May is Historic Preservation Month and that means that this month we celebrate history through historic places. What better way to do this to than to dive into the background of historic Charlotte buildings that have survived through the decades!
Let’s talk about the Gateway and Century Buildings, located at 402 W Trade Street (which are connected to each other).
The Century Building, pictured January 22, 2021. We love the original green terracotta tile on this building, which was added to distinguish it from its neighbor to the right, the Gateway Building. Photo by the author.
The growth in Charlotte in the 1920s was reflective of the expanding business district downtown (today Uptown). Prior to that, the business district only covered a couple blocks from Trade and Tryon, but after, it began to grow in all directions. Real estate developer John H. Cutter (1878-1958) decided to build a retail and office building in response to this growth. He enlisted prominent architect Charles Christian Hook, whose work includes the old Charlotte City Hall, the Duke Mansion, the Belk Mansion, and Philips Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The Gateway Building was completed in 1925. Cutter thought there was enough demand for a second building beside the first, which would become The Century Building. Cutter enlisted Hook again to design the second building, and to set it apart from the first, he put green terra-cotta face tile on the facade.
Over the years, the Gateway Building contained a bookstore, a grocery store, offices for small businesses, a piano store and more. The Century Building’s notable tenants were the Victory Barber Shop, King’s Business College and the Union Bus Terminal, which meant these buildings were many visitors’s first impression of the city.
What makes these buildings significant is the fact that they are the last retail business buildings on West Trade Street that were a part of Center City in the first half of the twentieth century. This also makes them some of the oldest in present-day Uptown.
The buildings became vacant in the late 1970s and early 1980s but were able to avoid demolition (a fate bestowed upon dozens of other historic Charlotte structures). The last news on the property was that a Toronto real estate investment group purchased it in 2014, saying they planned to develop the site while preserving the building. As you can see from the picture I took last year, it doesn’t seem like much has been done in the interim. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the buildings get a new life soon!
Have a great weekend,
To read our initial piece on these historic buildings, check out Fact Friday 255.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission Report, Gateway and Century Buildings, March 28, 1990
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin