A Walking Tour Of Elizabeth
Dr. Dan L. Morrill
A month after he launched Dilworth, E.D. Latta helped to form a group
of investors to develop the oldest part of Elizabeth. Latta formed the
Highland Park Company which included a real estate developer, Walter S.
Alexander, and a businessman, Walter Brem. The name of this development
company is significant, and it illustrates the connection between
Charlotte's real estate development and textile industry, for the
Highland Park Company was closely related to the Highland Park cotton
mill of North Charlotte.
Initially the venture experienced the same slow start and consumer
resistance that threatened Dilworth. However, in 1897 Walter Alexander
decided that the company should donate a large block of land at the top
of the hill to attract a Lutheran woman's college that was seeking a
location. The college came to be called Elizabeth after the wife of its sponsor,
and the scheme proved to be the boost that the neighborhood needed. By
1903, Latta had extended the E. Trade St. trolley line up the new
boulevard, and many Charlotte business leaders chose to live in the
luxurious dwellings on "Elizabeth Hill" where they could benefit from
the genteel cultural pursuits of the college. Only a handful of these
houses survives today. Central Piedmont Community College which located
here in the 1960's in the buildings of the former Central High School
now dominates the avenue.
1. John Paul Lucas House. (1601 East Seventh St.).
John Paul Lucas, managing editor for the Charlotte Evening
Chronicle, purchase this lot and house in Elizabeth in 1913 for
$8,500. Later he became the publicity manager for the Southern Public
Utilities Company, which operated Charlotte's streetcar system. His
wife, Alice Craft Lucas, was a Wilmington native and graduate of Trinity
College, now Duke University. The house is built in the Bungalow sub-set
of the Craftsman style, meaning that it was part of the first wave of
modernism in American architecture that broke with the period styles
that had dominated the late 1800's. The smaller houses of the early 20th
century were part of an architectural response to the home economics
movement. Women of the American middle class wanted to revamp their
homes to allow more time for club and civic duties as well as for jobs
in offices and department stores. Fewer families employed live-in
servants or domestic help; cornices and niches that collected dust and
germs were rejected as too time consuming. Dining habits became more
relaxed with families eating simpler meals with fewer courses as slim
figures became the fashion of the day. In short, the American home
economics movement changed the style and size of the American home.
Hawthorne Lane United Methodist Church. (501 Hawthorne Lane).
Hawthorne Lane United Methodist Church was designed by Charlotte
architect Louis Asbury, Sr. and opened on December 3, 1916. It is a fine
example of an early 20th century Gothic Revival style building. Asbury
used the "Akron plan" for the Hawthorne Lane United Methodist Church, so
named because it first appeared at the Methodist Episcopal Church in
Akron, Ohio. The Akron plan is a distortion of the circular plan since
the square or rectangular nave has a semicircular arrangement of pews
around a point of focus which is the sanctuary and the choir. Hawthorne
Lane United Methodist Church was just one of many Christian churches
that appeared in Elizabeth as it developed.
Moore-Golden House. (1701 East Eighth Street).
Designed in the English Cottage subset of the Craftsman style, this
house was built in 1910 for Dr. Baxter Moore, whose family only lived
here for one year. It then became the home of Norman A. Cocke, an
official of Piedmont Traction Company, later part of Duke Power Company.
Lake Norman is named for him. This was Harry Golden's last Charlotte
residence before his death in 1981. When he arrived in Charlotte in
1941, he brought with him a strong sense of his New York Jewish
This was reflected in his witty and controversial bi-monthly
newspaper, the Carolina Israelite. During the late 1950's and
1960's he gained national acclaim as one of the great liberal voices in
favor of racial integration. He is perhaps best remembered for his
"Golden Vertical Plan Of Integration." Harry Golden sardonically pointed
out that since the South's blacks and whites managed quite well at
grocery counters, bank teller windows, and other places where they were
not required to sit down together, then perhaps seats should be removed
from schools, buses, theaters, and restaurants to assist integration in
Jennie Alexander Duplex. (1801-1803 East Eighth Street).
To your left is one of three buildings erected in this area to house
members of the Alexander family. The Alexanders moved to Charlotte from
Union County, North Carolina, after the Civil War, and quickly made a
name for themselves in the city. During the 1890's, they became involved
in real estate development, Walter S. Alexander controlling the Highland
Park Company which developed Elizabeth Avenue. In 1904, his brother John
and son Walter developed this area of Elizabeth, and John bought a whole
block of land here for family houses two years later. In 1913, he built
his own house on the corner of Clement and 8th St.
This duplex was built by his sister Jennie in 1921. J.M. McMichael
was hired as the architect, and the popular new Bungalow style was
chosen. The Bungalow first gained popularity in California during the
1890's, where its modest simplicity challenged the ostentation and
complexity of late Victorian dwellings. It was not until the building
boom of the 1910's and 1920's that the Bungalow became one of the
predominant styles in Charlotte. It was particularly well suited for
smaller middle class homes, but it could also be adapted to grand
proportions. Bungalows are distinguished by their prominent roof, with
wide eaves sweeping over a large porch supported by thick columns. They
often have dormer windows, shingled walls, and plain rustic decoration,
such as stone chimneys. The overall effect is intended to be functional,
and unnecessary decoration is avoided.
John Baxter Alexander House. (509 Clement Avenue).
John Baxter Alexander purchased an entire block in Elizabeth in 1906 and
erected this grand Bungalow style home in 1913. He was a vice-president
of the Highland Park Development Company, the developers of this portion
of Elizabeth. In recent years the house has been converted to
condominiums. A particularly interesting design review issue for the
Historic Landmarks Commission arose concerning this house. There was a
proposal to build a house in the sideyard.
Happily, the owners of the house and their neighbors worked out an
arrangement whereby the new house was placed behind the John Baxter
Alexander House instead. You will notice that Clement Ave. is unusually
wide in comparison with its neighbors. The reason is that it was
originally intended as a grand boulevard for a streetcar line from 7th
St. to Central. The line, however, was never built which has preserved
Clement as a quiet neighborhood street.
Walter L. Alexander House.
(523 Clement Avenue).
Walter L. Alexander built this grand home next to his uncle's abode in
1915. Like its neighbor, it is an elegant variation of the Bungalow
style, with a wide, wraparound front porch rounded at one end to form a
pavilion seating area. The front door sidelights and transom are of
heavy beveled glass placed in intricate variations of the diamond
Walter Alexander, a Charlotte native, moved to Blowing Rock, N.C. in
1919. The house was purchased by William Cook Wilkinson, president of
the Merchants and Farmers National Bank and the man for whom Wilkinson
Boulevard is named. It is now the home of Dan Shoemaker, former City
Thad Adams House.
(604 Clement Ave.).
This home, built in 1908 for Thad Adams, a prominent Charlotte attorney,
is inspired primarily by the design vocabulary of Colonial Revivalism.
Colonial Revivalism , which emphasizes classical ornamentation,
geometric massing, and, at least in North Carolina, simplicity of detail
in comparison with the more adventuresome examples of this motif in
major cities of the North and Midwest, was probably the most popular
example of historic revivalism that emerged in the late 1800's.
This widespread acclaim was in no small part due to the fact that
Colonial Revivalism provided compelling images which enabled wealthy
suburbanites to satisfy their "search for order" and their desire to
live in an "idyllic escape from the overcrowding, crime, and ethnic
strife identified with the city."
Independence Park. (East Seventh Street).
The Elizabeth neighborhood continued to expand. Subsequent development
companies bought adjacent farms and commenced building. To attract
customers, several companies donated land which was landscaped as
Charlotte's first public park, and proudly christened in 1906 with the
name Independence Park. Only a small part of the park remains today,
since much of it was sacrificed to build Independence Blvd. in 1949, but
in its heyday it provided locals with tennis courts, a rose garden, and
landscaped lawns. The landscaping was the first Charlotte project of the
Harvard-trained John Nolen. It was a lucky commission for Nolen, since
it introduced him to George Stephens who was to employ him seven years
later to design and landscape his Myers Park suburb.
9. St. John's Baptist Church. (300 Hawthorne Lane).
St. John's Baptist Church makes an impressive sight as it stands on the
corner of 5th and Hawthorne. Its architect, J.M. McMichael, intended
that impact. "A church building should not hide its light under a bushel
but rather should be built as a lamp set upon a hill whose light cannot
be hid." McMichael chose cream colored brick and limestone as the
materials for this "Roman Ionic" design. When he built the church in
1925, McMichael had already established his reputation as a church
architect in Charlotte, having designed
First Baptist Church
(now Spirit Square),
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church (now the Afro-American Cultural
Center), and the Tabernacle A.R.P. Church on Trade St. Note the six,
two-story, Ionic columns with characteristic spiral scroll molding on
William Henry Belk House (Presbyterian Hospital Campus).
To the immediate left of the hospital on your right is the grand mansion
built by William Henry Belk, the founder of Belk's department stores.
When he came to Charlotte to open a store in 1895, he was already a
successful businessman, having operated a store in Monroe with his
brother. An advertisement for the original Trade St. store gives us a
flavor of Charlotte at the turn of the century: "Catch the first train.
Hitch up your beast or come at a run if you expect to keep up with the
crowds flocking to Belk Brothers--Cheapest Store on Earth."
William Belk was not one to squander money. He slept in a room over
his shop and remained a bachelor until he was 52 years old, only then
moving to this mansion in Elizabeth to rear his family. An ardent
Presbyterian, he helped to finance the move of Presbyterian Hospital to
the site of Elizabeth College. He and his family originally lived in the
old president's house close by, but they had this mansion overlooking
the city constructed in 1924. The Belks chose C.C. Hook to design their
Neoclassical house which is executed in beige brick and stone. The house
was recently moved under arrangements approved by the Historic Landmarks
11. The Visulite Theater (Elizabeth Avenue)
The Art Deco style Visulite Theater opened in the 1930s when movies
became especially popular as a means of escape from the doldrums created
by the Great Depression. Also, by then automobiles had become a
common means of transportation, making neighborhood theaters more
feasible. The theater was also on a main bus line.
Two compelling events are associated with the Visulite Theater.
The first was what most thought was the last trip of Streetcar 85.
Mayor Ben Douglas and other dignitaries boarded Streetcar 85 in front of
the theater for a "goodbye" trip to the Square in March 1938.
Little did they realize that the 85 would be found in Huntersville,
restored, and put back into service!
Klansman in front of the Visulite Theater
The other event was less pleasant. It occurred on September 1,
1957, in the midst of the turmoil surrounding the racial integration of
the Charlotte Public Schools. Hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan
picketed the Visulite Theater for showing "Island In The Sun" that
depicted interracial marriages.
Richard C. Biberstein House
(1600 Elizabeth Avenue).
Richard C. Biberstein was an engineer and designer of industrial
buildings, mainly cotton mills. For example, the Spaghetti Warehouse,
Nebel Knitting Mill
on Camden Road in Dilworth, was one of his
designs Biberstein's papers are in the UNCC Library. When this house was
built in 1906, Elizabeth Avenue was a grand residential boulevard. The
streetcar moved up the hill and delivered riders to Elizabeth College.
Biberstein's papers are in the UNCC Library. The house is rendered in
the Rectilinear Style. Though derived from the Victorian, it rejected
12. James L. Staten House. (322 Hawthorne Lane).
Another department store owner, James L. Staten, resided in
this Neoclassical style mansion erected in 1911. Originally known as
Kingston Ave., Hawthorne Lane was the most sought after residential
street in early Elizabeth, because it afforded a dramatic view of the
uptown skyline. Today this gracious building acts as the headquarters of
International House, a non-profit organization which assists
internationals in adjusting to life in the United States and facilitates
interaction between Americans and internationals.
Lillian Arhelger Memorial. (Hawthorne Lane & Seventh Street).
It was dedicated to Lillian Arhelger, a physical education teacher at
Central High School, perished on June 21, 1931, in an attempt to save a
young child from falling over the Glen Burnie Falls near Blowing Rock.
In appreciation of this heroic and selfless act, the people of Charlotte
raised the funds to erect a memorial.
Designed by Helen Hodge, an associate of Earle Sumner Draper, the
landscape architect who fashioned the Rosemont section of Elizabeth.
Happily, the Arhelger Memorial is essentially unchanged from the