This week's Fact Friday comes to you from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
A month after he launched Dilworth, E.D. Latta helped to form a group of investors to develop the oldest part of Elizabeth. Latta formed the Highland Park Company which included a real estate developer, Walter S. Alexander, and a businessman, Walter Brem. 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 woman'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 survives today. Central Piedmont Community College which located here in the 1960's in the buildings of the former Central High School now dominates the avenue.
John Paul Lucas House. (1601 East Seventh St.)
John Paul Lucas, managing editor for the Charlotte Evening Chronicle, purchased this lot and house in Elizabeth in 1913 for $8,500. Later he became the publicity manager for the Southern Public Utilities Company, which operated Charlotte's streetcar system. His wife, Alice Craft Lucas, was a Wilmington native and graduate of Trinity College, now Duke University. The house is built in the Bungalow sub-set of the Craftsman style, meaning that it was part of the first wave of modernism in American architecture that broke with the period styles that had dominated the late 1800's. The smaller houses of the early 20th century were part of an architectural response to the home economics movement. Women of the American middle class wanted to revamp their homes to allow more time for club and civic duties as well as for jobs in offices and department stores. Fewer families employed live-in servants or domestic help; cornices and niches that collected dust and germs were rejected as too time consuming. Dining habits became more relaxed with families eating simpler meals with fewer courses as slim figures became the fashion of the day. In short, the American home economics movement changed the style and size of the American home.
Moore-Golden House. (1701 East Eighth Street)
Designed in the English Cottage subset of the Craftsman style, this house was built in 1910 for Dr. Baxter Moore, whose family only lived here for one year. It then became the home of Norman A. Cocke, an official of Piedmont Traction Company, later part of Duke Power Company. Lake Norman is named for him. 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 1950's and 1960's he gained national acclaim as one of the great liberal voices in favor of racial integration.
John Baxter Alexander House. (509 Clement Avenue)
John Baxter Alexander purchased an entire block in Elizabeth in 1906 and erected this grand Bungalow style home in 1913. He was a vice-president of the Highland Park Development Company, the developers of this portion of Elizabeth. In recent years the house has been converted to condominiums. A particularly interesting design review issue for the Historic Landmarks Commission arose concerning this house. There was a proposal to build a house in the sideyard.
Happily, the owners of the house and their neighbors worked out an arrangement whereby the new house was placed behind the John Baxter Alexander House instead. 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.
Walter L. Alexander House. (523 Clement Avenue)
Walter L. Alexander built this grand home next to his uncle's abode in 1915. Like its neighbor, it is an elegant variation of the Bungalow style, with a wide, wraparound front porch rounded at one end to form a pavilion seating area. The front door sidelights and transom are of heavy beveled glass placed in intricate variations of the diamond pattern.
Walter Alexander, a Charlotte native, moved to Blowing Rock, N.C. in 1919. The house was purchased by William Cook Wilkinson, president of the Merchants and Farmers National Bank and the man for whom Wilkinson Boulevard is named.
William Henry Belk House (Presbyterian Hospital Campus, now Novant Health).
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. The house was recently moved under arrangements approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission.
The Visulite Theater (Elizabeth Avenue)
The Art Deco style Visulite Theater opened in the 1930s when movies became especially popular as a means of escape from the doldrums created by the Great Depression. Also, by then automobiles had become a common means of transportation, making neighborhood theaters more feasible. The theater was also on a main bus line.
Two compelling events are associated with the Visulite Theater. The first was what most thought was the last trip of Streetcar 85. Mayor Ben Douglas and other dignitaries boarded Streetcar 85 in front of the theater for a "goodbye" trip to the Square in March 1938. Little did they realize that the 85 would be found in Huntersville, restored, and put back into service!
Klansman in front of the Visulite Theater
The other event was less pleasant. It occurred on September 1, 1957, in the midst of the turmoil surrounding the racial integration of the Charlotte Public Schools. Hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan picketed the Visulite Theater for showing "Island In The Sun" that depicted interracial marriages.
To read about more properties and their historical significance, check out the full article. See source link below.
Until next week!
"A Walking Tour Of Elizabeth" by Dr. Dan L. Morrill (undated).
Email email@example.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin