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Charlotte Observer Building


The editors and production staff of the Charlotte Observer saw the need in the early 1960’s to expand the newspaper’s home so that more presses could be brought on line and more space could be provided for its various departments to keep up with growing circulation. General Manager Bill Dowd considered several sites, including suburban tracts off Interstate 85; but he and publisher Jim Knight preferred locations in the Center City. "Dowd feared that the newspapers’ move to the suburbs at that juncture would cripple downtown," writes Jack Claiborne in his history of the Charlotte Observer.1

This is the J. N. Pease Company's drawing of the building.

Real Estate agent Louis Rose succeeded in assembling the entire block surrounding the building the Charlotte Observer had occupied at the corner of South Tryon St. and W. Stonewall St. since 1927.2 Dowd made the announcement in December 1965 that the Charlotte Observer would not move to the suburbs but would construct a new building on the tract that Rose had put together. "We are particularly pleased," he proclaimed, "that our newspapers are to remain in downtown Charlotte, and we are hopeful that the developments we have in mind will be an enhancement of downtown and a stimulus to plans for revitalizing the central business district."3 The Charlotte Observer moved into its new Center City home in 1972.

J. N. Pease Associates, a Charlotte-based design and engineering firm, was the architect of the new Charlotte Observer Building.4 J. Norman Pease, a native of Columbus, Ga., and James A. Stenhouse, born in St. Louis, Mo. but a resident of Charlotte from early childhood, co-founded the company in 1938. The building of Fort Bragg and the hiring of J. N. Pease Associates to provide architectural and engineering services for the massive military base gave a great boost to the firm. The success of J. N. Pease Associates continued after World War Two as Stenhouse and Pease competed successfully for major projects, including the new home of the Charlotte Observer. Commenting on Pease’s career, the Charlotte Observer stated: "So sweeping was his presence, most Charlotte residents have probably worked in, banked in, studied or prayed in one of his products."5 J. N. Pease Associates, in addition to many other projects, designed Edwin Towers in Fourth Ward, most of the buildings at Central Piedmont Community College, developed a master plan for the expansion of the government center in Center City Charlotte and fashioned most of the buildings and spaces created therein, including Marshall Park.6

J. N. Pease

Pease, who had moved to Charlotte in 1920 to open an office for Lockwood Green, an engineering firm, was an engineer, not an architect. He believed that by offering a wide range of services, including having its own structural, electrical, and mechanical engineers, J. N. Pease Associates could win contracts to design and oversee the construction of municipal facilities, such as governmental office buildings, sanitary plants and water treatment works for cities.7 Pease was also eager to provide design and engineering services for clients in the private sector.

Not surprisingly, especially in the post-World War Two years, J. N. Pease Associates became an advocate of the Modernist style. The School of Design at North Carolina State championed Modernism after the arrival of Henry Kamphoefner as dean in 1948, and many of its graduates joined firms like J. N. Pease.8 Also, A. G. Odell, Jr. had established his office in Charlotte in 1939 and had become an ardent advocate of Modernism.9 A final factor in inducing J. N. Pease Associates to embrace Modernism was the influence of J. Norman Pease, Jr. (1921-2009) Trained in Modernist principles at Auburn University, the younger Pease joined his father’s firm after World War Two and replaced Beaux Arts-trained James Stenhouse as chief designer.10   Until his retirement in 1989, Norman Pease, Jr. directed or designed a long list of projects, including the First Union Tower, the Duke Power Company Computer Center, Marshall Park and the master plan for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, the master plan for Central Piedmont Community College, the Dana Fine Arts Building at Queens College, and the Home Finance Company Building, for which he won the first design competition sponsored by the North Carolina Institute of Architects.  He was also the first recipient (1988) of the Kamphoefner Prize for Architectural Excellence given by the North Carolina Architectural Foundation.11

J. N. Pease Associates developed this plan for the government center in 1966.  It demonstrates the commitment of the firm to the concepts of the "Radiant City."  It does retain the original Charlotte City Hall, the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, and the Law Building (since destroyed), but the overall thrust is toward high rise and mid-rise buildings in a manicured landscape.

According to Claiborne, the design of the Charlotte Observer Building was inspired by the headquarters of the Miami Herald, then the home newspaper of the Knight Publishing Company. The intent was to erect an "imposing castle," a structure that would communicate to the public the importance of the Charlotte Observer to the community and the region.12 The influence of Modernism upon the design is obvious. In keeping with Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s notion of the "Radiant City," which J. Norman Pease, Jr. had studied at Auburn along with the ideas of such exponents of Modernism as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, the building is devoid of lavish decoration, uses its essential form and the employment of contemporary materials to convey its significance, and is surrounded by a manicured lawn and landscaping. The Charlotte Observer Building is an important part of our architectural history and is, therefore, culturally noteworthy.

1.  Claiborne, Jack,  The Charlotte Observer.  Its Time and Place, 1869-1986.  198

 2.  Claiborne.  187.

 3.  Quoted in Claiborne.  281.

 4.  Interview of Jack Claiborne by Dan L. Morrill (August 14, 2003), hereinafter cited as Interview.  Charlotte Observer.  July 18, 1987.

5.  Charlotte Observer.  July 18, 1987.

6.  Charlotte Observer.  July 18, 1987. Hanchett, Thomas W.  n.d. “Charlotte Architecture.  Design Through Time Part 2.”    J. N. Pease Associates also did substantial work at Morris Field, Camp Sutton, Parris Island, Fort Fisher, Camp Davis, and Seymour Johnson Field. Ironically, James A. Stenhouse, a co-founder of J. N. Pease Associates, was a leading historic preservationist who preferred traditional architecture in terms of personal taste.   An active Democrat, Stenhouse served as Chairman of the American Institute of Architects Committee for the preservation of Historic North Carolina Buildings, president of the North Carolina Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, and was a charter member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.  Stenhouse graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1933 and became certified as an architect in 1937 ("James A Stenhouse."  Folder in the Vertical Files of the Carolinas Room of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library.) 

7.  Bisher, Catherine W. and Brown, Charlotte V. and Lounsbury, Carl R. and Wood, Ernest H. III.  Architects and Builders in North Carolina.  A History of the Practice of Building.  1990. Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolinak Press.  331-332.

 8.  Bisher, Brown, Lounsbury, and Wood.  359.

9.  Hanchett.

10.  Wyatt, Sherry Joines and Woodard, Sara.  n.d.  “Final Report Of The World War Two Survey.”

11.  Charlotte Observer.  January 30, 2009.

12.  Interview.