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Post World War Two Survey: Community Development

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In 1945, the western world was emerging from a long, dark tunnel of economic depression and world-wide war. In the United States, the light at the end of that tunnel illuminated the deficiencies and shortages left after years focused solely on survival. Thus, with the conclusion of war, the country rushed to satisfy the needs and wants of a population overwhelmed and exhilarated by returning servicemen and a newly invigorated economy.

The post-war years saw common citizens experience economic prosperity not previously known. This, in turn, sparked a renewal and explosive expansion of trends begun in the wealthy 1920s. Some of the most notable and important of these patterns, with respect to the built environment, were suburban expansion, transportation improvements and accessibility, and a renewed interest in Modernist ideas about architecture. These three national trends created the three local contexts of community planning, transportation, and architecture in which Charlotte's post-war Modernist architecture developed. An examination of these contexts and the dynamic changes in the booming, post-war New South City of Charlotte between 1945 and 1965 can serve as a case study of the historical climate in which post-war architecture evolved throughout North Carolina.

 

With the end of World War II came the return of soldiers, followed shortly by the increase of marriage and birth rates. In Charlotte, as in the rest of the nation, these new families needed places to live, and thanks to Veterans Affairs and Federal Housing Administration programs they had unprecedented access to private, single-family homes. They could also afford their own personal transportation. This meant that new home and car owners no longer had to live near their employment, their hometowns, or the city center.

The influx of soldiers and children, now with choices in where they lived, yielded initial housing shortages, rapid home construction, and suburban expansion, which collectively produced both physical growth of the city and population growth. Such growth was influenced by three factors: efforts in Charlotte to encourage growth, ways growth was viewed at the time, and attempts to manage expansions once the changes began. All these factors and influences created the context of community planning during Charlotte's post-war years.

 

Immediate Post-War Housing Shortages

War time shortages were felt by nearly every American citizen and housing was one of the areas where rationing was especially visible. The need to channel most of the available building materials to the war effort left few resources for the construction of new civilian housing. Added to this, was the shortage of builders due both to enlistments in service and the demand on remaining construction companies to build government projects.

A rush of anticipation regarding coming growth immediately followed the official end of the war in August of 1945. An article published on August 18, 1945 (three days after VJ-Day) in the Charlotte Observer, predicted: "The end of the war and the expected early relaxing of building restrictions are adding new importance to construction plans amounting to large sums of money which have been announced for Charlotte in the postwar period."1

The optimistic view for Charlotte's development was soon followed by the recognition of the immediate need in the city for new housing. Acting to alleviate the shortage, City Council established a policy which assured builders that the City was prepared to expand utility service, at least within its present limits:

 

Any real estate firm, development agency, or housing contractor who wants to erect houses on undeveloped property within the city can come down to city hall, get his plans approved, and start work with the assurance that the municipal crews will begin the job of laying necessary water and sewer lines and completing the city's part of the street work so that the finished houses will be ready for immediate occupancy.2

 

This new policy superceded the former requirement for a developer to complete a portion of the project before utilities were installed.

The "hurry-up" policy adopted by Council did not prevent the anticipated housing shortage and by January of 1946, the situation had reached a critical level. The urgency of the housing shortage is clear in a Charlotte Observer reprint of a telegram sent by the chairman of the Citizens Emergency Housing Committee (Chamber of Commerce) to the president of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States in Washington, D.C. The telegram states that "over one thousand veterans and their families registered in our housing survey as needing living facilities in Charlotte." The committee called for the release of government surplus building materials, adjustments to the rent ceiling to provide greater occupancy, and measures to by-pass all red tape and release no longer needed barracks to the city.3 The housing shortage was not merely a local problem as represented in the syndicated political cartoon "Strictly Business," drawn by Dale McFeatters. Published on June 21, 1946, the cartoon illustrates a tornado blowing away a small house with a "For Rent" sign on it. A couple is shown driving beside the airborne house. The man looks questioningly at the woman and her response is recorded in the caption: "Don't just sit there! Follow it!"4

In fact, housing shortages were the norm throughout the country. Responding to cries from many cities like Charlotte, the Federal government acted to alleviate the need for five million new homes via two important entities: the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Veterans Administration (VA). The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 created the VA and established a mortgage aid program similar to that of FHA. "This law," explained historian Kenneth Jackson in Crabgrass Frontier, "gave official endorsement and support to the view that the sixteen million GI's of World War II should return to civilian life with a home of their own."5 Civilians not eligible for the VA programs turned to the FHA and in the ten years after World War II, Congress approved billions of dollars for additional mortgage insurance for the program.

By 1947, progress was being made in alleviating the housing shortage. The Charlotte Observer stated in an article entitled "New Houses Being Built at Fast Rate" that "...for the first time since the war stopped building activities, a large number of individuals are beginning construction of homes." This resumption of activity was directly related to the stabilization in the price of building materials that allowed contractors to give reasonable estimates to prospective home buyers.6 The article also indicated that, by this point at least, it was not just returning veterans who were beginning to want housing. It appears that many other "individuals" also wanted a new home ­ and not merely any available shelter as was the case in the 1946 cartoon described above.

Identifying and Quantifying Growth in Charlotte

Once begun, the building boom of the late 1940s and 1950s, which had been foretold at the close of the war, continued to generated a great deal of interest in Charlotte. Chamber of Commerce publications as well as bondholders' brochures produce by the City Treasurer illustrated the city's expansion in a variety of ways. One of the primary methods for gauging growth in period publications is building permits. Interestingly, building permits strictly for housing were used as the growth indicators in This is Charlotte, North Carolina: The Queen City, a circa 1952 Chamber of Commerce publication. Statistics given in this booklet indicate that the number of building permits for housing units had jumped from 185 in 1945 to 1,857 by 1950, then slackened to 723 by 1951. Furthermore, the total number of housing units these permits represented had increased from 194 in 1945 to 3,046 in 1950 then dropped to 1,294 in 1951.7 While the increase in building permits from 1945 to 1950 is impressive, it is even more so when one considers that the real quickening in pace did not occur until 1947.

Residential construction continued to receive attention throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. An Analysis of the Charlotte, North Carolina Housing Market as of April 1, 1965, published by the Federal Housing Administration, for example, charts the volatility in the numbers of building permits issued for housing units in all of Mecklenburg County. After a peak of 3,136 in 1950 came a sharp decline, falling to 659 units in 1957. Soon, however, permit numbers rose again, peaking for a second time in 1961 with 3,122 permits.8 This peak was followed by a gradual slowdown that may represent a stabilization of the housing industry at the end of the study period (see Figure 1).

Figure 1:

Number of New Dwelling Units Authorized by Building Permits 1950 - 19659

 The Analysis also shows the percentage of houses by construction dates within the housing stock of Mecklenburg County in 1965 (Figure 2). Over 50 percent of the housing stock in Charlotte in 1965 had been built between 1950 and 1965 with approximately 35 percent from 1950 - 1960. Between 1955 through March of 1960 alone, 19.2 percent of the housing stock was constructed despite the low numbers for 1957.10

Figure 2:

Distribution of Housing Stock in Mecklenburg County by Year in 196511

Year Built         Percentage of Total Stock

                        - 1929 21.2%

                        1930 - 1939   9.7%

1940 - 1949 17.7%

                        1950 - 1954 16.0%

                        1955 - March of 1960 19.2%

April 1960 - April 1965 16.2%

 

The trends for new residential units parallel overall patterns of growth in Charlotte (Figure 3). The City of Charlotte, North Carolina: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (a ca. 1955 Bondholders' brochure prepared by the City Treasurer) shows that building permits in the city had increased from 794 in 1945 to 3,079 in 1950.12 These Charlotte trends, in turn, fit into the nationwide increase of housing starts, which jumped from 114,000 in 1944 to 1,692,000 (an all-time high) in 1950.13

Figure 3:

Number of Building Permits (All Types) for Charlotte 1930 - 195414

 Both the general public and city officials recognized and celebrated the magnitude of growth and its importance at the time. As illustrated in the titles of the various local publications from the period, such as Charlotte: Spearhead of the New South (c.1953), Growing Bigger (c.1953), How Shall We Grow? (c.1955), and We're a Growing Family (c.1961).

 

Where Growth was Occurring: Suburbs and Suburbanites

The intense building boom of the 1945 - 1965 period correlated directly with increases in population. The population of Charlotte in 1940 was 100,899. By 1950, the city had experienced an increase of 32% to 134,042 people.15 And, by 1960, the population had continued to expand to 201,564 reaching 354,656 by 1970. Increases in population throughout the period were caused both by new people moving to the area as well as by the expansion of the city limits.

More than just a numerical increase, the population growth was especially significant because of where it was occurring. Growing Bigger, a 1953 bondholder's brochure, compared the population of Charlotte with that of New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Richmond. Of those cities, New Orleans was the largest with 583,500 people within its city limits, however, when considering the population of a 75-mile radius around each of these cities, Charlotte led with 1,911,800 people followed by Atlanta with 1,416,800. This comparison has even more impact given that the "in-town" population of Charlotte was only 139,300 while that of Atlanta was 333,500.16 The City of Charlotte, North Carolina: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1955), illustrated the continued supremacy of Charlotte in this arena. By the end of 1955 Charlotte still led in this arena, the 75-mile radius population of Charlotte was 2,160,334, while that of Atlanta was 1,600,984 -- twenty-six percent less.17

The 75-mile radius population statistics illustrate that a substantial portion of the population growth in Charlotte was not occurring within the older center city. Instead, growth was focused at the city's edge and was supplemented by the suburban growth of the several small and middle-sized towns that surround Charlotte. Traditionally, the South had been made up of rural crossroads communities, towns and a few small cities. By 1960, however, more than half of the population in the South lived in a town or city ­ a sharp increase since 1930 when only one-third of Southerners lived in a town or city. Within this thirty year period, the South had become an urban region. Although the urban population in the South was increasing during the post-World War II era, density was not. "This spatial pattern," writes David Goldfield in his book Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, "coupled with vigorous annexation policies, made some southern cities the largest (by area) in the country."18

Called conurbation by geographers, the horizontal chain of urban-like settlement that stretched out from Charlotte connected the city with small and medium sized towns to form a large metropolitan area.19 Developing during the 1950s and 1960s (and continuing today), this has been a crucial phenomenon during the post-World War II period. An April 7, 1957 article in the Charlotte Observer, headlined "Piedmont Seen as Giant City: Metropolis May Put New York in Shade" ­ reported that research by the Urban Studies Committee at University of North Carolina funded by the Ford Foundation predicted that a "Piedmont Industrial Crescent" would develop from Raleigh to Greenville, S.C. including Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Salisbury, and Charlotte. "The scientists say that this new type of metropolis will need a new type of government, economic system and social systems."20 A second article, "The Crescentite is Being Studied," (August 9, 1959) reported that after two years of study, the Urban Studies Committee had concluded the following about the average citizen living in the crescent area: 1) one-half of the residents were rural in origin, but only one in five were native to their respective community, 2) those who came from farthest away and who came most recently were most likely to hold white collar jobs, 3) only one-half of residents belonged to a civic organization, 4) residents felt that respect for privacy was more important than "folksy friendliness," and 5) residents placed high importance on "spaciousness" and "beauty."21

The crescent research project gives an important portrait of the average suburbanite during the post-war era. First, it was likely that the suburbanite would not have grown up in the area. This fact is supported by in-migration statistics which indicate that approximately 3,000 people moved to the Charlotte area each year from 1950 through 1960.22 Second, the average suburbanite's preferences were for privacy, spaciousness, and beauty.

"Suburbs? They're 'Wonderful,'" published September12, 1959 in the Charlotte Observer, profiled the Moores, a suburban Charlotte family. Questioned about their new lifestyle: "'It's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,' cried Wayne Moores." "'The tranquility I mean. To sum it up in a single word, the tranquility.'" Space to garden, the little stream in the back yard where Mr. Moores can be alone to enjoy nature; for these benefits the family happily overlook the negative aspects of living twelve miles from the city. "The distance to the city almost necessitates a second car for the active housewife. But Kay Moores says distance is a relative thing and the drive which once seemed overly long has turned into nothing more than a brief communion with the four-lane, landscaped pleasures of Providence Road."23

This type of suburban family ideal was affirmed by President Harry S. Truman during the 1948 White House Conference on Family Life: "Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of this country as is Wall Street and the railroads." National and local publicity combined to the belief that the suburban house was essential to a good family life.24 Television became one of the primary propagators of popular culture as more Americans were able to purchase television sets, and many television shows depicted the suburban "good life." Beaver and family, of "Leave it to Beaver," led happy lives in their suburban landscape. The sitcom "I Love Lucy," portrayed the lure of idyllic suburbia when, near the end of the show's run, the Ricardos moved from New York City to suburban Connecticut.

The suburban ideal was not without its critics. Sociologists and feminists pointed to the isolation of families, especially women, from the life of the city and the detrimental effects this might have on both family life and the city itself. Judging from period literature, however, it seems that despite the fact that the leisure promised by the ranch lifestyle in the "country" was often a myth because of time spent commuting, driving children to activities, and "fixing-up" the house the majority of suburban families were happy with their suburban lifestyle.25

Families were not alone in their love of the suburbs. A rural landscape surrounded the new campus of Charlotte College (later UNC-Charlotte) when it was constructed in 1960. Period photographs show an old barn sharing the future quadrangle with the first two college buildings. Traffic flow and accessibility had a great deal to do with the campus site selection, but other factors, such as the naturalistic setting, still evident around the campus, must have also influenced the campus' suburban location.26

Industry found the suburbs to be a promising location as well. An April 21, 1957 Charlotte Observer article announced: "Celanese Likes Suburbia." Critics apparently suggested that traffic and getting workers to the site, six miles from downtown, would present a problem, but the company insisted that car pools and credit union loans for automobiles, had forestalled any trouble. Additionally, a cafeteria provided meals since going out for lunch was not practical for most employees.27 Celanese was certainly not the first company to locate in the suburbs; rather, they were part of a national trend of large corporations and industries located away from the center city. In fact, in areas such as New York City, the suburban locations of businesses were actually relocations of company headquarters. Among those who joined the exodus of more than fifty companies out of the New York City between 1955 and 1980 were IBM, Gulf Oil, and Texaco. The reason for leaving: the suburbs presented "an altogether more pleasant way of life for all."28

By 1963, one-half of the industrial employment in the United States was suburban and by 1981, two-thirds of manufacturing was located in industrial parks.29 The concept of suburban industry, while not new in the United States, was still relatively new to Charlotte in 1957. Examples of suburban industrial facilities include the Farmer's Dairy building (c.1950) located at 3300 The Plaza, the Williams and Shelton Company (c.1961) located at 4500 South Boulevard, and the Atlantic Envelope building (c.1964) located at 3434 Monroe Road. In 1968, the North Carolina Telephone Company advertised to potential clients that industrial sites were available within their service territory if you desired "Grass and Trees Around Your Plant."30

While the city was experiencing suburban development around almost its entire perimeter, the greatest concentration was "Šcentered in the south and east, due mainly to the absence of industry and commerce and, with few exceptions, availability of water and waste facilities," according to a poll of subdivision developers in 1957. The same Charlotte Observer article explained that the rush of suburban development was the result of the availability of "suburban elbow room" and was keeping "developers out beating the bushes for more land accessible to water and sanitary sewer systems, preferably city system."31 The development in the southern portions of the city was almost exclusively white. Suburban developments intended for African-Americans were largely constructed in the northwest quadrant. The benefit to developers of building African-American subdivisions was that it helped them meet FHA requirements to prevent non-white "infiltration" into white subdivisions.32

University Heights, located off of Beatties Ford Road, exemplifies African-American suburbs dating from the post-war period. The plan of the development and design of the houses is quite similar to the white subdivision, Montclaire (located off of South Boulevard). However, the houses tend to be smaller in University Heights and the palette of available house plans is significantly narrower. This pattern is especially evident in Lincoln Heights, across Beatties Ford from University Height: all of the dwellings are identical: small, hip roof ranch types with almost no architectural detail. Occasionally two or more units are joined into one structure creating duplexes or triple-plexes. Lincoln Heights, currently in a state of severe decline, is an example of the era's socially and racially biased views of what constituted adequate housing.

Whether white or black, suburban development had similar principles. Kenneth T. Jackson, in his book Crabgrass Frontier, cites five characteristics of urban development from 1945 through 1973: 1) peripheral location, 2) low-density, 3) architectural similarity, 4) easy availability, and 5) economic and racial homogeneity.33 By 1950, suburban growth in the United States was ten times greater than that of the center city.34 The suburban boom in Charlotte certainly fit into the national trend.

 

How Growth was Occurring: City Officials, Developers, & Federal Policy

Key to Charlotte's suburban expansion was annexation. In fact, nearly all of the South's urban population increase after 1950 was added by annexation.35 But, while suburbs were popular, annexation was not. Annexation proposed in Charlotte for 1960 was being debated as early as 1957 when a Charlotte Observer article announced: "People are Opposed to City Boundary Extension."City officials approved the extension on July 16, 1957, but in late 1959, a series of articles expressed the continued opposition to the annexation. The 1960 annexation extended the city limits from 32.12 square miles to 64.8 square miles and brought about an increase in the city's official population from 160,000 people to 200,000.36 The newspaper predicted on December 21, 1959, "Those New 'City' Farmers Will Have to Get Rid of Their Country Porkers." By January 1, the effective date for the annexation, the farmers encompassed by the annexation had to dispose of their hogs; all other farm activities would be grandfathered in and gradually phased out.37 Suburban homeowners interviewed for the December 15, 1959 article, "Homeowners Study Annexation," believed that "Šit is actually cheaper for a man to live outside the city." They disagreed with city officials' argument that higher taxes would be offset by conveniences the city government would provide, such as sanitation.38 The annexation took effect on January 1, 1960 and was received with little further comment.

The city limits grew via annexation in 1949, 1960, 1965, and again in the early 1970s to encompass the ever-expanding suburban development. The creation of the suburbs both within and outside the city limits was almost exclusively the realm of the real estate developer. The developer was not a new phenomenon, but residential developments of post-war scale certainly were. It is interesting to examine how Charlotte developers were able to produce housing at such a fast rate and on such an unprecedented scale.

The September 21, 1957 article, "Charlotte Frontiers Rapidly Push Outward," read like a who's who list for Charlotte developers. Local developers commented on what they look for in a potential development and where these locations were, for an Observer reporter: "[Lex] Marsh stresses the proximity to schools is a must in his plans;" Ervin Construction Company "has most of its development proposed in the area of pending city limits extension;" and "[C.D.] Spangler agrees the building of Charlotte College in the northerly area will spur development there."39

The first, and perhaps the only, issue of Home Building in Charlotte (1959), examines the contributions of Lex Marsh to the Charlotte real estate market. Primarily working with federal programs, he had developed over 1,200 units in addition to Sedgefield Shopping Center by 1959. One major tenet of Marsh's system was volume, which allowed him to save through the use of specialized, production line, construction crews and in-house engineering. Despite Marsh's impressive production, his company was actually ranked fifth out of all local developers in terms of number of units produced in 1958. The leader in this area was Ervin Construction Company with 708 units followed by John Crosland Company with 188 units.40

Some of the large developers of the 1950s and 1960s had expanded their companies from small construction firms during the 1940s. Ernest Wood found that these small builders focused on medium size building market.

After World War II, tradesmen who recognized this opportunity began moving up en masse to manage their own contracting firms. The new generation of builders grew so large and so successful that homebuilding for the first time became identified as an industry unto itself.41

In Charlotte, however, most of the new, big developers had business backgrounds and saw the potential of the burgeoning industry as an investment opportunity. In fact, only Charles Ervin had any hands-on construction experience.42 The birth of the homebuilding industry was marked by the founding of the Charlotte Homebuilders Association by Lex Marsh in1945, which predated the founding of the North Carolina Builders Association by seventeen years.43

Other than simple recognition of opportunity, several factors allowed so many developers to be so successful. The advantages gained by developers over traditional, small-scale builders were often directly related to Federal policy and programs. For example, the dominance of large developers during the post-war period was encouraged by FHA policy. The FHA preferred large "operative builders" who saw a development project through from the initial plat to the sale of completed dwellings rather than small, craftsman builders. This policy institutionalized the preference for mass production which equaled efficiency.44

Thomas Hanchett, a Charlotte historian who has conducted pioneering research on the effects of Federal policies during the postwar era, suggests three ways in which the U.S. government influenced developers and made suburban development more attractive: 1) direct financial incentives; 2) indirect means that made building in the suburbs easier, such as money for freeways and tax benefits for home owners and developers; and 3) actions that affected the character and composition of suburban development.45

Direct financial incentives came primarily in the form of FHA and VA programs. Both of these programs explicitly favored construction loans for housing being built in the suburbs. "'Interior locations' within the metropolis 'have tendency to exhibit a gradual decline in quality,' warned FHA's Underwriting Manual."46 The down payment and payback package offered by FHA created what Hanchett calls "...a revolution that extended to the finance industry in general.47

Prior to the FHA package, home loans had generally been short term (five years was typical) only available to the wealthy who could afford to make the standard, fifty percent down payment. In contrast, FHA offered thirty year mortgages with only ten percent down. The VA package did not require anything down. As the FHA formula became the industry standard, millions more Americans were able to purchase a home of their own. The difference that this change made was dramatic; before the new mortgage standard only forty-five percent of housing was owner-occupied. This number jumped to sixty-five percent after the new standard.48

Financial incentives to developers did not always apply only to residential development. One Federal tax policy, accelerated depreciation, played a key role in the construction of suburban shopping centers. Accelerated depreciation began in 1954 and effectively provided a tax shelter by allowing developers to write off construction costs for new income-producing buildings quickly, and even providing for losses to be claimed against unrelated income. The program proved very attractive to venture capitalists. The number of shopping centers in the U.S. tripled between 1953 and 1956 at least in part because of the tax policy.49

Finally, FHA policy, presented in the Underwriting Manual, influenced the character of the new suburban neighborhoods. The Manual used wealthy and exclusive neighborhoods as their model, creating a prototype that held privacy and homogeneity as the ideal. The segregation of land use was strict, calling for retail to be grouped in "shopping centers" and recommending curving avenues and cul-de-sacs to maximize privacy. The policy also favored single family dwellings without multi-family units interspersed in their midst. The segregation of race and social class was also strict, as illustrated in the Manual: "If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes."50

Between 1940 and 1960, almost one-quarter of new houses were subsidized by the FHA or the VA with the pinnacle of that activity occurring in 1955. While this number is impressive, it does not fully explain the far-reaching impact the FHA policy had. In fact, only a few houses in a particular development might be sold using FHA, but in order to sell even one house in this manner, the whole development had to meet FHA standards.51

In Charlotte, one FHA program in particular, is readily seen among the surveyed resources. The program known as "608" began in 1946 and insured virtually one hundred percent of construction costs for multi-family developments. Under 608, developers could borrow money to build the project, then set rents to cover the expenses, repay the loan, and pay themselves a profit. Before Congress ended the program in 1950, 7000 middle and upper income apartment projects received 608 subsidies.52 In examples such as Scotland Colony and Selwyn Village, both circa 1950, simple one-story duplexes or small, two-story apartment buildings are laid out in a park-like setting accessed by curving streets. The design, referred to as a "superblock"by architectural historian Leland M. Roth, was commonly associated with 608 developments and proved to be popular even after the demise of the 608 program.53 Such examples as Cotswald Homes, built circa 1954, maintain arrangements of simple duplexes in a large lawn set with a large number of trees.

Federally and locally encouraged growth in Charlotte during the 1950s, brought about new challenges in the management of increasing population, subdivisions, vehicles, and industries. In the January 27, 1957 Charlotte Observer article, "Pushing County for Space: How Big Will Charlotte Get?" the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Industrial Promotion Committee stated: "For the past three years, the Charlotte area has averaged one new industry every two weeks." The influx of new industry attracted new employees who helped fuel new suburban development. With new employees and new suburban development came the need for new hospitals, sewer systems, and especially new schools.54 Such entities as the Chamber of Commerce Industrial Promotion Committee had been successful in their efforts to boost Charlotte's economy and growth; now it was up to the planners to manage it.

 

Community Planning

Growth, of course, was the main objective of local leaders with regard to the planning function of local government and still is. But as Robert Penn Warren noted in Flood, 'the trouble was not so much what was not there. It was what was there.' - the cheap hotels, service stations, fast food emporia, shopping centers, and the highways that made it all possible. This reflected an American, not merely a southern, pattern, but the coincidence of rapid growth, during the automobile age and the prevailing planning philosophy exaggerated trends in southern cities.55

 

Until the early 1940s, planning was unheard of in Charlotte. As Thomas Hanchett writes, "Like many mid-sized cities, especially in the South, Charlotte proudly maintained a tradition of minimal local government." Charlotte broke away from this tradition on December 20, 1944, however, with the creation of the first Charlotte Planning Board.56

The creation of the Charlotte Planning Board was part of a wave of hundreds of new planning agencies set up across the nation from 1944 through 1946. These agencies were created for various reasons, depending on the city. There was a need to plan to meet requirements of the war effort in cities where factory workers were flocking to war jobs. There was also a general fear of post-war depression. For other cities, such as Charlotte, the Federal Highway Act of 1944, which provided $125 million for urban roadways, was a major impetus.57

The 1944 Highway Act, was a precursor to the promise of even more federal money after the end of the war. City officials, recognizing the necessity of pre-planning to being eligible for post-war money, created the Charlotte Planning Board in late 1944. Wasting no time, the Board developed a standard house ordinance by 1945. In 1946, a subdivision ordinance with minimum street widths and lot sizes was instituted, and Charlotte's first zoning ordinance was passed in 1947.

The initial project of the board, however, was the city's first plan, A Pattern for Charlotte, in 1944. Rather than constituting a city plan, however, the document was primarily devoted to arguing for the necessity of city planning. It did, however, point out the likelihood of a housing shortage after the war, which did in fact, occur in 1945-46.58

It is important to recognize that, during the 1940s and 1950s, the Charlotte Planning Board was not the only body influencing the development of the city. Traditionally, the Chamber of Commerce had played a major role in the informal planning process and it continued in this role during the early post-war period. The Chamber's focus on growth is apparent in their 1945 report, which concluded that "Charlotte needs 3,000 homes, at least three major apartment houses, one 20-story office building, an auditorium and civic center, a supper club and an indeterminate number of warehouses, small manufacturing concerns and scores of other facilities." Other needs cited in the report included a parking deck (called a "large many-story building for automobile parking") and a cross-town boulevard. This report was given to Phillip Schwartz of the Division of Commerce and Industry, Department of Conservation and Development, who was assessing the state's needs.59 The Charlotte Observer frequently acknowledged the Chamber's power. In 1958, the paper stated: "Scratch beneath the surface of any local government program in Charlotte or Mecklenburg these days and you're likely to find a Chamber of Commerce committee." By 1960, the statement was even more blatant: "We are pleased to acknowledge its bossism and wish it continued health."60

While city officials and the Chamber of Commerce boosted home building during the post-war shortage, the Charlotte Planning Board sought to control development. In a November 20, 1945 letter to the City Council, the Board requested that future developments outside the city limits, but within the one-mile sphere of influence, be denied unless approved in advance by city engineers and city council. These measures were intended to curb the "...many developments [that] have mushroomed into being with small, inadequate water and sewer lines; narrow streets, and a sort of patchwork layout not in conformity with approved residential planning."61

The Planning Board was also beginning to be involved in planning for industrial growth. By 1946, the Board was discussing the establishment of a wide 'industrial belt' from North Charlotte to Wilkinson Boulevard, which would meet "...the need for a separate industrial district which would be served by railway feeder lines and supplied with water-sewer service into the area."62 The Planning Board's idea of industrial development in the northwest quadrant of the city can be seen in the many industrial buildings and truck terminals dating from the early post-war period in this area.

Having laid the groundwork for city planning, the Board produced A Master Plan Outline for Charlotte, North Carolina in 1949. Compared to the 1944 document, this plan has a great deal more substance. Its authors assessed current conditions in the city: "With certain exceptions its industrial, business, and residential districts are not clearly definedŠŠ.Thus, like many other large urban centers, Charlotte has reached the point in its development where major reconstructions are essential, not only to assure future growth, but to meet present needs." The plan also records that the "Extension of the city limits of January 1, 1949 brought about immediate need for water [and sewer] system expansions to service the ten square miles of added territory." Based on current conditions, the plan identified essential public projects such as water and sewer, and also made recommendations aimed at enhancing the current growth, such as an auditorium.

The 1953 plan, How Shall We Grow, A Planning Program for Mecklenburg - Charlotte showed a shift in local thought about planning for the future. The authors write: "To an increasing extent the problems of the future development of the City and the County are interrelated, and planning for that future development must be in terms of the whole county."The plan explained, "Outside the City it is important for the county to be able to zone for business centers at proper intervals along major highways instead of allowing the growth of 'ribbon developments' along the road-side which are unsightly, increase the chance of automobile accidents, and make any future highway widenings prohibitive in cost."63 Building permits were finally required outside of the city limits in 1954. By the late 1950s, the scope of urban planning was wider still. On March 3, 1957 the Charlotte Observer published "A 10-Year Plan for All Cities," a document from the National Planning Association, which called for a nationwide, 10-year planning effort that would result in local plans coordinated with regional and national ideas. According to the NPA, this effort was necessary to modernize the nation's urban centers which were becoming obsolete. "The condition of our larger cities handicaps the operations of business, increasing the costs of production and distribution, and thereby makes America poorer."64

Probably influenced by the National Planning Association, The Next Twenty Years: a General Plan for the Development of the Charlotte Metropolitan Area was produced in 1960 with a title suggesting that the series of short-term plans had been inadequate in dealing with the city's immense expansion. This is the most fully fleshed out Charlotte city plan from the 1945 - 1965 period.

The 1960 plan used projected patterns of population increase as its base. Not surprisingly, the population chart forecast the largest expansion to occur in the southeastern part of the city. Next, the plan projected the amount of land needed for uses such as business and industry by 1980. Appropriate locations for industrial development were delineated in the north and northwestern parts of the city, while retail was to be developed in residential areas in close coordination with the major thoroughfare plan. Retail facilities should be "clusters" of buildings "set well back from the street, with adequate off-street parking facilities"­ a contrast "to the past practice of lining both sides of a street with scattered retail stores for blocks or miles."65

The Next Twenty Years was the first plan to directly address Charlotte's residential development. The plan prescribed "comparatively low levels" of density in residential areas to create "yards and open spaces, a quiet, restful atmosphere and family privacy." The residential areas should be organized into neighborhoods, each "with its own school, playground and shopping services." The plan promoted setting aside large areas for use as residential areas as imperative in avoiding blight from close proximity with industrial areas.66

Community development, defined as suburban expansion, the distribution of the bourgeoning population, and the necessity of planning by the city government, was influenced directly and indirectly by the forceful impact of the car on society. As planning was becoming a standard component in Charlotte's government, the car was becoming a standard component of the Charlotte family.