Talk of the Town - Tour guide February 26 2003

One-bedroom historic shotgun home

Auburn Avenue is one of the city's most traveled streets. For tourists, it's a lesson in black history and the Civil Rights Movement. But for William James, it's the address of his bachelor pad.

He and his Boston terrier, Champster, are always prepared for company. They have to be: Every month, hundreds of tours of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District walk past his strip of renovated "shotgun" homes — so named because of the positioning of each room one behind the other off a single hallway. The cozy one-bedroom bungalow is just big enough for modern "essentials" such as a Sony PlayStation and a rack of DVDs.

The middle-school teacher was in search of a convenient place to live post-graduate-school. Now he's tucked neatly into a small corner of history.

Creative Loafing: I never knew people actually lived here. If I were a tour-goer, judging from the informational signs outside, I would assume this was just government property here for display. How'd you end up here?

James: A friend who was actually living here at the time, and knew that I was looking for a convenient and affordable place to live, referred me. I'm a student of history, and I appreciate the National Park Service preserving this section. It's not my house, and I understand that. I don't desire for it to be. In terms of personalizing the place, there really isn't anything that I would do to the outside. I like it the way it is.

So you never get an urge to put out a chair on your deck and just relax?

No, I work a lot, but a 93-year-old woman used to live next door, and she had a rocking chair chained to her porch. Back then, it was easy to think things would get stolen.

What are your neighbors like? Is it hard to get a sense of community in such a busy place?

I'm not here very often since I teach. People move in and out all the time. A lot of my neighbors are park service employees. I helped the older woman when she was here, but now my new neighbors are a much younger couple.

The neighborhood looks great. Was it recently renovated?

Yeah. Each year during the Martin Luther King holiday, the park service does something to restore the area. Last year, Yolanda King was here, and they repainted this whole area. I think it looks great, although we didn't get much say about the colors — which is understandable.

Do you ever just get tired of all the people?

Well, every once in a while, believe it or not, I've looked out my window and seen people that I haven't seen in years. One day, I saw two guys that I grew up with just walking by on a tour. About a year ago, I met Cedric the Entertainer. But, on the other hand, there are a lot of accidents on this corner [Boulevard and Auburn avenues]. People cruise through here. And whenever I'm home, I hear a crash.


Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site presents a free performance by the Metrolina Christian Academy Voices of Praise Gospel Choir at 2 p.m. Sat., March 1, at Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, 407 Auburn Ave. 404-331-6922. www.nps.gov./malu.