Per the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, the Mecklenburg Investment Company (MIC) Building, which still stands in Second Ward aka Brooklyn Village, "does possess special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations: 1) the building, erected in 1921-22, was the first office building in Charlotte built exclusively by and for black professionals; 2) the Mecklenburg Investment Company had some of the most prominent black citizens of Charlotte among its officers, including such notable local persons as A. E. Spears, C. R. Blake, and Thad L. Tate; 3) the building is one of the very few remnants of old Second Ward or Brooklyn, a major turn-of-the-century black neighborhood, which survives; and 4) the intricate exterior brickwork and the original interior features demonstrate that the structure possesses architectural significance.
In May, 1922, construction began on a building which was unique in the city of Charlotte. The MIC Building was the first structure planned and executed by some of the Black leaders of the community to accommodate Black businesses, professional offices, and civic and fraternal organizations. It was built as an anchor for the business and social activities of the former Brooklyn community of Second Ward by the Mecklenburg Investment Company, an investment group organized for that purpose and from which the building received its name.
The MIC was incorporated on May 6, 1921, with Mr. C. R. Blake, Sr., as president; Mr. A. E. Spears, vice-president; Thad L. Tate, treasurer; and Dr. A. J. Williams, a dentist, secretary. The Board of Directors was composed of the above officers and eight other business and professional leaders of the black community. In addition to dentists, doctors, lawyers, other professionals and businessmen, the shareholders also included a number of members of the Johnson C. Smith University faculty. Some of the notable figures involved in organizing the MIC included the following two leaders of the community:
Thad L. Tate (1865-1951), who owned and operated the Uptown Barber Shop for many years and was quite active in the business and civic affairs of the city, which included many efforts to improve the quality of life in the black community. Through his initiatives and connections with White business and political leaders, among them Gov. Cameron Morrison, Thad Tate helped establish the Brevard Street branch of the Public Library and a local branch of the YMCA for Blacks, and was instrumental in founding the Morrison Training School for Black youths in Hoffman, NC, where a building is named in his honor.
Dr. J. T. Williams (1859-1924), an original investor and member of the board, was a prominent and respected educator, physician, businessman and public servant. In 1882, at the age of 23, Dr. Williams was the Assistant Principal of the Charlotte Graded School, from which he resigned to study medicine. Six years later, in 1886, he became one of the first three black physicians licensed to practice medicine in North Carolina, and built a prosperous surgical practice and drug company. His public service included serving on the Board of Health of Mecklenburg County, and being twice elected to the Board of Aldermen in 1888 and 1890. In 1898, President McKinley appointed him consul to Sierra Leone, a post he held until 1907. In 1921, Dr. Williams built an elegant 3-story house in the same block as the MIC building which was designed by Charlotte architect Louis Asbury. J. T. Williams Junior High School (now known as J.T. Williams Secondary Montessori) is named in honor of Dr. Williams.
The Mecklenburg Investment Company purchased the lot for the building in July, 1921, from Nancy Kerr Brown Young and her husband, Dolph M. Young. Mrs. Young had inherited the property from her father, Peter Marshall Brown (1859-1913), a prominent nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Charlotte businessman and a major owner of downtown real estate in the city. He was the son of Col. John L. Brown of Charlotte, and was president of the Traders Land Company.
On April 29, 1922, the contractor, W. W. Smith, obtained a building permit from the city for the construction of the building.12 William W. Smith (1873-1924) was an experienced designer and builder who specialized in brick structures. He was a member of the nearby Grace A.M.E. Zion church located in the same block, which he had also built in 1900-1902. Thad Tate, Dr. J. T. Williams and a number of MIC shareholders were also members of the Grace Church. Since the building permit indicated that there was no architect, W. W. Smith probably designed the structure himself, which was estimated to cost $28,000.00. The three-story building was planned to accommodate six stores on the first floor, sixteen offices on the second, and four offices and an assembly room on the third.
In late 1922, the MIC building was completed, and a number of black doctors, dentists (including Dr. A. J. Williams, the first MIC secretary), lawyers, other professionals and businesses, who were scattered in various parts of the city, often in unsuitable quarters, moved into the building. For some forty years the building served as a center for social, business, and professional activities for Charlotte’s black citizens. Yancey’s Drug Store operated in a corner shop, followed by a popular restaurant, the Savoy Inn, and a number of Charlotte’s black Masonic lodges began in the meeting room on the first floor. Social clubs there often heard the music of Jimmy Gunn’s dance band (J. H. Gunn was also a school principal after whom J. H. Gunn school is named). According to MIC’s president (in 1981), who is a grandson of Thad Tate, the building was a financial success to the extent that the mortgage was retired in less than ten years, and thus was not a problem when the Great Depression struck.
In the 1960s, the character of downtown Charlotte changed, which affected the prosperity of the building. As Brooklyn and other downtown neighborhoods decayed, many Blacks were incentivized to move to West Charlotte as a result of federal housing programs and as part of urban renewal efforts. During that time streetcar service from the newer areas to downtown was discontinued, urban renewal destroyed Second Ward as a residential neighborhood, and integration facilitated many blacks moving to newer offices throughout the city, and thus tenancy in the MIC Building dropped considerably. As a part of an increasingly revitalized downtown, however, a renovated MIC Building could still play a vital role in the business life of Charlotte, and at the same time a unique part of the city’s history could thereby be preserved as a cultural link with its past, which helps identify the city’s distinct character.
To read more about the architectural significance of the building, be sure to check out the source document below.
Until next week!
"Mecklenburg Investment Company Building," by Dr. William H. Huffman (some alterations made), Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, December 2, 1981.
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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