SURVEY AND RESEARCH REPORT
The Robert and Elizabeth Lassiter House
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as
the Robert and Elizabeth Lassiter House is located at 726 Hempstead Place,
Charlotte, North Carolina.
2. Name and address of the present owner of the property:
The present owner of the property is:
726 Hempstead Place
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. Maps depicting the location of the property: This report
contains a map depicting the location of the property.
5. Current deed book and tax parcel information for the
property: The tax parcel number of the property is 155-132-11
6. UTM coordinate: 17 516588E 3894103N
7. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report
contains a brief historical sketch of the property.
8. A brief architectural description of the property: This
report contains a brief architectural description of the property.
9. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets
criteria for designation set forth in N. C. G. S. 160A-400.5:
a. Special significance in terms of its history,
architecture, and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the
property known as the Robert and Elizabeth Lassiter House does possess special
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its
judgment on the following considerations:
The Lassiter House is significant as the oldest identified surviving Modernist Style
home in Charlotte.
The Lassiter House is one of the earliest examples of the work of A.G.
Odell Jr., one of the most important and prolific North Carolina architects of
the 20th century.
The Lassiter House is extremely rare as a fully realized example of
Modernist Style residential architecture.
The Lassiter House is important as an early example of the movement after
World War Two to apply technology to residential architecture.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials,
feeling and/or association: The Commission contends that the physical and
architectural description which is included in this report demonstrates that the
Robert and Elizabeth Lassiter House meets this criterion.
10. Ad Valorem tax appraisal: The Commission is aware that
designation would allow the owner to apply for an 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 total appraised value of the
improvements is $144,600. The current appraised value of the lot is $780,000.
The current total value is $924,600.
Date of preparation of this report: August 2003
Prepared by: Stewart Gray
The Lassiter House, located on Hempstead Place in the
Neighborhood in Charlotte, is significant as the oldest identified fully
realized Modernist Style houses in the city. It is also one of the few surviving
homes designed by architect A. G. Odell, who was among the most prominent North
Carolina architects of the 20th century. The Modernist Style in
residential architecture was never fully embraced in Charlotte, and surviving
examples continue to be threatened with demolition.
The Lassiter House was built in 1951 during the nation’s
great post-World War Two building boom. The building boom was brought on by
years of stagnant homebuilding due at first to the Great Depression and then to
material and labor shortages during World War II. After serving in the Navy,
Charlotte native Robert Lassiter brought his bride Elizabeth to his hometown
where they found a house in south Charlotte. Elizabeth Lassiter, who was
from the State of Washington, remembers that the housing market around Charlotte
was extremely tight and that they felt very lucky to have found any house at
all. Elizabeth Lassiter contracted polio soon after her move to Charlotte and wanted a one-story house that would be
completely accessible to a wheelchair. Around 1949 the Lassiters asked A. G. Odell Jr.
to design a new home that would suit their needs.
A.G. Odell Jr.
A Cabarrus County native and a member of one of North
Carolina’s most prominent textile families, A. G. Odell, Jr. opened an office in
Odell graduated from architecture school at Cornell University and then attended
the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, one of the world’s premier arts and
architecture schools. Indeed, Odell was considered the best- trained architect
In the years following the World War II, Odell quickly established himself as
the leading designer of commercial and institutional buildings in Charlotte. By
the mid-1950s, Odell’s work included the Main Branch of the Charlotte Public
Library, Charlotte’s first enclosed shopping center, the Charlottetown Mall, and
the groundbreaking Wachovia Tower, Charlotte’s first Modernist Style
skyscraper. Odell’s greatest achievement was arguably the design of the
original Charlotte Coliseum.
The former Charlotte Coliseum (now known as Independence Arena) and Ovens
Auditorium, Charlotte’s first municipal stadium and auditorium, were hailed as
“architectural marvels” by architects, public officials, and Charlotteans when
they first opened to a crowd of thousands in 1955. North Carolina Governor
Luther Hodges proclaimed the Coliseum “a perfect building,”
Praise was not limited to the local press or state
officials. The Coliseum project secured Odell’s reputation as an architect of
From the moment that Odell & Associates unveiled the first model, the Coliseum
was featured in professional architecture journals and trade publications. The
buildings legendary claim to fame is that it was the largest free-span dome in
the world at the time it was built…and it received international notice in an
article in a Madrid journal. Look published a three-quarter page color
photograph of the "world's biggest dome."
Odell’s success continued and in 1966 Odell was honored as
a recipient of the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts. Awarded by the General
Assembly, it is the highest honor the state of North Carolina can bestow.
Other recipients have included: Frank Porter Graham, John Morehead, Reynolds
Price, Charlotteans Mary and Harry Dalton, and Modernist Architecture proponent
Henry L. Kamphoefner, former Dean of the School of Design at NC State University.
Click here to
read a brief biography of Odell from the commemorative program for the 1966
North Carolina Awards ceremony
Projects for Odell’s firm, Odell and Associates, included
the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building near Chapel Hill, the Concordia Church, and
the 1965 “Charlotte Central Area Plan.” With the center city plan, Odell
embraced the philosophy of the "Radiant City," espoused by Swiss-born
European architect Le Corbusier, where:
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.
While the plan was never fully realized, it was utilized
and the present landscape of the center city owes much to Odell’s design. One
important element of plan was the Charlotte Civic Center. Designed by Odell,
this massive and stark building acted as a catalyst for more Modernist or
International Style buildings in the center city.
Odell’s fame was largely the result of his commercial and
institutional work, but early in his career Odell designed several modernist
homes for Charlotte clients including the Kenneth Shupp House, the first
Modernist Style home built in Charlotte. Odell continued to publicize his
residential designs through the mid-1950s. In 1954 as President of the North
Carolina Chapter of the AIA, Odell began publishing the Southern Architect,
which later became the Journal of North Carolina Architecture. The
primer issue, with the Charlotte Coliseum on the cover, featured five pages of
Odell’s work with photographs of three residences. In 1955 the Southern
Architect again featured Odell’s residential work with photographs and a
floor plan of the Spencer Bell House in Charlotte. Odell found that he could
provide good value for his homebuilding clients by utilizing the Modernist
Style. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer at the time of his
retirement in 1982, Odell said “I was trying to sell contemporary more on the
economics than aesthetics…(traditional design homes) didn’t give as much space
for the dollar.”
J. Spencer Bell House
Kenneth Shupp House
Although never fully embraced by the home buying public,
especially in any fully realized form, Modernist Style homes were the vanguard
in post-World War II residential design. In the California Book of Homes,
a plan-book sold in bookstores and newsstands, Editor Leslie R. Griffin wrote in
The basic concepts of architectural home designing have undergone revolutionary
changes for the better. The hallowed basic concepts have been pushed, prodded
and shaped to keep pace with this great country and its people – who have
themselves been involved in a revolution of spirit and mind in the last twenty
years. From the chaos of the past, architectural practice and thought has
emerged shoulder to shoulder with the ideals of freedom that have kept our
The newness of the style and its utilization and
integration of technology was seen as an answer to the troubled years of the
Depression and the tumult of the war. Victory and prosperity and the resulting
consumer culture drove the demand for “new and improved” products, including
homes. Fully-realized Modernist Style homes were not simply an “improved”
version of the traditional home form, but in many cases a completely different
building type. Considered a “machine for living,”
fully- realized Modernist Style home designs shared few structural components,
building materials, or spatial planning with traditional designs. Griffin goes
on to list the tangible effects of the Modernist Style on residential
Today’s planning is functional. The want of the family are appraised and a
step-saving floor plan is laid out: then, after the living functions have been
provided for, the shell is put on the house. Previously, the house was built
after a traditional pattern, a “French Provincial”, “Colonial”, or something
2. Exterior design has changed. Modern lines are simple lines – no gingerbread
or other unnecessary ornamentation.
3. Modern conveniences have taken over. The modern kitchen and laundry are so
well known to the housewife today that any description would be superfluous.
4. The two-story house is out. In the West, with rare exceptions such as
building on a hillside location, owners want living on one floor.
5. Open planning is in. Present habits of informal living, plus the perfection
of modern conveniences have made open planning possible. The formal dining room
has been replaced by the large Pullman kitchen. Hallways and entry-ways are
Lassiter House Foyer
It was in this context of radical change that the Lassiter
House was designed. Odell and Robert Lassiter were friends, and Elizabeth
recalls that Charlotte was a much smaller town in the late 1940’s and that it
was “only natural” that Odell would design their house. Elizabeth Lassiter was
familiar with Modernist Style architecture. Being from the West Coast, she was
an admirer of Portland architect Pietro Belluschi (1899-1994), a leading
national spokesman for the Modernist Style and Dean of the M.I.T. School of
Architecture., Belluschi had produced numerous successful home designs and was considered
pragmatic when compared with other proponents of the style such as Phillip
With Belluschi’s style in mind, Elizabeth Lassiter and Odell “put our heads together”
and developed the plan for the Lassiter Family’s home.
Odell assisted in every phase of planning and construction
for the Lassiter House. He accompanied the Lassiters when they picked out the
lot on Hempstead Place, a brand new neighborhood street being developed by
prominent developer E. C. Griffith, and Elizabeth Lassiter recalls that Griffith
himself wrote the deed. Odell urged them to choose lot number 726 because its
rising topography would allow him to design a private site.
Elizabeth Lassiter wanted to make sure that her new home could
accommodate someone with restricted mobility and found the Modernist Style
design well suited to her special needs. Modernist Style homes are generally
low, and the one-story Lassiter House is set level with the grade, eliminating
all need for steps. Modernist Style designs utilized modern materials such as
steel beams to allow for open floor plans without interruption by interior load-bearing walls. The Lassiter House’s open floor plan along with wide hallways,
and doorways, were designed to accommodate a wheelchair. Wall-to-wall carpet was
chosen because slick floors could be dangerous for someone using crutches. A
pool was planned for the backyard, so that Elizabeth Lassiter could exercise, but problems
with getting materials and skilled labor delayed the pool for several years.
Elizabeth Lassiter had specific non-Modernist plans for her
kitchen. She recalls that Odell suggested an open-plan for the kitchen. He
suggested a kitchen/family room with a place for “Robert to sit there reading
the paper in a big chair, smoking a pipe,”
while Elizabeth cooked supper. She was not impressed, and directed Odell
to design a small kitchen for a paid cook, with a butler pantry/serving area to
further isolate the kitchen from the dining room and the rest of the house.
Even with this traditional kitchen/dinning room layout, Odell was able to
utilize modern innovations such as a dinning table on a track that could be
completely set in the serving area and pushed through an opening in the dinning
room wall. When the meal was over it would be retracted, dirty plates and all.
||Odell envisioned a kitchen/family room for the Lassiter
House. This was one element of Modernist Style home design not
embraced by Elizabeth Lassiter. The result was a compact traditional
Elizabeth Lassiter’s other major disagreement with Odell involved
storage space. The Modernist Style emphasized clean lines, no clutter. In
these concrete-floored “machines for living” there were usually no attics or
basements, and the open-floor plan eliminated many of the possible locations for
closets. Odell suggested to the Lassiters that they should not “have a lot of
and that they did not need storage. Embracing post-World War II consumerism,
Odell suggested that if something was broken or if you did not need it, you
could just throw it away. Elizabeth Lassiter was not convinced and instructed Odell to
design generous storage space.
While Elizabeth Lassiter was involved in every aspect of the
interior design, the Lassiters gave Odell a free hand in designing the exterior
of the house. Typically the design of a Modernist Style house concentrated more
on the needs of the occupants than on impressing the public. Whereas
traditional home design often incorporated either an imposing or ornate façade,
Modernist Style homes often presented their simplest elevation to the street and
would sometimes, as is the case with the Lassiter House, lack a “front door.”
This concept of a very private or personal space is reflected in Odell’s
landscaping plan for the Lassiter House. From the road, the most prominent
feature of the Lassiter Residence is a large, plain, masonry retaining wall.
Architect-designed homes, and Modernist Style homes in
particular often conform to the landscape. Odell embraced this concept with the
Lassiter House. It was his intention that the house look like it had risen out
of the lot.
While “outdoor living” was nothing new in the South with its history of porches,
screened porches, and sleeping porches, the Modernist Style architects pushed
the very floor plans of their homes into the outdoors with trellis-covered
terraces and open patios. The outdoors was brought into the houses by the
extensive use of windows and glass doors, usually to the rear of the house. In
the Lassiter House the living room literally opens onto a covered patio via
massive sliding glass wall panels that were designed by Odell. The blurring of
the interior and exterior spaces was reinforced by Odell with exterior wall
materials such as brick and redwood siding being featured on interior walls.
Odell’s state-of-the-art design for the Lassiter House
proved to be very practical over time. With an addition in the 1970’s to
accommodate guests, the house has served members of the Lassiter Family for over
architecture as "90% business and 10% art." At the time of his retirement in
1982, Odell and Associates was the largest architectural-engineering firm in the
Carolinas, with billings in 1981 of $6.6 million. At the time of his retirement,
Odell and his firm had been credited with designing an astounding 2,000
buildings. However, it was his early commercial and institutional work from the
1950's and 60's in the Modernist and International Styles that was most admired
by the public and his peers. While not typical of the work that made him
recognized as one of the most important 20th Century North Carolina architects,
the Lassiter House is significant as one of Odell's early works in the Modernist
Style. The Lassiter House holds further significance locally as a rare example
of the Modernist Style applied to residential architecture, and as among the oldest
recorded surviving Modernist Style homes in Charlotte.
View From Hempstead Place
The Robert and Elizabeth Lassiter House is a low
flat-roofed one-story frame house that originally consisted of three sections.
The principal section is relatively square and includes the kitchen, dinning
room, and living room. A distinct entrance and foyer connect the principal
section to the bedroom wing, which extends to the west. The house faces east on
a neighborhood lot raised above the street and buttressed at the sidewalk-level
by a tall masonry retaining wall, overgrown with ivy. The house is generally
hidden by trees and bushes and by the topography of the site, although it is
partially visible when approached from the north.
Typical Neighborhood Home
While most of the neighboring homes have a front walkway,
access to the Lassiter House is limited to the driveway, with the principal
entrance to the house facing north. Tall shrubs planted close to the house on
the north elevation obscure the flat-roofed garage, which extends from the north
elevation. The bushes part only enough to reveal the entrance. Opaque glass in
two large sidelights and three fixed transoms surround an original louvered
wooden screen door. Behind the louvered door hangs a wide solid-core door with
a Contemporary Style doorknob. A generous eave protects the entrance. This
extended overhang continues around the house; however much of the overhanging
eave on the north and east elevations is cut away, leaving a framework that
maintains only the outline of the eave. All exterior walls are covered with
vertical redwood siding that runs uninterrupted from the eaves nearly to the
The fenestration in the east elevation is limited to the
northeast corner where a large pane of glass is glazed directly into the wall.
Directly beneath the large window are three metal-framed awning window units. A
window-unit air conditioner has replaced one of the lower sash. This glazed
wall illuminates the dinning room. Abutting the windows to the south is another
solid-core door, with a louvered screen door and topped with a transom.
On the south elevation the overhang is solid and forms a
porch supported by redwood framing, which has been enclosed with glass. A major
gabled bedroom addition was added in the 1970’s. The addition begins at the
west end of the porch and extends to the beginning of the bedroom wing. The
addition, designed by A.G. Odell Jr. and Associates, is covered by the same
vertical redwood siding found on the rest of the house. While the north gabled
wall of the addition is blank, the south wall features two large fixed
triangular windows set in the gable.
The bedroom wing features windows oriented to the south and
designed to take advantage of direct sunlight. Three-part windows with short
upper and lower fixed sash and a large operable center sash are set in the
wall. A recessed entrance borders a large directly glazed window illuminating the
master bedroom. The west wall of the bedroom wing is blank.
The interior of the Lassiter House has retained a high
degree of integrity, with original features such as light and bath fixtures,
wall finishes, and interior doors and hardware. The interior floor plan is
generally open, reflecting Modernist Style design and the need for wheelchair
accessibility. A bank of tall windows in the foyer look into a small, enclosed
garden formed when the bedroom addition was added. The living room features
large sliding glazed wall panels that allow the room to be opened to a porch
that has been turned into a sunroom. Another original feature of the living
room is large brick fireplace with minimal trim and a long simple brick hearth.
A wood box integrated with the fireplace was converted into a television
The dining room contained one of the most innovative
elements of the interior design, a wooden slab table mounted on rollers that
could be retracted into the butler’s pantry to be set with dishes or to be
cleaned after a meal. The wall opening for the table has been covered with
paneling. The butler’s pantry and the kitchen contain many original features
such as cabinetry, counters, and sinks. Built-ins include a telephone
cabinet/desk and a small breakfast table.
The bedroom wing is comprised of two bedrooms single-loaded
off of a long hall lined with storage closets. The master bedroom contains a
small brick fireplace with a tall shallow trapezoid-shaped brick hearth. The
bathrooms are largely original, and feature Carrara glass tile from Italy.
Interview with Elizabeth Lassiter, July 2003.
Lew Powell, “A Designing Man, Looking Back on the Career A.G. Odell Built”
Charlotte Observer, August 15, 1982.
Interview with Harold Cooler, AIA, July 2003. Cooler practiced in Charlotte
at the same time as Odell.
Lara Ramsey “Addendum To Survey And Research Report On Ovens Auditorium And
The Charlotte Coliseum(Former)” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks
Dr. Paula Stathakis, “Survey And Research Report On Ovens Auditorium And The
Charlotte Coliseum” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission,
“Center City Survey Of Historic Places, Charlotte Civic Center”, Dr. Dan
Morrill, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 2003.
Leslie R. Griffin, Ed., California Book of Homes, Home Publications,
Inc., Los Altos, 1954, p.4.
Report on “Post World War Two Survey of Charlotte-Mecklenburg,” Sherry
Joines Wyatt & Sarah Woodard for David E. Gall Architects.
TechTalk, MIT News Office, Cambridge, Mass March 2, 1994.
Merideth Clausen, Pietro Belluschi: Modern American Architect,
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1994, p. 9.
Interview with Elizabeth Lassiter.
Drawings featured in "U.S. Steel's: Kitchen Planning Book", 1956..
Interview with Elizabeth Lassiter.Ibid.
Based on the "Post World War Two Survey of Charlotte-Mecklenburg," by Sherry
Joines Wyatt & Sarah Woodard, it appears that the Lassiter House is the
oldest surviving home designed by Odell in Charlotte. The Bell and Spencer
Houses have been destroyed and the Shupp House can not be located.