THOMAS GRIFFITH WAREHOUSE BUILDING
This report was written on Sept. 1, 2000
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Thomas Griffith Warehouse Building is located at 209 East Seventh Street,
Charlotte, North Carolina.
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owner of the
property: The owner of the property is:
Seventh Street Investors, L.L.C.
C/o Levine Properties
P.O. Box 2439
Matthews, N.C. 28106
3. Representative 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 which depicts the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent
deed to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 5058, Page
936. The Tax Parcel Number of the property is: 080-021-04.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains
a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Thomas W. Hanchett.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains a brief architectural description of the property prepared by
Thomas W. Hanchett with an update by Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the the property meets the
criteria for designation set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-400:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture,
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property
known as the Thomas Griffith Warehouse Building does possess special
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its
judgment on the following considerations:
1) the Thomas Griffith Warehouse Building, erected in 1925, was initially
owned by Thomas Griffith (1864-1947), a local insurance executive and
civic leader of Charlotte;
2) the Thomas Griffith Warehouse Building was designed by Lockwood, Greene
and Company, an important industrial architecture firm; and
3) the Thomas Griffith Warehouse Building is an important remnant of a
distribution warehouse district which arose in the first quarter of the
20th century along Charlotte's oldest railroad corridor, on the east side
of Charlotte's central business district.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling,
and/or association: The Commission contends that the architectural
description included in this report and the updated architectural
description demonstrate that the property known as the Thomas Griffith
Warehouse Building 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
"historic property." The current appraised value of the improvement is
$37,680. The current appraised value of the .651 acres of land is $708,400.
The total appraised value of the property is $746,080. The property is zoned
Date of Preparation of this Report: January 5, 1986 with a
September 1, 2000 update.
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
2100 Randolph Road
Charlotte, N.C. 28207
by Thomas W. Hanchett and Gina Chapman
The Thomas Griffith Building at 209 East Seventh Street in uptown
Charlotte was built in 1925.1 It held the Carolina headquarters
of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for nearly three decades and was
later the long-time home of the Brown, Rogers, Dixson Company, an appliance
wholesaler. The three-story brick building was one of many warehouse
structures erected along the city's railroad corridors in the first decades
of the twentieth century, as Charlotte emerged as the largest city in North
and South Carolina. Today groups of these buildings may still be seen along
South Boulevard, West Morehead Street, South Mint Street and North Graham
Street, plus scattered examples elsewhere in the city, including the
Textile Mill Supply Company Building,
Philip Carey Building, and
Query-Spivey-McGee Building downtown.2
Charlotte's rise as a major regional wholesale and distribution center
began with the arrival of the first railroads in the 1850s.3 It
received a great boost during the 1880s and 1890s as D. A. Tompkins and
Stuart Cramer made the town the Southern headquarters for distributors of
textile machinery. By the 1920s Charlotte was an important city on the
mainline of the mighty Southern Railway, the hub of rail lines stretching in
eight directions and a focus of North Carolina's "good roads" highway
building program. Dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of national corporations
chose Charlotte as the distribution point for their goods to retailers
across North and South Carolina. Among them: Ford Motor Company which
distributed Model T parts (and automobiles) from a vast plant on Statesville
Avenue; RCA Victor which shipped phonograph records from a building on
South Tryon Street (and held recording sessions there as well); MGM and
other Hollywood movie-makers which distributed motion pictures from "film
row" on South Church Street.
In 1925 local insurance man Thomas Griffith decided to cash in on this
trend by erecting a warehouse building to lease. Griffith ( 1864-1947), born
in Mecklenburg County's then-rural Sharon township, was "founder and
president of Thomas Griffith & Co., Inc., widely-known insurance firm with
headquarters in Charlotte," according to his Charlotte Observer
obituary.4 A long-time resident of Greenway Avenue in the
Elizabeth neighborhood, Griffith took an active role in civic affairs. He
served as Chairman of the county's Highway Commission for a decade beginning
in 1921, acted as trustee of the Charlotte firemen's fund, and was for many
years a member of the Municipal Service Commission, including a stint as its
chairman. Griffith was also an ardent Shriner and Mason, serving from 1914
to 1941 as recorder of the Oasis Shrine Temple. He held "a number of other
high offices in Masonry," noted the Observer, "and had a national
reputation because of his attainments in the order, to which many of the
best years of his life were largely devoted."
According to Griffith's son, T. Guion Griffith, the warehouse building on
East Seventh Street was the only real estate development that the insurance
executive ever undertook.5 Nonetheless Thomas Griffith built
wisely and well. The mid-block site he chose on the north side of Seventh
Street at the edge of the downtown commercial/industrial area had recently
been occupied by houses ( today the
First United Presbyterian Church, built by a leading black congregation
in the 1890s and still extant adjacent to the warehouse, is the only
reminder of the area's residential past).6 A track of the
Southern Railway crossed Seventh Street a few hundred feet to the east, and
it had had scattered warehouses and industries along it for many years. But
in the 1910s the right-of-way over this track was leased to the new Norfolk
and Southern Railroad ( no relation to the present Norfolk Southern system
). The railroad built its Charlotte freight station on the south side of the
200 block of Seventh Street, and extended its freight yard through the north
side of that block. Suddenly the location became a prime site for a
warehouse. Thomas Griffith purchased the land from W.S. Alexander and John
M. Scott, two of Charlotte's most active real estate men, and he hired
Lockwood, Greene and Company, Engineers, to design a building.7
Lockwood, Greene and Company originated in New England and acquired a
national reputation as a designer of textile mills, a reputation it
continues to hold today.8 In the 1920s the firm had a busy
Charlotte office run by a young architect named J.N. Pease, who subsequently
established J.N. Pease & Associates, now one of the largest design firms in
the Carolinas. Among the major Charlotte buildings designed by Lockwood,
Greene in this era were Central High School ( now part of Central Piedmont
Community College, 1920), the
Charlotte Supply Company ( 550 South Mint Street, 1924), the Wilson
Building ( 300-306 South Tryon Street, 1927), and the posh
Poplar Apartments ( 301 West Tenth Street, I930).9
The structure that Lockwood, Greene created for Thomas Griffith was a
cleanly-executed variation on a very common theme of the period. The
three-story flat-roofed warehouse had brick load-bearing walls along the
outside and heavy wooden framing and floors inside. Windows were metal
frame. Interior spaces were left open and unfinished, except for an office
area at the front of the ground floor. Freight came and went by way of one
or more loading platforms which lined a railroad siding along the east side
of the building.
For the first twenty-nine years of the building's life, the freight
consisted mainly of tires. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company leased the
warehouse as its Carolina headquarters from 1925 until I954.10
Leonard Gordon, a Goodyear executive who started work in the building in
1948, remembers that a force of thirty to forty employees handled truck
tires, car tires, bicycle tires, retread rubber ( known as "camelback"),
batteries and related products for a territory covering all of North
Carolina and the majority of South Carolina.11 The tires, each
wound with paper wrapping, arrived by rail and were hoisted to upper floor
storage areas by the freight elevator ( still extant ). When an order came
in, workers slid the needed tires down a gravity chute to the first floor.
On August 11, 1947, while the structure was still leased to Goodyear,
owner Thomas Griffith passed away.12 He left behind three
children: T. Guion Griffith of Charlotte, Robert H. Griffith of Chattanooga,
Tennessee, and Laura A. Andrews, wife of Charles Andrews of Charlotte.
T. Guion Griffith and cousin Thomas C. Hayes continued the
insurance business, and Guion administered his father's estate. Evidently
under Guion's direction, ownership of the warehouse was transfered in 1962
to Firwood Properties, Incorporated, apparently a family business.13
It remained in Firwood's control until 1985.
Meanwhile, Goodyear Tire and Rubber was experiencing growing pains. The
years immediately after World War II saw a boom in automobile ownership and
travel. Gordon Leonard remembers that the company added a one-story wing to
the building sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s.l4 But
that was not enough to handle the growing inventory. In 1954 the company
left downtown for much larger quarters on Jay Street off Tuckaseegee Road,
and today Goodyear's Carolina headquarters are in a spacious building in the
Arrowood Industrial Park south of the city.15
When Goodyear left in 1954, the Brown, Rogers, Dixson Company rented the
building.16 For nearly thirty years the company used the warehouse as a
distribution facility for household appliances. A billboard painted at the
top of the elevator housing on the east side of the building still proclaims
that the firm wholesaled "Philco, Crosley, and Speed Queen" refrigerators,
washers, and associated products. As time went on trucks took on more and
more of the freight hauling work of railroad trains. By the 1980s the
railroad siding next to the warehouse was gone, and the old Norfolk end
Southern rail yard had become parking lots.
In 1985 the vacant warehouse was conveyed to Levine Properties,
Incorporated, headed by Alvin Levine and his son Daniel.17 By
this time the area around the warehouse was changing in character once
again. Much as it had been transformed from residences to warehouses and
industries in the 1910s and 1920s, it was now becoming a desirable area for
office space. According to Daniel, Levine Properties plans to renovate the
building for office or residential condominiums.18 As of
September 2000, the owner's intentions regarding the use of the property are
1 Mecklenburg County Building Standards Office: building
2 Charlotte Supply, Philip Carey, and Query-Spivey- McGee have
all been designated as Historic Properties by the City of Charlotte. For
more on their architecture and history see the "Survey
and Research Report" on each in the files of the Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Landmarks Commission.
3 Information on Charlotte's economic history is drawn from
Chapter One of Thomas W. Hanchett, "Charlotte and Its Neighborhoods: The
Growth of a New South City, 1850-1930," 1985, unpublished typescript in the
files of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
4 Charlotte Observer, August 11, 1947.
5. T. Guion Griffith, telephone interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett, October 1986.
6 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, 1896, 1900, 1911, 1929, on
microfilm in the Carolina Room of the Public Library of Charlotte and
7 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed book 419,
page 654. Mecklenburg County Building Standards Office: building permit
8 Hanchett, "Charlotte and its Neighborhoods."
9 The Poplar Apartments and the Charlotte Supply Company have
been designated as Historic Landmarks by the City of Charlotte. For more on
their history and architecture see the "Survey and Research Report" on each
in the files of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission.
The Charlotte Supply Company Building no longer exists.
10 City directory collection, Carolina Room of the Public
Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
11 Leonard Gordon, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, October
I 986. Interviews were also conducted with two other long-time employees,
John L. Randall and Flo Farrell. Gordon had warm memories of the area,
including stand-up lunches at Tanner's snack bar on North Tryon Street, and
noontime shopping at the nearby Sears store. Farrell has two early photos of
Goodyear employees at the building, one dating from the late 1920s - early
1930s, the other dating from the end of the 1940s. Randall remembered Tom
Taylor, a black employee who worked as handyman and building superintendent
for many years.
12 Charlotte Observer, August 11, 1947. Mecklenburg
County Clerk's Office: will book 6, page 8.
13 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed book
2350, page 256. Firwood Properties was incorporated in Forsyth County, North
Carolina, perhaps due to the fact that Forsyth County was the home of
Wachovia Bank and Trust, trustee of Thomas Griffith's estate.
14 Leonard, interview with Hanchett.
15 John L. Randall, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, October
16 City directory collection.
17 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed book.
5058, page 936. The Levine family is associated with the fast-growing Family
Dollar department store chain and Pic-n-Pay shoe store chain, both based in
the Charlotte area.
18 Daniel Levine, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, October
by Thomas W. Hanchett
The Thomas Griffith Building is a three-story warehouse with a brick
exterior, metal-frame windows, and en exposed timber-frame interior. It was
designed by the prolific architecture firm Lockwood, Greene and Company. The
Griffith warehouse is located uptown at 209 East Seventh Street, part of an
area in First Ward that retains scattered warehouses and industrial
buildings along a railroad track now owned by the Norfolk Southern. The
structure has seen several changes over the years, but remains well
The location of the Griffith Building testifies to the dense mix of land
uses once found in uptown Charlotte. It is only a block and a half off North
Tryon Street, where the former
First Baptist Church ( now Spirit Square Arts Center ) is a reminder of
the elegant residences that lined that main street as late as the 1920s. On
the west side of the Griffith Building is the handsome brick Gothic Revival
First United Presbyterian Church, an indication that black residents as
well as wealthy whites once lived here. The rail yard that originally
flanked the east side of the Griffith Building and the freight station that
stood across the street have given way to parking lots, but one line of
track remains in use. To the rear of the building are business structures
and parking lots that have replaced low-income housing shown on maps in the
The Griffith Building is five bays wide and seventeen hays deep. Most of
the exterior is simple and utilitarian. The roof a virtually flat gable --
has no eaves. It is broken only by the brick elevator housing which rises an
extra half story near the front of the east side. Walls are common bricks
common bond. The rear wall of the building has no windows, but does have
three brick buttresses, and rises above the roofline to form a parapet. A
concrete loading dock runs along part of the east side of the structure.
Windows on the two side walls are large wide units whose metal frames hold
thirty-six panes of glass. The great majority of the
windows no longer have their lights or mutins. Two six-pane sections in
each unit pivot to allow ventilation, and each window opening has a concrete
sill. An early photo in the possession of the Goodyear Company, and close
examination of the units themselves, indicates that these metal windows are
part of the original design of the building.
While most of the building is unabashedly utilitarian, architect
Lockwood, Greene and Company gave the front facade and the first two bays on
each side e slightly more expensive architectural treatment ( a common
practice for this type of structure). More costly, "crisper" looking pressed
brick is used here, and it is laid in elegant patterns loosely based on
Renaissance architecture. The walls rise above the roofline in a simple
stepped parapet with a concrete cap. Across the center of the front parapet
is a recessed band of brickwork, a place where the owner or tenant might
paint a company name.
Below the parapet, the front facade is a symmetrical arrangement of three
wide bays flanked by a pair of narrow bays. Similar narrow bays are seen on
the sides. Second and third story windows are metal frame units, variations
on the side windows described earlier. The first story originally held large
plate-glass windows in wood frames, with prism-glass transoms above, and a
wood and glass entrance.
Over the years alterations have affected the exterior of the Griffith
Building. Originally the third story was just four bays deep, meaning that
the rear three-quarters of the building was only two stories tall. Early in
the structure's history, the third story was extended back to include the
entire building. Care was taken to match the existing windows and window
arrangement. Only a slight variation in brick color and window sill
treatment betrays the addition today. Sometime in the late 1940s or early
1950s a one-story wing was added at the east side of the building. This
flat-roofed structure with its red-brick exterior and tiny windows formed a
covered loading dock along the railroad spur, and its triangular shape
conformed to the placement of the track. About the same time e smaller
rectangular one-story wing was added to the west side of the Griffith
Building. Neither of these extension is extant today. Later, after Brown,
Rogers, Dixson Company became the tenant, the first floor front windows and
entrance of the original building were bricked in. Today the original plate
glass, prism glass, and all hardware survive completely intact behind the
Of the three floors inside the Griffith Building, the second is the
best-preserved. Three rows of square wooden columns march the length of the
floor. Each has a square cast iron capital at the top, which adds a bit of
Neoclassical elegance to the mundane task of holding the large wooden beams
which rest upon the columns. Each beam and column has chamfered edges.
Ceilings and floors consist of wood planking. No wood on this floor has ever
been painted, except for the trim around the stairway and elevator shaft.
These facilities are located next to each other on the east side of the
space near the front of the building. The elevator shaft is enclosed in
plastered walls, and has a gate of wood slates that is raised for entry. The
electric freight elevator inside it appears to be original, with its wooden
floor and open sides: the rider starts it by pulling on a rope hanging down
the side of the shaft. Next to the shaft enclosure is the open stair from
the first floor. It features tongue-and-groove paneled balustrades, and
square chamfered newel posts. A smaller and simpler stairway to the third
floor is on the other side of the elevator. There is a welded grid of iron
bars inside each window; the second floor has no partitions; and its
scattering of wooden shelving appear to date from recent decades. The
gravity chute which originally carried tires downstairs is gone, but a
conveyor belt near the center of the space performs a similar function.
The third floor is quite similar to the second, with unpainted wood
flexes, ceiling, beams, and columns. Here the ceiling is actually the
underside of the roof, slightly angled to shed rainwater. Columns and beams
are uniformly chamfered throughout the third floor just as on the second,
but one can see in the iron capitals atop the columns the evidence that this
space was not all built at once. At the front of the building the capitals
mimic Neoclassical molding, but in the rear three-quarters of the space they
are simpler in form and lack any stylistic pretensions. The small stairway
opening has recently been enclosed. The most striking change to the space,
unexpected from looking at the exterior, is that a number of the window
openings have been filled in with concrete block. Since this work left the
metal-frame windows intact outside, it would be easy to remove the infill
and return the space to its original appearance.
The rear half of the first floor of the Griffith Building has exposed
columns and beams, identical with upper floors except that these have been
painted white. In this rear area a number of windows were bricked up and
others knocked out to form openings into the two one-story additions. The
front half of the first story has seen more changes. The 1929 Sanborn Fire
Insurance Map of downtown Charlotte shows that this area originally held an
L-shaped office area, running across the front of the building and about
half-way down the west side. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company
headquarters in Charlotte still has a photograph in their files of this
space when it was new. Today all that is left of it is paneling and molding
encasing the beams and columns, and the building's only pair of restrooms,
which still contain their original metal partitions. The original office
walls were evidently torn out by the Brown, Rogers, Dixson Company, and a
new arrangement of partitions was constructed with inexpensive wood-grained