The GMAC Tower: 500 W. Fifth St.
Built in 1980
30 floors

BB&T Building: 200 W. Second St.
Built in 1987
20 floors

In 1980, the country was still reeling from an energy crisis, something foremost in the minds of the architects of the GMAC Tower in the northwest of downtown. A singular, boxy structure belies the pinnacle of the day’s eco-design. The north side of the building, which stays in shadow most of the day, has a glass façade set in angles. Windows on the flat southern side tilt downwards to reduce glare and heat radiation. On the short eastern and western sides of the building, exposed to harsh sun all day, windows are small and sparse. Due to the asymmetric structure, the building looks entirely different from every angle.

The GMAC Tower was the building of the future in 1980, with an in-house computer system and fiber-active LED lighting along the top that can change colors.

That would be pretty cool, if someone were there to do it — the GMAC building has been vacant since 2013, when the behemoth insurance company sent the bulk of its workforce to Cleveland and moved the rest of its Winston-Salem operation out of the building with its name on the side of it. In advance of this, an Illinois-based owner walked on the mortgage. In 2014, a holding company picked it up for $9.5 million, and in December a Charlotte developer floated plans to turn the compound into apartments and office space, a scheme that depends on a nearby parking deck which another developer seems intent on buying. The subject is currently under discussion by city council.

The other building that grew in downtown Winston-Salem in the 1980s, the metallic blue BB&T Building that counts among its tenants the Piedmont Club on the 19th floor fared better than its generational counterpart.


  1. Great piece but it would have been nice to reference Integon Insurance as the company who built the GMAC Tower. They were later purchased by GM and turned into GMAC Insurance. I still call it the Integon tower and I’m sure other locals might as well.

  2. Great long read on Winston’s skyscrapers. It was appreciate the fact that you focused some attention on the Winston Tower and the GMAC building. Two buildings that often get overshadowed by the iconic RJR building and the more modern BB&T building and Wells Fargo building. I look forward to rereading this story and taking some notes. I would recommend folks in Winston read this article and then taking a long walk through downtown Winston and absorb the history of Winston’s skyline. The skyline has a story to tell.

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