OSCAR J. THIES
AUTOMOBILE SALES AND SERVICE BUILDING
This report was written on July 24, 1992
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building is located at 500 North
Tryon Street, Charlotte, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the present owner of the
property: The owner of the property is:
Morehead Properties, Inc.
1043 East Morehead Street, Suite 300
Charlotte, North Carolina 28203
Telephone: (704) 342-1352
Tax Parcel Numbers: 080-033-01 and 080-033-02
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 maps which depict the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent
deed to Tax Parcel Numbers 080-033-01 and 080-033-02 is listed in
Mecklenburg County Deed Book 6321 at page 633.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains
a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Ms. Paula M. Stathakis.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains a brief architectural description of the property prepared by Ms.
Nora M. Black.
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 Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building does possess
special significance in terms of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The
Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations:
1) the property occupied by the Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and
Service Building has been in continual use since 1865 and was occupied by
a dwelling until 1920;
2) Oscar J. Thies held a degree in mining engineering and spent fifteen
years in that field before opening his own Charlotte real estate company,
the Carolina Realty Company;
3) Oscar J. Thies organized the Thies-Smith Realty Company in 1912 and the
Thies Realty and Mortgage Company in 1936;
4) the Thies-Smith Realty Company built many homes in Dilworth, Myers Park
5) three generations of the Thies family have administrated the Thies
Realty and Mortgage Company;
6) the Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building, built in
1921, was designed by Louis Asbury, Sr., Charlotte's first
7) the Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building housed several
automobile dealerships until 1930;
8) the Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building has many
exterior appointments, such as the terra cotta embedded in the pilasters
and the decorative front roof of tile, intact and in very good condition;
9) the Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building is
architecturally significant as one of the last examples of the 1920's
commercial style building remaining on North Tryon Street in Charlotte.
b. Integrity of design, setting workmanship, materials feeling, and
/ or association: The Commission contends that the architectural
description by Ms. Nora M. Black included in this report demonstrates that
the Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building meets this
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 appraised value of the
improvements, the current appraised value of the land included in the Tax
Parcels, and the total appraised value of the properties are given below.
The properties are zoned UMUD.
Tax Parcel Number: 080-033-01
Improvements = $96,120
Land = $430,680
Total Appraised Value = $526,800
Tax Parcel Number: 080-033-02
Improvements = None
Land = $57,600
Total Appraised Value = $57,600
Date of Preparation of this Report: July 24, 1992
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
in conjunction with
Ms. Nora M. Black
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
The Law Building, Suite 100, 730 East Trade Street
P. O. Box 35434
Charlotte, North Carolina
Telephone: (704) 376-9115
Paula M. Stathakis
The property at 500 North Tryon has been in continual use since 1865. A
deed from that year shows that James McLaughlin purchased this lot, which
was at the time part of an entirely residential block.1 Not much
is known about James McLaughlin, except that he was an Irish immigrant who
was in the hardware business.2
In 1874, McLaughlin sold his property fronting Tryon Street to Martha
Rankin.3 Martha was married to James B. Rankin, a cotton and
commission merchant.4 The Rankin family lived at 500 North Tryon
until 1903, when they sold the property to George Fitzsimmons.5
In 1903, George Fitzsimmons owned Fitzsimmons Drug Company at 26 South
Tryon.6 It is doubtful that the Fitzsimmons family ever lived at
the North Tryon property. It is more likely that Fitzsimmons used this as a
rental property. City Directories show that George and Marcia Fitzsimmons
resided at 329 North Tryon and D.S. Yates lived at 500 North Tryon from
1903-1905. In 1905, Fitzsimmons sold the property to Joel A. Yarbrough, of
Joel Yarbrough made his living as a purveyor of "junk, coal and hides" in
the firm of Yarbrough and Bellinger, located at 513 West Third Street.8
He and his wife Josephine were the last owners to use this property as their
personal residence. According to the Charlotte City Directories, this
property was occupied by a dwelling until 1920. The last residents were
Frederick and Annie Conrad. Frederick Conrad was a real estate agent and did
not own the property.9
Yarbrough sold the property in 1920 to J.S. Rust.10 Rust
enjoyed a diverse career in the 1920s; he sold real estate with the E.C.
Griffith Company, and later acquired his own automobile dealership, the Rust
Motor Company, which sold Studebakers.11 Within eight months of
purchase, Rust sold 500 North Tryon to Oscar Julius Thies.12
It was under the ownership of Thies that the commercial structure that
currently occupies the lot was built. The transition of this space from
residential to commercial is significant because it illustrates the general
trend of change in the spatial arrangement of Charlotte's city center in the
early Twentieth Century. These changes were the result of the work of large
forces, such as technological innovation and economic expansion.
Historian Thomas Hanchett, in his local study
Charlotte and Its Neighborhoods: The Growth of a New South City, 1850-1930,
describes these changes in three phases. The first phase, which encompasses
the period c. 1753-1880, Hanchett calls the "walking city". Prior to
mechanized personal or public transportation, residential areas were
clustered around the workshops and retail houses in the center of town.
During this period, it was common for the finest homes to be situated as
close to the city center as possible. One's status was elevated by the
shortest walk to one's office. The middle and lower classes lived out at the
city fringe where the in-town commute was more difficult.
By the 1880s and 1890s, this arrangement began to change. The
implementation of public transportation in all major and in most minor
American cities and towns-including Charlotte-made it more attractive for
the upper class to live away from the city center in larger houses with
spacious grounds. In Charlotte, the development of streetcar suburbs was
tremendously popular and lucrative. During this period, the well-to-do and
the less fortunate changed places: the upper class moved to
Fourth Ward, attracted by the green grass of the suburbs and unconcerned
about a nickel fare on the
The less fortunate moved closer in to town where the large homes left
behind were frequently made into rental properties and carved into
multi-family dwellings. As it became less important for the upper class to
reside downtown, the city center began its fundamental change to an area
devoted almost exclusively to business, finance, and commerce.
Charlotte changed most dramatically in the 1920s and 1930s due to the
advent of the automobile. Automakers spared no effort to make their products
available to upper and middle America. A car was a status symbol that could
be bought on "time" if necessary, and many Americans were seduced by the
advertisements that claimed a car was not only a necessity of convenience,
but an object that would bestow prestige, family harmony, and a happy
In Charlotte, the automobile quickly displaced the trolley and the
long-term result of this displacement entailed more than a preference of
mode of transportation. Owning a car meant that living farther from the city
center was not only easier, but necessary as owning a car frequently
required accessories, such as garages, and driveways. As Charlotte became
more suburban, and as trolley crossroads saw a decline in commercial
activity, banks and shops branched into the less expensive suburban areas.13
It is not surprising that 500 North Tryon and the surrounding area
changed from a residential to a commercial district when it did. A 1929
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Charlotte shows the 500 block of North Tryon
already in mixed use: some houses, several apartment buildings, a funeral
home, and the automobile showroom at 500 North Tryon. The showroom was built
by Oscar J. Thies in 1921.
Oscar J. Thies (1870-1943) was one of four sons of Carl Adolf and
Mathilde Thies. Carl Adolf made his fortune as a mining engineer, and had
retired to Charlotte in 1904. Oscar Thies followed in his father's
footsteps; he received a degree in mining engineering from Rose Polytechnic
Institute at Terre Haute, Indiana, and spent fifteen years as a mining
engineer in the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama. In 1906, he abandoned his
technical career, and returned to Charlotte to form his own real estate
company, the Carolina Realty Company. In 1912, he organized the Thies-Smith
Realty Company, and in 1936, the Thies Realty and Mortgage Company.14
Oscar J. Thies was involved in real estate for the remainder of his life.
The Thies-Smith Realty Company built many homes in Dilworth, Myers Park, and
Elizabeth, as well as along Morehead Street, Selwyn Avenue, and Sharon Road.
The Thies Realty and Mortgage Company has been administered by three
generations of the family. Oscar J. Thies also diversified by organizing
other businesses and investing in commercial property.15 The lot
at 500 North Tryon was one of Thies' investments.
According to a building permit, Oscar J. Thies commissioned architect
Louis Asbury to design an "automobile sales building" in 1921. The builder
of this edifice was Thies-Smith Realty Company, and the estimated cost of
construction was $4000.00.16 By 1922, the building was completed
and was occupied by the Roamer (automobile) Sales Agency. Hipp Chevrolet
rented the building in 1923, and in 1925, Carolina Oldsmobile occupied the
building and remained there through 1930.17
In the 1930s, the building was occupied by Tillman's Groceteria Number
Two. Tillman's, owned by Claude A. Tillman, was one of several small grocery
stores in Charlotte, and the only "groceteria", perhaps meant to imply that
it was more modern than the average market. In 1939, Dixie Home Stores moved
into the building.18
In 1940, Oscar J. Thies sold the parcel at 500 North Tryon to Robert H.
and Madeline Moeller. Through the sale of this property, Thies was able to
pay the outstanding balance on a Deed of Trust from 1924. Thies died three
Robert Moeller, vice-president of Chadbourn Hosiery Mills, Larkwood
Hosiery Mills, and Will de Laine Hosiery Mills, owned the property from 1940
to 1986, and again for approximately one year in 1990.20 During
the years Moeller owned the property, the building was occupied by E.I.
deNemours and Company, which sold DuPont paint, the Gold Stamps Premium
Company, and the Jack Call Piano Company.21
1 Deed 6-52, December 9, 1865. Mecklenburg County Court House.
McLaughlin purchased two lots.
2 Manuscript Census for Mecklenburg County, 1880.
3 Deed 10-53, March 2, 1874. Mecklenburg County Court House.
Martha Rankin purchased lot 341 in Square 50 of First Ward for $63300.00
4 Charlotte City Directory 1875-1876.
5 Deed 179-584, September 15, 1903. Mecklenburg County Court
House. Fitzsimmons paid $3800.00 for the lot and house.
6 Charlotte City Directory, 1903. By 1905, Fitzsimmons
abandoned the pharmacy business and became an insurance salesman for Modern
Puritans, a fraternal insurance company. Charlotte City Directory,
7 Deed 198-394, February 20, 1905. Mecklenburg County Court
8 Charlotte City Directory 1904-1905.
9 Charlotte City Directory 1920.
10 Deed 419-378, March 18, 1920. Mecklenburg County Court
11 Charlotte City Directories 1920-1924.
12 Deed 429-692, November 1, 1920. Mecklenburg County Court
13 Information for the proceeding paragraphs was taken from
Thomas Hanchett, Charlotte and Its Neighborhoods. The Growth of a New South
City, 1850-1930. Unpublished manuscript, property of the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. Hanchett's study is
purely local in outlook. For more extensive discussions concerning the
effect of economic change on the residential, commercial, and manufacturing
arrangement of urban centers, see David Ward, Cities and Immigrants.
Geography of Chance in Nineteenth Century America, (New York: Oxford
University Press), 1971, and David Goldfield and Blaine Brownell, Urban
America: From Downtown to No Town, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin), 1979.
14 Biographical information about Oscar J. Thies taken from
Survey and Research Report, "The Thies House". Historical Sketch by Barbara
M. Mull, December 1985. Property of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic
Landmarks Commission. Oscar J. Thies married Virginia Juanita "Nettie"
McNinch (1868-1912) in 1895. They had two children: Oscar J. Thies, Jr., and
Frank Ramsay Thies. Oscar J. Thies Sr. remarried in 1920 to Blanche Austin.
Thies had two children from this second marriage: Austin Cole Thies and
Blanche Hegmann Thies.
16 Building Permit #3052. January 7, 1921.
17 See Charlotte City Directories 1921-1922, 1923-1924, 1925,
1926, 1929, 1930.
18 See Charlotte City Directories for 1934 through 1939.
19 Deed 1005-264, April 1, 1940. Mecklenburg County Court
House This deed transfers the property from Thies to Moeller. Deed of Trust
537-275, September 20, 1924, O.J. and Blanche Thies owed the Metropolitan
Life Insurance Company 520,000.00. Oscar J. Thies died on December 27, 1943;
Charlotte Observer, "Oscar J. Thies, Local Realtor, Dies At Home",
December 28, 1943.
20 See Charlotte City Directories 1945-1946, 1950. In 1986,
Moeller sold the property to Charles H. Conner Jr.; Deed 5242-13, June 6,
1986. Mecklenburg County Court House. Conner sold the property back to
Moeller in 1990; Deed 6285-950, June 5, 1990. Mecklenburg County Court
House. The property is currently owned by Morehead Properties who acquired
the lot in 1990; Deed 6321-663, July 27, 1990. Mecklenburg County Court
House. This is the current deed for the property which is zoned UMUD.
21Charlotte City Directories 1942 through 1986.
Nora M. Black
The Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building is located on
the south side of North Tryon Street at its intersection with East Eighth
Street. The front or north facade of the building faces North Tryon Street;
the rear or south facade faces a parking lot. The building, containing 6,716
square feet, is located on a rectangular-shaped lot owned by Morehead
Properties, Incorporated, and houses the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Urban League.
Sidewalks along the north side and the west side of the building carry
pedestrian traffic on North Tryon Street and East Eighth Street,
The Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building was designed by
Louis Asbury, Sr., Charlotte's first professionally-trained architect.
Asbury, who lived from 1877 to 1975, practiced architecture in Charlotte for
nearly fifty years. The building is a high style interpretation of a
commercial building that replaced the livery stable. The back and sides of
the building are utilitarian in their design. The street facade, however, is
an engaging mix. The tiled roof, with its small brackets, lends an Italian
Renaissance air. The cast concrete bands and geometric motifs on the corners
bring a touch, albeit restrained, of the Modernistic,
Art Deco style to the building. The west side of the building, seen from
East Eighth Street, has more ornament than the east side. The ground plan is
a deep linear plan with a basement entered at the rear of the building. The
building presents a symmetrical, two-story, three bay elevation to North
The North Tryon Street facade is constructed of creamy golden brick laid
running bond. A green tiled roof, with gray metal cornice and brackets,
projects from the face of the building. The front corners have pilasters
with vertical projections above the roof line to give a vertical emphasis to
the street facade. Each corner projection has a concrete coping and two
horizontal concrete bands decorated with a stylized shield motif. Two-story
ribs (each rib only one tile wide) of green terra cotta tiles give
additional vertical emphasis to the building. Soldier courses of brick
emphasize the terra cotta tiles and the tops of the windows.
The front elevation is three units wide. The widest units are the two
bays of windows on either side of the recessed front door. The wide, double
doors form the center bay. Brick pilasters with concrete bases, concrete
capitals and the previously mentioned terra cotta ribs define the entry.
Marble bulkheads set on concrete bases support the storefront windows. The
two large windows on the first floor storefront are divided into three
vertical panes of glass. The second floor windows of each side bay are
divided into six vertical panes of glass. The window of the second floor
center bay is divided into two vertical panes of glass. The storefront has
an interesting rhythm set up by the progression from the larger first floor
panes of glass, to the narrower second floor panes of glass, and finally to
the bricks set in soldier course above the windows. That rhythm, combined
with the vertical corner emphasis, gives the building a sense of greater
The north end of the East Eighth Street facade is dressed with the same
gold brick used for the front facade. Only the first floor has a large
window in this section. It consists of two vertical panes of glass supported
by a gray bulkhead. This section of the facade is decorated with concrete
banding and terra cotta tiles to match the North Tryon Street facade. The
majority of the East Eighth Street facade, however, is more utilitarian in
nature. The red brick is laid in
Flemish bond with Dutch corners. A soldier course of brick defines the
first floor level; a second soldier course defines the second floor
roofline. The East Eighth Street parapet, topped with a concrete coping,
steps down in four sections from the front to back. A square chimney at the
second parapet step is missing part of its concrete coping. The East Eighth
Street facade had an entry for automobiles (shown in the copy of the 1926
newspaper ad on page 8). That entry has been replaced by a window with the
balance of the opening infilled with brick. Both the first and second floors
have six rectangular windows. Each window consists of a fixed sash set on a
concrete sill with a soldier course of brick serving as a lintel.
The east side of the building adjoins the parking lot for the tenants.
The decorative gold brick and terra cotta is only used to form a pilaster at
the northern end of the east facade. The majority of the east facade is a
strictly utilitarian wall of various colors of red-brown brick laid in
common bond with seventh course headers. There is a modern door, with
red canopy and brick staircase, located at the approximate midpoint of the
building. Both the first and second floors have three windows near the south
end of the wall. Each window consists of a fixed sash set on a brick header
sill with a soldier course of brick serving as a lintel. A soldier course
defines the second floor roofline. The east parapet, topped with a red
glazed tile coping, steps down in three sections from the front to back. A
square chimney on the third parapet section has a single corbel band. One
section of the parapet rises almost a story above the rest. Near the door
mentioned above, it shields the housing for an elevator.
The south, or back, facade of the building is similar to the east facade.
All utilities are housed on the south facade. Differences in the color of
the brick indicate that some door and window openings have been closed over
the years. The windows on the back facade do have concrete sills. A double
door to the basement is located on the east end of the back wall; a single
door is located on the west end. There is only one window at the first floor
level. The second floor has three windows. A soldier course defines the
second floor roofline. A new white aluminum gutter drains roof runoff into
It should be noted that the original windows, both the sash and glass, on
both sides and the back of the building have been replaced. Each window has
a metal sash with a single rectangular pane of thermal glass. The
substitution was for security and energy efficiency.
The Oscar J. Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building provides a last
vestige of the original commercial development of North Tryon Street. It is
vital to an understanding of Charlotte's development because of its
connection with the automobile. The finishes and decorative motifs of the
building are well-contrived and carefully executed architectural details.
The admirable attention to detail is found in other Asbury designs. This
handsome building, now in use everyday, could become a catalyst for
development along the important North Tryon Street corridor.