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Report On The

Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses

Nos. 1074 and 1076

 

1.      Name and location of the property:  The property known as the Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 is currently housed in the Charlotte Area Transit System's bus barn on South Tryon St. in Charlotte, N. C. and in the bus storage facility on North Davidson St. in Charlotte, N.C.

2.      Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of the property:

Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission

2100 Randolph Road

Charlotte, N.C. 28207

Telephone: (704) 376-9115

3.      Representative photographs of the property:  This report contains representative photographs of the property. 

4.      A map depicting the location of the property: This property is personal property.  Hence, no map is required.  

5.      Current Deed Book Reference to the property:  Records of ownership of the property are on file at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. 

6.      A brief historical sketch of the property:  This report contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill. 

7.      A brief physical description of the property:  This report contains a brief physical description prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill. 

8.      Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set forth in N.C.G.S 160A-400.5. 

a.   Special significance in terms of its history, architecture and/or cultural importance:  The Commission judges that the property known as the Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 possesses special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations: 

1) Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 are the best-preserved Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses, which operated on the streets of Charlotte from 1959-60 until 1992.

2) Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 are important reminders of the role of public transit in the emergence of Charlotte as a regional industrial, commercial, banking, and distribution center of the two Carolinas.

3) Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 hearken back to the moment when Modernist design was first introduced into Charlotte's transit fleet; and

4) Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 are representative of the type of bus that arrived in Charlotte in the early 1960s when the community was experiencing profound social change.

b.   Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association: The Commission contends that the physical description prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill demonstrates that the Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 meet this criterion.

9.      Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal:  The property is personal property.  Hence, no Ad Valorem Taxes are due.

Date of Preparation of this Report:  September 26, 2006

Prepared by:  Dr. Dan L. Morrill

A Brief Historical Sketch Of The Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076

The significance of the  Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076, which were purchased and put into service by City Coach Lines, Inc. in 1972,  must be considered within the context of the overall history of public transportation in Charlotte.1  Charlotte would never have emerged as a major industrial, commercial, and banking center in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century without  the availability of public transit.  Trolleys and buses provided an essential service.  They carried workers conveniently from home to factory, warehouse, or financial center and back.  Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 are part of a long and locally pivotal story.

Streetcars and Trolleys (1887-1938)

The growth and expansion of Charlotte in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was intimately bound up with the installation and development of its public transit system.  Streetcar service began in 1887.  The Charlotte Street Railway Company began laying track on West Trade St. on November 15, 1886, for mule-drawn, later horse-drawn cars.2  Built by the Brownell & Wright Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, Mo., the three streetcars were put into regular service on January 3, 1887. Each was pulled by two mules, later horses, and had a seating capacity of twelve.3 One especially dramatic photograph of Charlotte's horse-drawn streetcar system survives. Taken from the southeastern corner of the Square sometime between November 30, 1887, and March 22, 1891, it provides a panoramic view of the four 12-passenger streetcars that local attorney E. K. P. Osborne and his company operated in Charlotte. A pedestrian, handsomely attired in a white shirt, dark suit, and a dapper hat, strides southward across E. Trade St.  while teams of well-groomed horses make ready to continue their runs.

 

On July 8,1890, Edward Dilworth Latta joined with Mayor F. B. McDowell and four other residents of Charlotte to create the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, locally known as the Four Cs.4 With Latta as president and principal driving force of the company, these investors hoped to profit from the surge of industry, especially textiles, which seemed destined for Charlotte. Their plan was to develop a suburb, named Dilworth, where they intended to sell lots and residences to the city's burgeoning industrial population, which composed the essential work force for the expanding industries.  To connect their suburb with the city as well as to reap additional profits from fares, Latta and his associates decided to build an electric streetcar system between downtown Charlotte and Dilworth. Having purchased the city's old horse-drawn cars, the Four Cs in February 1891 contracted with the Edison Electric Company for $40,000 to install new electric trolley lines principally to serve Dilworth. The developers formed a subsidiary company, the Charlotte Railway Company, to manage the streetcar system.The official opening of the electric streetcar line occurred on May 20, 1891.6

The open-sided summer car  was used on the North Charlotte line. There were three cotton mills in North Charlotte

Eventually other trolley operators came onto the scene.  On  June 6, 1910, Paul Chatham, a native of Elkin and a real estate developer who had arrived in Charlotte in 1907, submitted a petition to the Charlotte Board of Aldermen, requesting that his company receive a franchise to operate trolleys in Charlotte.7 Not surprisingly, the Four Cs strongly opposed Chatham's petition because it would end the company's monopoly of streetcar service. But Latta also anticipated that he had more to fear than Chatham's incursion into the Four Cs' exclusive domain of urban transportation. He suspected that James B. Duke's Southern Power Company, incorporated in 1905 as the successor of the Catawba Power Company, had instigated a scheme whereby Chatham would sell his trolley franchise to Southern Power. By this plan, Latta insisted, Duke and his major stockholders would enable their proposed interurban electric railroad, the Piedmont and Northern, to gain access to the streets of Charlotte.8

The Charlotte Board of Aldermen approved Chatham's petition on July 25, 1910. In deference to the concerns of the Four Cs, however, the board stipulated that the franchise was not transferable. Chatham placed battery-powered streetcars on a separate line along Central Avenue to the Plaza and then out the Plaza to Parkwood.  Any hopes that Latta might have held that this provision would keep the Southern Power Company out of the trolley business in Charlotte were dashed on August 30, 1910, when the Board of Aldermen awarded a franchise to the Piedmont Traction Company, the trolley subsidiary of Southern Power.  Recognizing that the Four C's lacked the financial resources to compete with Duke and wanting to obtain more capital to develop additional areas in Dilworth, Latta announced on November 27, 1910, that he was selling his trolley line to the Southern Power Company.10

The initial buses arrived in 1934.  They were built by Twin Coach.  It is Model 23-R.

Buses (1934 -        )

Southern Power Company, later renamed Duke Power Company, operated streetcars in Charlotte until March 1938.  As early as July 1934, Duke Power introduced motor buses onto the streets of Charlotte to connect Dilworth to the Myers Park line.11  Streetcars were increasingly seen as old fashioned and noisy, and the cost of laying new track for additional lines was far higher than placing buses on new routes.  Consequently, on November 15, 1937, Duke Power joined with the City of Charlotte in submitting an application to the North Carolina Utilities Commission for authority to substitute motor buses in place of electric streetcars. Approval signaled the end of trolley operations in Charlotte. On March 14, 1938, Charlotte Streetcar Number 85 traveled from Presbyterian Hospital through downtown, stopping at the Square for a special ceremony, and continuing to its last stop at the South Boulevard car barn.12 

Duke Power Bus Driver Hazel Honeycutt

c. 1950

Fleet of Twin Coach 23-R Buses in front of former streetcar barn on South Boulevard.

On October 22, 1954, Duke Power Company agreed to sell its buses to City Coach Lines.  A Duke Power official announced that the company was "getting out of the bus business."  Duke Power filed a request with City Council on November 23rd, and final approval of the transfer of the transit contract was given by the City on December 15, 1954.13  The principal vehicle used by Duke Power  Company and sold to City Coach Lines  was the so-called General Motors "Old Look" Bus.

GM "Old Look" Bus.  The writing  on the picture states that this picture was taken on March 13, 1950, showing Charlotte's first Diesel Engine Buses.

This 1974 photograph of the S&W Cafeteria on W. Trade St. shows the front end of a GM "Old Look" Bus.

Derelict Charlotte "Old Look" GM Bus photographed about 10 miles east of Mint Hill.

This c. 1952 photographs shows a GM "Old Look" bus moving north on S. Tryon St.

GM "New Look" Buses (1959-1992)

In 1959, General Motors  introduced its  "New Look" transit bus, nicknamed the "Fishbowl" because of its expansive, projecting front windshield.  Cities throughout the United States and Canada, including Charlotte, greeted "Fishbowl" buses with enthusiasm.  Their riveted, aluminum bodies, large windows, and overall streamlined appearance produced an aura of optimism that was characteristic of the era and suggested that the future would be ever brighter.  Their design stood in marked contrast to that of GM's "Old Look" buses, which the company had been manufacturing since 1940.14  The "New Look" buses were the first in Charlotte to be air-conditioned.15  

Picture of a sultry 80s advertisement for Charlotte city buses

 

"Fishbowls" were the first air conditioned buses in Charlotte.

The arrival of "Fishbowl" buses  coincided with a period of significant social upheaval in Charlotte. Charlotte teetered on the edge of racial conflict in the early 1960s. There were sit-in demonstrations at eight local lunch counters on February 9, 1960.   Store managers refused to serve the African Americans and closed down.  Seven did resume operations on an integrated basis the following July.  Black dentist and Presbyterian minister Reginald Hawkins  led hundreds of Johnson C. Smith students on a protest march on May 20, 1963, against racial segregation in buses, restaurants, theaters, hotels, motels, or any other business establishment that served the general public.   Hawkins, a native of Beaufort, North Carolina, had a penchant for publicity.   He purposely chose the 188th anniversary of the alleged signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence in 1775  to stage his protest.  "There is no freedom as long as all of us are not free," the tempestuous dentist and preacher shouted.  The crowd greeted his remarks with  "Yeah" and "No."   "We shall not be satisfied with gradualism," Hawkins proclaimed.  "We want freedom and we want it now."  As the students began to disperse, Hawkins issued a threat to the white leadership of Charlotte.  "Any day might be D Day . . . .  They can either make this an open or democratic city or there is going to be a long siege.  They can choose which way it's going to be."16

 

An African American stands on May 20, 1963, in front of the Plaque Commemorating the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.  Reginald Hawkins insisted that  "Jim Crow" and the pronouncements of the Declaration were incompatible.

Mayor Stan Brookshire asked Ed Burnside, president of the Chamber of Commerce, to call a meeting of the Chamber's executive committee.  These actions culminated in the Chamber of Commerce's approving a resolution on May 23rd calling upon businesses in the community to open their doors voluntarily to African Americans.  "May 23, 1963, could be the day leading to a major breakthrough in human relationships for the Queen City and the Carolinas," stated a Charlotte Observer editorial.  " . . . once the leadership of this community has set its course, regardless of the individual problems encountered," the newspaper continued, "it will not swerve from it until all citizens can breathe free in the public ways."  This prediction was borne out in the weeks and months that followed.  Legal racial segregation, including the separation of bus passengers by race, ended voluntarily in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in 1963. "I positively think that this voluntary action enabled us to avoid the violence of murder, riots, arson, and looting, which plagued many of our cities," declared Brookshire shortly before his death from lung cancer in 1990.17

Charlotte "New Style" GM Bus No. 1051 and others on West Trade St. in 1974.

 

A "Fishbowl" moves south on Tryon St. in 1974.

Legal challenges played a significant role in GM's decision to launch the "Fishbowl."  General Motors produced the vast majority of the buses used in the United States in the 1950s -- 84 percent of the market.  The U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against GM in July 1956 to break up this virtual monopoly.  In November 1956, GM agreed to a consent decree that compelled the company to sell its patented bus  components free of royalties to its competitors for ten years.  The GM sales department urged the company to introduce a new design to help the company continue to outdistance its rivals.  GM responded by developing the "Fishbowl," "New Look" bus, which was inspired by famous industrial designer Raymond Loewy's Greyhound Scenicruiser, also built by General Motors.18

 

GM produced the Scenicruiser for Greyhound Motor Lines. It inspired the design of the "Fishbowl."

GM "New Look" buses formed the backbone of Charlotte's transit fleet in the 1960s and 1970s. City Coach Lines purchased approximately 8 buses yearly to supplement its fleet, and buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 were put into service in 1972.19  By the early 1970s, however, for-profit operation of the transit system by a private company was becoming increasingly untenable.  City Coach Lines was plagued by labor unrest; ridership was falling; and fares continued to rise.  In August 1973, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce brought forth a report urging the Charlotte City Council to buy the bus fleet of City Coach Lines.20  "But if the city expects to meet its obligation to provide mass transit for its citizens, then public ownership of the bus system seems the only viable alternative," declared the editors of the Charlotte Observer  on September 11, 1974.21  The Charlotte City Council eventually bowed to public pressure and voted on November 25, 1974, to take over the bus system and establish a regional transportation authority to operate it, thereby ending 87 years of private bus and streetcar operations in Charlotte.22

Covenant United Methodist Church used this "Fishbowl" bus in 2000.  This writer recently visited the site and did not see the bus.

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) announced on January 17, 1992, that it would retire from service at the end of the month the 29 GM "New Look" buses remaining in its fleet.  CATS also stated that it would donate two of the buses to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) "to restore and preserve."  A public ceremony was held on January 31, 1992, and HLC Chairman J. Andrew Scales was given the keys to the two buses.23  The two buses have been stored in various locations since 1992 -- the parking lot of the former Thrift Mill on Mt. Holly Road, the former Southern Public Utilities Streetcar Barn on South Boulevard, and now in the CATS garage on South Tryon St.  One of the two buses is scheduled for restoration in the near future. They are significant artifacts of Charlotte's public transportation history.

This is a promotional painting for the GM "New Look Bus

This photograph and caption appeared in the Charlotte Observer in January 1992 announcing the donation of the two GM "New Look" buses to the Historic Landmarks Commission.  The buses are not "Silverside" buses.

Physical Description Of The Charlotte "New Look" General Motors Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076

Like the GM "Old Look" design, the "New Look" or "Fishbowl" buses have monocoque construction, meaning that the chassis and the body were built integrally and that the outer skin of the body carries the entire weight of the vehicle.  Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 are 40 feet long and 96 inches wide, are powered by diesel engines mounted transversely in the rear, have  fully hydraulic automatic transmissions, and rest upon air suspension systems.

Promotional Piece For "New Look" Bus.

Buses No. 1074 and 1076

The design of the "New Look" bus emphasizes light, airiness, and speed.  The most predominant feature is a protruding, six-piece front windshield, which gives the vehicle the moniker  "Fishbowl."  Four forward-slanting, two-paneled, sliding picture windows on either side of the bus combine with forward-slanting standee lights, a large wraparound rear window, and a driver's window, to open the interior to additional sunlight.   A wraparound front bumper and fluted aluminum side and rear panels add to the streamlined appearance of the "New Look."  The front and rear passenger doors are of the "slide-glide" type, which have greater glass area than the doors of the "Old Look" and give greater visibility for the driver. Paired headlights within elliptical aluminum surrounds are at either end of a front aluminum grill with the letters "GMC" at the center.  Parking lights in wraparound grills are at either end of the front; and the rear has four, circular brake lights in one-over-one pairs on either side.  A destination sign, tilted downward for easier reading, is above the front windshield, and a small destination sign is at the front of the standee windows on the street side of the coach.

The interiors of GM "New Look" Buses Nos. 1074 and 1076 are largely intact, except for replacement passenger seats. Two steps provide access to the interior of each bus at the front door and at the rear door.   Seats are arranged in pairs on either side of a center aisle extending from the front to a rear seat located above the engine compartment.  Fluorescent lights are above, and rubber matting covers the aisle between the seats.  The fluorescent tubes are mounted in a continuous fixture running longitudinally down the center of the coach. The driver's seat, steering wheel, and dashboard are original.

 

Endnotes:

1.  Record of Donation of Property to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, February 18, 1992.  Document are on file at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

2Charlotte Chronicle, November 14, 16, 24, 1886; Charlotte Chronicle, January 24, 1889.

3.  Charlotte Chronicle, November 24, 1886, January 4, 1887. The operations of the Charlotte Street Railway Company were not entirely free of difficulty. On August 9, 1887, an embarrassing event occurred, when a 447-pound teenage boy, appropriately named Leroy Stout, who was on his way to nearby Mt. Holly to be exhibited at the fair, fell through the vestibule floor and caused a streetcar to be taken out of service for repairs. Charlotte Chronicle, August 10, 1887. A more serious mishap transpired on October 15, 1888. John McCall, an inexperienced driver, left his car unattended at the end of the line on West Trade St. to get a drink of water. Unfortunately, the horses took this opportunity to bolt toward the Square, pulling the empty streetcar behind them. This incident ended when the runaways moved through the Square and slammed into another streetcar that was traveling west on East Trade St. Luckily, nobody was hurt. Charlotte Chronicle, October 16, 1888.

4.  Charlotte News, July 9, 1890. Latta's partners in creating the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company were F. B. McDowell, Dr. M. A. Bland, E. K. P. Osborne, J. L. Chambers, and E. B. Springs, all prominent citizens of Charlotte. The only manuscript sources concerning the activities of Latta and the Four Cs are the private papers of E. B. Springs held by Mrs. Katherine Wooten Springs of Mecklenburg County.

5.  Charlotte News, February 12, 1891; Mecklenburg County Deeds, Office of the Register of Deeds, Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Charlotte, Book LXXXVIII, 313, hereinafter cited as Mecklenburg County Deeds.

6.  Charlotte News, May 19, 1891; Morning Star (Wilmington), May 22, 1891. The most definitive and comprehensive analysis of the evolution of streetcar suburbs in an American city is Sam B. Warner, Jr., Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (New York: Atheneum, 1971). Warner delineates the factors that influenced the development of Boston's streetcar suburbs during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. Although certain aspects of his explanation are applicable to Charlotte, especially the dynamics of what he calls "romantic capitalism," others, such as the massive influx of immigrants from Europe, do not pertain to the Queen City. The construction of an electric streetcar system in Charlotte was part of a broad movement that was sweeping the South in the late nineteenth century. Howard N. Rabinowitz, a historian of the urban South, points out that electric streetcars were especially popular in southern towns of approximately 10,000 inhabitants, The first community in the United States to obtain a citywide electric trolley network was Montgomery, Alabama, in 1886. But it was the ability of the Union Passenger Railway to surmount the hills of Richmond, Virginia, in 1888 that proved the practicability of the electric streetcar. Thereafter, at least until the panic of 1893, the replacement of horse-drawn streetcars spread throughout the South. Electric trolleys first appeared in North Carolina in Asheville in 1889. Work began on the Raleigh system in June, 1891, a month after the Charlotte lines had started operating. Howard N. Rabinowitz, "Continuity and Change: Southern Urban Development, 1860-1900," in Blaine A. Brownell and David R. Goldfield (eds.), The City in Southern History: The Growth of Urban Civilization in the South (Port Washington, New York: National University Publications, 1977), 113; Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, "Raleigh-An Example of the 'New South'?" North Carolina Historical Review, XLIII (July, 1966), 283; Charlotte News, May 29, 1891.

7.  Minutes of the Charlotte Board of Aldermen, June 6, 1910, Book XI, 470, Charlotte City Hall, Charlotte, North Carolina, hereinafter cited as Minutes of Charlotte Board of Aldermen.

8.  Charlotte News, June 22, 1910; Charlotte Evening Chronicle, June 22, 23, 1910. For the activities of James Buchanan Duke (1856-1925) and the Southern Power Company, see Robert F. Durden, The Dukes of Durham, 1865-1929 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1975), 177-198.

9.  Charlotte News, July 26, 1910; Charlotte Daily Observer, July 26, 1910; Minutes of Charlotte Board of Aldermen, August 30, 1910, Book XI, 495-496.

10.  Charlotte Daily Observer, November 27, 1910.

11.  Charlotte City Council Minutes Book 23, pp. 474-477.

12.  Charlotte Observer, March 14, 1938.

    Streetcar 85 was restored and put back into service in 1992

13.  Charlotte City Council Minutes Book 35, pp. 413-415.  Duke Power was also abandoning bus service in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Durham, Spartanburg, S.C., and Greenville, S.C. (Duke Power Magazine, January 1955, p. 5).

Silverside Bus

14.  For information of the history of GM New Look Buses, see John McKane, The General Motors New Look Bus Photo Archive (Hudson, Wisconsin:  Iconografix:  1999).

15.  http://landmarkscommission.org/educationtransportationbus.htm

16.  http://danandmary.com/historyofcharlottechapter12newfinal.htm

17.  Ibid.

18. McKane, The General Motors New Look Bus Photo Archive.

19.  Record of Donation of Property to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, February 18, 1992.  Document are on file at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.  Charlotte Observer, April 12, 1973

20.  Charlotte Observer, November 28, 1973.

21.  Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1974.

22.  Charlotte Observer, November 26, 1974.

23.  Press release issued by Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy (January 21, 1992).