Survey and Research
Report On The
Coffee Cup Soda Grill
Note: The Coffee Cup Soda Grill was
demolished on September 24,
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as
the Coffee Cup Soda Grill is located at 914 South Clarkson
Street in Charlotte, N.C.
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of
Beazer Homes Corporation
c/o Jade Eastridge
1300 South Boulevard, Suite K
Charlotte, N.C. 28203-4265
Telephone: (704) 363-4824
3. Representative photographs of the
property: This report contains representative photographs of the
4. A map depicting the location of the
property: This report contains maps depicting the location of the
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the
property: The most recent deed to the property is located in
Mecklenburg County Deed Book #19653, page 944. The tax parcel number of the
property is 073-252-09.
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 architectural description of the
property: This report contains a brief architectural 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
a. Special significance in terms of its history,
architecture and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges
that the property known as the Coffee Cup Soda Grill possesses special
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its
judgment on the following considerations:
1) The Coffee Cup Soda Grill is the
only roadside food stand in the central business district of Charlotte that
survives from the 1940s.
2) The Coffee Cup Soda Grill
documents how local eateries responded to Charlotte's emergence as an
industrial and regional distribution center in the mid-twentieth century.
3) The Coffee Cup Soda Grill has
become an icon of racial harmony and understanding in Charlotte and a symbol
of African American cuisine.
4) The Coffee Cup Soda Grill has
special significance architecturally as a distinctive local example of
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship,
materials, feeling and/or association: The Commission contends that the
architectural description prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill demonstrates that
the Coffee Cup Soda Grill meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The
Commission is aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for an
automatic deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of
the property which becomes a "historic landmark." The current appraised
value of the building is $3000. The current appraised value of the 1.17
acres of land is $814,800. The property is zoned MUDD.
Date of Preparation of this Report: September
A Brief Historical Sketch Of The
Coffee Cup Soda Grill
The Coffee Cup Soda Grill, which
opened in 1948, is the sole
surviving example in Charlotte's central business district of a type of
roadside food stand that began to appear in cities throughout the United
States in the early 20th century with the advent of the automobile age and
the onset of widespread industrialization.1
Initially, the Coffee Cup Soda Grill functioned primarily as an "alternative to the lunch pail"
for factory and warehouse workers.2
In such establishments the menus were limited; the prices moderate; and the
service quick. Located one
block south of West Morehead St. at the intersection of Dunbar St. and S.
Clarkson St., this eatery was well situated to serve men who toiled in nearby
distribution warehouses and manufacturing plants, including the Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Company,
Akers Motor Lines, and Associated Transport Motor Freight Lines, to mention
just a few.3 Having a bit of change in
their pockets, blue collar laborers would stop at the Coffee Cup Soda Grill
to grab a quick bite to eat at a shift change. The West Morehead
Street corridor was a fast-growing industrial district in the 1940s. Morehead St.
was the route of U.S. Highway 29, and tracks of the Southern Railroad and
those of the Piedmont and Northern Railroad bisected the corridor.
This early 1900s photograph of
Brown,s Restaurant in Charlotte reveals what eateries were like before
the advent of the automobile.
The founder of the Coffee Cup Soda
Grill was Withers Turner, nicknamed "Butch" or "Red." Turner began his
culinary career by operating a sandwich stand on land at Clarkson St. and
Morehead St. owned by Max Powell. In 1947, Turner and Powell worked
out plans for a small restaurant that would provide hot meals to the workers
in the nearby factories and warehouses. Turner's daughter suggested
the name "Coffee Cup."4 In keeping with
the racial mores and segregation ordinances of 1948, the Coffee Cup Soda Grill only allowed whites
to dine inside the building. Blacks were allowed to order and pick up meals at the
pick-up window but had to sit on the curb or at a picnic table to eat.5
"Restaurants are symptomatic of our times and lessons can be learned from
them about who we are as a people," state John Jackle and Keith Sculle in
their book, Fast Food. Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age.6
This is certainly true of the Coffee Cup Soda Grill.
The 1953 Sanborn Insurance Map of
Charlotte reveals that the Coffee Cup was surrounded from its inception
by warehouses and factories, not houses. It was a roadside
restaurant, not a walk-in, neighborhood restaurant.
This recent photograph shows
that the setting of the Coffee Cup is essentially unchanged from the
original. That circumstance is scheduled to end.
Another major clientele for roadside food stands
like the Coffee Cup Soda Grill were "recreational diners," some of whom came into the
restaurant to sit on stools or in booths and others who preferred curb
service. Driving automobiles to
restaurants became a favorite pastime for individuals and families after
World War One. More and more women worked outside the home as the
twentieth century progressed, and females sought
relief from the rigors of routine domestic duties. Also, teenagers
hopped in their cars, congregated at roadside food stands, and "played
far away from the watchful eyes of their parents. These habits persisted
into the 1940s and even until today. One visitor to the Coffee Cup in
its earliest days writes: "For me, the Coffee Cup was just another
place to stop for a late night snack after an evening of dating or dancing
at the Old Fireman's Hall. It was one of maybe eight to 10 drive-in
diners uptown in the late 1940s. I didn't go there for the good
Southern food (we got that at home) but because it was a drive-in.7
"Playing Around In The Parking
Lot" in Charlotte.
Charlotte Central High School
students gather in Anderson's Restaurant in 1950. It opened
in 1946 and closed in November 2006.
Typically, quick service eateries had
a lunch counter behind which a combination cook-and-server prepared simple
meals for customers sitting on a row of stools or in nearby booths.
Arrangements for patrons who remained in their automobiles varied.
Curb service originally meant literally pulling up to the curb and having someone come
out of the restaurant to take and deliver your order. Another scenario
was to have parking spaces for every car, sometimes equipped with
speakers through which customers could communicate with the attendant.
Other roadside food stands, including the Coffee Cup Soda Grill, had a
curbside pick-up window and door at which pedestrians stopped to
pick up an order or from which an attendant emerged to deliver the meal to a
This projection on the Dunbar
St. side of the Coffee Cup (1947) served drive-in customers.
The Bar-B-Q King (1961) has
speakers and individual parking spaces.
A major transformation of the Coffee Cup Soda Grill
occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Owner and Monroe native Mary Heath
embraced racial diversity and opened the door enthusiastically to African Americans, an uncommon occurrence in Charlotte in
those days.8 In 1980, Christine Crowder, a former African American
waitress in the restaurant, partnered with her white friend, Mary Lou Maynor,
in purchasing the business from Heath. They also encouraged everyone
to feel welcome at the Coffee Cup.9
Subsequent owners have continued that practice.
|Charlotte has lost many of its older
center city eateries, including the lunch counter in the F. W.
Woolworth Store on N. Tryon St. (above) and the S. & W. Cafeteria on
W. Trade St. (below). Both demolished.
Coffee Cup Soda Grill has emerged in recent decades as an icon of racial harmony and
reconciliation in Charlotte and as a symbol of African American cuisine. A major contributor to this process was
Bank of America executive Joe Martin, who frequented the restaurant.
Afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's
disease, Martin was forced to retire in 2001. He had his retirement
lunch at the Coffee Cup. Martin was a strident advocate for
tolerance and acceptance of diversity. For example, in December 1997 he turned down an award from
the Mecklenburg County Commission in protest over what he regarded as the Board's
anti-homosexual policies. "He's been a tremendous force for good in
our community," said Bank of American president Hugh McColl about Martin.10
Kathleen Purvis, Food Editor for the Charlotte Observer writes:
What's so extraordinary isn't the food on the plate. It's who put
the food on the plate, who ate it, and where they sat.11
At this writing the future of the Coffee Cup Soda Grill is in doubt.
Joe Martin and his son David
eating in the Coffee Cup in March 2001
|Joe Martin receiving honorary
degree from Davidson College.
A Brief Architectural Description Of The
Coffee Cup Soda Grill
The architecture of roadside food stands
like the Coffee Cup Soda Grill was an
important component of their success. To overcome public concern about
the level of hygiene in so-called "greasy spoons" and to attract
the attention of passing motorists, proprietors of roadside eateries selected
designs that communicated an aura of cleanliness and neatness. Historian
Chester Liebs explains: Tile, and later porcelain-enameled and
stainless steel, covered as many surfaces as possible. These materials
looked so appealing when sparkling clean, and made even the slightest stain
or smudge so obvious, that employees, like sailors polishing the bright work
on a ship, must have felt impelled to keep the surfaces shiny.12
the favorites for commercial establishments in the years immediately before
and after World War
Two in Charlotte was the Art Moderne style. Originating in the
Bauhaus movement in Germany in the 1920s, Art Moderne sought to capture the
spirit of a new, technological age. Geometric in form, buildings of
this type were generally sleek, unornamented, and painted white.
Charlotte's best extant example of the Art Moderne style is the Dairy Queen
on Wilkinson Boulevard. The Coffee Cup Soda Grill is a more vernacular
expression of Modernism, but it does exhibit many of the features
associated with Art Moderne, including smooth white walls, little
ornamentation, a cube-like or rectangular shape, and a flat roof.
Dairy Queen, Wilkinson Boulevard
Coffee Cup Soda Grill,
Clarkson St. (1948)
The Coffee Cup Soda Grill is a street
level, one-story, rectangular, masonry building with a flat roof and tile
coping that faces eastward on a treeless lot with a gravel parking area on
the right side and to the rear of the building. A low hedge runs
along the right side of the building and across the front. The
exterior walls are smooth and painted white. The building's most
distinctive decorative elements are three large octagonal windows, two on
the right side of the building and one on the front. Metal grates, no
doubt installed for security purposes, have been placed on the windows and
on the windowless front entrance door, which is most likely a replacement,
and on the door to the women's bathroom.
A sign shaped like a coffee cup projects from the front of the building
and reads "Coffee Cup." A large rectangular sign adorns the
north exterior wall of the building and displays the emblem of the Carolina
Panthers. A shed-roof projection on the south side of
the building was once used for curbside service. By 1953, two
additions had been made to the building. A concrete block projection
on the right rear of the building contains two bathrooms with outside entry
doors, and a large storage and kitchen area is at the rear. The latter
is now covered with artificial siding and has lost its historic integrity.
These photographs illustrate the diverse nature of
the Coffee Cup's clientele.
The main dining area of the Coffee Cup Soda Grill
conforms to a pattern typical for roadside food stands. A series of
booths lines one wall, and a counter with stools is opposite. Behind
the counter is a flat grill with a large stainless steel backsplash. A
final row of free-standing tables extends down the center of the dining area. The
building has a drop ceiling, ceiling fans, and florescent lighting.
Special Note: The owner
destroyed the Coffee Cup Soda Grill on September 23-24, 2009.
1. The Coffee Cup Soda Grill first appears in the
Charlotte City Directory in the 1948-49 edition (see Hill's Charlotte
City Directory 1948-49, Hill Directory Co., Richmond, p. 39.) It
is assumed that the building was constructed in 1947. There were
approximately 250 restaurants in Charlotte in 1948. Only a handful
survives. Food stands should be distinguished from fast-food
restaurants, such as McDonald's. McDonald's is essentially a food
factory, meaning that it produces food in anticipation of the arrival of
customers and depends fundamentally upon large volume for its economic success.
This was the first
McDonald's in Charlotte. It opened in the 1950s on East
Independence Boulevard. It was a prototypical fast-food
2. Liebs, Chester H. Main Street To Miracle Mile.
American Roadside Architecture. Baltimore and London, The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1995, p. 194.
3. Sanborn Insurance Map of Charlotte, Vol. 3, p.
4. Charlotte Observer, September 7, 1994.
5. Charlotte Observer, February 14, 2001.
6.Jakle, John A. and Sculle, Keith A. Fast Food.
Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. Baltimore and London,
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 2. Another favorite
roadside restaurant, Anderson's, closed in November 2006 (Charlotte
Observer, November 10, 2006).
7. Charlotte Observer, September 18, 2006.
8. Charlotte Observer, March 21, 1986.
9. Charlotte Observer, February 14, 2001.
10. Charlotte Observer, December 6, March 3, 2001.
11. Charlotte Observer, August 30, 2006.
12. Main Street To Miracle Mile. American
Roadside Architecture, pp. 207-208.