Perched on a secluded hillside amidst a sea of pine trees sits the old Pilot Life Insurance campus, one of the earliest examples of suburban corporate architecture in North Carolina.
Designed in 1928 by the Philadelphia architecture firm Zantzinger, Borie & Medary – the same firm that designed the US Department of Justice building– the campus was constructed in the Georgian Revival style and was used as headquarters by Pilot Life Insurance.
In 1990, the complex was abandoned when Pilot Life merged with Jefferson Standard Insurance (now Lincoln Financial) of Philadelphia. The campus remained vacant until July 2008 when Kisco Senior Living purchased the property for $9.9 million with plans to reuse the old campus as a full-service retirement community.
Three months later, the nation’s economy crashed, and plans for the retreat were temporarily shelved. However, in an effort to preserve the historic main building and protect its multi-million dollar investment, Kisco worked to stabilize the campus and arrest the legacy of deterioration that vexed the property since its abandonment in 1990.
Though it remains vacant, the old campus continues to be maintained. Its lawns are well-kept and thickly carpeted with Bermuda grass, and the trees and hedges are trimmed. An additional gutter system was constructed on the main building to divert water from the roof, protecting the historic structure from potential water damage. In 2009, an electric fence was erected to prevent intrusion from thieves and vandals.
Because the central building is the only structure with historic value, Kisco hasn’t put much effort into the preservation of the campus’s two other buildings. Due to their much later construction date, the adjacent structures have little architectural significance, and one has already been ordered for demolition. In its current state, it won’t be long before the second building follows suit.
Now that High Point Road has been rerouted west of the property, it’s likely that the land surrounding the campus will soon be developed for commercial uses. However, Kisco has assured the community of Sedgefield that new construction will be screened from view of the campus so as not to compete with the historic building.
Additionally, the company contends that the sympathetic and compatible redevelopment of the complex for use as a retreat will preserve the campus for future generations to enjoy.
According to Kisco’s website, in addition to the restored Pilot building, the new senior living campus will include single level garden homes, cottages, and spacious apartment residences. The project will exemplify historic preservation at its finest, saving the very best of the past to shape a unique and vibrant future. Residents of the Kisco project will have a distinguished centerpiece to call home, and will no doubt enjoy showing off their historic campus to visitors.
*Disclosure: Unfortunately, we could not get inside the main building, as the property is surrounded by an electric fence (of which I got to try out). Interior shots were taken inside several easily accessible side buildings. We’ll try to gain access to the main building again sometime in the future.
GPS Coordinates: 36.021814, -79.885054