Fact Friday 71 – Charlotte City Hall
Happy Friday everyone!
In 1891, Charlotte erected an imposing city hall at the corner of N. Tryon and Fifth Sts. Designed by Gottfrid L. Norrman (1846-1909), the building housed all city services, including the police department and the fire department. By the early 1920s, Charlotte had outgrown this facility. Consequently, James Oscar Walker (1879-1947), who was elected Mayor on May 3, 1921, advocated the construction of a new municipal complex. The City purchased an entire block on East Ave, now E. Trade St., in the midst of what was then a fashionable residential area. Interestingly, the Charlotte Observer proposed that the Board of County Commissioners sell the courthouse, situated on S. Tryon St., and join with the City in erecting a single structure on this location. Happily for Mayor Walker, who did not favor this proposition, the citizens rejected the idea of a joint facility at the polls on July 28, 1923.
On January 26, 1924, City Council authorized Mayor Walker to negotiate a contract with Charles Christian Hook (1870-1938) to design the new city hall. A native of Wheeling, W. Va., and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Hook was the first architect who lived in Charlotte. He moved here in 1891 to teach mechanical drawing in the Charlotte Graded School (now the Dowd YMCA), which stood at the corner of South Blvd. and E. Morehead St. By 1892, he was designing structures for the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, the developers of Dilworth. C. C. Hook occupied a place of pivotal importance in the evolution of the built environment of Charlotte, N.C. Indeed, he introduced the Colonial Revival style in this community and, consequently, established the aesthetic norm that dominated the architecture of the affluent suburbs of Charlotte. Popular structures included the Duke Mansion, the Belk Mansion, the VanLandingham Estate, Carolina Theater, and the Masonic Temple. The Charlotte City Hall is the most imposing public building of this genre, which Hook designed. C.C. Hook died in dramatic -- if not downright mysterious circumstances at the age of 68. After riding the elevator up to his office on the 12th floor of the Commercial National Bank Building in Charlotte, he either fell, was pushed, or jumped out of a window and was killed as he fell to the roof of the building below. The local coroner ruled the death accidental, but there has always been speculation as to how Hook really died. At the time of his death, his family said that Hook had suffered from vertigo. He is said to have fallen suddenly from a low washroom window, after slipping or having a sudden vertigo attack, which is certainly possible, but sounds somewhat implausible. A mailroom employee, who was the last person to have seen Hook alive, saw him holding his head in his hands, saying he felt "terrible." Again, this could be interpreted as the onset of a vertigo attack or could refer to other problems or despair. Whatever the circumstances, Hook's architectural influence didn't end with his death.
The City Hall complex on E. Trade St.
The complex consisted of four structures. An administrative building, commonly known as the City Hall, was placed in the middle of the block, thereby allowing for future expansion. A fire station, a police station and public health building were constructed along the southern edge of the property. Governmental agencies occupied the new facilities on October 30, 1925, and the initial meeting of City Council occurred there on November 1, 1925. The J. A. Jones Construction Co. erected the four structures. Mayor Walker had resigned on December 4, 1924, so that he might devote his energies more fully to the management of an automobile dealership that he owned in Columbia, S.C. The Charlotte News was expansive in its praise of Mayor Walker, stating that he was a man "gifted with a disposition that makes for affability." The newspaper went on to explain, however, that Mayor Walker had his share of detractors. "His have been accomplishing administrations, and, of course, as is always the case, progress and progressive policies bring about disaffections and cause sore toes," the article explained.
Unquestionably, the decision to transfer municipal headquarters from N. Tryon St. to the residential district on E. Trade St., was of pivotal importance in terms of the physical history of this city. In addition to its symbolic significance, the placement of City Hall at this new location set into motion a series of forces that eroded the viability of the surrounding neighborhood. Noteworthy in this regard is the fact that the Board of County Commissioners did dedicate a new courthouse on an adjacent parcel on March 10, 1928. City Council selected the site on E. Trade St. for the City Hall because it was, "one of the most beautiful wooded areas of the city wooded in the city."
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
Charlotte City Hall, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
Additional commentary added.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass