The Bain Project

March, 06, 2009, by David

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In 2005 Empire Properties, a company known best for its thoughtful reconstruction of many downtown buildings including the Raleigh Times Bar, bought Raleigh’s E.B. Bain Waterworks, a relic of the Public Works Administration on southern Fayetteville Street, and launched an elaborate project to renovate the building and reintroduce it to the community.

Four years later, what was once a crumbling industrial leftover from the Great Depression is a cavernous Art Deco feast of engineering and architecture from the era – exciting to say the least.  Bain Waterworks’ massive scale and ornate details feel magical, and the craftsmanship and quality of construction are apparent even as the building fights entropy.

No mere shell, Bain is a celebration of Raleigh water, as the hulking brick structure was originally designed to channel water off of Walnut Creek, treat it, and distribute it to each part of the city. 
Daniel Kelly and Tracy Spencer began work on the Bain Project a year ago with the idea of an art opening in the space. Since then, the two have formed a group of 12 artists representing a diverse cross section of their many applicants.  Currently, the artists are collaborating on pieces within, manipulating the scale, repetition and acoustics of the 30,000 square foot space to comment on urban evolution and water. 

Upon entering the building and gazing upon such intricate and ornate spaces, one begins to realize how this all came together. The first room is encircled in a mezzanine with cascading stairs rising up the back of the lobby. Oak handrails top wrought-iron lattice work and decorate each room with a border of pattern.  The floors are mostly red quarry tile and many of the walls have tile wainscotting.

Such a spectacle leaves the visitor wondering why all public works buildings couldn’t have the same kind of intense detailing and beauty.

EB Bain

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The operations room is massive in scale, well lit all day by Clerestory windows on both sides, bright tile and plaster walls with elevated arches and columns suspending the ceiling. A long line of thirteen filtration tanks to the right and the left drops off to a lower level filled with giant pipes bolted together and painted bright hues.  Oversized clock- like dials line the space alongside pneumatic and hydromatic gauges and tubes for monitoring. The feeling is more Dick Tracy meets mad scientist than local government utility.

To use a more obscure allusion, those who are familiar with the game will wonder if 2007’s BioShock drew its inspiration from the building, right down to the Art Deco lettering above the door as you enter. 

Bain is exciting because of the space but also because of the artists involved.  The group is diverse, talented and engaged in the project – from new media artists Tim Kiernan, Stacey Kirby, and Dana Raymond to mixed media artists Lee Moore, Jen Coon, Lia Newman, Sarah Powers, Marty Baird and Luke Buchanan. The documentation team consists of three talented artists: Critter, KC Ramsay, and Natasha Johnson. By May when the show opens, the artists will have worked for 9 months within the space.

The Bain Project will open for two weekends in May:

Weekend 1 - May 9th, 10th

Weekend 2 - May 16th,17th


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The Bain Project


  • kg
    03/06 05:46 PM

    holy dam… that’s gonna be nice.

  • arthurb3
    03/06 05:57 PM

    Its a beautiful building. I am sure it will make some nice million dollar condos from transplanted Yankees!

  • Chad
    03/09 02:05 AM

    Can we say Big Budget Horror Film!  That would stimulate some of the economy around here.

  • mgd
    03/09 08:41 AM

    It looks like a cool place but its in the ghetto.  Its on the south side of MLKJ.

    Ive also wondered why there is so much violence near a street that was named after a guy that fought so hard for peace.

  • WiseOne
    03/09 09:23 AM

    hey! that’s my neighborhood and it’s not a ghetto (bad word). And the violence is just a perception of the surroundings…just because raleigh proper has swept us under the rug doesn’t mean there’s ‘so much violence.’ I would put my stats against any from oakhood and bro heights.

  • raleighsignshop
    03/09 10:56 AM

    what an amazing building - reminds me a bit of the train station in salisbury, what a great walk through !

  • Betsy
    03/09 11:41 AM

    That is some steampunk awesome.

  • Skillet
    03/09 02:25 PM

    Right on, Wiseone. It’s a discussion for another day, but Raleigh really has completely forgotten those of us on the S. Wilmington St. corridor.
    On the other hand, I can’t wait to see the project.

  • Matthew Brown
    03/09 03:12 PM

    The Bain Waterworks is on the southeast corner of Caraleigh, which is definitely not a ghetto. It is a charming old mill town, and although it is surrounded by a metropolis, it still feels like a little old mill town. Check it out!

    The folks in Caraleigh are diverse racially, economically, and in background. The area is attracting new folks because it is truly affordable, yet close to downtown. If the residents have one thing in common, I would say that it is a laid-back attitude.

    Yes, Raleigh has neglected the area, and that is one of its advantages!

    The old Caraleigh Mill on Maywood has already been turned into condos. The Bain building could be condos, but would probably work better as offices and/or studios. It would not work as shops or restaurants because there is hardly any traffic on that part of Fayetteville St.

    This art project is a great thing, not only in itself, but because it will nurture our love for this wonderful building.

  • JRD
    03/09 04:24 PM

    “Raleigh has forgotten us”.  Thats the most ridiculous thing Ive ever heard.  You’ve forgotten yourselves, so Raleigh aint gonna bother trying.  Hows that?  It could be a nicer place if it were developed more, maybe like the new places that are going up in the new oakwood development.  If anything is gonna really and truly change that area, its going to be capitalism, not the government.

  • Skillet
    03/09 04:45 PM

    Matthew - I’m not really complaining that Raleigh isn’t paying much attention to our end of the city. I’ve got a nice house, a great wooded lot and some really cool neighbors… all 3 minutes from downtown for waaaay less than a condo. My point would be that many areas of Raleigh are getting a good deal of attention and the Wilmington St. corridor isn’t. They rebuilt the bridge, repaved and have started a little landscaping so maybe something’s on the horizon, I just never hear anything mentioned by the City about any kind of plan.

    On the other hand, if the condition of my neighborhood keeps folks like JRD away than maybe we’re doing something right.

  • Ken Metzger
    03/09 06:09 PM

    The new development next to Oakwood is government sponsored.  The city has bought up lots, torn houses down, and sold it on to developers with city approved plans.  Without the government stepping in, it would still be completed blighted.  Before the city stepped in, the main “capitalism” was crack houses, prostitution, and slum lords.  (Not to say that there were not many great people living among them)

  • Oakie
    03/09 08:38 PM

    JRD (and MGD) – first of all, your comment is completely incomprehensible. How exactly have the people of that area forgotten themselves again? You have no idea what you’re talking about.  As someone who used to live in Caraleigh, I can tell you that this is truly a hidden gem of a neighborhood and in no way is it “ghetto”. Because it was a mill town for a majority of its existence, it has always been, admittedly, blue collar.  While more and more young professionals move in every year, it still is predominantly blue-collar – this in no way makes it “ghetto”. There is amazing diversity in the neighborhood – white, black, and Hispanic families, young and old, living beside one another.  The homes are modest in size, perfect for someone looking for a starter home – it’s within spitting distance to the CBD, and the large lots, abundance of trees, and curvilinear streets gives a true sense of being in the country despite a skyline view that is very near – there is so much potential.  The rehabilitation of Caraleigh Mills was certainly a great start, and the eventual rehabilitation of Bain – a stunning site - will certainly carry forward positive momentum. 

    That being said, the City has allotted money every which way from Sunday for far glitzier projects, but has done little, effectively, to jumpstart revitalization efforts in a neglected and overwhelmingly predominant area of downtown. This does not only include the vicinity of Caraleigh, but Southeast as a whole. It is shameful, that as major gateway into the City, South Wilmington continues to be so totally heinous and embarassing – Cargill, the burned out nudie video place, empty broken lot after empty broken lot – all right on top of downtown. Capitalism is not going to turn that around – it’s going to take government action and investment to jumpstart any real change.

  • mgd
    03/09 09:28 PM

    Im not saying I wouldnt live there. 

    Actually that is probably where I will buy a house if I decide to buy an older house.  I think it will be the next Oakwood.  Thats why Empire bought this building. 

    But if the government needs to subsidize improvements then I think that goes to support my original comment.

  • f
    03/10 03:42 PM

    This reminds me of PS1.  Oh, the possibilities!!

  • Sean
    03/10 04:36 PM

    Uh, is it too late to move brewery operations to Raleigh?

    (only half-kidding)

  • David
    03/10 04:48 PM

    Funny, at one point Pabst actually considered it..

  • Murph
    05/10 06:38 PM

    I have found myself driving past this building about once a month since discoverying it.  It is truly an awesome place.  I have always hoped that someone with vision (and a TON of capital) would take the building and turn it into a hotel with the main building as the lobby, restaraunt, bar, etc. with a new tower behind it not unlike the Grandover in Greensboro.  Or soemthing with the look of the Ohenry also in Greensboro (also, the hotel bar names itself, (The Water Works).  All that area needs is a little bit of commercial/retail development along that section of Wilmington in order to create momentum for renovations and rebuilds in the neighborhood adjacent.  Also, this may be a little Pollyanna on my part, but I think it would be great for the developer and the city to work with local banks to make low/zero % loans availale to the home owners for renovations.  Subprime lending has gotten a bad name of late, but in revitalization projects like this is where I feel they can be most affective.  Also, it has always bothered me that the long-time resident’s always have to sell out at low-ball prices in order for revitaliztion to take place.

  • Graveyard Fields
    05/15 08:09 PM

    Good. Lord!  This looks awesome.  It’s like someone turned a battery into a structure.  I want to see huge resistor coils poking out of the top with massive arcs of current zapping between them.  Then Batman arrives.

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