Historic Retail Buildings In
Center City Charlotte
Charlotte began to become a significant regional retail
and wholesale mercantile center with the arrival of the first railroad in
October 1852. In anticipation of that event several local
businessmen purchased what was known as the “Davidson Corner” on the
southwestern corner of the intersection of Trade Street and Tryon Street,
locally known as the “Square,” and divided the land into five separate
store lots on which they erected a series of brick mercantile buildings,
probably Charlotte’s first, collectively called “Granite Range” or
William Treloar, an Englishman who moved to
Charlotte in the 1850s, purchased the structures soon after they were
built and named them “Treloar’s Hall.”
This 1875 drawing of
the Charlotte Square shows the scale of retail structures.
Granite Row are the buildings on the right just beyond the
The 1850s also witnessed the arrival in Charlotte of several enterprising
Jews who drew upon their experience in the mercantile trade and
established retail and wholesale outlets here. Among them were
Samuel Wittkowsky and Jacob
Rintels. In 1862, these two men joined
forces to establish Wittkowsky and
Rintels, a wholesale mercantile firm on South
Mint Street that would eventually become one of the leading businesses of
its type in the two Carolinas. By the 1870s,
Rintels and Wittkowsky were among the
wealthiest men in town; and in 1874 they expanded into the retail trade in
a building they leased on West Trade Street. The local newspaper
began publishing advertisements that described the "new and desirable
goods" that the firm received by railroad from New York City.
Rintels died at the age of 40 on June 20,
1876; but Wittkowsky, who lived until February
13, 1911, remained an important civic figure for many years.
In 1883, no doubt spurred by the increasing need for housing,
Wittkowsky and other local investors
established the Mechanics Perpetual Building and Loan Association, later
the Home Federal Savings and Loan Association.
Wittkowsky also headed the Masonic Temple
Association in Charlotte in the late
1860s and early 1870s and led the successful fundraising campaign to
establish a local lodge.
This is the "Osborne
Corner." Note the name "S. Wittkowsky" on the store building on West
Many small shopkeepers operated in Charlotte in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries; and they too took advantage of the substantial
growth that was occurring here due mainly to the emergence of Charlotte
and its environs as a major textile
industrial area in the Piedmont. As with William
Treloar, Jacob Rintels,
and Samuel Wittkowsky, many moved here from
the North. John W. Sheppard arrived in 1896 from New Jersey and
established a drugstore on the “Osborne Corner” or the northwestern corner
of the Square.
Annie Augusta “Gussie” Newcomb and her sister-law, Susie A. Newcomb, who
had come with their husbands to Charlotte from White Plains, N.Y. in 1879,
purchased Miss Gray's Millinery Store at 24 W. Trade St. Gussie and Susie
catered to the wealthier ladies of the community. Gussie would travel to
New York City to acquire the finest material and ribbons. The making of
the elaborate hats of that era, resplendent with ornamental trimming, was
done in the store by several milliners. To say that your hat came from
Newcomb's was “enough said.” The store was a resounding success.
Store is the oldest commercial standing in Center City Charlotte
Grocery stores occupied an important place in Charlotte’s retail trade.
The oldest commercial building surviving in Center City Charlotte is the
Crowell-Berryhill Store at 401 West Ninth
Street. A designated historic landmark, the store opened in 1897.
The owner of longest duration was Earnest Wiley
Berryhill (1865-1931) who was known as a gracious and considerate
man, who ran a charge and delivery store.
Berryhill sometimes gave free baskets of food to customers who
could not pay. Working with him in the store for many years was
Berryhill’s longtime black employee,
Amzie Roseman, who
was a familiar figure to those who traded at the store and lived in Fourth
There were also restaurants and saloons in Center City Charlotte in the
late 1800s and early 1900s. In April 1902,
J. Luther Snyder, a Virginia native, arrived from Atlanta, where he
had worked for the Coca-Cola Company for two years. He settled here to
establish the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in the Carolinas. "When I
came to Charlotte, the city had 17,000 people, eighteen saloons, two
breweries . . . and I had a terrible time selling soft drinks with that
kind of competition," Snyder remembered.
According to some residents, Charlotte was "awash in booze."
A.M.E. Zion Bishop Henry Lomax
insisted in 1881 that “Charlotte was haunted with more drunken men,
in proportion of the population, than he had ever seen and he had traveled
in every State of the Union except three.”
On Christmas Day 1880
groups of young men roamed through town like participants in a “carnival
of intemperance,” commented another observer.
Retailer David Ovens, who arrived in 1903, noted that the only decent
restaurant in town was “The Gem” on South Tryon Street. No
restaurants or saloons of that era
This ornate Belk
Facade was destroyed in the 1990s.
Charlotte’s retail business expanded significantly between 1890 and 1910
to keep pace with the burgeoning population of Charlotte and the
surrounding countryside. The population of the town increased from 18,091
in 1900 to 34,010 in 1910, partly due to annexation. William Henry
Belk (1862-1952) opened a dry goods store in Monroe, N.C. in 1888 and
persuaded his brother, Dr. John M. Belk, to join him in the business.
The Belk Brothers successful formula was to sell clearly marked, quality
merchandise at reasonable prices, for cash only, treat all customers with
respect irrespective of their financial status, and to institute a
“no-questions-asked” return policy. Belk Brothers established their
first store in Charlotte on September 25, 1895. On October 6, 1910,
opened a new three-story store on East Trade Street. It had an impressive,
highly ornamental front façade. Live music was provided by
Richardson's Orchestra for the gala occasion, which was held from eight to
eleven in the evening.
The building was demolished in the 1990s to make way for the present
headquarters of Bank of America.
The building with the
Belk sign on the side was originally the Efird's Department Store.
All of these building were demolished to make way for the Bank of
The second major dry goods store to open in the early 1900s in Center City
Charlotte was Efird’s Department Store.
Beginning operations as the “Racket Store” and soon thereafter as
the “Bee Hive” on the corner of East Trade Street and North College
Street, the store was bought by Anson County native Hugh
Efird and two of his brothers, Joseph and
Edmund, in 1907; and the name was changed to Efird’s
Department Store. Joseph Efird took
charge of the Charlotte store after Hugh died in 1909 and oversaw the
creation of a chain of stores that eventually included over 50 retail
establishments across the Carolinas and Virginia, all directed from
Plans were announced in 1922 plans for
constructing a brand new half million dollar Efird’s
Department Store on the much-sought-after 100 block of North Tryon Street.
The site gave Efird’s an advantage over its
main rival, Belk Department Stores. A bronze plaque was placed on the
front of the building in memory of Hugh Efird.
The new flagship store was designed by locally renowned architect Louis
Asbury and was built on the site of the old Charlotte Hotel next to City
Hall. It was a state of the art store, five stories high with over 100,000
square feet of floor space including a bargain basement and a spacious
dining room on the top floor. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the
building for its time, however, were the escalators which made
Efird’s the only store south of Philadelphia
which could boast of such a convenience, and gave this Charlotte
department store temporary bragging rights over even the renowned Macy’s
of New York. The building too was sacrificed in the 1990s so the present
headquarters of Bank of America could be erected.
J. B. Ivey
Store Building in the 1970s.
The third major department store that appeared in Center City Charlotte in
the early 1900s was Ivey’s. Joseph Benjamin Ivey, the son of a
Methodist preacher, opened a small store room in rented space near the
Square on February 18, 1900. He, like William Henry Belk and Hugh and
Joseph Efird, came to Charlotte at the turn of
the century to take advantage of the local booming cotton mill economy. Ivey's
first day's sales totaled $33.18. "We had to study carefully and push the
lines that the other merchants did not make a specialty," the enterprising
merchant explained many years later. "For instance, at one time brass
buttons were quite the rage. I was careful to keep in a supply all of the
time while the other merchants were not noticing and allowed their stock
to get low." Among Ivey's early employees was David Ovens, a Canadian
who joined J. B. Ivey & Company in 1904. "I would probably have been
satisfied with a moderate business that would make something over a
living," said Ivey, "but Mr. Ovens was ambitious to make J. B. Ivey &
Company a big store and the business grew rapidly under our combined
efforts." A devout Methodist, Ivey insisted that the curtains be drawn in
his store windows on Sundays, so that the pedestrians would not be tempted
to consider matters of this world on the Lord's
Happily, the Ivey’s Department Building survives. This elegant structure
at Fifth and North Tryon Streets was designed by architect William H.
Peeps and opened as the new home of J. B. Ivey & Company in 1924. A native
of London, England, Peeps came to Charlotte in 1905 from Grand Rapids,
Michigan, where he had been a furniture designer. Peeps lived here and
thrived as an architect until his death in 1950. Peeps would serve as
president of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of
Ivey’s was renovated and enlarged in 1939. On May 4, 1990, the company was
purchased by Dillard's, another department store chain. The Ivey’s
Department Store Building has since been
converted into condominiums.
William H. Peeps
Peeps was also the architect of the
Latta Arcade and the
Ratcliffe Florist Shop on South Tryon Street and the
Hovis Funeral Home on North Tryon Street – all
constructed in the first three decades of the twentieth century.
Opening in 1914 and inspired by the Grand Central Palace Exhibition
Building in London, the two-story
Latta Arcade housed the offices
of the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, the developers of
Dilworth, plus a range of other offices and retail outlets.
In 1917, Louis G. Ratcliffe, a native of
Henrico County, Virginia, opened a florist shop next to the
Latta Arcade. After military service during
World War I, he returned to Charlotte and was a civic leader in this
community for more than 50 years. He died in 1961. So successful was
Ratcliffe at supplying flowers for weddings,
funerals and other special occasions that he decided to erect his own
building in 1929. The Ratcliffe Florist
Shop, which has recently been moved a short distance and incorporated
into a large mixed use project, is an
almost whimsical expression of Mediterranean motifs.
Hovis Funeral Home
Another pre-World War Two commercial building designed by Peeps that
survives on Tryon Street is the Hovis Funeral
Erected in the 1920s, this eclectic Classical style
building served for many years as the site of the Z. A.
Hovis & Sons Funeral Home. As with
Peeps's other buildings in Center City
Charlotte, the Hovis Funeral Home draws upon
traditional patters of design, including arches and
quoining. Also, the building underscores the role of Tryon
St. as the principal upscale commercial street in Charlotte in the first
half of the twentieth century.
Peeps was not the only notable local architect
who fashioned commercial buildings in Center City Charlotte in the first
half of the twentieth century. Louis H. Asbury (1877-1975) was the son of
S. J. and Martha Moody Asbury of Charlotte. In addition to being one of
the first carriers of the Charlotte Observer, the young Asbury
assisted his father, who was a builder of houses in Charlotte in the
1890s. He subsequently matriculated at Trinity College, now Duke
University, and graduated from that institution in 1900. Having acquired
his professional training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Asbury returned to Charlotte and established his architectural practice in
1908. In the succeeding decades, Louis H. Asbury assumed a position
of prominence and leadership in the architectural profession. He was the
first North Carolina member of the American Institute of Architects and
played a leading role in organizing the North Carolina Chapter of the
Thies Automobile Sales and Service Building
Louis Asbury was responsible for two noteworthy commercial structures
that still stand on North Tryon Street. Montaldo’s,
a retail outlet for expensive women’s attire and accessories, opened in
the 1920s and was expanded in 1950s. Asbury designed the original or
northern part of the building; and his son, Louis Asbury, Jr., was the
architect for the southern half of the store.
Louis Asbury was the architect of the Oscar J. Thies
Automotive Sales and Service Building at 500 North Tryon Street. By
the 1920s, automobiles were becoming increasingly available for purchase
by the middle class; and businessmen such as Thies
sought to take advantage of this expanding market. The
Thies Building was completed in 1922 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.
This Cottage Style
service station stood on North Graham Street until 2004. It was
demolished as part of a road improvement project.
The demands of the automobile increasingly shaped the built environment of
Center City Charlotte as the twentieth century progressed.
Additional automotive dealerships appeared, including the Thomas Cadillac
Company and the Frye Chevrolet Company (1934)
at 416 West Fifth Street.
Service stations also came into existence. The only pre-World War
Two example that survives in Center City Charlotte is the former Standard
Oil Company Service Station at 1010 North Tryon Street.
Even more profoundly, the automobile forced retailers to provide ample
parking. The most graphic example of the transformation that began
to occur in Uptown retailing in the decade immediately following World War
Two was the decision of Sears Roebuck and
Company to erect a complex of buildings and a large parking lot on North
Tryon Street and North College Street. On May 5, 1949, Mayor Herbert
H. Baxter joined civic leaders, including Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
president J. Norman Pease, and Sears
officials at opening day, ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a large Sears
Roebuck and Co. retail store and parking lot on North Tryon St.
Sears Store on S. Tryon Street had no parking lot and was designed for
Sears Store on N. Tryon Street followed an essential suburban model.
South Tryon Street was also dramatically impacted by the advent of the
automobile. Charlotte architect J. Norman Pease, Jr. , who had been
educated in the Modernist tradition at North Carolina State and Auburn
University, designed an award-winning building for the Home Finance
Company in 1958. The
structure exhibits many of the best characteristics of Modernism. Devoid
of applied ornamentation and exploiting contemporary materials, the Home
Finance Building has expansive windows to allow large amounts of light to
enter the second floor offices. The stairway and hallway are on the
outside of the building, thereby allowing a more efficient use of interior
space. Originally, the lower floor was used for customer parking. The
concept was that customers could park on the lower level rather than
needing a large area paved outside the building. Unfortunately, the
bottom floor has since been enclosed for additional office space and a
parking lot has been built, thereby depriving the Home Finance Company
Building of some of its integrity.26
Home Finance Company
Automobiles were to park beneath the building
In summary, the retail stores of
Center City Charlotte have continuously evolved in response to changes in
the marketplace. New forms of transportation have been especially
significant in this regard. Before 1852 customers had to walk or
ride in buggies or wagons to get from one place to another. The
coming of the railroad in 1852, horse-drawn streetcars in 1888, and the
opening of electric streetcar or trolley service in 1891, gradually
transformed Charlotte's built environment and gradually gave rise to the
appearance of suburbs. The arrival of the automobile in the first
decade of the twentieth century and the enormous expansion of their
numbers following World War One gave even greater momentum to this
process. Although totally understandable, these powerful inducements for
change have meant that very few retail buildings endure in Center City
Charlotte. Indeed, the Center City is now entering a new era as more
residential units are being built, thereby giving rise to more pedestrian
traffic. In some sense history does repeat itself.
This 1955 photograph
at the rear of the Johnston Building demonstrates how the automobile
was transforming the built environment of Center City Charlotte.
Dr. William H. Huffman, “Survey and Research Report on the Garibaldi and
June 5, 1985.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Survey and Research Report on the William
Treloar House,” July 3, 1984.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Survey and Research Report on the
McManaway House,” June 1, 1977. Jacob
Rintels House stood on West Trade St. but
was moved to Queens Road in Myers Park in 1916 by its new owner, Dr.
Charles McManaway. The house still
stands at 1700 Queens Road.
Dr. Richard L. Mattson, “Survey and Research Report on the Home Federal
Savings and Loan Buildng,” November 25,
Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Jack O.
Boyte, “Survey and Research Report on the Masonic Temple,”
Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Nora M. Black, “Survey and Research Report on the
John W. Sheppard House,” January 29, 1992. The John W. Sheppard
House still stands at 601 North Poplar Street.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Survey and Research Report on
the Berryhill House,”
n.d. Gussie Newcomb’s House still stands at
324 West Ninth Street.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Survey and Research Report on the Crowell-Berryhill
Store,” July 7, 1982.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Survey and Research Report on the Belk Façade,”
April 3, 1985.
Christina A. Wright, “Survey and Research Report on the Withers
Efird House,” June 30, 2000.
Frances P. Alexander and Dr. Richard L. Mattson, “Survey and Research
Report on the Latta Arcade,” July 20, 1994.
Hereinafter cited as Latta
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Route VII. Uptown Walking
Tour Part 2” (landmarkscommission.org), n.d.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Route VII. Uptown Walking
Tour Part 2” (landmarkscommission.org), n.d.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Stewart Gray, “Survey of Historic Buildings in
Center City Charlotte,” November 2004.
Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Survey and Research Report on the Advent Christian
Church,” November 2, 1987.
Ibid. Mecklenburg Iron Works
Drawings, 1945-1968 (UNCC Manuscript Collection 190 in the J. Murray
Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Nora M. Black, “Survey and Research Report on the
Oscar J. Thies Automotive Sales and Service
Building,” July 24, 1992.