE - Back in 1986, Don Brown and his wife were intrigued enough by the funky little oceanfront motel to detour for a night from their usual Ocracoke vacation. Brown didn't know it at the time, but that was to be the beginning of a long, fond relationship with Durant Station. Even when it wasn't there.
Nearly four years after Hurricane Isabel pounded the converted motor court and historic life saving station into splinters, Durant Station is in the process of its rebirth as a storm-sturdy 33-unit modular condominium building. A crane last week began lifting the boxes and lining them up three-deep on a 12-foot-high foundation built parallel to the beach. By Friday, men were mailing down the roof. That was the easy part.
The 21-member Durant Station Condominium Association has had to wrestle for more than three years with the county, state coastal regulators, modular manufacturers, engineers, and occasionally one another to bring the project to fruition.
"I really wanted to rebuild," said Brown, 58, a retired teacher from Gainesville, VA. "A lot of us wanted our own place on the beach." Brown said he has been motivated by his warm memories of Durant Station, where he seemed to have been preordained to buy. "I was talking to my wife, and said, "Boy, would this be nice to own," he recalled about that first stay.
Dismissing it as a wishful lark, he was soon surprised to learn that the unit was for sale. "In minutes - I swear, minutes - somebody came by to look at it," he said. He swooped in and bought the simple efficiency unit for $35,000. Eventually, he owned four. Every July, the couple would visit and do little more than sit on the beach, relax and enjoy the camaraderie with the other folks who came year after year. "There was the man who wore the same brown trunks every year, and he always tried to get his tan to match his swimming trunks," Brown said.
Everyone good-naturedly divided their share of the electric bill every month, he said, as there was only one electric box for the entire complex.
Built in the 1950's, the motel was turned into condominiums in the `70s. By then, Durant Station was a complex of buildings: a renovated motel, a renovated movie theater, the renovated 1878 life saving station. All were divided in 33 units. The storm destroyed everything except the cupola on the life saving station, which was pushed across the road to the base of the water tower.
Projected coordinator Darr Barshis, a Williamsburg, VA, real estate appraiser and consultant who owns 4/6 units, said that the $5 million project will include a 2,000-square-foot community building that will incorporate the cupola and be constructed to look similar to the old station.
Manufactured by Professional Building Systems of Mount Gilead, NC, the one - bedroom units are 550 square feet, the two-bedroom units are 775 square feet, and the three-bedroom units are 1,100 square feet. All have 9-foot ceilings.
The three-story gray vinyl-sided structure will stand on 1.77 acres, about 100 feet back from the dunes.
With the Small Business Administration providing $1.5 million and insurance providing $2 million, the owner's association is responsible for shelling out the remaining project cost.
Barshis said improvements in modular and foundation construction will make the Durant Station able to withstand 130 mph winds. General contractor O.C. Mitchell Jr. of Durham said that special anchors called platypus anchors provide extra hold-down power. The foundation would not lift in a Category3 hurricane, he said.
Mitchell said he thinks Durant Station is the first project in Hatteras to use the anchors.
Pilings are also driven 16 feet into the ground and stand 12 feet above the ground, compared with 8-foot-deep pilings in most houses. Building units also are anchored to one another and to the foundation.
When the project is completed in late summer, the owners - most of them out-of-state residents - may have earned some honorary Hatteras pedigree for perseverance. "to their credit, for all four years, the owners voted 100 percent on all issues to go forward with the rebuild," Barshis said. "They were committed."
- Professional Building Systems of NC is one of the Hallmark Homes, Inc., manufacturing plant.