Uptown Walking Tour Part 2
The Uptown Walking Tour begins at the intersection of Trade Street and Tryon Street, locally known as the Square. Park in one of the many lots or parking decks in the Uptown area and walk along Trade Street or Tryon Street, whichever is nearer, until you reach the Square. The tour will take approximately two hours to complete. Allow extra time if you plan to visit any of the many attractions along the way. Prudence suggests that you not walk alone. Having somebody with you will make the tour more enjoyable and will provide greater personal security.
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17. THE MAYFAIR HOTEL:
The Mayfair Hotel, now Dunhill Hotel, was designed by Louis Asbury, Sr. and opened in November, 1929 at the former site of Tryon Street Methodist Church, where Mildred Morse McEwen worshipped as a child. In 1929, there were no fewer than 15 hotels in Charlotte. The largest were the Hotel Charlotte on West Trade Street and the Clayton Hotel at Fifth and Church Streets. Although not the largest, the Mayfair Hotel was noted for its elegance. Look at the top floor of the building, and you will see the porches for the fancy penthouse suite where Dr. J. P. Matheson, an owner of the Mayfair Hotel, lived. A newspaper reporter who toured the hotel when it opened was impressed by what he saw. The rooms were furnished in "living room style" with double or Murphy beds, "luxurious" carpets and "fashionable" wallpapers. The lobby had an inviting fireplace and was the only place in town where you could buy Martha Washington candy.
By the early 1980's, the building had become the James Lee Motor Inn, a flophouse hotel. None of the original interior of the Mayfair Hotel remains. The building was completely gutted when it was renovated as the Dunhill Hotel in 1983. It is again an elegant place to stay. Does anybody even make Martha Washington candy anymore?
Cross Tryon Street, stand in front of the Mayfair Hotel and look at the facade of the Carolina Theater across Tryon Street.
18. CAROLINA THEATER:
The Carolina Theater opened on March 7, 1927, when Warren Ervin, who managed the Carolina welcomed the large audience that came to see "A Kiss In A Taxi" starring the "ever popular" Bebe Daniels. Lavish movie houses were built all over the United States in the 1920's, and the Carolina Theater in Charlotte was no exception. Architects for these cinema palaces were free to borrow from various historical styles and to employ ostentatious ornamentation, because their mandate was to provide opera houses for the masses. "No kings or emperors have ever wandered through more luxurious surroundings. In a sense, those theaters are a social safety valve in that the public can partake of the same luxuries as the rich, and use them to the same full extent," explained one designer.
Publix Theaters, the owners of the Carolina Theater in Charlotte, selected architectural styles which it deemed appropriate for different regions of the country. New Yorker R. E. Hall and C. C. Hook of Charlotte, the architects of the building, were told to emphasize Mediterranean motifs. "All the best in art and architecture from the various countries bordering on this sea of azure blue are combined in a harmonious assemble," explained the Charlotte Observer.
The Carolina Theater underwent a major renovation in 1961, when it became the Carolinas home of Cinerama, a wide-screen technology of that day. The interior was transformed into a "modern, suburban" look. The final glory days for the Carolina occurred in the mid-1960's, when the "Sound of Music" played to 398,201 people during its run from March 1965 to October 1966. The Carolina Theater closed on November 27, 1978, after showing "The Fist," starring Bruce Lee. Since then, all but a small portion of the front facade of the grand movie palace has been demolished. But if you look carefully you can still see reminders of the Mediterranean.
Continue south on Tryon Street until you reach the next cross street, which is Fifth Street. Directly ahead is the building that originally served as the home of the Ivey's Department Store.
19. IVEY'S DEPARTMENT STORE:
Joseph Benjamin Ivey, the handsome son of a Methodist preacher, opened a small store room in rented space near the Square on February 18, 1900. He belonged to a distinguished list of storekeepers who came to Charlotte at the turn of the century to take advantage of the booming cotton mill economy. Ivey's first day's sales totaled $33.18. "We had to study carefully and push the lines that the other merchants did not make a specialty," the enterprising merchant explained many years later. "For instance, at one time brass buttons were quite the rage. I was careful to keep in a supply all of the time while the other merchants were not noticing and allowed their stock to get low." Among Mr. Ivey's early employees was David Ovens, a Canadian who joined J. B. Ivey & Company in 1904. "I would probably have been satisfied with a moderate business that would make something over a living," said Ivey, "but Mr. Ovens was ambitious to make J. B. Ivey & Company a big store and the business grew rapidly under our combined efforts." Ovens Auditorium on East Independence Boulevard is named for David Ovens.
A devout Methodist, Ivey insisted that the curtains be drawn in his store windows on Sundays, so that the pedestrians would not be tempted to consider matters of this world on the Lord's day. Can you imagine a merchant doing such a thing today? Hardly. Our cultural values have undergone radical change since Ivey's day.
J. B. Ivey had a wide range of interests. He was an avid traveler. He also devoted great amounts of time and energy to growing flowers, especially tulips, dahlias, and gladiolas. Many people remember that the restaurant in Ivey's Department Store was named the Tulip Terrace. Ivey's home in Myers Park was surrounded by gorgeous tulip beds. There was even a miniature Dutch windmill in the yard.
This elegant building at Fifth and North Tryon Streets was designed by architect William H. Peeps and opened as the new home of J. B. Ivey & Company in 1924. The store was renovated and enlarged in 1939. On May 4, 1990, Ivey's was purchased by Dillard's, another department store chain. The building has recently been converted into luxury condominiums.
Continue south on Tryon Street. You have returned to the Square where the walking tour began. Continue straight across West Trade Street and stop at the skyscraper next to Polk Park on your right. Polk Park is named for Thomas Polk. Remember him?
20. FIRST NATIONAL BANK BUILDING:
The First National Bank Building was the tallest skyscraper in the two Carolinas when it opened in 1926 on the Tryon Street edge of Third Ward. Skyscrapers with banks in them have dominated the Charlotte skyline ever since the early 1900's. The architect of this imposing Neo Classical style edifice was the seemingly ubiquitous Louis Asbury, Sr. Look up and you will see some wonderful examples of the classical ornamentation that Asbury employed. High up on the building are Buddhas, lions, and pharaohs. The magnificent archway over the front entrance is decorated with beehives, owls, and other symbols of thrift and industry. Go inside and look at the historical exhibit in the display window in the elevator lobby. It will tell you all about the First National Bank Building.
The president of First National Bank was H. M. McAden. Like so many of Charlotte's New South business leaders, McAden had made his money in the textile industry. That he went into banking is no surprise, because the rise of Charlotte as a banking center was tied directly to the emergence of Charlotte and its environs as a major cotton mill region at the turn of the century. Indicative of Charlotte's importance as a financial center was the establishment here of a branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. Its initial location was on the top floors of the First National Bank Building. Keep your eyes open for bankers on South Tryon Street. They're not hard to spot. Look for conservative business suits.
Continue south on Tryon Street, cross Fourth Street, and stop at the skyscraper in the middle of the block.
21. JOHNSTON BUILDING:
Skyscrapers are cultural totem poles. They dominate the landscape and convey a sense of power and pride. That's one of the reasons that Charlotte's business leaders like them so much. The Johnston Building is named for Charles Worth Johnston. It was designed in the Neo Classical style by New York City architect William Lee Stoddart and opened in 1924. The lavish elevator lobby is worth a visit. The Johnston Building is situated in the very heart of Charlotte's financial district. Elegant homes once occupied these lots, but they have long since given way to commercial development.
Charles Worth Johnston was born in 1861 in neighboring Cabarrus County and entered the textile business soon after graduating from Davidson College. He moved to Charlotte in 1892 to become Secretary of the Highland Park Manufacturing Company. He became president of the Highland Park mills in 1911 and went on to have a controlling interest in several other mills, including the Johnston Mill on North Davidson Street in Charlotte and the Anchor Mills in the North Mecklenburg County town of Huntersville. The Charlotte Observer described Johnston as a "Titan among textile industrialists" at the time of his death in 1941. "His career and achievements memorialize the old-fashioned virtues of thrift, frugality, self-reliance and industry, the honorableness of hard work, the virtue of business honor and integrity," the newspaper proclaimed. The Johnston Building now houses the Charlotte headquarters of United Carolina Bank.
Continue south on Tryon Street and cross Third Street. In the middle of the next block, at 316 South Tryon Street, is the Latta Arcade. Enter the building and walk to the glass-roofed arcade in the rear.
22. LATTA ARCADE:
This magnificent commercial arcade, designed by architect William H. Peeps, opened in January, 1915 as the home of the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, locally known as the Four C's. The owner was Edward Dilworth Latta. Latta, a South Carolinian, had come to Charlotte in 1876 to open a men's clothing store with his brother. Later he went into the men's trouser manufacturing business. His greatest fame came in 1890, when he and several other local entrepreneurs established the Four C's.
The Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company bought the local horse-drawn streetcar system and electrified it. Trolley service began on May 20, 1891, and initially linked Charlotte with Dilworth, the streetcar suburb that the Four C's was constructing just to the south of the city. In 1910, Latta sold the streetcar system to James B. Duke's Southern Power Company and decided to concentrate his energies exclusively upon real estate development. Latta built the Latta Arcade on South Tryon Street in hopes that it would stimulate development in the area. Close your eyes and imagine the cigar-smoking Latta descending the stairs from his second floor office. He was a hard-nosed businessman. Listen to him speak. "I realize we have attained that juncture when we must decide whether we will adopt the sluggish inactivity of the provincial town or aspire with zealous hope to become one of the independent cities of the New South." Those words speak volumes about what Charlotte has been about for over a century. Watch Charlotte Grow!
The Latta Arcade ranks among the most significant early twentieth-century office buildings erected in Charlotte. Although the main facade has been substantially remodeled, the remarkable interior arcade survives largely intact, with parallel rows of shop fronts and office suites beneath the skylit roof. The design continues to reflect its original purpose, which was to accommodate a variety of small businesses as well as provide natural light for the grading of cotton, all within an architecturally sophisticated space.
Return to the Tryon Street entrance to the Latta Arcade, turn right on Tryon Street and walk to the intersection of Tryon Street and Second Street. Cross Tryon Street and turn right again and proceed to the former Ratcliffe Flower Building, which is in the middle of the block, at 431 South Tryon Street.
23. RATCLIFFE FLOWER BUILDING:
You have now entered Second Ward, the last of Charlotte's original four wards. All were established as voting districts in 1869. Here along Tryon Street commercial buildings have again replaced what was once a fashionable residential neighborhood.
In 1917, Louis G. Ratcliffe, a native of Henrico County, Virginia, opened a florist shop next to the Latta Arcade. After military service during World War I, he returned to Charlotte and was a civic leader in this community for more than 50 years. He died in 1961. So successful was Ratcliffe at supplying flowers for weddings, funerals and other special occasions that he decided to erect his own building. In 1929, he hired architect William H. Peeps to design the new home for Ratcliffe Flowers. Of course, Ratcliffe was familiar with Mr. Peeps's talents, because the same architect had designed the Latta Arcade for Edward Dilworth Latta.
"Ratcliffe's Flowers Brighten The Hours" - original slogan
The Ratcliffe Flower Building is an almost whimsical expression of Mediterranean motifs. To capture the mood of the Mediterranean, Peeps used a variety of materials and forms in the design of the front facade. Four stylized columns 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. No doubt the front bay window was used to display the wonderful flower arrangements that Louis Ratcliffe could supply for seemingly every occasion. In those days store windows were essential, because folks used to walk along the sidewalks instead of meandering through air-conditioned overstreet walkways. Ratcliffe Florists moved elsewhere in 1983, but its sign remains because the building is a local historic landmark. A restaurant now occupies the space. Go in and ask to sit at the table in the window. You might even look like a flower.
Continue south on Tryon Street, cross First Street, and stop in front of the church on the corner.
24. ST. PETER'S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH:
St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church was established in 1851 mainly to serve the Irish who were laboring in gold mines in and around Charlotte. Two of the largest mines, the Rudisell and the St. Catherine's, were close by. That's probably why St. Peter's located on what was then the southern edge of town. The current church building, which was erected in 1878, is the only 19th century structure remaining on South Tryon Street, except for the fanciful Victorian Eastlake style rectory next door, which was completed in 1897. Notice the rectory's keyhole window.
The Roman Catholics of St. Peter's have contributed greatly to the quality of life in Charlotte over the years. Charlotte's Mercy Hospital, now located in the Elizabeth neighborhood, originated with the Sisters of Mercy in 1906 in a frame building that used to stand behind the church. More recently, in 1987, Father John Haughey secured the services of artist Ben Long to fashion a magnificent religious fresco on the front wall of the sanctuary. It's worth a trip inside to see this wondrous work of art. The sanctuary is open 10 AM-12 PM and 1-4 PM Monday through Saturday.
Continue south on Tryon Street and turn left at Stonewall Street. Proceed for two blocks on Stonewall Street (you will pass the Charlotte Convention Center) and turn left onto South Brevard Street. Continue north on Brevard Street for two blocks until you come to Third Street. Look at the brick office building diagonally across the intersection.
25. MECKLENBURG INVESTMENT COMPANY BUILDING:
Until the early 1950's, Stonewall Street, Second Street, and Third Street stopped at College Street, and a big railroad freight yard separated the area along South Brevard St. from the fancy stores and shops, like the Latta Arcade, that stood along South Tryon Street. That meant that this neighborhood, which is part of Second Ward.
This block of South Brevard Street between Third Street and Fourth Street became a sort of main street for Charlotte's African American community at the turn of the century. The development of this block was largely due to the efforts of two remarkable people. One was Thad L. Tate (1865-1951), who operated an uptown barber shop. Tate helped establish the Brevard Street branch of the public library, which used to stand on the upper end of the block. The other was Dr. J. T. Williams (1859-1924). A prominent and respected educator, physician, businessman and public servant, he built an elegant 3-story house in this block. Unfortunately, it was torn down in the 1970's.
Tate and Williams were among the leaders in overseeing the construction of the Mecklenburg Investment Company Building in 1922. The contractor was W. W. Smith, another enterprising black man. The Mecklenburg Investment Company Building was the first structure in Charlotte planned and executed by African Americans to accommodate black businesses, professional offices, and civic and fraternal organizations.
Continue north on Brevard Street and look at the church immediately next to the Mecklenburg Investment Company Building.
26. GRACE A.M.E. ZION CHURCH:
Among the people responsible for the establishment of Grace A.M.E. Zion Church in 1886 was W. C. Smith. A native of Fayetteville, N.C., Smith entered the printing trade and became the publisher of the Charlotte Messenger, a black newspaper that first appeared in June, 1882. A resolute abolitionist, Smith wanted to withdraw from Clinton Chapel, the city's oldest A.M.E. Zion congregation, and establish a new church. "The building of a new church is essential," Smith insisted, "to rid our youth of fogey ideas, sentiments, etc., and to bring them up to proper moral sentiments and religious beliefs."
Grace A. M. E. Zion Church became a prestigious institution in the African American community in the 1890's. A black visitor to Charlotte in 1893 wrote, "To say you belong to Grace,' signifies almost as much as it did at one time to say, I am a Roman citizen.'" The cornerstone of Grace says it all. "Deo Religion Et Temperantiae" -- "God, Religion, and Temperance."
This is the end of the tour. To return to the Square, walk to the end of the block, turn left on Fourth Street, go to Tryon Street, and turn right. You now know how historic Uptown Charlotte is. Our tours will show you about the history of communities and neighborhoods throughout Mecklenburg County.
If you would like to read more about the history of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, go to the Spangler-Robinson Room on the third floor of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library at Sixth and North Tryon Streets. The staff will be happy to help you.