This report was written on April 4, 1984.
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Ratcliffe Florist Shop is located at 431 South Tryon Street, in Charlotte,
North Carolina. To see a brief
biographical video of the Ratcliffe-Otterbourg House go to
http://officialcharlottehistory.ning.com and click on "Video" at the top
of the page.
2. Name and address of the present owner of the property:
Mrs. L. G. Ratcliffe, Sr.
2128 Sherwood Avenue
Charlotte, N.C. 28207
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 which depicts the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent
deeds to this property are listed in Mecklenburg County Deed Book W20 at
page 340. The Tax Parcel Number of the property is 125-052-12.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains
a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr. William H.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains an architectural description of the property prepared by Lisa A.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4.
a. special significance in terms of its history, architecture,
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property
known as the Ratcliffe Florist Shop does possess special significance in
terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
following considerations: 1) the Ratcliffe Florist Shop, completed in
1929, is a strikingly well-preserved example of early 20th Century
commercial architecture; 2) the architect of the Ratcliffe Florist Shop
was William H. Peeps (1868-1950), an architect of local and regional
significance; 3) the Ratcliffe Florist Shop is the best example of the
Mediterranean Revival Style of architecture in Charlotte, North Carolina;
4) Louis G. Ratcliffe (1893-1961), the founder of the company, was a
prominent figure in community affairs; and 5) the Ratcliffe family
continues to operate the business from this location.
b. integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling
and/or association: The Commission contends that the attached
architectural description by Miss Lisa A. Stamper demonstrates that the
Ratcliffe Florist Shop meet this criterion.
9. 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
"historic property." The current appraised value of the .072 acres of land
is $47,250. The current appraised value of the building is $51,730. The
total current appraised value is $98,980. The property is zoned UMUD.
Date of Preparation of this Report:April 4, 1984
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
1225 S. Caldwell Street/Box D
Charlotte, North Carolina 28203
Dr. William H. Huffman
Perhaps the most charming and out-of-the-ordinary small business place in
the commercial center of Charlotte is that occupied by Ratcliffe Flowers on
South Tryon Street. For over fifty years, it has stood in great contrast to
its plainer or more institutional neighbors. When Louis G. Ratcliffe
(1893-1961) started his floral business next to the
Latta Arcade in the 300 block of S. Tryon in 1917, the area was still a
mixture of small businesses, residences and some vacant properties.1
A native of Henrico County, Virginia, he entered the service a year after
starting the new business and saw action with the 323rd Infantry in France
during World War I, where he was awarded the Purple Heart. After
demobilization at the close of the war, Mr. Ratcliffe returned to Charlotte
and enthusiastically plunged into over fifty years of activity in the city's
business and civic life. He served variously as a National Committeeman of
the American Legion, Mecklenburg County Democratic Chairman, Chairman of the
Welfare Board, President of the Charlotte Chapter of the American Red Cross,
and as director of Home Federal Building and Loan. In addition, he was a
member of the Rotary Club, a Mason, a Shriner and a steward of his church.
Clearly Louis Ratcliffe was a man greatly involved with his community.2
As the community grew and prospered in the boom times of the 1920's, so
did the floral concern which supplied flowers for weddings, funerals, church
services and special occasions in the expanding city. By the end of the
decade, Ratcliffe decided the time was right for new quarters to house the
successful business, and so he hired William H. Peeps, a local architect, to
draw up the plans. Perhaps Peeps was chosen for the job because he had also
done the Latta Arcade, Ratcliffe's business neighbor for twelve years.
3 William Peeps (1868-1950) was originally from London, England, and
had first settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there he came to Charlotte
in 1905 to participate in the growth of this New South community, and for
forty-five years thereafter made a significant impact on the architectural
history of the city. In his long Charlotte career, which only ended when he
fell ill at the age of 82, Peeps was responsible for numerous landmark
structures in the city and in other areas of the state.4 Beside
Ratcliffe Flowers, he designed a number of important commercial buildings in
the city, including Ivey's Department Store, Eckerd's Drugs, the Latta and
Court Arcades, and the Hovis Mortuary (now Queen City TV) on North Tryon. Of
equal significance are the many fine large residences Peeps designed for a
number of the city's wealthy citizens, including that of J. B. Ivey, John
Bass Brown, George W. Graham, Jr.5 and others. In early 1929, the
plans for the new florist shop were complete, and on March 20th of that
year, the contractor, Southeastern Construction Company, located at 210 E.
Second Street, took out a building permit to begin work. In the permit it
was estimated that the new store would cost $16,000.6 At the time
when Ratcliffe Flowers was built, Charlotte was experiencing an
unprecedented building boom which reflected the prosperity of the time. A
perusal of the building permits of that year clearly reflects great activity
in both business and residential, mostly suburban, construction. It was as
part of this general prosperity that the new Ratcliffe Flowers shop came on
the scene late in 1929.
Unfortunately for many in the community, the boom times ended soon
thereafter, and a ten-year depression followed. Ratcliffe Flowers, however,
steadfastly weathered the storm in its charming, Peeps-designed two-story
store. Over the years, in fact, the business, which is still in the family,
expanded into a wholesale division and a greenhouse operation in addition to
the city center retail outlet.7 Thus through all the changes in
uptown Charlotte over the last fifty-some years, this delightfully unusual
retail store, which reflected both the tastefulness appropriate for a floral
shop and a confidence in its longevity, has graced South Tryon Street
through the best and worst of times, and will no doubt continue to do so for
a long time.
1 Interview with Margaret Osborne, Charlotte, N.C., March
1983; Charlotte City Directory, 1917, passim.
2 Charlotte Observer, February 16, 1961, pp. 1C and 9D.
3 Charlotte Building Permit No. 9899, 20 March 1929. Ratcliffe
purchased the property in 1927: Deed Book 675, p.43, 19 August 1927.
4 Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1950, p.lB.
5 >George W. Hamilton, ed., William H. Peeps, A.I.A.,
Architect (Charlotte: News Publishing House, 1928).
6 See note 3.
7 Interview with Margaret Osborne, above.
Lisa A. Stamper
"Ratcliffe's Flowers Brighten The Hours" - original slogan
Located on South Tryon Street between First and Second Streets,
Ratcliffe's Flowers is a well preserved example of the Mediterranean Revival
Style. Designed by the architect William Peeps, this two-story building was
completed near the end of 1929. Built at a time when new business
development was at its peak in central Charlotte, this florist shop is very
possibly the city's finest example of early twentieth-century commercial
More than one-half of the front of the Ratcliffe's Flowers building is
two-stories high, while the back of it is one-story high. The tar and gravel
roof is flat on both sections, and the back part contains a gabled skylight.
To capture the mood of the Mediterranean, Peeps used a variety of materials
and forms in the design of the front facade. The brick is stuccoed, and a
decorative wooden gable was placed at the roofline. This gable, which spans
the whole width of the facade, has deep sections to hide the flood lights
which brighten the front facade at night. A second-story balcony is
decorated with a cast-iron balustrade and brackets. Even a few rows of
glazed tile separate the front facade from the sidewalk. The neon sign is
not original, but was installed shortly after the florist shop opened for
business. The deeply recessed first-story storefront consists of two wood
and glass doors flanking a protruding wooden framed display window. The plan
of the display window is one-half of an octagon shape. It has its own
high-pitched roof which is basically semi-circular in shape. The name of the
shop is displayed in white letters on the front of the display window roof.
Above these doors and display window are five panes of floral patterned
glass framed by wood. The second-story of the front facade exhibits three
round-arched openings with the middle one being slightly taller in Palladian
fashion. These wooden framed openings serve to look like windows and
function as doors. Each opening has a half-circle section above a large
rectangular section. Each half-circle contains four vertical lights. The
rectangular section of each outer opening contains sixteen lights while the
inner one contains twenty lights. Four stylized columns with
Corinthian capitals separate the second-story openings from each other
and the rest of the facade. The shafts of these columns have a spiral groove
cut into them; a Mediterranean motif.
The interior reflects the exterior style, employing several exterior
elements and motifs. The interior plan consists of a second-story
half-attic, a high first-story, and a rear half-basement. Interior finishes
include plaster walls, chestnut wood trims, and flagstone floors. Many of
the furnishings are original and are kept in excellent condition. The
first-story interior has two-levels. The lower one is the full length of the
building and is composed of three sections. The upper-level covers the
second section only and is used as an office. The first section is the
showroom and is defined by the front wall and an interior wall with three
round arched openings. It has a barrel-vault ceiling which invokes a grand
spacious feeling in the narrow room. The second section is a small work area
defined by the arched interior wall and another interior wall with a heavy,
arched double door. The third section is contained within the rear of the
building and is also used as a work area.
The showroom has a flagstone floor, possibly made with stone from
Arizona. Over the years, wax had built-up on the floor, but it has been
recently cleaned leaving the original stones in good condition. Six chestnut
columns of the molding with quatrefoil motifs add to the ornamentation. A
chestnut trellis is an original display device which is still in use. Track
lighting has recently been installed on this trellis to illuminate displays
on the wall behind it; however, this lighting system is inconspicuous.
Original glass and iron furnishings, even a marble top table, are in
excellent condition and presently display various floral arrangements.
Decorative urns, one from India, are also original furnishings still in use.
Even original light fixtures are intact. The arched interior wall which
defines the back of the showroom contains three large, high, round-arched
openings, reflecting those of the front facade. As one enters the showroom
from the front, the left arch is practically the full-height of the wall. It
contains a wooden staircase which leads to a second-level landing. The other
two arched openings stop at the bottom of the second-level. These openings
have been covered with plywood boards, but the arched shapes are still
prominent. An iron railing positioned in front of these two arched openings
has been temporarily removed to make room for a Christmas display.
Underneath the second-level arched openings is a large rectangular
opening. Simple, thick columns support a dentiled lintel at the top of this
opening. A cabinet located next to the wall now blocks part of this opening,
which allows one to enter the small workroom underneath the second-level
office. The small workroom contains very little. It has only a few shelves
and thin workbenches for employee use. Since the public can see into this
area, it is not used extensively and is more of a transitional space between
the showroom and the rear work area. A wooden double-door opens into the
back work area. Here most of the preparation of floral arrangements takes
place. Since this back room is not in the public's view, it is more
utilitarian in finishes and furnishings. Again, many of the original
fixtures and furnishings are still in use and in good condition. Even the
first cooler is intact. A wooden staircase, which leads to the second-level
landing, mirrors that from the showroom. It seems that accessibility to the
total building was a main consideration in the initial design of the
second-level office. It was designed so one could look through the arched
openings into the showroom or out the open back into the work area. The
office is easily accessible to the showroom and workroom by the stairways.
In addition, there is a wooden staircase which leads from the landing to the
attic. By examination of photographs made shortly after the store opened and
in possession of Mark V. Ratcliffe, the interior seem to have had only a few
alterations since then. The Ratcliffe's have gone to great lengths to
preserve and maintain their florist shop's elegant romantic ambiance.
Presently, many people come into the store to marvel at the excellent
workmanship and care put into Ratcliffe's Flowers.
Essay: Ratcliffe Florist Building