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Southern Real Estate Building

102 S. Tryon St.

1913


By Lisa A. Stamper
July 26, 1983

The Southern Real Estate Building, located in the center of Charlotte's uptown business district, exhibits a wonderful Neo-Classical facade. In order to update the Southern Real Estate Company's image and to keep pace with their new neighbor, Garibaldi and Bruns jewelry store, the Charlotte architect Louis Asbury, Jr., was commissioned to design the facade in 1913. Although the first-story level of the facade has been replaced by two store-fronts, the upper levels are still unaltered and in excellent condition.

The building is a rectangular, three-story structure which shares party walls with adjacent buildings. The symmetrical facade is made of terra-cotta masonry. Also, the facade has a parapet roof line.

During the early twentieth-century, the use of the Neo-Classic Style was widespread, especially in the design of civic and commercial buildings. the Greek and Roman forms were used to make the building seem weighty, strong, durable, and permanent; an image which businesses such as savings and loans companies and banks wanted to convey. These types of businesses also wanted to appear to have a great deal of money; therefore, classical motifs were extensively used to enrich their buildings. The Southern Real Estate Company obviously believed that the classical image could best serve their needs.

When Asbury designed the white glazed terra-cotta facade, he probably had a Roman triumphal arch in mind. He made a tall, modified arch from the first two stories, complete with Ionic pilasters (instead of columns) and a straight entablature. The third-story contained a Roman attic. This attic is not defined as the modern type where one stores Grandma's antiques, but is the top section which is located above the principal entablature of a Roman triumphal arch. In other words, here the attic is referred to as an architectural component rather than an interior space.

A photograph in a advertisement in the 1918 Charlotte Directory shows the facade as Asbury designed it. The Ionic Order is faithfully employed with two-story pilasters appearing to support a full entablature. Since the photograph is not sharp, it is difficult to discern if the pilasters had any type of base. The pilasters are tapered as columns would have been. The capitals are complete with volutes (the most obvious characteristics of the Ionic Order), an ornate abacus, and egg-and-dart decoration. The entablature consists of a simple, unadorned architrave and frieze, plus a prominent cornice complete with dentils.

The Roman triumphal arch usually has a round-arched opening between its columns. To simulate the triumphal arch, between the pilasters a large, slightly arched opening was left in the terra-cotta. Dark wood was used here as infill to simulate the arched void in the triumphal arch.

The attic story has a rectangular opening in the terra-cotta which is the same width as the arched opening below. This opening contains dark wooden framed windows. Terra-cotta molding visually defines the top of the attic story. Resting on this molding an ornate cartouche encloses the date Asbury designed and completed the Neo-Classic facade. The parapet extends above the cartouche.

The interiors of the Southern Real Estate Building are quite unremarkable. The structure has had numerous tenants since the bank and real estate offices left, and current appearance likely reflects post-1913 remodelings. On all three floors, walls are smooth plaster and ceilings are fiberboard with small wooden molding strips where wall and ceiling join. A narrow wooden stair at the rear corner of the building links the three levels.

The Southern Real Estate facade is an excellent example of the Neo-Classic Style which was very popular in Charlotte's early commercial and civic buildings, as well as those of the nation. The facade exhibits an important ideology of early businessmen as well as interesting architectural ornamentation. The Southern Real Estate Building is proposed for demolition to make room for a park in the center of Charlotte as part of the city's Tryon Street Transit Mall Project. Efforts have been made by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission to have the facade dismantled and relocated.