by Liza Roberts
photographs by David Williams
On a sunny day in February, downtown Raleighites gathered in a sleek, renovated former industrial space of the sort the tech world favors in any modern city. With a massive mural by Victor Knight III shouting “Raleigh” from an exposed brick wall and Jubala coffee on offer, there was no mistaking which modern city it was.
But even those who know Raleigh well might not have recognized the refined and light-filled space as the former site of the long-loved 518 West Italian Cafe, which closed its Tuscan-inspired doors two years ago after 18 years in business.
Today, that restaurant – which helped ignite the Glenwood South entertainment district – is a fond memory for many. Also a memory is the building’s original iteration as a freight depot for the Norfolk Southern railway.
In the place of that railway’s freight cars or the restaurant’s chalkboard menus now are contemporary furniture, pinpoint lighting, and flat screens.
It’s become Google Fiber’s Raleigh Fiber Space, a retail office for the company’s high-speed internet service that plans to moonlight as a community gathering spot. It kicked off its new life as the latter with a Black History Month and First Friday celebration of Knight’s mural and other works, plus music by 9th Wonder. Other free events planned as of press time include a coding class for kids, a workshop for small businesses, and a family game night.
Raleigh is one of a handful of U.S. cities where Google has similar “fiber spaces.” The company aims to put them in historic buildings when possible, in locations that represent “hubs of local culture” that are “significant and meaningful to local communities,” says Google designer David del Villar Fernandez.
For more information on Google’s new fiber space and its community events, visit fiber.google.com/cities/triangle/events.