Survey and Research Report
Second Ward High School Gymnasium
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regarding the Second Ward H.S. Gymnaisum
1. Name and
location of the property: The property known as the Second Ward
High School Gymnasium is located at 710 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Charlotte, N.C.
Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of the property:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of
701 East Second St.
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
photographs of the property:
This report contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference To The Property.
The most recent deed to this property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed
Book 3497, Page 163. The tax parcel number for the
property is 125-071-26.
6. A Brief
Historical Essay On The Property. This report contains a brief
historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
7. A Brief Physical Description Of The Property.
This report contains a brief architectural description of the property prepared
by Stewart Gray.
8. Documentation of
why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set
forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-400.5.
significance in terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural
importance. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Historic Landmarks Commission judges that the Second Ward High School
Gymnasium possesses special significance in terms of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
The Second Ward High School Gymnasium
is the only surviving building from the campus of Second Ward High School,
the first public high school for blacks in Charlotte, N.C.
2) The Second Ward High School was
the locale for sporting and non-sporting events that contributed mightily to
the cultural milieu of Second Ward High School.
3) The Second Ward High
School was designed by A. G. Odell, Jr., Charlotte's principal proponent and
practitioner of Modernist style architecture in Charlotte in the
b. Integrity of design,
setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association:
The Commission judges that the architectural
description included in this report demonstrates that the property known
as the Second Ward High School Gymnasium meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax
Appraisal: The Commission is
aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for automatic
deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the
property which becomes a designated “historic landmark”. The current
appraised value of the Second Ward High School Gymnasium is $885,700. The
property contains 10.69 acres and is exempt from the payment of Ad Valorem
Date of preparation of this report:
March 4, 2008
Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Stewart Gray
A Brief History of Second Ward High
years of unprecedented prosperity immediately following World War Two
witnessed substantial improvements to the physical facilities of the
Charlotte Public Schools. Benefiting from voter approval of bonds
for school construction, the Board of School Commissioners moved
aggressively to meet the increased demand for classrooms engendered by the
post-war “baby boom.” Among its capital projects was the building of
a new gymnasium for Second Ward High School, a school exclusively for
African Americans that had opened in 1923 in the Brooklyn or Second Ward
neighborhood as Charlotte's first public high school for African Americans.1
The Second Ward High School Alumni erected this
marker to commemorate the history of Second Ward High.
Charlotte’s African American community consistently lobbied for better
schools for black children. On September 22, 1947, the Negro Parent
Teacher Association Council, headed by Mrs. Willie Mae Porter, appeared
before the School Board and expressed dissatisfaction with conditions at
Second Ward High School.2 Kelly Alexander took
a similar stance as spokesman for the Charlotte Chapter of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) He told the Board on August 23, 1948, that it should
“correct any inequalities in facilities and educational opportunities”
provided for African American students.3
Several months earlier, on February 25, 1948, the N.A.A.C.P. had asked
that summer school be made available to black children, as was already
being done for whites; and the Board of Education had consented to this
request.4 Finally, on October 25, 1948, W. H.
Moreland, Frederick L. Wiley, and Earl Colston of the Improvement Club for Negro Schools came to the Board and
offered to raise half of the money to build an athletic field at West
Charlotte High School.5
Americans no doubt applauded the decision of the Board of Education on
October 27, 1947, to approve plans for the new gymnasium at Second Ward
High School.6 Advertisements for bids from
contractors were issued in January 1948, and construction began the
Blythe and Isenhour was the general contractor; A. Z. Price Co. oversaw
the heating and plumbing; and Hunter Electrical Co. was responsible for
the electrical components.8
architect of the Second Ward High School Gymnasium was A. G. Odell, Jr.9
The flamboyant son of a Cabarrus County textile executive, Odell studied
architecture at Cornell University and came to Charlotte in 1939 to
establish a one-man office. By the time of his death in April 1988 Odell
oversaw the operations of one of the largest and most influential
architectural businesses in North Carolina. "In a society where class
connection still counted for much, young Odell had automatic entry to the
offices of the area's mill owners and businessmen," writes historian Thomas Hanchett.10
When Odell arrived, Charlotte’s buildings were overwhelming conservative and
revivalist in appearance and had been so for decades. "Most architecture in
the area can best be described as pseudo-neoclassical, with elements of
design copied from buildings elsewhere that had already incorporated copied
elements of classic design," remembered M. H. Ward, one of Odell’s early
Odell set out to change that circumstance.
Second Ward Tigers Basketball Team
his lead from the thinking of such revolutionary post-World War One
European architects as Le Corbusier. From about 1920 until shortly before
his death in 1965, Le Corbusier was an untiring proselytizer for what he
called the "Radiant City." To his way of thinking, urban designers should
break completely with the past. Le Corbusier had no sympathy or interest
in the preservation of existing buildings or neighborhoods. "Modern town
planning comes to birth with a new architecture," he proclaimed.12
A. G. Odell, Jr.
Corbusier envisioned people living in high rise apartments surrounded by
lustrous skyscrapers separated from one another by large expanses of
manicured open space and dramatic fountains. Urban cores should be
hygienic, antiseptic, and ordered -- not cluttered, begrimed, and
haphazard. The tradition of mixing functions in a single structure or
neighborhood was an anathema to Corbusier. The city of the future would
be divided into discreet sections devoted to specific purposes –
working, living, leisure – connected to one another by expressways. Le
Corbusier also called for a new vocabulary of building design. "We must
start again from zero," he insisted.13
His new architecture became known as the International style. "A house
is a machine for living in," said Corbusier.14
The fundamentals of the International style centered upon the
exploitation of new materials, especially reinforced concrete,
strengthened steel, and large expanses of glass, to create grace,
airiness, and to allow great amounts of sunlight to penetrate the
interior of structures. Some suggest that Corbusier wanted all buildings
to look like luxury liners. The proponents of the International style
"maintained that a well- designed building could be beautiful without
the addition of expensive trim that obscured its functional shapes and
structure," Hanchett explains.15 Another
center of International style philosophy was the Bauhaus in Germany,
where influential designers like Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies
van der Rohe held sway.
Odell, Jr. became Charlotte’s principal champion of the International
style and devoted his considerable talents and energies to reshaping the
local urban landscape. For good or ill, he largely succeeded. Odell
embraced the architecture of "tomorrow" and had nothing but disdain for
the revivalist buildings he observed on the streets of Charlotte.
Describing what he saw when he arrived in Charlotte, Odell declared:
"There was nothing here . . . that illustrated the honesty of stone as
stone, steel as steel, glass as glass. Everybody was still wallowing in
the Colonial heritage."16
Not surprisingly, Odell’s Second Ward High School Gymnasium, one of his
first International style public buildings, exhibits none of the
traditional ornamentation of “yesterday” and expresses instead by its
unadorned geometric shape a veneration of modern technology.
Ward High School Gymnasium opened in January 1949.17
Now part of the Metro School of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School
System, it is the only surviving part of what was once the 14-acre Second
Ward High School Campus. Second Ward High School closed in 1969, and
the principal classroom building was demolished soon thereafter. “It
was a terrible thing to see them tear it down,” proclaimed Barbara Simpson,
a 1957 graduate.18 “When they closed it, it was
like taking a meal off the table. It hurt,” said another former
According to County Commissioner and State Senator Jim Richardson, “It was
like losing part of yourself.”20
The Second Ward High School Gymnasium has great meaning for the thousands
of African Americans who attended Second Ward. Entering the
gymnasium, one can almost hear the cheers of the countless crowds that
came there to support the Second Ward “Tigers.”
Charlotte Observer, 8 July, 1985.
For an enumeration of the many construction contracts approved by the
Charlotte Board of School Commissioners, see Charlotte City Board of
Education Records 1890-1960 UNCC Manuscript Collection 1, housed in
Special Collections, Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at
Charlotte. Hereinafter cited as Education Minutes. For a
comprehensive overview of Second Ward High School see William Jeffers,
"Historical Overview of Second Ward High
School," for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
Education Minutes, 22 September, 1947.
Education Minutes, 23 August, 1948.
Education Minutes, 25 February, 1948.
Education Minutes, 25 October, 1948.
Education Minutes, 27 October, 1947. The approval was
contingent upon subsequent review and approval by Dr. Elmer Garinger,
Associate Superintendent, and Dr. N. L. Engelhardt, Engineering
Consultant for the Charlotte Public Schools.
Education Minutes, 26 January, 24 May, 1948.
Education Minutes, 23 February, 1948.
Mary Snead Boger, Charlotte 23 (Bassett, Va: Bassett Printing
Corporation, 1972), 226. Education Minutes, 7 October, 27
October, 1947; 26 January, 23 February, 25 February, 1948.
Hanchett, Thomas W., n.d. “Charlotte Architecture: Design Through
Time Part 2.” landmarkscommission.org/educationarchitecturept.2.
Charlotte Observer, 22 April, 1988.
Rybczynski, Witold, n.d. “The Architect Le Corbusier.” time.com/time/time100/artists/profile/lecorbusier.
Quoted in Rybczynski.
Quoted in Rybczynski.
Quoted in Rybczynski.
Education Minutes, 14 January, 1949.
Charlotte News, 9 December, 1976.
Charlotte Observer, 30 August, 1983.
Charlotte Observer, 2 September, 1994.
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