Featured photo: J. Spencer Love’s 1937 home was demolished after being bought by Roy Carroll in late February. (Triad MLS photo)

Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s worth preserving.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week as news of the old Confederate statue in Winston-Salem hits the news cycle again, coupled with the revelation that Greensboro developer Roy Carroll is tearing down an 87-year-old home in Irving Park.

When news of the latter first hit social media today, people were upset.

Why is he doing that?

Doesn’t he care about history?

What will go in its place?

The home, which was built by J. Spencer Love in 1937 represents, to many, a long forgotten time in which homes were built in stately manners — manors — and displayed elements of classical ornamentation. Yes, it’s old and pretty.

But in my opinion, we’re not asking the right questions.

When J. Spencer Love built the house almost a century ago, he was a billionaire. And if you think billionaires are bad now, you have no idea the kind of wealth Love had accumulated.

J. Spencer Love was an American industrialist who made his fortune from textiles. In 1923, he founded a textile company, Burlington Industries, and by 1935 the company had become the largest rayon-weaving operation in the United States. NC Pedia noted that the company had become the largest textile company in the world. By the time Love built his house in Irving Park, he had been living off of the wealth created by the company for about 14 years.

Since Love moved out of the house a few years later, the building has been owned by other prominent (and wealthy) figures in Greensboro’s history. In 1941 the home was sold to Benjamin Cone, and his wife, Anne, who lived in it for 37 years. Then in 1997, after a few other owner swaps, the house was bought by Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, the founder of Pace Communications.

And then, in late February of this year, Country Club Cleburne LLC, headed by Roy Carroll and Craig Carlock, bought the building. And less than a month later, they’re tearing it down.

Who knows what will go in its place? But is that really the question we should be asking?

Instead, the question I want people to ask, and the one that’s been nagging me, is this: How can we allow billionaires to exist?

In the same way that Love was a billionaire in 1973, Carroll — although to a lesser extent — is also a billionaire who continues to make his mark on Greensboro.

According to Forbes, Carroll is worth about $2.6 billion as the owner of the Carroll Companies. Rather than making his money in textiles, he’s accumulated his wealth through real estate development, and to an extent, the news business as the publisher of the Rhino Times. And in the same way that Carroll is being extolled for his fortunes now, history looks kindly on the achievements and legacy of J. Spencer Love. They called him an industrialist who sat on multiple business boards and pushed for a federal minimum wage. But he was flawed as well. Reports noted that he was anti-union and was a Democrat (remember the parties were switched before), whose family members opposed newly freed Black people from attending public universities.

And what about Carroll who Forbes has called the “Guru of Greensboro”?

We’ve written in our paper about how Carroll is more of an oligarch than a guru. His power and wealth have allowed him to shape our city in ways that will continue to impact generations to come, mostly in favor of the upper and middle classes. Don’t forget, he lives in the penthouse of the Center Pointe apartments in downtown Greensboro which overlooks the park that acted as one of the only refuges for unhoused people in the city. 

But who cares about that when the house he’s just bought, one that was also once owned by another flawed, rich white man, is being torn down? Who cares about transportation access, a shortage of affordable apartments or food deserts when a perfectly good $7.5 million house is being ripped apart before our very eyes?

Again, we’re not asking the right questions.

Instead of being so focused on the home’s destruction, it would be better for people to contemplate what things we want to preserve in this society and why. We should ask why Carroll has been allowed to accumulate the wealth that has enabled him to buy and then demolish the house in the first place. We should ask ourselves why we idolize billionaires of years past when we all hate Elon Musk now. Because in 87 years, if Musk’s home, or Carroll’s new McMansion that may soon be built on the grave of Love’s old home were to be torn down, would you still cry out to protest?

I would hope not.

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