Survey and Research
On The Elmer H. Garinger
School, ca. 1960
1. Name and location
of the property: The property known as the Dr. Elmer H. Garinger
High School is located at 1100 Eastway Drive in Charlotte, N.C.
2. Name, address, and
telephone number of the current owner of the property:
600 East Fourth St., 11th Floor
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
Telephone: (704) 336-2472
photographs of the property: This report contains representative
photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting
the location of the property: This report contains a map depicting the
location of the property. The UTM coordinates of the property
are 17 519820E 3899583N.
Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent deed to
the property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book #12943, page 161.
The tax parcel number of the property is 093-042-51.
brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains a brief
historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
brief architectural description of the property: This report contains a
brief architectural description prepared under the supervision of Dr. Dan L.
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 portions of the Elmer H. Garinger High School possess
special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission
bases its judgment on the following considerations:
1) The Elmer H. Garinger High
School was named for long-time Charlotte Public School Superintendent Elmer
H. Garinger, who oversaw successful efforts to racially integrate the
Charlotte schools voluntarily in 1957 and who played a pivotal part in the
establishment of Charlotte College, which eventually evolved into the
University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
2) The Elmer H. Garinger High
School was designed by A. G. Odell, Jr., an architect of local and regional
importance, and was the largest project Odell undertook for the Charlotte
3) The Elmer H. Garinger High
School was a striking example of Modernism in Charlotte when it opened in
1959, and portions of the campus and some of the buildings still retain their
distinctive original character.
4) The Elmer H. Garinger High
School is an imposing local example of a type of high school that grew in part out of the educational philosophy of individuals such as
James B. Conant, who advocated the establishment of large high schools as a
principal means to improve American public education.
b. Integrity of design,
setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association: The
Commission contends that the architectural description prepared under the
supervision of Dr. Dan L. Morrill demonstrates that portions of the
Elmer H. Garinger High School meet this criterion.
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 pf the property, including the
62.573 acre campus, is $19,387,800. The property is exempt from the
payment of Ad Valorem taxes. The property is zoned R4 and R17MF.
Date of Preparation of this Report: February
A Brief History Of The Dr.
Elmer H. Garinger High School
Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Summary Statement Of
The significance of the Elmer H. Garinger
High School is intimately bound up with the careers of two former Charlotte
residents of note. They are architect A. G. Odell, Jr. and educator
and Charlotte School Superintendent Elmer H. Garinger. Opening in
September 1959, Garinger High School was a bold local example of
Modernism and reflected the educational philosophy of its era -- that large,
comprehensive high schools could offer a multifaceted curriculum replete
with highly specialized courses. Although a 2004 renovation of
the school destroyed some of Garinger's character defining elements,
especially those of the auditorium and the front elevation, portions
of the school and portions of its campus continue to be artifacts of special
significance within the context of the built environment of Charlotte and
A. G. Odell, Jr.
A. G. Odell , Jr. with his wife
to his right. Third person is unidentified.
The Elmer H. Garinger High School was
designed by A. G. Odell, Jr., a native of Concord, N.C., where he had a
privileged upbringing as a member of a wealthy textile family. Odell,
nicknamed "Gouldie" (pronounced "Gooly"), studied civil engineering at Duke
University and architecture at Cornell University.1
Cornell was noted as a leader in emphasizing Modernist design, independence,
innovation, and city planning in its curriculum.2
Odell would show throughout his career the impact of his education at
Cornell. In 1935-36 Odell went to Paris, France and matriculated at
the L'Ecole des Beaux Arts, where such eminent American architects as Louis
Sullivan, H. H. Richardson, Richard Morris Hunt, and Charles McKim had been
students. Upon returning to the United States, Odell joined the New
York firm of Harrison & Fouilhoux as an apprentice, where he continued
to be heavily influenced by the precepts of European Modernism, which were
then securing a dominant place in architectural thinking throughout the
Western world, including the United States.3
Harrison & Fouilhoux was commissioned to develop the branding
emblems for the 1939 New York's World Fair. Odell claimed in a 1982
interview that it was he who first suggested a sphere as a principal symbol
of that international extravaganza. "I was the first to come up with
the idea of a sphere because there were so many radiating roads coming into
the fair," he declared.4
Perisphere and Trylon at the
1939 New York's World Fair
Modernism emerged in Europe in the
years immediately following World War One when many artists and architects
rejected the symbols of a social order which they felt had failed to prevent
war and its devastating aftermath. The impact of Modernism deepened in
America in the 1930s after the Museum of Modern Art in New York City
mounted an exhibition in February 1932 entitled "Modern Architecture:
International Exhibition" and published an accompanying book, The
International Style: Architecture Since 1922. "The
combination of the show and the book," contends architectural historian
Carter Wiseman, "can be seen as a seminal event that affected American
design well into the 1960s."5 As further
expounded by such eminent German designers as Walter Gropius and Mies van
der Rohe, both of whom migrated to the United States in the 1930s, Modernist
buildings were to be purposely fashioned to highlight their materials and
methods of construction in a rational, minimalist, austere, but aesthetic
manner. The devotees of Modernism contended that such architectural
features as geometric forms, flat roofs, strip windows, and the absence of
attached decoration would produce buildings in keeping with "the structural
realities of the twentieth century."6
Odell brought his commitment to
Modernism to Charlotte in 1939 when he established a one-person office here.
"In Charlotte, Odell was the strongest supporter of modernism," state the
authors of Architects and Builders in North Carolina. A History of the
Practice of Building.7
When Odell arrived, Charlotte’s buildings were overwhelming conservative and
revivalist or derivative in appearance and had been so for decades. "Most
architecture in the area can best be described as pseudo-neoclassical, with
elements of design copied from buildings elsewhere that had already
incorporated copied elements of classic design," remembered M. H. Ward, one
of Odell’s early associates.7 A.
G. Odell, Jr. devoted his considerable talents and energies to reshaping the
local urban landscape and its built environment. For good or ill, he largely
succeeded. Odell embraced the architecture of "tomorrow" and had nothing but
disdain for the revivalist buildings he observed on the streets of
Charlotte. Odell described what he saw when he arrived in Charlotte.
"There was nothing here . . . that illustrated the honesty of stone as
stone, steel as steel, glass as glass. Everybody was still wallowing in the
Odell's firm began to prosper in the
1950s. The United States emerged from World War Two as the world's
preeminent economic power. Long associating technological change with
progress, American consumers were more than ever ready to embrace a
built environment that pointed unabashedly toward the future.
Architectural historian Alan Hess writes, "The future was a natural
theme that the public was ripe to experience, and manufacturers and
architects took advantage of that interest by developing a visual vocabulary
and products that were associated with the climate of technological
optimism."9 It was widely believed in the
immediate post-World-War-Two years that mankind stood on the threshold of a
glorious era -- a sentiment that Modernist architects like A. G. Odell, Jr.
were only too eager to embrace and promulgate. Among Odell's notable
early projects, each exhibiting the geometric massing and lack of applied
ornamentation characteristic of Modernist design, were the Second Ward High
School Gymnasium, Double Oaks Elementary School, Wilson Junior High School,
and, most notably, the Charlotte Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium, all in
Charlotte.10 Odell died at the age of 74
on April 21, 1988.11
High School Gymnasium (1947)
||Double Oaks Elementary
||Ovens Auditorium (1955)
A. G. Odell, Jr. became an influential
and respected voice in architectural circles, including nationally. He
served as president of both the North Carolina Chapter of the American
Institute of Architects (A.I.A.) from 1953 until 1955 and the national A.I.A.
in 1964-65. Never hesitant to state his predilections in matters
architectural, Odell was a strident advocate of Modernism throughout
his career. He told a prospective client in the early 1950s that his
firm was "only interested in the design of contemporary church
architecture."12 An especially striking
example of Odell's passionate defense of Modernism occurred in August 1957
when he learned that the U.S. House of Representatives had decided in a
straw vote to withhold funds to build a proposed Modernist chapel at the
U.S. Air Force Academy. Odell "growled" when he heard the news, said
Charlotte Observer. "Congress should do less meddling in
esthetics, about which they apparently know nothing at all," said Odell.
"Congress is like the average ignoramus, who says he doesn't know anything
about art, but he does know what he likes."13
Odell's Charlotte Carnegie
Library (1957) illustrates his rejection of derivative design. The
building has totally lost its original character.
Elmer H. Garinger
Elmer H. Garinger was a native of Mt.
Vernon, Missouri and a 1916 graduate in economics from the University of
Missouri. After serving in the Army Medical Corps in World War One and
receiving a graduate degree in education from Columbia University, Garinger
came to Charlotte in 1921 as Charlotte's first Junior High School principal
and thereafter played a significant role in shaping the educational
philosophy of the Charlotte Public Schools for more than 40 years.14
Moreover, as head of Charlotte Central High School in the 1940s, Garinger
was instrumental in events leading to the establishment of Charlotte
College, which eventually evolved into the University of North Carolina at
Charlotte. Even more significantly, in 1957 Garinger, who had
become Superintendent of the Charlotte City Schools in 1949, led a bold and
successful effort to racially integrate the Charlotte public schools.15
Dr. Elmer H. Garinger (1960)
In August 1947, Garinger
summoned Bonnie E. Cone, a mathematics teacher at Central High School, to
his office and asked her to become the Director of the Charlotte Center of
the University of North Carolina,
which had been established temporarily to
provide higher education courses for World War Two veterans.
Cone decided to fight to keep the Charlotte Center open because of the
educational opportunities the institution provided for students who
otherwise would have had little hope of attending college.
was an indispensable ally. He joined Cone in persuading the North
Carolina General Assembly to permit the two-year college to continue under
the auspices of the Charlotte public schools in 1949. Charlotte
College acquired its own Board of Trustees in 1957, moved to its campus on
Highway 49 in 1961, and became the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
in 1965. It is fitting that a building on the UNCC Campus is
named for Garinger. A. G. Odell, Jr. was the architect of that
structure as well.
Garinger Building at UNCC. Designed by A. G.
Garinger in the UNCC Garinger Building
Garinger's most long-lasting and
noteworthy contribution to the public schools of Charlotte was his decision
to institute racial integration voluntarily in 1957. Garinger summoned
key members of his staff to his office in July of that year and announced
that a small number of African Americans would be assigned to white schools
that fall. Tensions ran high when Charlotte
prepared to integrate its schools on September 4, 1957. Robed
and hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan picketed the Visulite Theater, a
local cinema house, on Elizabeth Avenue on September 1st. They were
protesting the showing of the movie, "Island in the Sun," directed by Robert
Rossen and starring such notable performers as James Mason, Joan Collins,
Dorothy Dandridge, and Harry Belafonte.
The film depicted interracial romances.
The Klansmen dispersed without incident when they were ordered to do so by
Police Chief Frank Littlejohn. "A few obvious sympathizers of the Klan parked near the
theater jeered photographers who arrived to make pictures of the pickets,"
reported the Charlotte Observer.
Klansmen picketing at
Even more provocative and outlandish
were comments made by a racist rabble-rouser named John Kasper. Having
already enflamed racial passions among whites in Winston-Salem and
Greensboro, Kasper came to Charlotte on September 1st and signed up members
for what he called the White Citizens Council. He delivered an
inflammatory speech to about 300 white people who had gathered on the steps
of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. He called upon the white
citizens of Charlotte to rise up against the school board. "We want a
heart attack, we want nervous breakdowns, we want suicides, we want flight
from persecution," Kasper thundered.
The culmination of the crisis occurred
shortly after 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday September 4th at Harding High School.
15 year-old Dorothy Counts left her parents' home on Beatties Ford Road just
across from Johnson C. Smith University, where her father taught theology.
She was driven to Harding that late summer morning by Dr. Edwin Tompkins,
also a member of the Johnson C. Smith faculty.
A crowd of upperclassmen who had
registered earlier that morning congregated in front of the school to listen
to John Z. Warlick and his wife, leaders of the White Citizens Council.
"It's up to you to keep her out," shouted Mrs. Warlick.
Attired in a simple print dress with a broad bow and ribbon dangling from
her collar, Dorothy Counts
walked up the sidewalk that led to the front door.
Hoots and catcalls filled the air.
Dorothy Counts remained stoical throughout this electrifying encounter.
She said nothing, even though some young whites threw trash and
rocks toward her, most landing at her feet.
"I do remember something hitting me in the back," she told a
newspaper reporter, "but I don't think they were throwing at me, just in
front and at my feet."
exhibited remarkable poise that day. When asked if any whites spat upon her, Counts answered:
A good many times, mostly on the back."
Dorothy Counts Walks To
Harding High School.
Dorothy Counts soon succumbed to the harassment and
scorn she experienced. "The students were pushing, shoving, spitting in my
food," she explained many years later. "But the first time I was
afraid was when I saw my brother in the car and students broke a window."
Counts withdrew from Harding High School after attending for only four days and transferred to a school in
Pennsylvania, but the other three African Americans who had enrolled with
little or no fanfare at other schools on September 4th remained for the
entire year. Gus Roberts would eventually graduate from Central High
School. Indeed, the contributions of Gus Roberts, Girvaud Roberts,
and Delores Huntley to the advancement of integrated schools were more
substantial, if less confrontational, than those made by Counts. But it was Elmer H. Garinger who was ultimately responsible for
ending racial segregation in the public schools. Without the his
firm and resolute leadership the integration of the Charlotte
schools would not have happened in 1957, and the situation could have
ended very differently.
Students jeer as Counts
Elmer H. Garinger High School
The Charlotte Board
of Education voted on December 18, 1957, to acquire the final portion of
the land that would become the campus of Garinger High School and
directed architect A. G. Odell, Jr. "to complete drawings at once."16
Elmer Garinger, labeled a "modern man without modern
mannerisms" by the Charlotte Observer,
was a proponent of Modernist architecture, even to the extent of
contending that non-traditional school buildings could stimulate student
learning.17 Garinger also would have
been fully cognizant of the educational reforms advocated by James B.
Conant in his seminal work The American High School Today.
According to Conant, a former president of Harvard University and a
major figure in the Manhattan Project, the number of "small high
schools" had to be "drastically reduced" because they did not offer
academic subjects of "sufficient range."18
"The enrollment of many American public high schools is too small
to allow a diversified curriculum except at exorbitant expense," Conant
wrote.19 With a campus of 62.5
acres, Garinger High School was configured to become the kind of
"comprehensive" or big high school that Conant and other educators were
Garinger High School
Classes began at
Garinger High School on September 1, 1959. The former Central High
School students, who comprised the great majority of those attending
Garinger, noted the contrast between the new facility and the "run-down,
gloomy building" they had left behind. "Already, Garinger overshadows
the thoughts of the old with her remarkable buildings, faculty and now --
students," stated the Charlotte Observer.21
The newspaper called Garinger High School "unique in the area in
architectural design."22 Clearly, a
feeling of optimism, even ebullience, surrounded the opening of Odell's
Modernist designed high school.
Garinger High School Majorettes (1960)
Unfortunately, the years since 1959 have not been entirely kind to Garinger
High School. A major renovation of Garinger occurred in 2004.
Unaware that the buildings had been declared eligible for listing in the
National Register of Historic Places, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public
Schools hired the Adams Group Architects of Charlotte to alter elements of
Garinger High School to meet pressing programmatic needs. The
auditorium and the front entrance were substantially changed. Happily,
there are portions of Garinger High School which do retain their essential
integrity, including the park-like setting, the gymnasium, and
three original classroom buildings.23
Garinger has also faced unforeseen challenges academically. Indeed, at
the time of the writing of this report Garinger High School has been singled
out as having special needs. Ironically, among the reforms instituted
in hopes of improving the achievement performance of Garinger's students is
subdividing Garinger into smaller academic academies -- in direct contrast
to Conant's educational philosophy that bigger schools would produce better
1. Charlotte Observer, April 23, 1988.
http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/Aap-exhibit/AAP9.html Edmund Bacon,
perhaps America's most renowned City planner and noted for his dramatic
impact upon center city Philadelphia, was a 1932 graduate of the
Cornell School of Architecture.
3. Andre Fouilhaux and Wallace Harrison were deeply committed
to Modernism. Fouillhaux would go on to be a designer of the
headquarters of the United Nations in New York City. It is reasonable
to assume that the L'Ecole des Beaux Arts had little impact upon Odell, since it stressed the
meticulous and accurate replication of traditional design elements.
4. Charlotte Observer, April 23, 1988.
5. Carter Wiseman, Twentieth Century American Architecture. The
Buildings And Their Makers (New York & London: W. W. Norton,
2000), p. 150.
6. Ibid., p. 108.
Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and
Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A
History of the Practice of Building (Chapel Hill and London: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p. 361. The Charlotte City
Directory of 1942 lists 19 architects in Charlotte. Odell's office was
then located at 212 South Tryon St. (see Hill's Charlotte City Directory
1942 (Richmond Va: Hill Directory Company, 1942), p. 972.)
Charlotte Observer, April 23, 1988.
Alan Hess, Googie Redux. Ultramodern Roadside Architecture (San
Francisco: Chronicle Books, n.d.), p. 47.
10. See the various Survey and Research
11. Charlotte Observer, April 23, 1988.
12. Quoted in Bishir, p. 361. Odell was a zealous man.
This writer was told by an informed person that he once saw Odell slap his
wife full in the face in public.
13. Charlotte Observer, August 8, 1957.
14. Charlotte Observer, September 7, 1959.
15. For an account of the events surrounding the racial integration
of the Charlotte Public Schools in 1957, see Dan L. Morrill, A History of
16. Charlotte Observer, December 19, 1957.
17. Charlotte Observer, Februry 21, 1957. September 7,
18. James B. Conant, The American High School Today. A
First Report to Interested Citizens (New York, Toronto, London:
McGraw Hill Book Company, Inc., 1959), p. 40.
19. Ibid., p. 77.
20. Ibid., p. 8.
21. Charlotte Observer, December 2, 1959.
23. Interview of Michael Raible of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public
Schools by Dr. Dan L. Morrill (January 16, 2007). Mr. Raible stated
that if he had known that the school had been declared eligible for
listing in the National Register of Historic Places, he would have taken
this fact into account when determining how to renovate Garinger.