The Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company began in Atlanta in 1879 as The Atlanta Telephonic Exchange, and by the early 1900s it served the states of Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In the late 1920s Southern Bell converted its telephones to the dial system, and needed a new building in Charlotte to house the necessary switching equipment for the city. The Southern Bell headquarters in Atlanta had commissioned the local firm of Marye, Alger, and Vinour to design an extravagant Art Deco main office building there, and had the same architects draw up plans for smaller versions for regional centers including Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Salisbury, and Charlotte. The Southern Bell Building on 208 North Caldwell Street opened in 1929, and was distinguished by the extremely detailed carvings on the limestone spandrel panels above and below the windows. The designs are a blend of abstract curves and geometric patterns featuring low-relief sculptures including an Indian chief, tobacco plants, flamingos, and griffins.
The Southern Bell Building, circa 1930.
The Southern Bell Building has been constantly added to since it opened, with the last major addition being the large back section that faces Davidson Street in 1978. The original four-story building’s roof was removed, and another larger structure was built around it. Now referred to as the AT&T Building and positioned directly across the street from the Spectrum Center, it houses telecom equipment for BellSouth, AT&T, and a number of other companies that provide telephone service to the Charlotte area. The last workers left the building in the 1980s, and its windows are covered for security reasons as it is filled with wires, switches, and other sensitive equipment. Along with Hall House, formerly known as the Barringer Hotel on North Tryon Street, the Southern Bell Building is the only Art Deco structure remaining in uptown, and the four-story beige brick main façade and its carvings remain in excellent original condition today.
The Southern Bell Building, present day view.
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Information taken from:
Charlotte Then and Now, Brandon Lunsford, 2013.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass