Happy Friday everyone!
A close look at the church cornerstones reveals a major change that the survey area experienced in the mid 1960s. Belmont, Villa Heights, and the other subdivisions in this area were built during the era of Jim Crow. Like most other Charlotte suburban areas, this area had only white residents. In fact, as late as 1962 there were virtually no black residents in the survey area north of Belmont Avenue.
This changed radically by 1970. Urban Renewal-funded demolition destroyed thousands of housing units in Brooklyn, Greenville, and other historically black sections during the decade of the 1960s. These changes created a tremendous demand for affordable housing by black renters and former homeowners. In fact, in the 70’s through the mid 2000’s, the area's residents were almost entirely black. Today, though, the former mill villages of Belmont and neighboring Villa Heights are undergoing a transformation fueled largely by young, white professionals who moved to the neighborhoods in search of affordable housing close to uptown. Piedmont Courts, which opened in 1940 as the city’s first housing project for whites only, was desegregated in the 1960s, demolished in 2006 and has replaced by a mixed-income housing development of apartments and townhouses called Seigle Point. Today, some former residents of Piedmont Courts continue to hold an annual reunion, and relish the friendships and memories that they made there. But as the area next to NoDa flourishes, many long-time residents of low to moderate income worry that they may be pushed out by rising housing costs and property taxes.
To the historian or architectural historian, the area is a unified whole. It is full of housing of the same vintage and economic level, and is bounded on the south, east, and west by bands of non-residential land use. To the north is the later, World War II-era, development known as Plaza Hills, created from land once held by the Pegram-Wadsworth Company.
Planners, however, consider the area to be part of three neighborhoods. The primary one is known as Belmont, including the old Belmont Springs, East End, and Sunnyside subdivisions, and extending roughly from Tenth Street north to Parkwood Avenue between Sugar Creek and Hawthorne Lane.
The Villa Heights subdivision is still unofficially known by its original name, due to the presence of the Villa Heights Elementary School near its edge. But officially it is considered part of the Plaza Hills neighborhood.
The third neighborhood began to develop a conscious sense of identity in the 1980s. It is Optimist Park, consisting of Brevard, Davidson, Caldwell, Alexander, and North Myers streets from Twelfth through Twenty-third streets. With the help of Habitat for Humanity, sponsored by area churches, houses in this area were and are rehabilitated with private funds and new units constructed for low-income residents.
With the demolition of most affordable housing for low-to-middle income residents in Charlotte's center city, the Belmont-Villa Heights-Optimist Park area has become the city's most important early working-class residential district. Its streets of humble homes are a reminder of the thousands of laborers who helped built up Charlotte to be the largest city in the Carolinas by 1930. With the introduction of the LYNX Blue Line light rail extension to the area, gentrification is sure to be a continued concern. But the good thing is that groups like the Belmont Community Organization are dedicated to keeping the community together, as opposed to dividing it.
Until next week!
Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
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Information taken from:
Belmont-Villa Heights-Optimist Park Survey Area, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
PlanCharlotte.org – UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, Once crime-ridden, old mill villages blossom
PlanCharlotte.org – UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, Renewal in Belmont and Villa Heights
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