Route II: South & East Charlotte
Elizabeth Ave. is an extension of
uptown's Trade St. Back in the 1890s it was a logical place for city
expansion. A month after he launched Dilworth, E.D. Latta helped to form a
group of investors to develop the area; he formed the Highland Park Company
which included a real estate developer, Walter S. Alexander, and a
businessman, Walter Brem, whose house we saw in Dilworth. The name of this
development company is significant, and it illustrates the connection
between Charlotte's real estate development and textile industry, for the
Highland Park Company was closely related to the
Highland Park cotton mill of North Charlotte.
Initially the venture experienced
the same slow start and consumer resistance that threatened
Dilworth. However, in 1897 Walter Alexander decided that the company
should donate a large block of land at the top of the hill to attract a
Lutheran women's college that was seeking a location. The college came to be
Elizabeth after the wife of its sponsor, and the scheme proved to be the
boost that the neighborhood needed. By 1903, Latta had extended the E. Trade
St. trolley line up the new boulevard, and many Charlotte business leaders
chose to live in the luxurious dwellings on "Elizabeth Hill" where they
could benefit from the genteel cultural pursuits of the college. Only a
handful of these houses survive today. Central Piedmont Community College
which located here in the 1960s in the buildings of the former Central High
School now dominates the avenue.
19. However, the
Richard C. Biberstein House at 1600 Elizabeth Ave. gives some idea of
the character of the old neighborhood. Notice how the style of this house is
similar to that of the first phase of building in Dilworth. Richard C.
Biberstein was an engineer and designer of industrial buildings, mainly
cotton mills. The house was built in 1905. His papers are in the UNCC
The Richard C. Biberstein House
junction at the top of hill between Elizabeth and Hawthorne, turn left onto
20. Presbyterian Hospital now occupies the site of
Elizabeth College. The college moved to Salem, Virginia, in 1915, and
two years later its buildings were adapted as a hospital. Presbyterian
Hospital moved here from its uptown location on W. Trade at Mint St. where
it had operated since 1903. The old college building served the hospital
until its demolition in 1980.
21. To the immediate left of the hospital on your
right is the
grand mansion built by William Henry Belk, the founder of Belk's
department stores. When he came to Charlotte to open a store in 1895, he was
already a successful businessman, having operated a store in Monroe with his
brother. An advertisement for the original Trade St. store gives us a flavor
of Charlotte at the turn of the century: "Catch the first train. Hitch up
your beast or come at a run if you expect to keep up with the crowds
flocking to Belk Brothers--Cheapest Store on Earth."
William Belk was not one to squander money. He slept in a
room over his shop and remained a bachelor until he was 52 years old, only
then moving to this mansion in Elizabeth to rear his family. An ardent
Presbyterian, he helped to finance the move of Presbyterian Hospital to the
site of Elizabeth College. He and his family originally lived in the old
president's house close by, but they had this mansion overlooking the city
constructed in 1924. The Belks chose C.C. Hook to design their
Neoclassical house which is executed in beige brick and stone.
5th St. notice the church on your right.
22. St. John's Baptist Church makes an impressive
sight as it stands on the corner of 5th and Hawthorne. Its architect, J.M.
McMichael, intended that impact. "A church building should not hide its
light under a bushel but rather should be built as a lamp set upon a hill
whose light cannot be hid." McMichael chose cream colored brick and
limestone as the materials for this "Roman
Ionic" design. When he built the church in 1925, McMichael had already
established his reputation as a church architect in Charlotte, having
First Baptist Church (now Spirit Square),
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church (now the Afro-American Cultural Center),
and the Tabernacle A.R.P. Church on Trade St. Note the six, two-story, Ionic
columns with characteristic spiral scroll molding on the capitals.
St. John's Baptist Church
23. Another department store owner, James L.
Staten, resided in the mansion on your right immediately beyond St. John's
Church. He had this elegant
Neoclassical house built in 1911. Today this gracious building acts as
the headquarters of International House, a non-profit organization which
assists internationals in adjusting to life in the United States and
facilitates interaction between Americans and internationals.
junction of Hawthorne Lane and 7th St., notice Independence Park.
24. The Elizabeth neighborhood continued to
expand. Subsequent development companies bought adjacent farms and commenced
building. To attract customers, several companies donated land which was
landscaped as Charlotte's first public park, and proudly christened in 1906
with the name
Independence Park. Only a small part of the park remains today, since
much of it was sacrificed to build Independence Blvd. in 1949, but in its
heyday it provided locals with tennis courts, a rose garden, and landscaped
lawns. The landscaping was the first Charlotte project of the
John Nolen. It was a lucky commission for Nolen, since it introduced him
to George Stephens who was to employ him seven years later to design and
landscape his Myers Park suburb.
Cross 7th St.
and turn right at the next junction onto 8th St. Stop to view the first
house on your left.
25. This was Harry Golden's last Charlotte
residence before his death in 1981. When he arrived in Charlotte in 1941, he
brought with him a strong sense of his New York Jewish immigrant background.
This was reflected in his witty and controversial bi-monthly newspaper, the
Carolina Israelite. During the late 1950s and 1960s he gained
national acclaim as one of the great liberal voices in favor of racial
integration. He is perhaps best remembered for his "Golden Vertical Plan Of
Integration." He sardonically pointed out that since the South's blacks and
whites managed quite well at grocery counters, bank teller windows, and
other places where they were not required to sit down together, then perhaps
seats should be removed from schools, buses, theaters, and restaurants to
assist integration in those places!
8th St. Cross Lamar and pull to the curb.
26. To your left is one of three buildings erected
in this area to house members of the Alexander family. The Alexanders moved
to Charlotte from Union County, North Carolina, after the Civil War, and
quickly made a name for themselves in the city. During the 1890s, they
became involved in real estate development, Walter S. Alexander controlling
the Highland Park Company which developed Elizabeth Avenue. In 1904, his
brother John and son Walter developed this area of Elizabeth, and John
bought a whole block of land here for family houses two years later. In
1913, he built his own house on the corner of Clement and 8th St.
This duplex was built by his sister Jennie in 1921. J.M. McMichael was
hired as the architect, and the popular new
Bungalow style was chosen. The Bungalow first gained popularity in
California during the 1890s, where its modest simplicity challenged the
ostentation and complexity of late Victorian dwellings. It was not until the
building boom of the 1910s and 1920s that the Bungalow became one of the
predominant styles in Charlotte. It was particularly well suited to smaller
middle class homes, but it could also be adapted to grand proportions.
Bungalows are distinguished by their prominent roof, with wide eaves
sweeping over a large porch supported by squat columns. They often have
dormer windows, shingled walls, and plain rustic decoration, such as stone
chimneys. The overall effect is intended to be functional, and unnecessary
decoration is avoided.
Jennie Alexander Duplex
8th St. Turn left onto Clement and pause to view the first two houses on
27. You will notice that Clement Ave. is unusually
wide in comparison with its neighbors. The reason is that it was originally
intended as a grand boulevard for a streetcar line from 7th St. to Central.
The line, however, was never built which has preserved Clement as a quiet
John Baxter Alexander built
his house on the corner in 1913 and his nephew Walter virtually copied
the design with the
house he built next door in 1915. Both houses display features of the
Bungalow style: wood shingle siding, rustic stone trim, large porches,
dormers and broad eaves with brackets, although the earlier house still
retains some classical influences.
The John Baxter Alexander House
Clement Ave. Pass 9th St. and turn right onto Bay St. Turn left at the
intersection with Pecan and cross the Seaboard Coastline Railway. Continue
on Pecan across Independence Blvd. At the T-junction with Central Ave., turn
28. Notice the old gas station facing you at this intersection.
When it was first erected by the Pure Oil Company in 1936 its homely cottage
style was intended to blend in with the neighborhood dwellings. This is
clearly not the case with the 1951 Dairy Queen across Pecan to the left.
Pure Oil Gas Station
Turn left onto the Plaza at
the traffic lights.
29. The commercial center in the vicinity of this
intersection flourished during the 1920s. It is interesting to note that the
main boulevards, with a streetcar line running down the center median, used
to unite neighborhoods, whereas today, in the age of the automobile, they
have become the divisions between neighborhoods. Thus, before Independence
Boulevard was built, Elizabeth residents would have considered this to be
their local shopping area, too. Among the many landmarks near this junction
is the first grocery store that W.T. Harris opened in 1936, the predecessor
of the Harris Teeter supermarket chain that we have today.