Published March 21, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. – The widow of actor Andy Griffith has gotten a permit to tear down the house where he lived for many years on the North Carolina waterfront, upsetting friends who had hoped it would be preserved as a museum or Graceland-type estate.
Cindi Griffith obtained the demolition permit Monday, according to Dare County records. County officials and friends confirmed the permit is to demolish a smaller house along the Roanoke Sound that Griffith bought in the 1950s, not the larger house that he and Cindi built nearby several years ago.
William Ivey Long, the Tony Award-winning costume designer whose parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara, said Griffith told him in 2007 that he wanted to preserve the older home as a museum. The two discussed the possibility when Long had an exhibit of his costumes at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, Long said.
"We compared notes," Long said in a phone interview from his studio in New York City. "I had to fit mine into an existing museum. I told him, if you're doing yours, you can make it however you want it."
Griffith, who died last July, was best known for playing the wise Sheriff Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show" and folksy lawyer Ben Matlock on "Matlock." He starred as the manipulative Lonesome Rhodes in the movie "A Face in the Crowd." One of his last roles was as a cranky diner owner in the movie "Waitress."
Griffith wanted the museum to include items from his TV shows, along with memorabilia from his music career, Long said. They didn't discuss whether it would compete with the Andy Griffith Museum in Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, Long said.
Cindi Griffith didn't return messages Wednesday. Her husband's will doesn't mention a museum or the property. The will — dated May 3, 2012, two months before Griffith died — turns over most of his property and estate to the trustee of a trust, whose records aren't public. The attorney for the will declined to comment.
The demolition contractor, Calvin Gibbs, also didn't return a call. It wasn't clear Wednesday if the demolition had begun.
Della Basnight of Manteo, whose family was friends with Griffith since she was a child, said she understood that Cindi Griffith had the right to do whatever she wanted with the property.
But concerning the demolition, Basnight said, "When he gave her the power to do anything, I don't think he thought she would want to do that."
Many of Griffith's older friends met him while they worked in "The Lost Colony," an outdoor drama that tells the story of the 1587 colony on the North Carolina coast that mysteriously disappeared.
Ira David Wood III, who is the show's executive director this summer, first worked at "The Lost Colony" in 1968. He recalled going to Griffith's house and taking a pontoon boat to a sandbar where Griffith and his guests played volleyball for hours. "He hated to lose, and he did cheat," Wood said, laughing at the fond memory.
He said he was shocked to learn the house would be demolished. "I always assumed the property would be eventually preserved and opened to the public," Wood said, saying he thought it might be maintained like Elvis Presley's property Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. Just as Presley is buried at Graceland, Griffith is buried on the large piece of property he owned on the North Carolina coast. It was not immediately clear how far Griffith's grave is from his older house or the newer one.
"I imagine Cindi has her reasons, and I don't pretend to know what they are," Wood said. "It's a beautiful bit of property with a lot of memories attached to it. I just hope they're not moving too fast."
Griffith bought the house the first time he had any real money and raised his two children there, Basnight said.
"I had really sort of always thought it would be secured," she said. "I always thought it would remain."