Survey and Research Report
Dr. Robert H.
1. Name and location of
the property: The property known as the Dr. Robert H. Greene House
is located at 2001 Oaklawn Avenue, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of the property:
609 Walnut Ave.
Charlotte, NC 28208-4538
3. Representative photographs of the
property. This report contains representative photographs of the
4. A map depicting the location of the property.
Mecklenburg County Tax Map
5. Current Deed Book Reference To The Property.
The most recent deed to this property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed
Book 22734, page 209.
The tax parcel number for the property is
6. A Brief
Historical Essay On The Property. This report contains a brief
historical sketch of the property prepared by
7. A Brief Physical Description Of The Property.
This report contains a brief physical description of the property prepared
by Stewart Gray.
8. Documentation of why and
in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set forth in
a. Special significance in
terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural importance.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission judges that the Dr.
Robert H. Greene House possesses special significance in terms of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
The Dr. Robert H. Greene House, built
in 1936, is a well preserved example of the Colonial Revival Style, and is
one of the few surviving pre-war examples of this style associated with the
black community in Charlotte.
2) The Dr. Robert H. Greene House
is important in understanding the history of the
McCrorey Heights neighborhood.
3) The Dr. Robert H. Greene House
helps to chronicle the evolution of African-American
middle class neighborhoods in Charlotte.
b. Integrity of design,
setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association:
The Commission judges that the physical description
included in this report demonstrates that the property known as the Dr.
Robert H. Greene House meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal:
The Commission is aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for
automatic deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of
the property which becomes a designated “historic landmark”. The
current appraised value of the Dr. Robert H. Greene House is $96,000.
The property is zoned R-5.
10. This report finds that the interior, exterior,
and land associated with the Dr. Robert H. Greene House should be included
in any landmark designation of the property.
Date of preparation of this report:
March 1, 2009
William Jeffers and Stewart Gray
The story of
Dr. Robert H. Greene and his home at 2001 Oaklawn Avenue is one that
chronicles the evolution of the African American middle class neighborhood
in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Dr. Greene’s residence highlights how this
evolution began in the now destroyed downtown neighborhood of Brooklyn and
then spread to neighborhoods considered at the time to be on the outskirts
of the city.
was the home of many of Charlotte’s African American professional elite.
“The black district of Second Ward, informally known as Brooklyn by the
1920’s, was the heart of the African American business district.”
Within this area was a dense concentration businesses owned and patronized
by African Americans. The district consisted of, “barber and beauty
shops, pressing clubs, trucking companies, piano teachers, shoe repair
shops, groceries, restaurants, confectioners, tailors and other shopkeepers
[who] thrived in the quarter.”
Second Ward High School was considered by many of Charlotte’s black
community to be one of the bedrocks of the neighborhood and even today
evokes passionate memories from its alumni about the positive benefits of
the school on the community.
For a time
after the Civil War blacks and whites lived side-by-side in
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This “salt and pepper”
pattern was not a local phenomenon. In fact this type of residential
pattern, “was common in many Carolina towns.”
This housing pattern began to lose favor, however, and as the Nineteenth
Century drew to a close so did this settlement trend. This was due
primarily to the enactment of Jim Crow segregation, which advocated a
“separate but equal” doctrine among the races in the South. As a
result of this, African Americans in Charlotte-Mecklenburg began to relocate
and concentrate themselves in specific areas of the city.
In the center
of Charlotte, African Americans initially clustered around three of
Charlotte’s four wards. However, while Charlotte’s wards and
especially Brooklyn were the primary location of African American residents
in the early Twentieth Century, “neighborhoods at the periphery of
Charlotte’s city limits also developed and evolved around African American
institutions such as Biddle Institute, or along trolley lines.”
streetcar system was able to connect residents and neighborhoods in such a
way that formerly outlying and relatively remote neighborhoods now had quick
access to the downtown business district and other parts of the city as
well. As a result, these neighborhoods began to grow both in
popularity and population. In some cases the streetcar was also
instrumental in creating new neighborhoods too. Evidence of this
phenomenon is clearly extant in the white neighborhoods of Myers Park and
Dilworth, both of which were considered suburbs when they were initially
planned. Similarly, already established African American neighborhoods
along Charlottes’ edge also benefited and thrived from the streetcar system.
neighborhood of Biddleville serves as one example. It was first laid
out in 1871 and grew into a residential neighborhood for professors who
taught at Biddle Institute (now known as Johnson C. Smith University), which
remains as the center of the neighborhood. In 1903 the Charlotte
Consolidated Construction Company known locally as the “4 C’s”
extended a trolley line to the area and the neighborhood expanded
considerably. The early residents of the community appear to have
fully appreciated the significance of the trolley and their suburb by
nicknaming it “New Dilworth.’”
Although Biddleville was centered on the all-black Biddle Institute, it was
initially a neighborhood similar to the racial makeup of post-Civil War
Charlotte, which contained a mix of blacks and whites.
example, Washington Heights, “was the first Charlotte Streetcar suburb
developed exclusively for blacks.”
Conceived by white developer W.S. Alexander, Washington Heights was designed
as a neighborhood for the upwardly mobile African Americans of Charlotte.
To further his vision Alexander employed the services of C.H. Watson, who
was both a local civic leader in Charlotte’s black community and a real
estate agent, to sell the neighborhood to the local African American middle
class. Watson was, at the time, working on a promotional booklet to
coincide with the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the end of slavery and
the Civil War. Titled Colored Charlotte, the booklet “included
paragraphs on the city’s black businesses, publications and periodicals,
schools, social organizations, and library.”
coincidently, Watson also devoted several pages of his book to promote the
new community of Washington Heights. He also made mention of another
planned suburb on the other side of Beatties Ford Road, along what is now
known as Oaklawn Avenue, named “Douglasville”. In Colored Charlotte
this section was called: “Watson Park, Washington Heights – The only
Park around Charlotte for Colored People. Owned by C.H. Watson.”
The park was to be located at the end of the trolley line on Watson’s
“Douglasville” land along Beatties Ford Road. adjacent to the city’s Vest
Water Works plant and would contain pavilions for weekend picnickers.
historian Tom Hanchett argues, “no less than whites, the emerging black
middle class longed for the advertised benefits of suburban living for
themselves and their children.”
In Washington Heights and Douglasville this middle class ideal could now
become a reality. The neighborhood of Washington Heights “did not have
any of the elegant homes found in the inner city wards or in Biddleville.
Modest Bungalows were the prevailing style.”
distinguishing characteristic of these new neighborhoods was the absence of
shotgun houses. The shotgun house was a long narrow one-story
structure, and was sometimes viewed as a symbol of the second-class status
of blacks in the area during Jim Crow. The new homes of Washington
Heights and “Douglasville,” brought with them a new promise for prosperity
and upward mobility in the Jim Crow era because even a modest bungalow and
the absence of the shotgun house in the neighborhood was considered a major
step forward both economically and socially.
There were a
number of professional African Americans in Charlotte who invested in
Washington Heights by buying lots and renting them out. Among them was
Henry Lawrence (H.L.) McCrorey of Biddle University.
was born in Fairfield County, South Carolina in 1863.
After the Civil War, with new educational opportunities opening for blacks,
McCrorey would go on to graduate from Biddle University’s (formerly
Institute) College of Arts and Sciences in 1892 and from the school’s
theological seminary in 1895. Upon his matriculation he was employed
in the high school department of the university as an instructor. He
was later promoted to the chair of Greek Exegesis and Hebrew in the
His career culminated in 1907 when he was made the second black president of
Biddle University following the death of Reverend Daniel J. Sanders, the
first black president of the institution.
McCrorey’s most prominent and notable accomplishments as president of Biddle
University was when he was able to secure from Mrs. Jane Berry Smith of
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. a donation of over $700,000 to the school for the
construction of new buildings as well as the establishment of a permanent
endowment for the school. In recognition of this sizable donation the
university changed its name in 1923 to honor the memory of Mrs. Smith’s late
husband, Johnson C. Smith.
invested heavily in Washington Heights. He eventually took over
development of Watson’s ‘Douglasville’ area along Oaklawn Avenue.”
Eventually the moniker “Douglasville” gave way to a new name for this
neighborhood: McCrorey Heights. McCrorey’s plan for the
neighborhood mirrored Watson’s in that he wanted members of Charlotte’s
black middle class to live there. That sentiment is reflected in the
neighborhood’s architecture which includes a mixture of bungalows and other
classically inspired houses. Odell Robinson, a long time member of
McCrorey Heights also believed that McCrorey “wanted the land developed for
the teachers and students of Johnson C. Smith University” as well.
1938 Aerial Photography Map. Note the built-out nature of
Washington Heights, and the relatively few houses to the south of Oaklawn
Avenue in McCrorey Heights.
McCrorey encouraged students and teachers from the university to move to the
neighborhood, professional African Americans also began to call the area
home. With Charlotte expanding economically, newer residents
were arriving from all over the country now to take advantage of the city’s
growth. One of these newcomers was Dr. Robert H. Greene.
Greene was born in Washington D.C. August 21, 1901 the son of Robert
Benjamin Greene and Daisy Dean Hadley.
As a young boy, he already had a desire to become a physician. In his
own words he states, “ . . . there were three doctors who lived near my
home. As a little kid I would watch them. I admired them
tremendously. They had cars for one thing. Hardly anybody else
did. They also had wonderful reputations and were idolized by almost
everybody. I wanted to emulate them.”
life influences stayed with Dr. Greene as he matriculated through the
Washington D.C. public school system. After graduating Armstrong High
he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree at Howard University in
1923. Four years later in 1927, he would graduate from the medical
school of Howard University. He served for two years as an interning
physician at Lincoln Hospital in Durham N.C. and it was during this time
that he would meet and marry Gladys Elizabeth Lee (May 20, 1903 – May 13,
After completing his internship, the Greenes moved to Charlotte so Robert
could start a career in private practice.
pursued a career in education as a teacher at Isabella Wyche Elementary
Dr. Greene established himself in Brooklyn. He chose the Mecklenburg
Investment Company building at 233 S. Brevard Street to set up his practice.
In addition to maintaining an office in Second Ward, Greene was the staff
physician at Good Samaritan Hospital (now the site of Bank of America
Stadium), the local African American hospital in Charlotte. He also
had privileges at Charlotte Memorial Hospital. In 1934, the Greenes
lived in Second Ward in an apartment at 224 South McDowell Street.
the Greenes decided to settle away from the wards in the newly forming
neighborhood of McCrorey Heights along Oaklawn Avenue. They purchased
from Janine L. Graham “Lot 5, Block 390, Section 4 of the City of Charlotte
as shown on the tax records of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; also
being Lot 5, block 4 of the property of Dr. H.L. McCrorey.”
On this plot the Greenes erected a two-story Colonial Revival style house in
keeping with the upper-middle-class status of the neighborhood. It
appears that the Greenes picked the particular house style from a catalogue
of home designs by Robert L. Stevenson of Boston, Massachusetts. Their
house was a copy of a residence Stevenson designed in Braintree, just
outside of Boston. In a copy of the catalogue are handwritten notes by
Dr. Greene commenting on particular ornamentation for the house as well as a
list of things to include in it. There is also a “to-do” checklist for
the residence to ensure completion of the home.
Book of home designs by Robert L. Stevenson
was a leader and member of many professional organizations. They
included the Charlotte Medical Society and the Old North State Medical
Society (in both organizations he served a term as president), Mecklenburg
County Medical Society, Medical Society of the State of North Carolina,
National Medical Association, American Medical Association, and the American
Academy of Family Practice. Dr. Greene also was a member of Sigma Pi
Phi, an exclusive fraternity for African American professionals. He
became a member of some of the aforementioned organizations though only
after the end of Jim Crow because for thirty-five of the fifty years he
spent practicing medicine he was not allowed to join any of the local
medical societies because he was black. Since he was not allowed to
join the white medical societies, he was therefore not allowed to treat
patients in white hospitals. In retrospect, Greene remarks that, “I
guess my greatest triumph during all the years of my practice was being
admitted to the County Medical Society. Blacks were not allowed to enter
before 1963. We couldn’t join the AMA or the State Medical Association
before then either. But the county was very interested in black
doctors joining their society . . . and they pushed for us hard. I
joined the county, state, and AMA in 1963.”
pioneering spirit in integrating the formerly all white medical societies
had a profound impact on future physicians as well. Dr. Melvin Pinn,
another African American family physician, was inspired by Dr. Greene whilst
a freshman at Johnson C. Smith University. Pinn would go on to be the
first black physician to be given full time privileges at Charlotte Memorial
Hospital in 1979. Pinn felt that Dr. Greene helped pave the way for
him and the next generation of black doctors because Dr. Greene was one of
the first black doctors to gain privileges to the hospital. As he
states, “without physicians like Dr. Greene, this wouldn’t have been
Dr. Greene also established for himself a stellar reputation among the
medical community during his career. As Will Griffin, former director
for the Mecklenburg County Medical Society, says of Greene: “After
practicing for fifty years and treating anything and everything you have to
give him high marks. Everything I have ever heard about Dr. Greene
convinces me that he is an outstanding doctor and outstanding gentleman.”
While receiving personal accolades from his colleagues, he was also honored
professionally for his work. The Old North State Medical Society named
Dr. Greene “Doctor of the Year” in 1970.
He also received statewide recognition when, “he was appointed by
Governor (Dan Killian) Moore and reappointed by Governor (Robert Walter)
Scott to the Medical Advisory Council to the State Board of Mental Health.”
Another position of note includes being a member of the Executive Board of
the Mecklenburg County Mental Health Association.
To the community he served, Dr. Greene was also held in high esteem.
While primarily a family doctor, one specialty that he has been remembered
for was his talents as an obstetrician. Dr. Greene delivered many
babies in Charlotte’s African American community. Margaret Alexander decided
to utilize his services as an obstetrician and family doctor because; “He’d
always take time with you and answer your questions. He was a very
patient individual. Any time something would happen with the children,
I would call him and he would come.”
As Dr. Greene reflected on his career in obstetrics: “I think one of
the hardest things was delivering babies. I’ve delivered hundreds of
babies, and that was hard. I’d have to get up I the middle of the
night and rush out to deliver one, and then be back at the office the first
thing in the morning. One night I delivered four . . . It has been a
demanding life, and a hard life, but I’ve loved it all.
retirement in 1979, Dr Greene alluded that while he was retiring from
medicine he was not retiring from living. Among the various things he
planned to do: “I love to read and I have never seemed to have enough
time before. I have a whole lot of catching up to do. I’ve got a
big back yard on Oaklawn Avenue and I plan to do a lot of gardening there,
and we have a place where we’ll spend a lot of time at Badin Lake.
I’ve been thinking of taking up fishing too. It’s never to late.”
On November 23, 1990,
eleven years after his retirement, Dr. Greene passed away.
of Dr. Robert H. Greene at 2001 Oaklawn Avenue is important to the story of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg and the African-American community. It was the
home of a prominent member of Charlotte’s African-American community.
Dr. Greene was a pioneer, being one of the first black doctors in the city
to join the previously all white medical and professional organizations.
His actions by joining these societies served as an inspiration to other
practicing African American physicians as well as those who aspired to the
Due to the
decimation of the black sections of Second Ward during Urban Renewal, all of
the ward’s historic middle-class and upper-middle-class houses were
destroyed. It is now only in neighborhoods like Biddleville,
Washington Heights and McCrorey Heights where one can see the development of
the African-American middle class in Charlotte during the early to
mid-Twentieth Century reflected in the built environment. As a good
example of an upper-middle-class African American home from the early
Twentieth Century, Dr. Robert H. Greene House is an important artifact in
understanding the history of African-American residential development in
The Dr. Robert H. Greene House is located at
2001 Oaklawn Avenue in Charlotte, North Carolina. The house faces
north on a level one-third-acre lot. The house is part of the
McCrorey Heights neighborhood, and is surrounded by other early
twentieth-century homes. Built in 1936 it is among the oldest and
largest houses in the neighborhood. It is arguably the best
preserved and architecturally most significant house in McCrorey
Heights. Its high degree of integrity is due in part to a recent
sensitive renovation and to the preservation of its original lot
dimensions, despite a widening of Oaklawn Avenue.
The two-story side-gabled frame house is three
bays wide and rests on a continuous brick foundation. The facade pf the
principal section of the house is symmetrical. The front entrance
is centered on the facade, and is sheltered by a gabled pedimented
portico supported by two Tuscan columns, along with two similar
pilasters. The columns rest on a brick stoop accessed by two
full-width brick steps. The portico features beaded trim at the
base and moulded trim at the top of the simple freeze. The gable
is recessed with moulded trim on the raking cornice. The portico
shelters the original six-panel door, which is topped by a elliptical
fixed transom containing leaded glass set in a fan pattern.
Sidelights contain leaded glass in a geometric pattern and wooden
panels. Like much of the house, the portico is intact and largely
unaltered. The beaded-board ceiling, brass door hardware, letter
slot and original "tin" light fixture have survived.
The most significant change to the exterior of
the Greene House was the addition of metal siding at some point during
the second half of the twentieth century. The metal siding
obscures the original wood siding, but does not appear to obscure any of
the other exterior architectural features. Original
eight-over-eight double-hung windows border the the portico.
All of the windows feature simple wooden sills. All of the windows
that pierce the facade, and most of the remaining windows on the house,
feature original louvered shutters with original pintle hinges and scroll shutter
dogs. Directly over the first-story windows, the second story is
pierced by similar but shorter eight-over-eight double-hung windows.
A single, short eight-over-eight window is located above the portico.
The deep soffit features moulded trim at the wall junction.
The facade of the principal section of the
house is symmetrical. A flat-roofed porch and a flat-roof sunroom project from each
side elevation. While these side projections are of different designs,
they give the house a balanced if
not strictly symmetrical appearance.
The east elevation is dominated by a one-story
flat-roofed sunroom wing. The wing is two bays wide and one bay
deep, each of the bays being defined by Tuscan posts and pilasters like
those used on the portico. The wing's east elevation features two
sets of double fifteen-light doors. Both sets of doors feature
ten-light sidelights. The doors are topped with six-light
transoms. The sidelights are topped with small two-light transom.
Each of the wing's side elevations feature a single set of fifteen-light
doors with transoms and sidelights. The wing's walls are composed
principally of glass, door and window sash and frames, and columns and
pilasters. The effect is virtually transparent walls.
The doors feature original screen doors that swing out. The
columns and window frames are topped with a freeze board that features moulded trim at the soffit. A low handrail around the perimeter of
the flat roof was removed during the recent renovation. Starter posts
for the handrails survive and are attached to the wall.
The east elevation features a simple brick
chimney partially sheltered by the sunroom and centered on the gable. A two-story gabled wing, flush with
the east elevation, projects to the rear of the house.
To the rear of the sunroom wing the east elevation is pierced by a
single six-over-one window. Directly above this window, a second
six-over-one window pierces the elevation on the second story. An
eight-over-eight window pierces the second story between the chimney and
the facade. The rake returns run across the elevation and terminate at
the chimney, framing the
The west elevation features a nearly
full-width flat-roofed porch that shelters the fenestration of the first
story of the principal section of the house. The porch roof is
supported by seven replacement Tuscan columns that closely resemble the
originals. Original pilasters remain. The columns are
grouped in threes at the corners, with a single column breaking the span
in the center of the porch. The columns rests on a brick
foundation that supports a concrete floor. Brick steps lead
to the porch from the front and the rear. A low handrail around
the perimeter of the flat roof was removed during the recent renovation.
Starter posts for the handrails survive and are attached to the wall.
The porch shelters a six-over-six window, the lower portion of the
chimney, and an original four-panel two-light door adjacent to the rear
elevation. The west elevation is pierced on the second story by
two six-over-one windows that border the chimney, which is centered on
the gable. Rake returns frame the pediment and terminate at the
chimney. Quarter-round louvered vents are located in the gable.
The rear gabled wing and a one-story addition
are set back from the west elevation. The hipped-roof rear addition is one bay wide and one bay deep. The
addition was probably added sometime after World War II, and obscures
the home's original rear entrance. The addition's windows,
shutters, and hardware match those found on the original sections of the
house. The east side of the addition features a four-light panel
door that opens onto a brick stoop and steps. The west elevation
features a six-over-six window.
The two-story rear wing is one bay
deep. On the first story the wing is pierced by short, paired
six-over-six double-hung windows. On the second story the rear
wing features triple-ganged six-over-six windows. The wing is topped with a pediment featuring
a half-round louvered vent. Continuing along the rear
elevation to the west, the second story features a
shallow bump-out containing a single short eight-over-eight window.
The short window may have accommodated a roof that sheltered the
original rear entrance. The rear elevation of the principal
section of the house adjacent to the west elevation is pierced by
eight-over-eight windows on the first and second stories. A
stairwell that leads to the basement is located between the addition and
the rear elevation of the principal section.
Like the exterior, the interior of the Dr.
Robert H. Greene House has retained a high degree of integrity, and is
in good condition. Throughout the first floor the floors are
covered with thin strip oak flooring. The front two rooms and the
center hall all feature moulded crown trim and baseboards. All
these rooms feature a moulded chair rail. In the living room and
the center hall, mitered trim has been applied between the baseboards
and chair rail. The rooms are connected at the front entrance by
The living room features the original
glazed-tile hearth and fireplace surround. The mantle is not original,
but is appropriate. Walls and ceilings throughout the house are
The center hallway features a staircase with
a curved handrail supported by delicate turned balusters. The treads are
oak, and the lowest step projects to the side to support a turned newel,
surrounded by turned balusters. The hallway also features original
two-panels closets door, and a fifteen-light glazed door leading to the
rear of the house. All interior doors feature original door
hardware including knob and lock faceplates. Most of the door knobs are
The sunroom, the one-room wing that projects
to the east, has a high degree of integrity. The room features the
original oak flooring and a beaded-board ceiling. Portions of the
columns and pilasters that support the roof are visible in the interior.
The second story features the original
thin-stripped pine floor and original two-panel doors. The
stairway's handrail terminates at the top of the stairs in a relatively
thin turned newel post. A second handrail with a ninety-degree
turn, connects to the newel and is supported with the same balusters
found on the stairs. In the second-story hallway a doorway that lead to
the original bathroom has been removed. The second story contains
three bedrooms. Some changes have been made to the interior walls
to accommodate a new bathroom between the bedrooms on the east side of
the house; a wall was moved and an original closet door
is now used as the bathroom door.
The largest bedroom (west side of the house)
contains two original closets as well as a new closet carved out
of the original floor space. While these changes affect each of the
upstairs rooms, the second story still retains a high degree of
integrity. The historic layout of the rooms and most of the
woodwork and millwork have survived.
The basement contains the mechanical systems
for the house. One room in the basement was used as a recreation
room, and features knotty-pine paneling with sawn crown trim. The
basement room also features a stone veneered fireplace with a fan
ventilation system built around the steel firebox.
With the loss of many houses in the Uptown
area, Charlotte is left with few examples of substantial homes that
represent the professional class of the African American community
before World War II. There are no surviving examples in Second
Ward where there was once a good collection of such houses.
This photo shows substantial houses that once
existed in Second Ward, including the home of Dr. J.T. Williams.
Located in the historically black Grier Heights neighborhood, the Arthur
S. Grier House is comparable to the Dr. Greene House in terms of both
associative and architectural significance. However, the Grier
House is now in poor condition.
Arthur S. Grier House
Dr. George Davis House
In Biddleville, no comparable houses in terms
of size or architectural refinement are extant. The Dr. George
Davis House dates from the 1890s and is comparable in size and may have
been equally significant in terms of architecture, but is now in poor
There is a small collection of substantial
earl-twentieth-century two-story houses along Beatties Ford Road near
the historically black West Charlotte High School (former). These
houses have not been thoroughly surveyed and are mixed with numerous
post-World War II houses. Some of the houses are in poor
condition, and others have suffered some loss of integrity due to road
widening. One example that my posses enough special significance to
merit historic landmark status it the house located at 1327 Beatties
|1327 Beatties Ford Road
Regardless of the exact number and condition
of the surviving early-twentieth-century African-American houses that
represent the black professional class in Charlotte, it is obvious that
few have survived with a high degree of integrity.