This report was written on 27 May 1991.
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as
the Johnston Building is located at 212 South Tryon Street in Charlotte,
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owner of the
property: The owner of the property is:
Two Hundred Twelve South Tryon Street Ltd. Partnership
212 S. Tryon Street
Charlotte, North Carolina 28281
Telephone: (704) 333-6643
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 depicting 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
4407 on page 116. The tax parcel number of the property is 073-016-13.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report
contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Mary Beth
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This
report contains a brief architectural description of the property
prepared by Mary Beth Gatza.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets
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 Johnston Building does possess special
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases
its judgement on the following considerations: 1) The Johnston
Building is one of a number of "tall office buildings," or
skyscrapers, that were built in North Carolina during the 1920's.
Although tall office buildings had been built in large urban areas
such as New York City and Chicago for decades, virtually none were
erected in North Carolina until the prosperous decade of the 1920's.
Therefore, the Johnston Building stands as physical evidence of an
economic and historical trend. 2) At the time it opened, the Johnston
Building was the tallest building in Charlotte.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling
and/or association: The Commission contends that the physical
description by Mary Beth Gatza which is included in this report
demonstrates that the Johnston 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 a designated "historic landmark." The current total appraised
value of the improvements is $15,176,470. The current total appraised
value of the lot is $2,004,450. The current total value is $17,180,920.
The property is zoned UMUD.
Date of Preparation of this Report: 27 May 1991.
Prepared by:Mary Beth Gatza
2228 East Seventh Street
Charlotte, North Carolina 28204
Charles Worth Johnston (1861-1941) was born in 1861 in the Coddle
Creek area of Cabarrus County. He relocated to Mecklenburg County when
he became a student at Davidson College. After leaving Davidson, he was
employed as a merchant with the Stough Cornelius Company, which also
controlled the Cornelius Mills. When an opening in the mill arose,
Johnston applied for and became the superintendent. He moved to
Charlotte in 1892 and took the position of Secretary of the Highland
Park Manufacturing Company, and by 1911, was president of the company.
From then on, he would have an interest in numerous other cotton mills,
including Anchor Mills in Huntersville. A newspaper article printed at
the time of his death described him as a "Titan among textile
industrialists," and honored him with these words: "His career and
achievements memorialize the old-fashioned virtues of thrift, frugality,
self-reliance and industry, the honorableness of hard work, the virtue
of business honor and integrity."
In 1924, the year the Johnston Building was completed, Johnston was
involved with at least five different companies. The city directory for
that year listed his occupations as: president of Johnston Mills
Company, M & F Bonded Warehouse Company, Highland Park Manufacturing
Company, Johnston Manufacturing Company, and vice-president of
Commercial National Bank.2 The following year, his
occupations were listed as: Johnston Mills Company, Eastern
Manufacturing Company, Monroe Mills Company, Highland Park Manufacturing
Company, president and treasurer of Johnston Manufacturing Company,
vice-president of Commercial National Bank, and the Merchants and
Farmers Warehouse Company.
Johnston Building under construction.
Photograph taken by E. D. Shaw.
C. W. Johnston married Miss Jennie Stough in 1882, undoubtedly having
met her while living in North Mecklenburg. She bore three children
before she died in 1921. There were two daughters, Rosa (1886-1958), who
married R. W. Stokes, and Flora (1937), who married E. J. Braswell. The
only son, R. Horace Johnston (1890-1949), was to succeed his father in
business affairs. Five years after Jennie Stough's death, Johnston
remarried. Mrs. Jeannett Newcombe was a widow and came into the marriage
with two children, Arthur R. and Elliott H. Newcombe. Johnston was again
widowed when Jeannett died in 1930.4
R. Horace Johnston was born to Charles Worth and Jennie Stough
Johnston in Cornelius in 1890. When he was about two years old, the
family moved to Charlotte, where he would stay for the rest of his life.
He was well-educated, having studied at Staunton Military Academy (in
Staunton, Virginia), Davidson College, and the University of North
Carolina. Upon completing his studies, he entered into business with his
father, taking over Johnston Mills and Highland Park Manufacturing
Company after his father's death in 1941. Johnston married Miss Adelaide
Orr and together they raised a son, David R. Johnston. In addition to
their home in Myers Park, Johnston owned Whitehall Farm on York Road in
the Steele Creek section of Mecklenburg County, where he bred and
trained trotting horses. It was here that he died on October 22, 1949 of
a heart attack. He had just returned from the dedication ceremony for
the Charles Worth Johnston Memorial Gymnasium at Davidson College, which
was named after his father. His son, David R. Johnston, was to carry on
the family name and attain control of the family business after R.
Horace Johnston's death.
That the 1920's were times of prosperity is seldom disputed, and
lingering evidence of this can still be seen on the Charlotte
streetscape. A publication by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, dating
from 1927, shows that the dollar amount of investments in new buildings
more than tripled between 1920 and 1926.6 Several landmark
buildings were erected during the decade, including the Hotel Charlotte,
the First National Bank, Mayfair Manor, the courthouse and the old
City Hall. The
Poplar apartments were also built during this era.
Anchor Mills Company purchased the lot in April 1923 from the Textile
Office Building Company, which was a Gaston County corporation. The
Textile Office Building Company had acquired the property in 1919, while
the Trust Building was still standing on it.7 The Trust
Building burned on December 1922, just four months before the lot was
sold to Anchor Mills.8 The vacant lot was transferred for
$100 and a building permit was obtained immediately. The dollar value of
the proposed structure was reported to be $600,000.9
Hunkin-Conkey Construction Company was engaged as builder.10
The architect chosen to design the new building was William Lee
Stoddart (1869-1940). Stoddart was an acclaimed designer of large urban
hotels and although he practiced out of New York City, he was not
unknown in Charlotte. He had designed the twelve story Hotel Charlotte,
which was already under construction nearby at the junction of West
Trade and South Poplar Streets. Construction began on the hotel in the
summer of 1922, several months before the lot for the Johnston Building
was purchased.11 Johnston was an investor in the Citizens
Hotel Company, which raised the capital and commissioned the hotel, and
likely was familiar with the architect and the plans. His estate was
still receiving dividends from the Citizen's Hotel Company as late as
The Johnston Building was the tallest skyscraper in Charlotte when it
opened in 1924. Though the First National Bank, one block away at Trade
and Tryon Streets, promptly superseded the Johnston Building in height
and square footage, the Johnston Building was still regarded as being
the epitome of style and elegance. The First National Bank building was
completed in 1926, and had 160,000 square feet among its twenty stories.13
A contemporary newspaper article asserted that the Johnston Building,
"Charlotte's tallest and newest office building, is attracting favorable
comment as it nears completion because of the beauty and attractiveness
of its exterior."14 It was, and still is, considered to be a
fine building and a prestigious address.
Thomas Griffith was the rental agent in 1924, and was busy lining up
tenants even before the building was completed. He revealed to the
Charlotte News in January of 1924 that the building was "already
largely booked as to tenants and will likely have a compliment of
occupants when it is ready to open."15 The offices housed
cotton brokers, insurance agents, attorneys, realty companies and
numerous independent businessmen. Some early tenants included the E. C.
Griffith Company (developers of the
Eastover neighborhood), architect C. C. Hook, and the Honorable
Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company was a major tenant in
the Johnston Building for years. Though not an original lessee, they
were occupying the entire fifteenth floor by 1926.17 The
amount of space they rented increased over the years, and by 1947 they
signed a lease for 42,369 square feet. They occupied the entire top
three floors and had other offices scattered throughout the building. At
that time, rental rates varied throughout the building, with the upper
floors costing more than the lower floors. Southern Bell paid a rate of
$1.84 per square foot for floors six through seventeen, but only $1.38
for the space they leased on the second floor.18
The Johnston building was held by Anchor Mills until the mid-1970's.
At that time, Mr. David R. Johnston's health was declining, and the
decision was made to sell the property.19 It was transferred
in fee simple to the Johnston Building, Inc. in 1975. In doing so,
Johnston Building, Inc. assumed the mortgage that Anchor Mills had taken
with New York Life Insurance Company in 1974 for $2.1 million. In time,
Johnston Building, Inc. became unable to make the payments and
possession reverted to New York Life. New York Life sold the building in
1981 to Howard, Howard and Barnard, a California real estate company.
Howard, Howard and Barnard transferred the title to a North Carolina
Limited Partnership operating under the name of Johnston Building, Ltd.
in March. In April of 1981, a construction deed of trust was taken out
for 9.2 million dollars. Shortly thereafter, renovations on the building
1 Charlotte Observer, 6 July 1941, sec. 3, p. 4.
2 Charlotte City Directory, 1924.
3 Charlotte City Directory, 1925.
4 Charlotte Observer, 5 July 1941, sec. 1, p. 2.
5 Charlotte Observer, 23 October 1949, sec. l, p.
6 Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte, North Carolina
(Charlotte: Observer Printing House, Inc., 1927), n. p.
7 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 497, p. 404.
8 Charlotte News, 13 January 1924, p. 2-A.
9 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 497, p. 404;Charlotte
News, 30 December 1923, p. 11-A.
10 Charlotte News, 20 January 1924, p. A-10.
11 Henry F. Withey and Elsie Rathburn Withey,
Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased) (Los
Angeles; Hennesset and Ingalls, Inc., 1970), p. 575; Edward S. Perzel,
"National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form, "
Charlotte, 1979, item 8 p. 3.
12 Mecklenburg County Final Settlement Book 21, p. 167.
13 Charlotte Chamber, n. p.
14 Charlotte News, 13 January 1924, p. 2-A.
15 Charlotte News. 13 January 1924, p. 2-A.
l6 Charlotte City Directory, 1925, pp. 1329-31; Charlotte
City Directory, 1926, pp. 1086-87.
17 Charlotte City Directory, 1925, pp. 1329-31; 1926, pp.
18 Charlotte City Directory, 1945, pp. 132-33; Mecklenburg
County Deed Book 1231, p. 93.
19 Interview with Mrs. David R. Johnston, Charlotte, North
Carolina, 19 May 1991.
20 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 3775, p. 937; Deed Book
3698, p. 409; Deed Book 4407, p. lO9; Deed Book 4407, p. 116; Deed Book
4420, p. 298; Charlotte Observer, 15 September 1977, p. 6-B.
At fifteen stories, the Johnston Building was the tallest skyscraper
in Charlotte when it opened in 1924. Yet it wasn't tall enough. The
upper two floors were added in the late 1920's, making the building rise
seventeen stories above ground, plus one floor below street level. The
internal structure of the building is a steel frame. The limestone
facade and buff-colored brick walls are merely an exterior veneer--they
are supported by the frame and carry no load of their own.
All seventeen stories of the facade are sheathed with limestone
blocks. The same limestone is used for all the facade trim, with the
exception of the bronze window and entry details. The first two stories
are treated as one on the facade. There are three bays across at the
street level, and each bay is marked by a two-story round-arched
opening. The entry bay is crowned by a raised cartouche bearing a tree
The entry is in the center and features a recessed double doorway. A
circular motif with the initials J B (Johnston Building) in brass has
been set into the recess between the sidewalk and the door. The plate
glass doors (modern replacements) and windows are set in bronze trim.
Florid bronze pilasters surround the door and windows and terminate in
composite capitals. Above the door and windows, the bronze trim
continues with a Renaissance-style entablature, another set of
pilasters, and a crown molding. A fanlight above the door illuminates
the vestibule beyond. A second set of doors inside the vestibule are set
in brass, complete with a brass kickplate and triple bar handles. The
radiator grates in both the front and rear vestibules are original and
quite handsome. The grate was cast in a geometric pattern, with a floral
border running around the edges.
The windows on the street level facade have the same arched openings.
Tripartite plate glass windows (modern replacements) are found at both
the first and second floor levels. Separating the two levels is a bronze
frieze which is decorated with four recessed panels, each with a rosette
surrounded by egg-and-dart molding. A thin, florid cornice tops the
frieze. Above, the tripartite division of the lower windows is repeated
in the round-arched opening. Precise arch stones form a neat transition
between the openings and the flatter wall surfaces. The same
transitional effect is achieved at the corners of the body of the
building by shallow limestone quoins.
The body of the building received several different treatments, all
in limestone. A shallow, florid stringcourse separates the second and
third floors, and a deeper, denticular stringcourse runs above the third
floor. Floors four through eleven are identical and feature six windows
across, grouped by twos. Limestone quoins form a neat appearance at the
corners of the building. The twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth floors
are likewise identical to each other. The six windows are slightly wider
than on the lower floors, and are evenly spaced. They are separated by
fluted pilasters with composite capitals. An architrave with a dentilled
cornice completes this unit. The fifteenth floor was the top floor when
the building was originally built. It has six evenly spaced windows,
separated by raised panels and topped by a decorative cornice with bold
urns at the corners. Above that, the final two floors, added later, are
identical to the fifteenth, but are topped by a simpler architrave.
The side and rear exterior walls are all covered with an attractive
buff-colored face brick, and the window openings trimmed with limestone.
The south wall is seventeen bays deep, and the north wall has eighteen
bays. On the south wall, patterning in the brick suggests divisions
between every two bays from the fourth floor upwards. All windows
throughout the building are modern replacements.
The first floor interior is one of the richest spaces in Charlotte
surviving from the era. A central corridor with an arched, coffered
ceiling runs the length of the building. The ceiling itself is divided
into eight discreet units. Each unit has eight rectangular recesses in
length and seven across the arch of the ceiling. Each individual coffer
has egg-and-dart and bead-and-reel moldings and is separated from the
others by round bead molding. Evidence remains that light fixtures once
hung from the center of each of the eight sections of the ceiling.
Beneath the ceiling, light-colored marble columns correspond to the
divisions between the coffered units. Each column is supported on a
green marble base. The floor is paved with 12-inch square marble tiles
and surrounded by a double border.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the Johnston Building is the
massive carved marble
stairway. The stair is located off of the central corridor, and is
closer to the front (Tryon Street) entrance. It features bold turned
balusters and a molded
handrail. In place of a proper
newel, the stair terminates with an oversized scroll resting on a
square marble base. The marble stair, however, extends only from the
basement level to the second floor. Above that, the stairwell is
enclosed and unremarkable.
Four elevator cars serve the upper floors of the Johnston Building.
The original "high speed" cars are no longer extant, but the elevator
doors are original. Each door is solid brass and has four decorated
panels. Brass and glass plates over each door read "this car up" and are
original. The Johnston Building underwent extensive renovations in the
early 1980's, and the remainder of the interior has been altered.
Tall office buildings were made possible subsequent to the
development of three things: steel framing, fireproof construction, and
the elevator. Prior to the advent of the mechanical elevator, five or
six floors was considered to be the maximum height for an office
building. While the technology allowed for higher structures, getting up
to the top was a problem, as people were not apt to climb that many
stairs. The first buildings to pierce the five or six story height limit
were the Tribune Building (1873-75) and the Western Union Building
(1873-75), both in New York City. They stood nine and ten stories,
The elevator was invented in 1852 and demonstrated at the New York
World's Fair a year later in 1853. Suddenly, it was possible to move
people vertically with no trouble. The first tall office building
constructed with an elevator in place was the Equitable Life Assurance
Building (1868-70) in New York. Early elevators, however, ran on steam
power and the machinery was cumbersome, and therefore prohibitive. It
was not until W. van Siemen invented the electric elevator in 1880 that
office buildings began to soar.
Architectural historians disagree as to which building deserves the
designation of being the 'first' skyscraper. The Equitable was the first
to be designed with an elevator, but at five stories it rose only 130
feet. The nine-story Tribune Building stood twice as high, and the
Western Union Building was close behind at 230 feet. None should
dispute, however, that the Home Insurance Building (1883-85, designed by
William LeBaron Jenney) in Chicago fathered the skyscraper revolution.
It stood only ten stories tall, but was the first of its kind to use
true "skyscraper construction." 1 That is, the exterior
masonry 'skin' was entirely supported by the interior steel frame.
Building with a steel frame was such a superior method that it
quickly superseded load-bearing masonry construction. The last building
to be built entirely of masonry was the Monadnock Building (1889-91) in
Chicago, designed by Burnham and Root. In Charlotte, the first
steel-frame skyscraper was the
Independence Building, was erected in 1909 at the junction of Trade
and Tryon Streets.
It was not until the 1920's, however, that significant numbers of
tall office buildings were built in North Carolina. Once the boom began,
though, skyscrapers appeared on the cityscapes of Asheville, Greensboro
and, especially, Winston-Salem in addition to Charlotte. As the decade
began, there were only three tall buildings in North Carolina. The
Independence Building in Charlotte was the first, erected in 1909 and
rising twelve stories. The Wachovia Building in Winston-Salem was
constructed in 1911, with an additional story added six years later.
Also in Winston-Salem, the eight story O'Hanlon Building was built in
1915. Both buildings are still standing.
Four more skyscrapers were built in Winston-Salem during the 1920's.
The Hotel Robert E. Lee (twelve stories) went up in 1921, the Nissen
Building (eighteen stories) was constructed in 1926, and the Carolina
Hotel (eleven stories) was erected in 1928. Begun in 1927 and completed
in 1929, the R. J. Reynolds Building was the tallest in the state. At
twenty-two stories, it towered over the others.2 In western
in North Carolina, the thirteen story L. B. Jackson Building was built
in Asheville in 1923. In Greensboro, the mammoth Jefferson Standard
Building went up in 1923 and stood seventeen stories. It claimed the
honor of being the tallest skyscraper in North Carolina until the R. J.
Reynolds Building was completed in 1929.
In Charlotte, the Johnston Building was in good company when it
opened in 1924. It stood among the Independence Building, the Hotel
Charlotte and the Commercial National Bank, all of which stood twelve
stories. When it was completed, the Johnston Building was the tallest on
the Charlotte skyline, although the First National Bank was already
under construction. The First National Bank was completed in 1925 and at
twenty stories it superseded the Johnston Building as the tallest
building in town.
In 1927, the Chamber of Commerce reported that there was about
500,000 square feet of floor space in "first class" office buildings in
Charlotte. At 125,000 square feet, the Johnston Building accounted for
one quarter of that space. Only the First National Bank Building had
more, at 160,000 square feet. Other significant tall office buildings
included in the tally were the Wilder Building (52,000 square feet), the
Independence, Commercial National Bank, Professional, and Contractors
The Johnston Building stands as physical evidence of historical and
economic trends that marked the prosperous decade of the 1920's.
Although buildings in excess of fifteen stories high were built during
the decade, the Johnston Building was the tallest structure on the
Charlotte skyline when it was completed.
1 Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and
Twentieth Centuries. (Baltimore: Penguin, 1971), p. 338.
2 Gwynne Stephens Taylor, From Frontier to Factory: An
Architectural History of Forsyth County (Winston-Salem, 1981), p.
58, pp. 192-3.
3 Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte, North Carolina
(Charlotte: Observer Printing House, Inc., 1927), n.p.