THE MAYFAIR HOTEL:
The Mayfair Hotel, now Dunhill Hotel, was designed by Louis
Asbury, Sr. and opened in November, 1929 at the former site of Tryon
Street Methodist Church, where Mildred Morse McEwen worshipped as a
child. In 1929, there were no fewer than 15 hotels in Charlotte. The
largest were the Hotel Charlotte on West Trade Street and the Clayton
Hotel at Fifth and Church Streets. Although not the largest, the Mayfair
Hotel was noted for its elegance. Look at the top floor of the building,
and you will see the porches for the fancy penthouse suite where Dr. J.
P. Matheson, an owner of the Mayfair Hotel, lived. A newspaper reporter
who toured the hotel when it opened was impressed by what he saw. The
rooms were furnished in "living room style" with double or Murphy beds,
"luxurious" carpets and "fashionable" wallpapers. The lobby had an
inviting fireplace and was the only place in town where you could buy
Martha Washington candy.
By the early 1980's, the building had become the
James Lee Motor Inn, a flophouse hotel. None of the original interior of
the Mayfair Hotel remains. The building was completely gutted when it
was renovated as the Dunhill Hotel in 1983. It is again an elegant place
to stay. Does anybody even make Martha Washington candy anymore?
Cross Tryon Street,
stand in front of the Mayfair Hotel and look at the facade of the
Carolina Theater across Tryon Street.
The Carolina Theater opened on March 7, 1927, when Warren Ervin, who
managed the Carolina welcomed the large audience that came to see "A
Kiss In A Taxi" starring the "ever popular" Bebe Daniels. Lavish movie
houses were built all over the United States in the 1920's, and the
Carolina Theater in Charlotte was no exception. Architects for these
cinema palaces were free to borrow from various historical styles and to
employ ostentatious ornamentation, because their mandate was to provide
opera houses for the masses. "No kings or emperors have ever wandered
through more luxurious surroundings. In a sense, those theaters are a
social safety valve in that the public can partake of the same luxuries
as the rich, and use them to the same full extent," explained one
Publix Theaters, the owners of the Carolina Theater
in Charlotte, selected architectural styles which it deemed appropriate
for different regions of the country. New Yorker R. E. Hall and C. C.
Hook of Charlotte, the architects of the building, were told to
emphasize Mediterranean motifs. "All the best in art and architecture
from the various countries bordering on this sea of azure blue are
combined in a harmonious assemble," explained the Charlotte Observer.
The Carolina Theater underwent a major renovation in
1961, when it became the Carolinas home of Cinerama, a wide-screen
technology of that day. The interior was transformed into a "modern,
suburban" look. The final glory days for the Carolina occurred in the
mid-1960's, when the "Sound of Music" played to 398,201 people during
its run from March 1965 to October 1966. The Carolina Theater closed on
November 27, 1978, after showing "The Fist," starring Bruce Lee. Since
then, all but a small portion of the front facade of the grand movie
palace has been demolished. But if you look carefully you can still see
reminders of the Mediterranean.
Continue south on
Tryon Street until you reach the next cross street, which is Fifth
Street. Directly ahead is the building that originally served as the
home of the Ivey's Department Store.
19. IVEY'S DEPARTMENT STORE:
Joseph Benjamin Ivey, the handsome son of a Methodist
preacher, opened a small store room in rented space near the Square on
February 18, 1900. He belonged to a distinguished list of storekeepers
who came to Charlotte at the turn of the century to take advantage of
the 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 Mr. 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." Ovens Auditorium on East Independence Boulevard is named for
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
day. Can you imagine a merchant doing such a thing today? Hardly. Our
cultural values have undergone radical change since Ivey's day.
J. B. Ivey had a wide range of interests. He was an
avid traveler. He also devoted great amounts of time and energy to
growing flowers, especially tulips, dahlias, and gladiolas. Many people
remember that the restaurant in Ivey's Department Store was named the
Tulip Terrace. Ivey's home in Myers Park was surrounded by gorgeous
tulip beds. There was even a miniature Dutch windmill in the yard.
This elegant building 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. The store was renovated
and enlarged in 1939. On May 4, 1990, Ivey's was purchased by Dillard's,
another department store chain. The building has recently been converted
into luxury condominiums.
Continue south on
Tryon Street. You have returned to the Square where the walking tour
began. Continue straight across West Trade Street and stop at the
skyscraper next to Polk Park on your right. Polk Park is named for
Thomas Polk. Remember him?
20. FIRST NATIONAL BANK BUILDING:
The First National Bank Building was the tallest skyscraper in the
two Carolinas when it opened in 1926 on the Tryon Street edge of
Third Ward. Skyscrapers with banks in them have dominated the
Charlotte skyline ever since the early 1900's. The architect of this
imposing Neo Classical style edifice was the seemingly ubiquitous
Louis Asbury, Sr. Look up and you will see some wonderful examples
of the classical ornamentation that Asbury employed. High up on the
building are Buddhas, lions, and pharaohs. The magnificent archway over
the front entrance is decorated with beehives, owls, and other symbols
of thrift and industry. Go inside and look at the historical exhibit in
the display window in the elevator lobby. It will tell you all about the
First National Bank Building.
The president of First National Bank was H. M.
McAden. Like so many of Charlotte's New South business leaders,
McAden had made his money in the textile industry. That he went into
banking is no surprise, because the rise of Charlotte as a banking
center was tied directly to the emergence of Charlotte and its environs
as a major cotton mill region at the turn of the century. Indicative of
Charlotte's importance as a financial center was the establishment here
of a branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. Its initial location was on the
top floors of the First National Bank Building. Keep your eyes open for
bankers on South Tryon Street. They're not hard to spot. Look for
conservative business suits.
Continue south on
Tryon Street, cross Fourth Street, and stop at the skyscraper in the
middle of the block.
Skyscrapers are cultural totem poles. They dominate the landscape and
convey a sense of power and pride. That's one of the reasons that
Charlotte's business leaders like them so much. The Johnston Building is
named for Charles Worth Johnston. It was designed in the Neo
Classical style by New York City architect William Lee Stoddart and
opened in 1924. The lavish elevator lobby is worth a visit. The Johnston
Building is situated in the very heart of Charlotte's financial
district. Elegant homes once occupied these lots, but they have long
since given way to commercial development.
Charles Worth Johnston was born in 1861 in
neighboring Cabarrus County and entered the textile business soon after
graduating from Davidson College. He moved to Charlotte in 1892 to
become Secretary of the Highland Park Manufacturing Company. He became
president of the Highland Park mills in 1911 and went on to have a
controlling interest in several other mills, including the Johnston Mill
on North Davidson Street in Charlotte and the Anchor Mills in the North
Mecklenburg County town of Huntersville. The Charlotte Observer
described Johnston as a "Titan among textile industrialists" at the time
of his death in 1941. "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," the newspaper proclaimed. The Johnston Building now houses
the Charlotte headquarters of United Carolina Bank.
Continue south on
Tryon Street and cross Third Street. In the middle of the next block, at
316 South Tryon Street, is the Latta Arcade. Enter the building and walk
to the glass-roofed arcade in the rear.
This magnificent commercial arcade, designed by architect William
H. Peeps, opened in January, 1915 as the home of the Charlotte
Consolidated Construction Company, locally known as the Four C's.
The owner was Edward Dilworth Latta. Latta, a South Carolinian,
had come to Charlotte in 1876 to open a men's clothing store with his
brother. Later he went into the men's trouser manufacturing business.
His greatest fame came in 1890, when he and several other local
entrepreneurs established the Four C's.
The Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company
bought the local horse-drawn streetcar system and electrified it.
Trolley service began on May 20, 1891, and initially linked Charlotte
with Dilworth, the streetcar suburb that the Four C's was constructing
just to the south of the city. In 1910, Latta sold the streetcar system
to James B. Duke's Southern Power Company and decided to concentrate his
energies exclusively upon real estate development. Latta built the Latta
Arcade on South Tryon Street in hopes that it would stimulate
development in the area. Close your eyes and imagine the cigar-smoking
Latta descending the stairs from his second floor office. He was a
hard-nosed businessman. Listen to him speak. "I realize we have attained
that juncture when we must decide whether we will adopt the sluggish
inactivity of the provincial town or aspire with zealous hope to become
one of the independent cities of the New South." Those words speak
volumes about what Charlotte has been about for over a century. Watch
The Latta Arcade ranks among the most significant
early twentieth-century office buildings erected in Charlotte. Although
the main facade has been substantially remodeled, the remarkable
interior arcade survives largely intact, with parallel rows of shop
fronts and office suites beneath the skylit roof. The design continues
to reflect its original purpose, which was to accommodate a variety of
small businesses as well as provide natural light for the grading of
cotton, all within an architecturally sophisticated space.
Return to the Tryon
Street entrance to the Latta Arcade, turn right on Tryon Street and walk
to the intersection of Tryon Street and Second Street. Cross Tryon
Street and turn right again and proceed to the former Ratcliffe Flower
Building, which is in the middle of the block, at 431 South Tryon
23. RATCLIFFE FLOWER BUILDING:
You have now entered Second Ward, the last of Charlotte's
original four wards. All were established as voting districts in 1869.
Here along Tryon Street commercial buildings have again replaced what
was once a fashionable residential neighborhood.
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, he hired architect William H. Peeps to design the new
home for Ratcliffe Flowers. Of course, Ratcliffe was familiar with Mr.
Peeps's talents, because the same architect had designed the Latta
Arcade for Edward Dilworth Latta.
"Ratcliffe's Flowers Brighten The Hours" - original slogan
The Ratcliffe Flower Building is an almost whimsical
expression of Mediterranean motifs. To capture the mood of the
Mediterranean, Peeps used a variety of materials and forms in the design
of the front facade. Four stylized columns separate the second-story
openings from each other and the rest of the facade. The shafts of these
columns have a spiral groove cut into them; a Mediterranean motif. No
doubt the front bay window was used to display the wonderful flower
arrangements that Louis Ratcliffe could supply for seemingly every
occasion. In those days store windows were essential, because folks used
to walk along the sidewalks instead of meandering through
air-conditioned overstreet walkways. Ratcliffe Florists moved elsewhere
in 1983, but its sign remains because the building is a local historic
landmark. A restaurant now occupies the space. Go in and ask to sit at
the table in the window. You might even look like a flower.
Continue south on
Tryon Street, cross First Street, and stop in front of the church on the
24. ST. PETER'S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH:
St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church was established in 1851 mainly to
serve the Irish who were laboring in gold mines in and around Charlotte.
Two of the largest mines, the Rudisell and the St. Catherine's, were
close by. That's probably why St. Peter's located on what was then the
southern edge of town. The current church building, which was erected in
1878, is the only 19th century structure remaining on South Tryon
Street, except for the fanciful Victorian Eastlake style rectory next
door, which was completed in 1897. Notice the rectory's keyhole window.
The Roman Catholics of St. Peter's have contributed
greatly to the quality of life in Charlotte over the years. Charlotte's
Mercy Hospital, now located in the Elizabeth neighborhood,
originated with the Sisters of Mercy in 1906 in a frame building that
used to stand behind the church. More recently, in 1987, Father John
Haughey secured the services of artist Ben Long to fashion a
magnificent religious fresco on the front wall of the sanctuary. It's
worth a trip inside to see this wondrous work of art. The sanctuary is
open 10 AM-12 PM and 1-4 PM Monday through Saturday.
Continue south on
Tryon Street and turn left at Stonewall Street. Proceed for two blocks
on Stonewall Street (you will pass the Charlotte Convention Center) and
turn left onto South Brevard Street. Continue north on Brevard Street
for two blocks until you come to Third Street. Look at the brick office
building diagonally across the intersection.
MECKLENBURG INVESTMENT COMPANY BUILDING:
Until the early 1950's, Stonewall Street, Second Street, and Third
Street stopped at College Street, and a big railroad freight yard
separated the area along South Brevard St. from the fancy stores and
shops, like the Latta Arcade, that stood along South Tryon Street. That
meant that this neighborhood, which is part of Second Ward.
This block of South Brevard Street between Third
Street and Fourth Street became a sort of main street for Charlotte's
African American community at the turn of the century. The development
of this block was largely due to the efforts of two remarkable people.
One was Thad L. Tate (1865-1951), who operated an uptown barber
shop. Tate helped establish the Brevard Street branch of the public
library, which used to stand on the upper end of the block. The other
was Dr. J. T. Williams (1859-1924). A prominent and respected
educator, physician, businessman and public servant, he built an elegant
3-story house in this block. Unfortunately, it was torn down in the
Tate and Williams were among the leaders in
overseeing the construction of the Mecklenburg Investment Company
Building in 1922. The contractor was W. W. Smith, another enterprising
black man. The Mecklenburg Investment Company Building was the first
structure in Charlotte planned and executed by African Americans to
accommodate black businesses, professional offices, and civic and
Continue north on
Brevard Street and look at the church immediately next to the
Mecklenburg Investment Company Building.
26. GRACE A.M.E. ZION CHURCH:
Among the people responsible for the establishment of Grace A.M.E.
Zion Church in 1886 was W. C. Smith. A native of Fayetteville, N.C.,
Smith entered the printing trade and became the publisher of the
Charlotte Messenger, a black newspaper that first appeared in June,
1882. A resolute abolitionist, Smith wanted to withdraw from Clinton
Chapel, the city's oldest A.M.E. Zion congregation, and establish a new
church. "The building of a new church is essential," Smith insisted, "to
rid our youth of fogey ideas, sentiments, etc., and to bring them up to
proper moral sentiments and religious beliefs."
Grace A. M. E. Zion Church became a prestigious
institution in the African American community in the 1890's. A black
visitor to Charlotte in 1893 wrote, "To say you belong to Grace,'
signifies almost as much as it did at one time to say, I am a Roman
citizen.'" The cornerstone of Grace says it all. "Deo Religion Et
Temperantiae" -- "God, Religion, and Temperance."
This is the end of the
tour. To return to the Square, walk to the end of the block, turn left
on Fourth Street, go to Tryon Street, and turn right. You now know how
historic Uptown Charlotte is. Our tours will show you about the history
of communities and neighborhoods throughout Mecklenburg County.
If you would like to read more about the history of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, go to the Spangler-Robinson Room on the third
floor of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library at Sixth and North
Tryon Streets. The staff will be happy to help you.