Jim and Sonnya Quinn’s cozy gray and white home on Gardner Street is perfectly in tune with its leafy setting—but is unlike any other on the street. Jim and Sonnya intended it that way; they cherish the diversity of a neighborhood in which, they say every house is unique.
The Quinns built their present home in 1987, but their history in the University Park area goes much farther back. Jim Quinn, a retired architect, first lived in a series of student digs when he was an NCSU student in the early 50.’s Sonnya, a Meredith College student in the same era, remembers horseback riding on a dirt trail that is now busy Dixie Trail.
After renting in the area, Jim and Sonnya bought a house in 1969. They sold it and built a larger home on the lot next door to accommodate their family of three children.
Jim, a former city councilor, and Sonnya, a retired realtor, are keenly interested in the area and its history.
Jim remembers when the UPHA area was part of the outer suburbs of Raleigh, almost at the limits of the city. Of the gracious mansions that spread out from downtown toward the west, most are gone now. One has become a fraternity house.
“In the early 1900s this area was still mostly farmland. The State Fairground used to be located around here, but they moved it and started building houses for the university staff in the 20’s. Many of the houses date from that era. People called it the Faculty Ghetto,” Sonnya recalls. “There was a racetrack where the Rose Garden is now. The Works Progress Administration, a Roosevelt era project which provided employment, built the Little Theatre during the Depression, did you know?”
“Hillsborough Street was the center of campus life then,” Jim adds. “For years there was a veteran’s village set up along the area between where the library is now, and the textile school; two or three acres of white wooden one-story buildings for the veterans and their families.”
Sonnya recounts past battles fought by the community against encroachment by NSCU. Former mayor Isabella Cannon, who lived in the area, was a leader in the fight, and a park named for her stands near the Quinn home.
“Everybody wants to live here now,” Sonnya says. “It’s become a hot neighborhood. There is a sense of community here that you don’t get out in the suburbs, where people work for companies that transfer them every few years. There is a lot of cohesiveness.”