Survey and Research Report
Charlotte Union Bus Terminal
Name and location of the property:
The property known as the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal is located at
418 W. Trade Street in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Name and address of the current
owner(s) of the property:
The current owner of the Union Bus Terminal is:
Central Business District, L.L.C.
Post Office Box 32247
Charlotte, NC 28231
Representative photographs of the
property: This report contains representative photographs of the
A map depicting the location of the
Current deed book reference to the
property: The most recent deed to the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal
can be found in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 8888, page 695. The PID
number for the parcel is 078-05-404.
A brief historical sketch of the
property: This report contains a brief historical sketch of the
property prepared by Lara Ramsey.
A brief architectural description of
the property: This report contains a brief architectural
description of the property prepared by Lara Ramsey.
Documentation of why and in what ways
the property meets the criteria for designation set forth in N.C.G.S.
Special significance in terms of its
history, architecture, and/or cultural importance. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks
Commission judges that the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal possesses
special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission
bases its judgment on the following considerations:
1. The Charlotte Union Bus Terminal, located
at 418 W. Trade Street in Charlotte, is a property that possesses
local historic significance as a physical reminder of the
proliferation of inter-city bus service—not just in Mecklenburg County
but also across the state and the country— in the mid-twentieth
2. Completed in 1941, the Union Bus Terminal
was a modern monument to the heyday of bus travel, before
interstate highways, large commercial airliners, and the glut of automobiles caused ridership to fall continually
throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In the years after it
opened, the terminal housed over half a dozen bus companies (including
Queen City, Atlantic Greyhound, and Carolina Coach Company) that ran inter-city
routes through Charlotte. By 1950, the five carriers, four
interstate lines, and one local line used the terminal, and thousands
of passengers came through the building every day.
3. Architecturally, the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal is significant as
one of the best examples of Art Moderne architecture in
Mecklenburg County. Designed by local architect James A.
Malcolm, the terminal displays the rounded forms, clean lines, and
subtle, almost starkly minimal ornamentation that are the hallmark of
Integrity of design, workmanship,
materials, feeling, and association.
The Commission contends that the architectural description prepared by
Lara Ramsey demonstrates that the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal meets
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 that becomes a designated “historic landmark.”
The current appraised value of the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal is
for the buildings, and
Date of preparation
of this report:
January 12, 2004
2436 North Albany Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60647
Charlotte Union Bus Terminal
The Charlotte Union Bus
Terminal, located at 418 W. Trade Street in Charlotte, is a property
that possesses local historic significance as a physical reminder of
the proliferation of inter-city bus service—not just in Mecklenburg
County but also across the state and the country— in the mid-twentieth
century. The development of bus routes between Charlotte and
other cities in North Carolina was first facilitated by the push for
the improvement and expansion of the state’s roads in the 1920s.
As the system of highways connecting cities and towns grew, many
enterprising entrepreneurs began providing bus service along these
routes. Early “buses” were usually just automobiles that had been
lengthened to seat more customers. As this mode of
transportation became more and more popular, independent operators and
larger bus companies expanded their routes into neighboring states,
and buses were developed that could accommodate more passengers.
One of the most
successful of these companies in Charlotte was the Queen City Coach
Company. Founded in 1928 by L. A. Love, Queen City Coach first
provided routes from Charlotte to towns in western North Carolina.
Gradually, the company expanded to include routes to Wilmington,
Atlanta, and towns in western Tennessee. In 1938, the company
joined National Trailways, a nation-wide association of independent
operators and companies.
Riding this wave of success, Love spearheaded a campaign for the
construction of a new inter-city bus terminal in Charlotte.
Completed in 1941, the Union Bus Terminal was a modern monument to the
heyday of bus travel, before interstate highways, large commercial
airliners, and the glut of automobiles caused ridership
to fall continually throughout the 1970s and 80s. In the years
after it opened, the terminal housed over half a dozen bus companies
(including Queen City, Atlantic Greyhound, and Carolina Coach Company)
that ran inter-city routes through Charlotte. By 1950, the five
carriers, four interstate lines, and one local line used the terminal,
and thousands of passengers came through the building every day.
Charlotte Union Bus Terminal is significant as one of the best
examples of Art Moderne architecture in Mecklenburg County.
Designed by local architect James A. Malcolm, the terminal displays
the rounded forms, clean lines, and subtle, almost starkly minimal
ornamentation that are the hallmark of this design. The Art
Moderne style was especially appropriate for buildings such as the
Union Terminal—no other style of the time could have better expressed
the sense of modernity and technology, of movement and speed, which
was inherent in automobile travel. Although the interior
of the building has undergone several renovations over the past 60
years, the exterior has remained essentially unchanged, and today
stands as a tangible reminder of the development of transportation in
mid-twentieth century Charlotte.
Historical Background Statement
The development of the
inter-city bus system in Charlotte was part of a larger move within
the city, as well as throughout the county, state and country, toward
the automobile as the major mode of transportation. While
increasing availability and affordability of automobiles played a
crucial role in the transition from wagon and rail to car, bus and
truck, the development of a dependable system of roads was equally as
important. The road building had been a priority in Mecklenburg
County since 1879, when the Pioneer Good Roads Act was passed.
The Act applied only to Mecklenburg County, giving control of road
building to the county instead of the town and levying a special tax
for construction and maintenance. By 1900, one-third of North
Carolina’s counties had adopted Mecklenburg’s plan. In 1921, the
movement culminated under the leadership of Governor Cameron Morrison
with the passing of the Basic Highway Act, which planned to connect
every county seat in the state with paved highways.
In 1926, Wilkinson Boulevard opened as a connecting highway between
Charlotte and Gastonia. The first four-lane road in North
Carolina, Wilkinson Boulevard remained as one of the major
thoroughfares in the county and in the state, even after the opening
of Independence Boulevard in 1949.
With the system of
roads connecting cities and towns expanding steadily through the early
decades of the twentieth century, it naturally followed that a system
of transportation for hire developed to take people from one city to
another. The inter-city operations started as small taxi and bus
services run by enterprising individuals. Because of the lack of any
regulation on inter-city bus travel:
According to the law, anyone with even two vehicles running from one
town to another could call his venture ‘an intercity line.’ On that
basis, to quote federal figures, ‘more than 6,500 intercity bus
companies existed in the United States [in the mid-1920s].’ Most of
them, of course, were independent wildcatters.
Early bus services
tended to be haphazard at best, with no standard method of operation.
“Buses might run from a hotel in one town to another, or from a livery
stable in one town to another. Some operators printed tickets;
others just took the fares in cash. At first there was no
agreement between operators serving adjacent territories for
connecting schedules in order to provide through services.”
The vehicles used to transport passengers were also rather slapdash
affairs—operators often drove seven-passenger sedans, taxicabs, or
autos that had been converted (usually by lengthening the chassis) to
hold more customers.
Even with these
limitations, bus operators had several distinct advantages over their
primary competitors, the interurban rail lines. While “private
owners of interurbans had to buy, maintain and pay taxes on the
roadbed their trains used . . .the federal and state governments
supplied the right of way for the buses, which paid minimum vehicle
registration fees and . . .only one or two cents per gallon in
With the advent of pneumatic tires, better paving for roads, and
seating extensions, buses became as comfortable as interurbans and
almost as fast, in addition to being less expensive.
Even with the enactment of North Carolina’s first Bus Act in 1925, any
lines already operating were protected by a grandfather clause.
As the demand for
inter-city bus services continued to rise, many independent operators
joined forces (and bus routes) to form larger bus companies with more
extended lines. One of the first of these companies in
Charlotte—Queen City Coach Company—would also become the most
successful. Queen City Coach was founded by L. A. Love, a
Stanley county native running a taxi business out of Concord.
Love began to join up with several other operators to run bus routes
from Charlotte to Monroe, Statesville, and Gastonia. Out of
these first lines emerged Love’s Queen City Coach in 1928.
Initially, Love concentrated on acquiring franchises between Charlotte
and towns in western North Carolina—an area that had been overlooked
by some of the larger inter-city lines like Atlantic Greyhound.
However, Love soon began to expand the Queen City lines east to
Wilmington and Lumberton, south to Atlanta, and west to Tennessee.
In 1938, Queen City Coach joined National Trailways, “a nation-wide
association of independent operators, formed in 1936 by the Sante Fe,
Missouri Pacific, and Burlington railroads and independents to arrange
connecting schedules, interchange tickets freely, and provide a
From then on, the company was called Queen City Trailways.
Flush with his recent
successes, L. A. Love then set his sites on acquiring a new terminal
for inter-city bus travel in Charlotte. He enlisted the support
of the city’s bus operators; and, in 1940, the group unveiled plans for
a $225,000.00 bus terminal, a two-story Art Moderne structure designed
by local architect James A. Malcolm. The building, which was to
be located on West Trade beside the old station, was to contain a
waiting room and restaurant for white passengers, with a separate
waiting room and concession stand for African American riders.
Ticket windows and baggage checking facilities were to be “arranged in
a manner considered most convenient for both Negro and white
The second floor would contain offices and ladies’ rest rooms,
complete with “a large lounge room with mirrors and dressing tables,
showers, and toilet facilities.”
The Charlotte Union Bus
Terminal was completed in 1941 and stood as a modern monument to the
success of inter-city bus travel.
In its first year of operation, the terminal housed a half dozen
separate bus operators, including Queen City Trailways, Atlantic
Greyhound Company, Carolina Coach, and Smoky Mountain Stages.
By 1950, five carriers, four interstate lines, and one local line
operated out of the Union Terminal. According to an article on
bus travel in the Charlotte Observer from that year, 12,000 passengers
passed through the building every single day. Charlotte
Observer reporter H. G. Trotter marveled at the number—“Twelve
thousand passengers, all going somewhere or coming from somewhere.
The total population of a fair-sized city. The population of
Charlotte moving through the Union Bus Terminal every fortnight.”
Another Observer article from 1959 quoted a more modest but
still impressive figure of approximately 6,000.
After reaching its zenith
in the 1950s, inter-city bus travel began a slow decline that would
accelerate through the 1970s and 1980s. While inter-city buses
had easily overtaken interurbans, “they proved largely a transition to
automobiles. . . . By the 1960s, the drivers of 70 percent of their
successor vehicles—the automobile—would enter the city alone.”
The city’s smaller inter-city bus companies slowly went out of
business due to declining ridership, until only Trailways, Carolina
Trailways, and Greyhound were left by the mid-1980s. Between
1977 and 1987, Trailways alone lost 18% to 20% of its ridership each
As inter-city bus service
declined, so did the condition of the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal.
In 1980, in an attempt to attract passengers back to the bus,
Trailways renovated the terminal, installing new restrooms, a
fast-food restaurant, and a “secure” waiting room for ticketed
passengers only. This last feature was meant to discourage
“unwanted visits from winos and prostitutes” at the terminal.
The renovation did little to increase the number of Trailways
passengers, and in 1987 the Union Bus Terminal closed. Trailways
moved their much-diminished operations to the Greyhound Terminal at
601 W. Trade Street. Greyhound had built this terminal in 1973,
and had moved out of the Union Terminal.
Just before closing, Trailways had sold the Union Terminal to
Charlotte businessman Jerry Blackmon, who had then leased the building
In 1997, Blackmon sold the property to current owner Central Business
Architectural Context Statement
The Charlotte Union Bus
Terminal is architecturally significant as one of the finest examples
of Art Moderne architecture in Mecklenburg County. Influenced
both by the spare, minimal designs of European architects like Peter
Behrens, Walter Gropius, and J. J. P. Oud, and by the new materials
and technologies associated with the machine age, Art Moderne emerged
in the early 1930s as an expression of modernity and progress. Most
often used in industrial or commercial contexts, Moderne designs
feature bulky massing (so unlike the vertical emphasis of the earlier
Art Deco skyscrapers), with rounded, gently curving forms.
Minimally ornamented with horizontal banding or stringcourses placed
closely together, Art Moderne buildings usually feature modern,
man-made materials like steel, glass, or concrete. Most designs
are devoid of color, using neutrals or whites to emphasize the clean,
simple lines of the structure. Because Art Moderne buildings
seem to express a feeling of movement and speed, especially in the
aerodynamic suggestion of the rounded corners, it seems an especially
fitting style to use in buildings like the Union Bus Terminal, which
are associated with the automobile.
The terminal, with its
simple façade of creamy brick with gently curving corners and subtle
recessed lines running along the façade at the first and second
levels, is a textbook example of the Art Moderne style and among the
most impressive examples in the county. The rounded metal
canopies extending across the east and west elevations of the building
extend the curve of the façade (and originally served to protect
waiting riders from the elements), and the massive entrance surround
gives a sense of weight and monumentality that helps to anchor the
rest of the structure. The curving walls just inside the tile
surround seem to propel visitors into the building, and the large
etched glass panels not only allow a great amount of light into the
building, but also mimic the glass brick used in the windows that
punctuate the elevations. These features work together to help
make the Charlotte Union Bus Terminal one of the county’s most
impressive Art Moderne buildings.
James A. Malcolm, a local
architect best known for his modernist designs, designed the terminal.
Born in Atlanta in 1910 and raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Malcolm
received a Bachelor of Science degree in Architectural Engineering
from the University of Notre Dame in 1933. Malcolm moved to
Raleigh after graduating, and subsequently moved to Charlotte in 1937.
Two years later, he opened an architecture practice in the city, but
had to close the firm during World War II. During the war,
Malcolm worked at the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
In 1945, he returned to Charlotte to resume his architecture practice.
A member of the American Institute of Architects and one-time
president of the Charlotte chapter, Malcolm is also known his designs
of Barringer Elementary, Double Oaks Elementary, and Park Center
(Grady Cole Center). James Malcolm died in 1996.
The Charlotte Union Bus
Terminal is located at 418 W. Trade Street, on the north side of the
street. The lot, which is paved, slopes down slightly toward the
west and south sides of the property. To the east of the building is a
three- story building clad in green terra cotta. To the west of
the terminal is a two-story brick building that is currently vacant.
The Former Charlotte Post Office faces the terminal from the south
side of Trade Street.
The terminal’s footprint is
roughly T-shaped, extending north from the southern edge of the lot
line. The short end of the ‘T’ consists of the wide south
elevation (façade) of the building, which features a center, two-story
bay flanked by single-story bays. Extending north from the
façade and south end of the building is the long stem of the ‘T,’
which extends from the center bay of the south elevation. The
northern end of the building, like the center bay of the south end, is
also two stories tall. These two two-story sections are linked
by a one-story connection that is slightly narrower than the north and
south (center bay) sections of the terminal. All elevations of
the building are covered with cream painted brick laid in Flemish
bond. The roof of the terminal (on both the one- and two-story
sections) is flat. The building is punctuated by windows in a
variety of different shapes and sizes, and using a variety of
different materials, including glass brick and metal frame. Some
appear to be original windows, and some appear to be replacement.
The façade (south
elevation) of the building consists of a center, two-story bay flanked
by two one-story bays. The corners of the façade at the first
and second floors are gently rounded, and the upper sections of both
stories are accented with a series of recessed, horizontal bands that
follow the curves of the elevation. The massive concrete
bulkhead also curves around the east and west corners of the
elevation. A monumental, two-story entrance surrounded by large,
green terra cotta tiles dominates the central bay of the façade.
Just inside these tiles, the walls flanking the entrance curve gently
inward, mimicking the curve of the façade’s corners. Above the
set of two, metal, double doors (which are not original) are a series
of etched glass panels. The fenestration on the façade is
symmetrical, with a single glass brick window and corner window
punctuating each of the one-story bays, and two curving windows
punctuating the second floor corners of the center bay.
The east, west, and south
elevations are completely unadorned except for the metal canopies
running along the length of all three elevations. The canopies
are supported by thin, round metal columns that are regularly spaced
underneath the canopies. A parking lot lies along the east and north
elevations of the building.
The interior of the
terminal has been significantly altered. The first floor of the
building features an open area that is currently being used as office
space. The southwest end of the floor is separated from the rest
of the space by a partition wall set with windows. A set of
double doors near the entrance leads to this space, which contains a
raised floor. Another partition has been placed around the east
half of the area that is just inside the main entrance to the
building. The doors are flanked with two curving walls, one of
which has been fitted with a single door. This door leads into
the east one-story bay, which is a narrow space marked by the corner
window and a glass brick window on its north wall.
A stairway just north of
this bay leads up to the second floor of the south end of the
terminal. The stair treads and landings in the stairwell are
covered with salmon-colored terrazzo, and the walls are partially
covered in a mosaic of small beige and white tiles. The second
floor, which consists of three rooms off a single hallway at the north
end of the floor, has been altered. At the west end of the hall
are two bathrooms.
Along the east wall toward
north end of the first floor is the staircase that leads to the second
floor of the building’s north section. The stairway is identical
to the one at the southern end of the building. This staircase
leads up to a large open room, covered with the same tile that is seen
on the staircases. A double door leads into a large bathroom
that takes up the west end of the floor. This double door is
flanked with two smaller bathrooms, both of which are equipped with
single showers. This area was originally the ladies’ bathroom.
The terminal does have a
full basement, which originally housed the men’s restroom and a
kitchen. However, because of inadequate lighting, the author was
unable to examine the basement level.