The Independence Building
Click here to view photo gallery on the
Click here to read an article
on the demolition of the Independence Building
This report was written Dec 7, 1977
1. Name and location of the property: property known as the
Independence Building (Realty Building) is located at 100-102 W. Trade St.
in Charlotte, N.C.
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owner and
occupant of the property:
The owner of the property is:
Rushing Construction Co.
Indian Trail, N.C.
The present occupants of the property are:
Coral Gift Shop
107 N. Tryon St.
105 N. Tryon St.
Fields Jewelers, Inc.
101 N. Tryon St.
National Shirt Shops
101-A N. Tryon St.
3. Representative Photographs of the property. This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property. This report
contains a map depicting the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the Property. The most recent
reference to this property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 3684 at
Page 386. The Parcel Number of the property is 078-014-07. This report
contains a complete chain of title for the Independence Building (Realty
6.A brief historical sketch of the property:
The series of developments which led to the construction of the
Independence Building (Realty Building) at Trade and Tryon Sts. in
Charlotte, N.C., began on July 26, 1905. On that day a group of prominent
businessmen (W. H. Belk, C. N. Evans, O. P. Heath, Julian H. Little and C.
M. Patterson) secured charters of incorporation for two new concerns, the
Charlotte Trust Co. and the Charlotte Realty Co. Both enterprises opened for
business on September 23, 1905, in their headquarters in the basement of the
Central Hotel on the southeastern corner of the Square. The organizations
prospered under the leadership of Julian H. Little, who had been elected
President of the two firms on September 2, 1905. Illustrative of this
success was the decision to seek more prestigious facilities for the new
bank and its real estate affiliate.
In 1906 the group selected Daniel Augustus Tompkins, publisher of The
Charlotte Observer and renowned advocate of Southern industrialization,
to approach the owners of the "Osborne Corner," the lot on the northwestern
corner of the Square. Mr. Little and his associates believed that this would
be the most suitable location for the imposing building which they
envisaged. On November 27, 1906, the Charlotte Realty Co. purchased the land
and the structure situated thereon for the then astounding sum of ninety-two
thousand dollars. Adding to the excitement engendered by this transaction
was the announcement that the buyers intended to erect "a ten or a
twelve-story, steel frame, office building on the site, a regular sky
Mr. Little and his associates held a major design competition for the
proposed skyscraper. The Charlotte Observer of April 24, 1907, stated
that the Board of Directors of the Charlotte Realty Co. were reviewing the
plans which had been submitted by the eight architectural firms that were
participants in the final stages of this process. Representatives from as
far away as Boston, Mass., New York City, Washington, D.C., and Birmingham,
Ala., appeared before the Board. Also among the finalists were three local
firms: Hook & Rogers, Franklin Gordon, and Wheeler, Runge & Dickey.
On May 27, 1907, the Board of Directors of the Charlotte Realty Co.
selected Frank Pierce Milburn as the architect for the "new 12-story
fireproof office building of the skyscraper type" which would be erected on
the northwestern corner of Independence Square. The selection of Mr. Milburn
was an indication of the seriousness and professionalism with which Mr.
Little and his associates had superintended the design competition. A native
of Bowling Green, Ky., and graduate of Arkansas Industrial University, Hr.
Milburn was one of the most prominent architects who designed structures in
the two Carolinas from the 1890's until his death in September 1926. An
article in the Summer 1973 issue of the North Carolina Historical Review
lists most of the structures in North Carolina for which Mr. Milburn was the
architect. Included among them are several of the imposing buildings which
were erected in Charlotte in the two decades preceding the outbreak of the
First World War. The Stonewall Hotel on W. Trade St., the Charlotte
Sanatorium at Church and Seventh Sts., the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on
S. Tryon St. and the Independence Building (Realty Building) were some of
the noteworthy contributions which Mr. Milburn made to the emerging
townscape of this community. The Charlotte Observer of May 18, 1908,
provided additional evidence of the scope of Mr. Milburn's practice. It
reported that Mr. Milburn had designed twenty-seven edifices which were then
under construction in North Carolina, including courthouses, county jails,
railroad stations, college buildings, hospitals, hotels and office building.
Perhaps Mr. Milburn is best remembered for the buildings which he designed
on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, such as
the YMCA Building and the Bynum Gymnasium.
The contract for erecting the Independence Building (Realty Building) was
awarded to the J. A. Jones Construction Company. James Addison Jones, a
native of Randolph County, had come to Charlotte in the 1880's to work as a
common laborer for a Mr. Cecil, a contractor from Lexington, N.C., who built
several of Charlotte's textile mills of the post-bellum era. Sometime in the
early 1890's Mr. Jones had established his own firm, thereby launching the
development of a construction enterprise that would erect high-rise
buildings throughout this country and abroad. It is worth noting, however,
that the Independence Building (Realty Building) was the first skyscraper
built by the now-famous J. A. Jones Construction Company.
The transformation of the "Osborne Corner" began in January 1908 with the
destruction of the frame structure (the John Irwin House) which had stood on
the site since the early 1800's and which in more recent years had housed
the Woodall & Sheppard Drug Co. That the citizens of Charlotte wore
intensely interested in the project is certain. The Charlotte Observer
of June 8, 1908, commented that "pedestrians on the street are beginning to
develop into a set of 'rubber necks' in their attempt to see, every morning,
whether or not it (the skyscraper) has climbed during the night and, every
night, how high it has leaped since morning. It is not difficult to
understand why the construction of the Independence Building (Realty
Building) attracted so much attention. Irrefutable documentation exists to
prove that this was the first steel-frame high-rise building erected in
North Carolina. A reporter for The News and Observer of Raleigh,
N.C., stated on June 21, 1908, that the Only skyscraper in the State" was
"being constructed" in Charlotte. In an interview which was published in
The Charlotte Observeron May 18, 1908, Frank P. Milburn boasted that a
"new 12-story and basement steel-frame skyscraper" was underway in
Charlotte, which would be "the first building of this type and the most
expensive office building in the State." Lawrence Wodehouse, author of the
article on Mr. Milburn which appears in the Summer 1973 issue of The
North Carolina Historical Review, declares that Frank Milburn "was the
architect for the first steel frame building erected in North Carolina," the
Independence Building (Realty Building) "in Charlotte."
The people of Charlotte took great pride in the fact that they would soon
have the tallest edifice in the state. To them it symbolized the strength
and vitality of the commercial and industrial base of this community. The
Charlotte Observer of 1908-09 spoke to this point on several occasions.
Particularly illuminating in this regard were the comments of two reporters
who visited the top of the still-unfinished skyscraper in October 1908.
"Appreciation of what the city is," they asserted, "comes only to those who
view it from this aerial spot." Only from the top of "the most magnificent
building of the Carolinas" could one appreciate that "Charlotte assumes the
nature of a mining-town in western Pennsylvania, everlastingly enwrapped in
clouds of smoke." So proud were the local residents of the emerging
skyscraper that they persuaded J. A. Jones to "shove the towering structure
30 feet further up" by putting the first column of the final portion of the
steel frame into place, thereby letting the delegates to the Democratic
State Convention in June 1908 see the extra height of the building.
Tenants began to occupy the upper floors of the building in late 1908. It
was not until May 18, 1909, however, that the banking facility opened on the
first floor, just two days before President William Howard Taft was
scheduled to visit the city. In January 1908 the Charlotte Trust Co. had
merged with the Charlotte National Bank, the consolidated organization
having retained the name of the latter institution. The President of the
enlarged Charlotte National Bank was B. D. Heath. Julian H. Little and John
M. Scott were Vice-Presidents. The bank occupied the southern half of the
first floor and the main entrance thereto was located on the Trade St. side
of the building. A hallway extended from the entrance on Tryon St. to a bank
of three elevators which provided access to the upper floors. Woodall &
Sheppard Drug Co. occupied the northern half of the first floor. The
Charlotte Observer described the facilities of the Charlotte National
Bank in detail.
Ideally beautiful and convenient in all of its appointments and ranking
far above any other in N.C. and equal with any in the Southern States, the
now home of the Charlotte National Bank on the first floor of the Realty
Building is ready for the removal of the offices of this prosperous
banking institution. Artistic, indeed, is the touch of finish which has
been given the new offices. The work of ornamentation has been in the
hands of capable experts and a first glance will reveal the fine and tasty
conception of the artists who have been supervising the interior
structure. . . . The scheme of the fixtures proper is solid marble of the
most beautiful and costly kind. It is known as the skirus material which
is more ornate and pleasing to the eye than the pure white strain. With
bronze railings and no wood-work at all in connection with the main
offices of the bank, the effect is entirely artistic. . . . The ceiling is
of old ivory and this, together with the mahogany finish in the private
offices and desks, gives a most artistic color scheme for the entire
interior. On either side of the Trade St. entrance is an office for
Cashier W. H. Twitty and active Vice President J. H. Little. The private
office of the president is not so prominent, being located in the corner
of the building. The desks in the offices of both the cashier and
vice-president are of even height with the marble ledge, thus enabling
them to look over their desks and observe everything that goes on in the
building, even to the notice of every person who enters the bank. The
offices of these gentlemen are of mahogany finish of the finest kind and
make a lovely appearance.
The Charlotte Evening Chronicle of May 18, 1909, provided the
following description of the new facilities of the Charlotte National Bank.
The Charlotte National will occupy all of the first floor of the Realty
Building as far back as the elevators, this being fully half the first
floor. The wood finish, the marble and decorative work, the tiled floors
and the convenient arrangement of the offices of the bank officials, the
clerks and others, and the convenience of the bank to the public
generally, all combining to render the institution the most modern banking
place in the Carolinas and probably in the South. President B. D. Heath
and Cashier W. H. Twitty have convenient offices in the front of the bank,
facing on W. Trade Street. The main entrance is on W. Trade St., midway of
the building. The paying tellers' window, auditors window, etc., are
arranged in a line extending nearly across the building and about 15 feet
back from the main entrance and facing it. The bookkeeping department and
all other departments of the bank are located behind this partition in
which the windows are located, while the vault is located to the right as
one enters and to the side of the space behind the various windows,
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the bank and one which reflected
the cultural values of the era in which it opened was "the department sot
apart for the ladies." The Charlotte Observer explained that the
officials of Charlotte National had "set aside an office in a more concealed
corner of the bank for the use of the lady customers, thus enabling them to
enter from the Tryon St. door and transact their business without shoving
into the general crowd."
Change and transformation have dominated the Independence Building
(Realty Building) during its almost seventy-year history. Until his death on
September 12, 1955, Julian H. Little was the principal figure associated
with its evolution. A native of Richmond County, North Carolina, Mr. Little
came to Charlotte soon after graduating from the University of North
Carolina in 1888. His early years in this community were spent as an
employee of the Heath Cotton Company, where he became personally acquainted
with Mr. B. D. Heath. By 1908 Mr. Little had established a reputation as a
prudent and capable banker, having established the Charlotte Trust Co. in
1905 and becoming a vice-president of the Charlotte National Bank at the
time of its merger with the Charlotte Trust Co. By 1911 Julian H. Little had
succeeded B. D. Heath as President of the Charlotte National Bank. Moreover,
he had been the chief executive officer of the Charlotte Realty Co.
(re-named the Charlotte Realty and Trust Co. in January 1908) since its
inception in 1905.
The first major change in the physical appearance of the Independence
Building (Realty Building) occurred in 1912. On January 9, 1912, Mr. Little
resigned as President of the Charlotte National Bank. There is reason to
believe that this action was caused by a disagreement between Mr. Little and
Mr. John M. Scott, who succeeded J. H. Little as President of Charlotte
National. The Charlotte Observer of January 10, 1912, reported that
Mr. Little would "shortly undertake plans looking to the organization of
another national bank. Mr. Little was characterized as one of the most
capable and diligent bankers in the city and the local newspaper predicted
that it was a "foregone conclusion" that any bank which he directed would be
"highly successful". Mr. Little did not disappoint his advocates. On May 4,
1912, the Independence Trust Co. headed by Julian H. Little opened for
business. The initial headquarters of this financial institution were
located in the basement of the Independence Building (Realty Building). It
is important to remember that the Charlotte Realty and Trust Co. held title
to the structure. Obviously, Mr. Little took advantage of this situation by
placing his bank directly beneath Charlotte National. As if to add insult to
injury, the Independence Trust Co. announced that it would begin operations
"in the basement of its own banking house. Mr.Little also began to refer to
the edifice as the Independence Building. Heretofore it had only been known
as the skyscraper or the Realty Building. By 1914 the Independence Trust Co.
had moved upstairs, occupying the northern half of the first floor where
Woodall & Sheppard Drug Co. had been located. Until 1919 or 1920 the
Charlotte National Bank remained on the first floor of the Independence
Building (Realty Building). When the Charlotte National Bank moved into its
headquarters at 4th and S. Tryon Sts., the Independence Trust Co.
occupied the former facilities of its rival, having placed its Insurance
Department in the northern half of the first floor. From 1912 to 1928 the
main entrance of the Independence Trust Co. was on the Tryon St. side of the
In January 1922 the Southern Radio Corporation established its
headquarters on the 9th floor of the Independence Building (Realty
Building). Founded in 1920 by Fred M. Laxton, this organization had created
an amateur radio station, broadcasting under the call sign of DID. In April
1922 it received its commercial radio license and located its transmitter
and studios on the 11th floor of the Independence Building (Realty
Building). Now known as WBT, the radio station was the first to operate
commercially in the Carolinas and among the earliest to attain that status
in the United States. WBT continued to operate in the structure until 1926,
when Mr. C. C. Coddington moved its facilities to 500 W. Trade St.
The most massive transformation of the Independence Building (Realty
Building) occurred in 1927-28. The Independence Trust Co. occupied temporary
headquarters in the building on W. Trade St. which the Merchants and Farmers
National Bank had recently vacated. The construction contract was awarded to
the James Baird Co. of New York City. The J. A. Jones Construction Co.,
which had occupied the Independence Building since 1909, moved its
headquarters to the 4th floor of the Commercial Bank Building, never to
return. Local tradition holds that Mr. Jones was irritated because his firm
had not received the contract.
The architect for the renovation was William L. Stoddard, who had
Johnston Building on S. Tryon St. and the Hotel Charlotte on W. Trade
St. Indeed, J. H. Little had served on the committee which had recommended
Mr. Stoddard to the board of directors of the Citizens Hotel company, the
agency which had superintended the latter project. In 1927 Mr. Little turned
to H. L. Stoddard again, this time to design a major renovation of the
Independence Building. Mr. Stoddard was recognized as one of the leading
hotel architects in the United States, having designed such edifices as the
O Henry Hotel in Greeensboro, N.C., the Sheraton Hotel in High Point, N.C.,
the Penn-Harris in Harrisburg, Va., the Tutwiler in Birmingham, Ala., the
Winecoff and the Georgian Terrace in Atlanta, Ga. At the time of the
awarding of the contract for the Independence Building, Mr. Stoddard had an
office in Washington, D.C.
The refurbished Independence Building opened to the public on March 13,
1928. The first two floors of the structure had been altered substantially.
The front entrance to the Independence Trust Co. had been moved from N.
Tryon St. to W. Trade St. The mezzanine floor now overlooked the main
banking lobby. The cages had been removed from the lobby and had been
replaced by the English type of open front teller's quarters." The mezzanine
ceiling was finished in gold and blue. "Its heavy irregularity," commented
The Charlotte Observer, "gives it a massive appearance." The
elevators were no longer in the center of the building but had been moved to
the southwest corner of the edifice. The interior walls of the lobby were "
of stone from the George Washington quarry," and the floors were of imported
Italian marble." Italian marble was also used "on sections of the walls."
The Charlotte Observer went on to report that the "directors room" was
located at the rear of the mezzanine floor and was "finished in imported
walnut, with a portrait of the bank president, Julian Little, above a
dignified fireplace." Among the more intriguing features of the refurbished
Independence Trust Co. was "a clock in the sidewalk on the Trade street aide
near the door."
The Charlotte Observer reported that "more then 5,000 people
attended the formal opening" of the Independence Trust Co. on March 13,
1928. The local newspaper provided the following description of these
From 5 o'clock in the afternoon until 9 o'clock last night the lobby
was filled with a steady stream of visitors. Officials of the bank shook
hands with thousands of persons. Counters, desks and the mezzanine floor
were decorated with flowers, and the band played throughout the evening.
The Charlotte News commented that "numerous bankers from across
the Carolinas" had come to Charlotte "as guests of the Independence Trust
Company to inspect the bank's magnificent new quarters." It is reasonable to
assume that these visitors were particularly interested in the new vault in
the basement. "The vault," stated The Charlotte Observer, "is
equipped with a delicately sound-tuned burglar alarm system which a
demonstrator caused to ring merely by clapping his hands in the interior."
In another section of the basement was "a small vault for night deposits,"
in which customers could place money by means of "a chute outside the
building." The basement also contained a "safety deposit box vault" and
"private booths" in which customers could examine the contents of their
safety deposit boxes. A locker room and showers were also in the basement.
Two floors had been added at the top of the Independence Building, and
the heavy cornice had been removed. Access to the upper floors was provided
by three new elevators. The Charlotte Observer reported that they
would "stop automatically at whatever floor the occupants of the car
desire." "They are set for certain floors," the newspaper stated, "when the
persons enter them and announce their destination."
Mr. Julian H. Little must have been a happy man in 1928. For over twenty
years he had been among the leaders of the banking establishment of this
community. Any doubts which he might have had about his reputation would
have been removed by an editorial which appeared in The Charlotte News
on March 14, 1928.
The development of the Independence Trust Company has, under his
leadership, . . . been constant, steady and organically sound. It has come
to be regarded as one of the solidest banking institutions in the South
because not only of the personal popularity of those in its command, but
because they are known here and yonder to be executives of exceptional
judgment, caution, conservatism, along with a zeal for service to their
customers and the public.
Unfortunately, the Independence Trust Co. was not able to live up to its
billing. It failed to open following the bank holiday which President
Roosevelt declared in March 1933. Attempts were made to merge with other
financial institutions, including the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of
Charlotte. Other local banks, led by the American Trust Co., persuaded
Federal authorities to disallow any such merger on the grounds that the
Charlotte market could not support another bank. This decision forced the
Independence Trust Co. into bankruptcy.
The Independence Building continued to function as an office facility
until April 1976, when the last of the tenants departed from the upper
floors. Four tenants remain on the first floor of the structure. The major
components of the banking lobby and the mezzanine have been sacrificed to
the needs of the various commercial enterprises that have occupied the
ground floor. The uppermost floors of the structure were radically altered
by an architectural firm (Odell & Associates) which occupied that space in
recent years. At present, the future of the Independence Building itself is
very much in doubt.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains an architectural description prepared by Ruth Little-Stokes,
formerly of the Division of Archives and History.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
a. Historical and cultural significance: The property known as
the Independence Building (Realty Building) is historically and culturally
significant for several reasons. First, it possesses architectural
importance as the first steel-frame high rise building erected in North
Carolina. Indeed, the development of the skyscraper remains the single
most important contribution that architects of the United States have made
to the building arts. Second, it was designed by Frank P. Milburn, an
architect who enjoyed a national reputation and who has been featured in
The North Carolina Historical Review. Third, William L. Stoddard,
another architect of national standing, prepared the design of the
refurbishment which was carried out in 1927-28. Fourth, the Independence
Building (Realty Building) was the first skyscraper erected by the J. A.
Jones Construction Company. Fifth, the structure has been associated with
the careers of many of Charlotte's most prominent citizens of this
century, men such as D. A. Tompkins, J. H. Little, J. A. Jones and W. H.
Belk. Sixth, the building housed the initial studios of Radio Station WBT,
the first commercial broadcasting facility in the two Carolinas and among
the earliest in the nation. Worth noting in this regard is the fact that
social historians consider the development of commercial radio to be one
of the most important developments of the twentieth century.
b. Suitability for preservation restoration: The exterior of the
structure retains its essential appearance as of 1928, except for the
Trade and Tryon St. facades of the first floor. Moreover, several of the
office floors have retained their essential integrity. It is reasonable to
assume that additional research would provide the information necessary to
restore the structure to its appearance as of 1928. However, the
restoration of the interior of the edifice should not be a primary
c. Cost of acquisition, restoration, maintenance or repair: At
present the Commission has no intention of purchasing this property. It
assumes that all costs associated with renovating and maintaining the
structure will be paid by the owner or subsequent owner of the property.
d. Educational value: The property has educational value because
of its historic and cultural significance.
e. Possibilities for adaptive or alternative use of the property:
This property is highly suited for a variety of adaptive uses.
f. Appraised value: The current tax appraised value of the
structure itself is $241,610. The current tax appraised value of the .145
acres of land is $316,800. The most recent annual tax bill on the
structure and land was $9,381.29. The Commission is aware that designation
would allow the owner to apply annually for an automatic deferral of 50%
of the rate upon which the Ad Valorem taxes are calculated.
g. The administrative and financial responsibility of any person or
organization willing to underwrite all or a portion of such costs: As
stated earlier, at present the Commission has no intention of purchasing
the fee simple or any lesser included interest in this property.
Furthermore, the Commission assumes that all costs associated with the
structure will be met by whatever party now owns or will own the property.
9. Documentation of why in what ways the property meets the criteria
established for listing in the National Register of Historic Places: The
Commission believes that the property known as the Independence Building
does meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places. Basic to
the Commissionís position is its understanding of the purpose of the
National Register. Established in 1966, the National Register represents the
decision of the Federal Government to expand its listing of historic
properties to include properties of local, regional, and State significance.
The Commission believes that the Independence Building (Realty Building) is
of local, regional, and state historic significance and therefore meets the
criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
10. Documentation of why and in what ways the property is of historic
importance to Charlotte and/or Mecklenburg County: The Independence
Building (Realty Building) is historically important to Charlotte and
Mecklenburg County because it was the first steel-frame high rise building
erected in Charlotte and in North Carolina, because it was designed by two
architects of regional significance (Frank P. Milburn and William L.
Stoddard), because it was the first skyscraper erected by the J. A. Jones
Construction Company, because it has been associated with the careers of
many of Charlotte's most prominent citizens of this century, and because it
housed the initial studios of Radio Station WBT.
An Inventory of Buildings In Mecklenburg County And Charlotte For the
Historic Properties Commission.
Charlotte City Directory (1912, p.583, p.587); (1913, p.240, p.606);
(1914, p.288); (1915, p.279); (1918, p.l80, p.324); (1920, p.l88, p.34);
(1922, p.598, p.897);(1923-24, p.744); (1925, p.l323); (1926, p.l080);
(1927, p.473, p.677).
The Charlotte Evening Chronicle(May,18,1908,p.5);(May 3,1912,p.9).
The Charlotte News (February 28, 1927, p. 3.) (March 13. 1928,
p.l7); (March 14, 1928, p. 6-A).
The Charlotte Observer (July 27, 1905, p. 5); (September 3, 1905,
p. 5); September 24, 1905, p. 4.);(November 28, 1906, p. 4.); December 2,
1906, p. 6); (January 7, 1907, p. 7); April 24, 1907, p. 7); (April 24,
1907), p. 7); (May 28, 1907, p. 9); (January 4, 1908, p. 5); (January 5,
1908, p. 5); January 7, 1908, p. 6); (January 8, 1908, p. 5); (January 11,
1908, p. 6); (January 13, 1908, p. 5); (January 14, 1908, p. 7); (January
15, 1908, p. 4); (January 17, 1908, p. 5); (January 21, 1908, p. 5);
(January 29, 1908, pp. 5,6); (January 30, 1908, p.5); (February 3, 1908, pp.
4,5);(February 4, 1908, pp. 5,8); (February 10, 1908, p. 5); (February 12,
1908, p. 6); (February 13, 1908, p. 5); (February 15, 1908, p. 7); (February
17, 1908, p. 5); (February 24, 1908, p. 5); (March 3, 1908, p. 5); (March
23, 1908, p. 5); (April 3, 1908, p. 6);(April 4, 1908, p. 4); (April 6,
1908, p. 5); (April 7, 1908, p. 7); (April 11, 1908, p. 5); (April 17, 1908,
p. 7); (April 20, 1908, p. 5); April 24, 1908, p. 5); (April 25, 1908, p.
5); (May 5, 1908, p. 5); (May 6, 1908, p. 5); (May 12, 1908, p. 5); (May 18,
1908, p. 1); (May 22, 1908, p. 4); (May 25, 1908, p. 5); (May 28, 1908, p.
5); (May 31, 1908, p. 5); (June 8, 1908, p. 6); (June 11, 1908, p. 9); June
14, 1908, p. 6); June 20, 1908, pp. 5,6); (June 22, 1908, p. 7); (June 24,
1908, p. 10); (June 27, 1908, pp. 5,6); (June 29, 1908, p. 5); (June 30,
1908, p. 5); (July 1, 1908, p. 5); (July 2, 1908, p. 5); (July 3, 1908, pp.
4,5); (July 5, 1908, p. 5); (July 12, 1908, pp. 4,6); July 13, 1908, p. 5);
(July 20, 1908, p. 5); (July 21, 1908, p. 4); (August 3, 1908, p. 5);
(August 24, 1908, p. 5); (August 25, 1908, p. 6); (August 29, 1908, p. 4);
(September 3, 1908, p. 7); ( September 11, 1908, p. 6); (September 14, 1908,
p. 5); (September 28, 1908, p. 5); (October 8, 1908, p. 7); (November 13,
1908, p. 5); (November 25, 1908, p. 6); (November 26, 1908, p. 5); (December
2, 1908, p. 6); (December 18, 1908, p. 7); (December 27, 1908, pp. 5,6);
(January 10, 1909, p. 5); (April 2, 1909, p. 5); (April 11, 1909, p. 4);
(May 2, 1909, p. 6); (May 6, 1909, p. 7); (May 8, 1909, p. 5); (May 9, 1909,
p. 5); ((May 14, 1909, p. 5); (May 16, 1909, pp. 6,11); (May 18, 1909, p.
6); (October 19, 1909, p. 10); (January 8, 1912, p. 6); (January 9, 1912, p.
4); (January 10, 1912, p. 11); (January 11, 1912, p. 5); (May 2, 1912, p.
12); (May 3, 1912, pp. 6,9); (May 4, 1912, p. 6); (February 1, 1922, p. 4);
(March 5, 1922, p. 1); (April 27, 1922, p. 4); March 6, 1927, Sec. 2, p. 9);
(March 14, 1928), Sec. 2, p. 1); (September 13, 1955, pp. 1B, 14B).
Lawrence Wodehouse, "Frank Pierce Milburn (1868-1926), A Major Southern
Architect," The North Carolina Historical Review(Summer 1973), pp.,
Legette Blythe and Charles R. Brockman, Hornets' Nest. The Story of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (McNally of Charlotte, 1961), p. 386.
Manuscript Folders in the Carolina Room of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg
The News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), (June 21, 1908, pp. 1,8);
(June 28, 1908, p. 1).
Records of the Building Inspection Department of Mecklenburg County. See
Building Permit #7498, issued on February 28, 1927.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office. See Deed Book
232, pp. 325,326; Deed Book 870, p. 309; Deed Book 3386, p. 449; Deed Book
3468, p. 445; Deed Book 3684, pp. 384, 386.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Tax Office. The Tax Parcel Number of
the property is 078-014-07.
1911 Sanborn Insurance Map of Charlotte, p. 4.
Vital Statistics of Mecklenburg County.
"WBT Official Radiologue," Vol. 1, No. 1, 1928, p. 2.
Date of Preparation of this Report: December 7, 1977
Prepared by:Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte -Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
139 Middleton Dr.
Charlotte, N.C. 28207
December 5, 1977
The Independence Building, a fourteen-story office
building of the Renaissance style in the Beaux-Arts tradition, stands on the
northwest corner of "The Square," the intersection of Trade and Tryon
streets in Charlotte. The ornate 1908-09 building, now dwarfed by the
towering steel and glass skyscrapers of Charlotte's present skyline, is a
distinguished monument to the city's commercial dominance in the state
throughout the twentieth century. The chief features of the design: the
articulation of the rectangular block into divisions of base, composed of
the lower portion, the shaft, the center eight stories, and the capital, the
original top story; and the dramatic treatment of each bay of the shaft as a
single soaring arch, are both derived from the seminal skyscraper designs of
Richardson, Adler & Sullivan, and other architects in late nineteenth
century Chicago. The monumentality of the design is somewhat weakened by the
replacement of portions of the base with mid-twentieth century storefronts,
and by the addition of two stories above the original twelfth story. Yet the
quality of the rich detailing compensates for these later changes to the
The base of the skyscraper, five by seven bays in width,
consists of the heavily quoined first story and mezzanine (second story) and
the corresponding rusticated third story. The base was remodeled in 1927-28
when the two top floors were added, and its classical design harmonizes with
the original exterior treatment of the shaft. The only portion of the base
where the 1928 treatment is fully visible is the west corner of the Trade
Street elevation; the remaining bays were remodeled in the mid-twentieth
century. This unaltered section contains a high granite foundation, wide
quoined piers surfaced with finely striated limestone,
Doric capitals, a wide frieze, and molded cornice. The original upper
treatment continues across the entire Trade Street elevation and halfway the
length of the Tryon Street elevation, above the present storefronts. On the
Trade Street frieze are applied letters forming "Independence Trust
Company," while the Tryon Street frieze bears the letters "Independence
Building." Each bay contains metal
casement windows, with a flat-paneled spandrel above the first story
casement and a lintel with applied circular ornament above the mezzanine
casement. In the center bay of the Tryon St. elevation and one bay westward
from the center of the Trade St. elevation were identical main entrances.
The Tryon St. entrance is gone, but the Trade St. entrance is unaltered
except for the replacement of the original revolving door with a double
plate glass door. The entrance surround consists of flanking brass
Corinthian pilasters with side and transom panels. A heavy cast-iron
canopy, supported by curvilinear iron brackets and iron chains attached to
the flanking piers with iron cartouches, shelters the entrance. The canopy
is a metal framework infilled with reinforced mesh glass and ornamental
dental and cartouched moldings and a scalloped drip course. The third story
is surfaced with yellow brick veneer, recessed every four courses to
simulate rustication, and capped with a molded limestone frieze and cornice.
The corner bays contain wooden over-over-one
sash windows; the inside bays, identical sash in pairs.
The shaft, the dominant division of the design, is
articulated by brick pilasters which soar from the forth to the eleventh
story, terminating in round
arches. These beveled brick pilasters divide the interior bays and
terminate in plaster Corinthian capitals and beveled round arches with
corbeled surrounds. The corner bays are emphasized by rusticated brick
pilasters which terminate in
keystoned windows. A molded cornice caps the eleventh story. The veneer
and sash treatment of the shaft are identical to that of the third story.
Between each story of the center bays are flat-paneled spandrels with
alternating applied circular and diamond-shaped ornament.
The original "capital," the twelfth and stop story, is
recessed behind the cornice of the shaft. It has identical sash and similar
decorative treatment, with brick panels between bays. The frieze is
decorated with applied ornament consisting of diamond motifs at the corners
and circular motifs elsewhere. The original heavy dental cornice was removed
when the thirteenth and fourteenth stories were added in 1927-28. These
stories correspond closely in design to the twelfth story, with matching
brick veneer and sash, spandrels which repeat those of the shaft, a frieze
accented with applied cartouche and shield motifs, and a molded cornice. The
southwest corner of the flat roof has a narrow two-story penthouse which
houses mechanical equipment.
The north and west elevations of the building are treated
very plainly, for the architect probably anticipated that adjacent buildings
would conceal them. Each is covered with yellow brick veneer, with a
segmental-arched window with a brick flat arch and a two-over-two wooden
sash in each bay. A double brick string course marks the original eleventh
story cornice level. The center bay of the west elevation is an open well,
allowing light and ventilation to the inner offices. The original fire
escapes were beneath the windows of the west elevation but were replaced by
the present fire escape in the light well, with access doors replacing
windows on each story. The north elevation has a brick smokestack at the
northwest corner, and the three west bays are set back slightly behind the
wall level of the east bays. The added stories differ only in that the sash
are not arched.
The original interior treatment of the third through
twelfth floors is well-preserved, but the first floor and mezzanine have
undergone two major renovations, and only remnants of the sumptuous
decorative treatment of the public areas of these two levels remain. The
first and second floors originally housed a bank in the south half and drug
store in the north half. In 1927-28 this area was converted to a single bank
lobby with a mezzanine, and all trace of the original finish was evidently
obliterated. The second renovation occurred ca. 1950 when the lobby was
partitioned into four retail stores. The elevator lobby, entered through the
Trade Street entrance, retains most of its original finish, with terazzo
floors, black marble baseboards, walls sheathed in darkly veined marble
arranged in geometric panels reminiscent of the Florentine Renaissance
style, and a plaster coffered ceiling with egg and dart moldings. The
suspended metal light fixture of classical design is perhaps original. In
the west wall are three elevators, each with paneled, richly ornamented
brass doors. Above each is a marble dial indicating floor level. In the
northwest corner of the lobby is a small door leading to one of the two
stairs in the building. The stair has while marble treads, a marble dado,
and a delicate cast-iron railing. Beside the lobby door is a large brass
mailbox of classical design, connected by chutes to the upper floors.
The 1928 mezzanine was apparently an enclosed balcony
extending around four sides of the banking room. This level is now a
completely separate floor, and traces of the ceiling treatment of the
two-story banking room survive in the central area. The interior supporting
plastered posts of the bank room Corinthian capitals. The lobby ceiling
consists of boldly painted red and gold square and polygonal plaster
coffers, with egg and dart and medallion ornament.
The upper floors, each identical in floor plan, have a stair in the
center of the Tryon Street side and corridors extending north and south of
the stair, with flanking offices. Except for a few lower level floors, the
stair retains its original marble and iron finish, similar to the rear
stair. Each of the original floors is finished with white marble floors and
dados, black marble baseboards, and golden oak woodwork. Most of the
original office entrances, consisting of oak doors with frosted glass
panels, transoms and sidelights, remain intact. The interior finish of the
offices is very simple, and may of the interior partition walls have been
Special Note. This report was prepared in December 1977, when the
Historic Landmarks Commission, then Historic Properties Commission, was
making a major effort to save the Independence Building. At that time the
Commission could only delay demolition for up to 180 days. Leroy Rushing,
the owner of the Independence Building, sold it to Charlotte developer Henry
Faison. Faison was determined to demolish the Independence Building to make
way for the office building which still stands on the site today. Even
though the Independence Building was listed in the National Register of
Historic Places, even though it was a locally designated historic landmark,
even though noted urban designers, such as Kevin Lynch of Boston, urged the
community to rally behind the preservation of the first steel-frame
skyscraper in the two Carolinas, Mr. Faison moved resolutely ahead. The
building was imploded in September 1981.
For more information...
Click here to read an article
on the demolition of the Independence Building
Photo Gallery 7: The Independence Building