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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 called 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.


Elizabeth College


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 Library.

The Richard C. Biberstein House


At the junction at the top of hill between Elizabeth and Hawthorne, turn left onto Hawthorne Lane.

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."


Belk Mansion


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.

Just across 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 designed 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.

At the 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 Harvard-trained 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!

Moore-Golden House

Continue on 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


Continue on 8th St. Turn left onto Clement and pause to view the first two houses on your left.

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 neighborhood street.

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


Continue on 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 right.

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

Dairy Queen


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.