Elizabeth Historic District
The Elizabeth Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Elizabeth Historic District is significant in the history of Charlotte, North Carolina, as an important representative in that city's development of suburban neighborhoods. This development was a multifaceted expansion which responded to the city's tremendous growth and ever-increasing prosperity, creating a pressing need for a broad range of housing. The Elizabeth Historic District is also the location of the city's first public park, Independence Park, whose original design was an early commission of John Nolen, one of the most important landscape architects and city planners of the early 20th century, whose 1911 design for nearby Myers Park became a model for many up-scale residential suburbs in the south. Finally, it contains an important representative collection of early 20th century residential architecture, including a particularly large and noteworthy assemblage of 1920s and 1930s duplexes and small apartment buildings. Charlotte's second streetcar suburb, the Elizabeth neighborhood is actually a combination of all or parts of five residential subdivisions laid out between 1891 and 1915, but in which construction was simultaneous and continuous between 1900 and 1941, creating a virtually seamless homogeneity.
Suburban residential expansion in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, during the first four decades of the 20th century was extensive and multi-faceted, reflecting the city's enormous growth and rapidly increasing wealth. As the city's prosperity diversified and multiplied, so did its suburbs, both in number, scale, and the design quality of the constituent elements of these suburbs. In the last decade of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, middle- and upper-income suburban extension occurred primarily to the south and east of the city's central business district. The growth during the 1870s and 1880s of black residential enclaves to the north and northwest of the central business district effectively eliminated those areas as locations for white suburban neighborhoods. [Hanchett: "Charlotte," p.75]
Two suburban residential historic districts in Charlotte, Dilworth Historic District and Myers Park Historic District, were listed in the National Register in 1987. Those two neighborhoods and the Elizabeth Historic District share a common impetus and certain characteristics and have overlapping periods of development. Typical of the suburban development phenomenon in the south, the three neighborhoods are also linked by the efforts of several important individuals. But they differ to varying degrees in detail, scale, and overall impact.
The city of Charlotte in 1891 was on the threshold of an unprecedented period of growth and expansion, as its population increased nearly ten-fold in less than five decades, from 12,000 in 1890 to 100,000 by 1940. [Goldfield, p.3; Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.6] During this period, the social and economic fabric of the city underwent a shattering transformation, principally through the creation of a vast, broadly-defined middle class which made tremendous demands on city services, the building industry, and the financial sector.
The principal cause of this growth was the textile industry. Charlotte had become a major trading center by the 1850s with the advent in the state of a railroad network. The North Carolina Railroad linked the city to other piedmont region population centers, as well as those in the east, and other lines connected to South Carolina. However, the opening of the city's first cotton mill in 1881 signalled its entry into the south's burgeoning textile market. By the end of the 19th century, Mecklenburg County, of which Charlotte is the seat, ranked among the top three textile counties in the state. And it had become a principal trading hub for the new piedmont region textile belt. [Hanchett: Myers Park]
Related business concerns included textile machinery distributors, textile mill architectural and engineering firms, hydro-electric power plants to supply electricity to the area's mills, cotton brokerages and warehouses, and construction firms. [Hanchett: Myers Park] To answer the myriad needs of this expansion, a substantial service industry flourished, including banks, wholesale and retail merchandisers, and a sizeable professional community of physicians and attorneys. A natural result of these developments was an urgent need for housing at all levels of income, a need met by real estate developers, architects, and building contractors — both home-grown and outsiders attracted by the vision of a rapidly growing New South city.
Two men responding to this vision were the prime movers behind the Dilworth and Myers Park developments. Edward Dilworth Latta, a South Carolina native, was a typical New South entrepreneur who engaged in a multitude of enterprises. About 1890 he formed the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company and received a gas franchise and electric streetlight contract. In the following year, he began operating the city's first streetcar line and opened its first streetcar suburb, Dilworth, which was laid out in a grid pattern with dedicated park space on a tract of land south of the city's central business district. At one edge of the subdivision, Latta set aside an area for construction of industrial plants, which included textile mills and a snack-food manufacturer. An additional area was subdivided for development in 1911, with a curvilinear plan provided by Olmsted Brothers, the leading landscape architectural firm of the day. [Oswald: Dilworth]
A few substantial residences were built in the last years of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th along Dilworth's East Boulevard, which ran through the center of the grid. But the majority of houses in Dilworth were more modest and built for lower-middle- and middle-income occupants. Architectural styles employed were typical of the period of construction (1891-1941), including late Victorian, Colonial Revival, and the ubiquitous Bungalow. [Oswald: Dilworth] According to Thomas Hanchett, who conducted a survey of Charlotte's historic architecture, "Dilworth's noteworthy residential architecture today includes not only some of the city's few surviving Victorian houses, but also Charlotte's first experiments with the Colonial Revival. Charlotte's first full-time architect, C.C. Hook, introduced the style in 1894." [Hanchett: "Charlotte," p.72]
Twenty years after the first section of Dilworth was opened, George Stephens, a real estate developer and banker originally from Guilford County, North Carolina, hired John Nolen to design a "state-of-the-art" residential suburb on a tract of farm land located southeast of the central business district and owned by Stephens's father-in-law, J.S. Myers. The Harvard-trained Nolen was to become one of the most important landscape architects and city planners of the early 20th century. While in his final year of graduate school, Nolen had provided the developers of Highland Park (the earliest of the Elizabeth subdivisions) with an interior layout for Independence Park, the principal green space in the Elizabeth Historic District. [Hanchett: Myers Park and "Elizabeth Neighborhood"]
For Stephens's Myers Park subdivision, Nolen devised a plan comprised of curving avenues which followed the natural topography of the land. A broad boulevard, Queens Road, looped through the suburb, carrying the streetcar line within two blocks of every house. Although there are more modest Colonial Revival houses and Bungalows set on relatively narrow lots in Myers Park, the area's character is largely determined by the many massive architect-designed Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival residences set far back from the street on ample shaded lots. These were the homes of some of the best-known industrialists, entrepreneurs and financiers in early 20th century Charlotte and North and South Carolina. The exclusivity of the development was emphasized by limiting access to a small number of stone-portalled entrances. Beyond these gates lived some of the state's wealthiest and most influential individuals of the period. By the 1920s, Myers Park had become the model for many a suburban neighborhood in the south. [Hanchett: Myers Park and "Charlotte," pp.73-74]
Located just over one mile east of the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets, the main thoroughfares of Charlotte's central business district, the approximately 265-acre Elizabeth Historic District combines portions of five late 19th and early 20th century residential subdivisions. These contiguous subdivisions were Highland Park (1891), Piedmont Park (1900), Oakhurst (1900), Elizabeth Heights (1904) and Rosemont (1915). The Elizabeth neighborhood, made up of the five subdivisions, was the city's second streetcar suburb, and was, for the first two decades of the 20th century, one of the city's leading middle and upper middle-income residential neighborhoods. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.1] Although commercial development has occurred within and around the edges of the Elizabeth Historic District, the area remains largely residential in character, with Independence Park, the city's first public park, as its principal open space and a focal point of the neighborhood.
The earliest of the Elizabeth subdivisions was platted in 1891 by the Highland Park Land Company, whose local investors included Walter S. Alexander, Walter Brem, Charles H. Duls, Heriot Clarkson, P.M. Brown, E.M. Andrews, and Edward Dilworth Latta, the latter already noted as the principal founder of Charlotte's first streetcar suburb, Dilworth. [Record of corporations, A-235] These men were prominent realtors, businessmen, and attorneys.
In 1891, the company purchased the 65-acre H.M. and J.G. Shannonhouse farm on a hillside east of town and platted lots on present-day Elizabeth Avenue, which extended from the bottom of East Trade Street to the top of the hill and included several cross streets. Sanborn maps indicate that the area was laid out in the familiar urban grid plan. [Sanborn maps: Charlotte series, 1911] But the Highland Park development was slow in getting off the ground; sales in the nearby Dilworth development were lagging as well. The city's population was still only 12,000, and its insistent need for housing was yet to come. The nationwide depression of 1893 retarded growth into the mid 1890s. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.5]
By 1897, the nation and city were emerging from the depression, and Charlotte's textile economy was beginning to flourish, engendering the first real push for suburban development. At this time, the prime mover behind the Highland Park subdivision was South Carolina native Walter S. Alexander, who controlled both the Highland Park Land Company and the Southern Real Estate, Loan and Trust Company, which provided financing for land purchases and building construction. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.5-6]
In 1896, Alexander's company had offered a tract of land at the top of the hill to a group who were seeking a site for the establishment of a women's college, to be operated under the auspices of the Lutheran Church. Two ministers, Charles B. King and C.L.T. Fisher, were the prime movers in the formation of the school; they also evaluated the offers of financial assistance and land which had been submitted, narrowing their choice to Charlotte and Columbia, South Carolina. The latter was the city in which the idea for the school had originated. Two sites had been offered in Charlotte, one in Dilworth by Latta, the other being the twenty-acre site with a grove located at the end of a new street opened by the Highland Park Company. The Highland Park offer, with an additional sweetener of $3,600 on top of Charlotte's donation of $9,242, was accepted in May 1896. ["Another Jewel in Her Crown"; Eisenberg, p.237]
Construction of buildings on the site began in early 1897, by which time the school's name had been changed from the Lutheran College for Women to Elizabeth College. ["The Plans Here"] This change was made as the result of a substantial financial donation from tobacco magnate Gerald S. Watts of Baltimore, Maryland, and his son, George Watts of Durham, North Carolina. The school was renamed in honor of Elizabeth Watts, wife of the former and mother of the latter. The school's first administrator was one of its founders, Reverend Charles B. King, who was married to Annie Watts, daughter of Elizabeth and Gerald Watts. Several buildings were erected on the elevated site, which became known as "Elizabeth Hill;" the street leading to the school was named Elizabeth Avenue, and the Highland Park Company's 1904 subdivision was opened under the name Elizabeth Heights. The five subdivisions eventually became identified as one neighborhood, known as Elizabeth. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.5-6; and Stephens: "Six Landmarks"]
Construction of houses in Highland Park accelerated rapidly, particularly after the 1903 extension of the East Trade Street trolley line along Elizabeth Avenue to the college and out what is now Hawthorne Lane. East Trade Street was then the site of many of Charlotte's finest residences, and Elizabeth Avenue became an extension of that upper-income area during the first two decades of the 20th century. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.6]
A number of prominent industrialists and businessmen occupied houses on Elizabeth Avenue prior to building mansions in Charlotte's truly elite early 20th century suburb Myers Park. Included among them were textile heir Arthur J. Draper, president of Chadwick-Hoskins Mills; real estate developer O.J. Thies; and Robert Lassiter, textile industrialist and president of the Southern Manufacturers Club. None of their Elizabeth houses survives, although those of textile mill architect Richard C. Biberstein and the prosperous jeweler W.L. Bruns remain to suggest the street's early 20th century flavor. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.6] Elizabeth Avenue, which has been overwhelmed by mid-century commercial development, has been omitted from the district, but portions of this first section of Highland Park are included — Bartow Court (formerly Park), East Fifth Street and North Torrence Street.
Piedmont Park and Oakhurst
Two other companies had been organized at an early date (1900) for the purpose of developing adjacent suburbs. They were the Piedmont Realty Company (Piedmont Park) and Oakhurst Land Company (Oakhurst). B.D. Heath, president of the Charlotte National Bank, was a principal stockholder in both companies. [Record of corporations, 1-174 and 1-172; Abbott, p.9] Other directors of Piedmont Realty included local realtor F.C. Abbott and his partner, George Stephens, who was later to develop Myers Park. [Abbott, p.9]
The Piedmont Park subdivision was located on the 86-acre farm of Colonel W.R. Myers, father of J.S. Myers (owner of the Myers Park tract), and extended from East Seventh Street to Tenth Street with Louise Avenue as the eastern boundary and Sugar Creek on the west. [Hanchett: Myers Park; deed book 202, p.485] A six-acre tract was set aside north of Seventh Street for a park. Immediately after Piedmont Park was laid out, B.D. Heath purchased the adjoining farm land to the northeast for the Oakhurst subdivision. Running through both subdivisions was Central Avenue which became the site of numerous substantial residences including those of Heath, himself, and J.B. Ivey, of department store fame; both houses are now gone. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.9-10]
In 1904, with construction accelerating in Highland Park and well established in Piedmont Park and Oakhurst, W.S. Alexander determined to subdivide his land east and north of Elizabeth Avenue and abutting Piedmont Park and Oakhurst. The new plat opened Hawthorne Lane, East Eighth Street, and much of East Seventh and East Fifth streets, and Lamar, Clement, Clarice, Ridgeway and Laurel avenues. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.11-12] The streetcar line ran along East Seventh Street and Hawthorne Lane, and Clement Avenue was built as a broad boulevard to accommodate a proposed extension of the line, a plan that was never carried out. [deed book 224, pp.202-203; Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.17]
A low-lying area within the Elizabeth Heights subdivision which formerly contained the city water reservoir was set aside for a park to be named Independence Park. The Highland Park Company owned part of the area, which was donated to the city in 1904, and those who owned parts west of Elizabeth Heights, including S.J. Torrence, sold their interests to the city. [Charlotte News, 2 Feb. 1904, p.6; "New Driveway Finished;" and Abbott, p.7] The park extended eastward from Sugar Creek which then formed the city's eastern limits, crossing Hawthorne Lane and containing 54 acres. ["Trolley Trips in Charlotte Suburbs"] The Highland Park Company constructed a curving "driveway" (now known as Park Drive) around the park and offered for sale building lots overlooking the green area. The city appointed a park and tree commission, which hired John Nolen to provide an interior design for the park within the established boundaries. ["New Driveway Finished"]
When hired by the Charlotte commission, John Nolen was in his final year of study at the Harvard University School of Landscape Architecture. Some historians have described Independence Park as Nolen's "first real breakthrough to civic work." [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.13] In his book Design on the Land, Norman Newton notes that Nolen has been called the "dean of American city planners." With a nationwide practice and a great believer in cooperative efforts in his field, Nolen collaborated "...successfully on several hundred public projects, including the planning or replanning of dozens of cities." [Newton, pp.416 and 486]
Among the important North Carolina projects carried out by Nolen were the plan for Charlotte's Myers Park suburb, city plans for Asheville and Charlotte, the design for Kanuga Lake resort community (now an Episcopal Church retreat), and a major expansion for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.13-13a]
Unfortunately, Nolen's drawings for Independence Park have apparently been lost, and the relationship between those original plans and its current layout is not clear. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.13a] A 1910 newspaper article gave the following description of the park, "Its wild and natural beauty already forms it into a ready-made playground of which the 'Kiddies' of the neighborhood are not slow to avail themselves." ["Trolley Trips"] Nolen's design thus appears to have been more naturalistic than the highly structured present-day park, with its picnic shelters, formal rose garden, playground equipment, modern buildings, and various memorials.
The final subdivision included in the Elizabeth Historic District is Rosemont, platted in 1915 on the Henry C. Dotger farm southwest of Seventh Street and extending from Caswell Road on the west to Briar Creek. Dotger himself had earlier (1913) subdivided the area, and at least one house had been erected, that of his son-in-law S. Bryce McLaughlin at 2027 Greenway Avenue. [deed book 351, p.188] But in 1915 Dotger sold the property to the Rosemont Company, a development firm whose local investors included C.B. Bryant, W.S. Lee, Z.V. Taylor, E.C. Marshall, and Cameron Morrison, later governor of North Carolina. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.20-21; Record of corporations, 3-270; map books 332, pages 231-232 and 3, page 13]
Gilbert White of Durham, a major stockholder in the firm, hired John Nolen to provide a plan for the undeveloped portion of the Dotger tract. The only one of Nolen's suggestions known to have been adopted for Rosemont was the curving extension of East Fifth Street to an intersection with East Seventh Street. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.20-21] Prior to 1920, the subdivision was sold to Charlotte realtor E.C. Griffith, the developer of several of the city's neighborhoods, including Wesley Heights, the west Morehead Street industrial district, and the grand Eastover area of the late 1920s; Griffith took over sales and promotion for Rosemont. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.21]
In 1907, Charlotte's city limits were extended in all directions to encompass several suburban neighborhoods, including all five subdivisions which came to be known collectively as Elizabeth. Four years later, the city-county school board voted to issue bonds for the construction of five elementary schools, among which was one for Elizabeth. A two-story frame building was erected in 1912 on the southern edge of Independence Park. [Harding, pp.18, 29 and 31] Prominent local architect Willard G. Rogers drew up the plans for the 1925 Neo-Classical Revival brick "addition" which now serves as the main building for Elizabeth Elementary School (1601 Park Drive). ["Bids out for Buildings;" Sanborn maps] The original frame structure has been demolished and modern wings constructed.
Another consequence of the neighborhood's growing population was the organization of four major churches, as offshoots of some of the earlier downtown congregations. In January 1912, St. Martin's Chapel (Protestant Episcopal Church, 1510 East Seventh Street), formed in 1887 as a mission of St. Peter's Church, moved from an earlier location at the corner of Tenth and Davidson streets to a new site on East Seventh Street between Beaumont and Louise avenues. A brick Gothic Revival edifice, said to have been designed by Adlai Osborne, was completed in the fall of 1912. The church was designated a parish and united with the Diocese of North Carolina in 1915 as St. Martin's Episcopal Church. Additions to the building were made twice prior to 1937, and a parish house was built in 1948. [St. Martin's Chapel, pp.7, 11 and 12; and Charlotte Observer, 19 March 1939, 3-9]
In March 1912, eighty Elizabeth residents petitioned for organization of a Presbyterian church in the neighborhood, and Knox Memorial Presbyterian Church held its first services the following May. A lot was purchased on the northeast corner of East Fifth Street and Park Drive and a brick Sunday School building erected in 1914. The Church's name was changed to Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian Church (1615 East Fifth Street) in 1922 following presentation of a gift of $50,000 by Mrs. Sallie Caldwell White in memory of her parents, David A. and Martha Caldwell. The architect for the handsome brick Gothic Revival building dedicated in December 1922 has not been identified. [Charlotte Observer, 23 April 1939 13-11 and 17 December 1922, A-11]
Local architect Louis Asbury designed the brick Gothic Revival home of Hawthorne Lane Methodist Episcopal Church South (now United Methodist Church, 501 Hawthorne Lane), erected in 1916. The congregation had been organized in 1914, and B.D. Heath donated a tract of land on the northwest corner of Hawthorne Lane and East Eighth Street. [Stephens, p.16; and "Dedication Planned"] The 1925 Education Building was constructed to plans drawn up by local architect James M. McMichael. [Building permits]
The fourth church erected in Elizabeth during the Elizabeth Historic District's period of significance was St. John's Baptist Church (300 Hawthorne Lane) which was formed in late 1921 by members of Charlotte's First Baptist Church. A small frame building was soon built on the church site on the northeast corner of Hawthorne Lane and East Fifth Street. Two years later, the congregation hired architect James M. McMichael to design a permanent edifice. McMichael has been called "the area's busiest church designer;" as already noted, he designed the Education Building for Hawthorne Lane Methodist Church and was also responsible for the design of the First Baptist Church on North Tryon Street. His design for St. John's was in the Neo-Classical Revival style and featured a monumental pedimented portico. Later wings were designed by M.R. Marsh, who had worked in McMichael's office. [Survey Files]
These five institutions have long played an important unifying role in the community. They also have imposing buildings which are architecturally pivotal within the Elizabeth Historic District.
The Elizabeth neighborhood was one of a small number of prestigious residential neighborhoods in early 20th century Charlotte, and many prominent individuals made their homes in Elizabeth. Some of these early substantial residences are gone, including most of those on Elizabeth and Central avenues, as well as several on East Seventh Street. Beyond those areas were the homes of other community leaders. Heriot Clarkson (1863-1942), an early investor in the Highland Park Company and a local attorney and associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, built a large house (1910) on his estate, Kilmichael, located on Clement Avenue. The house was demolished in the 1920s when East Eighth Street was opened. Clarkson's son, Francis Osborne Clarkson, who was also an attorney and a state senator, built a shingled Craftsman Bungalow (506 Clement Avenue) on the estate, living there for several years prior to moving to Myers Park. [Powell, pp.383-384; and Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," p.17]
Another of the substantial houses surviving in the neighborhood is the Neo-Classical Revival residence of James L. Staten (322 Hawthorne Lane), built ca.1912 to a design prepared by Franklin Gordon, said to be one of Charlotte's leading residential architects. Staten was general manager of the Little-Long Company, an early downtown department store, and vice-president of the Southeastern Land Company. [Survey Files] As the site for his new home, Staten chose the Hawthorne Lane hillside overlooking Independence Park.
A short distance from the Staten house, on the southeast corner of Hawthorne Lane and East Fifth Street across from St. John's Baptist Church, William Henry Belk (200 Hawthorne Lane) had erected ca.1924 a massive brick house designed in the Colonial Revival style by one of Charlotte's best known architects, C.C. Hook. Belk (1862-1952), of course, was the founder of the Belk Department Store chain. His architect, Charles Christian Hook (1864-1938), carried out many commissions, for private residences and large public buildings, throughout the Carolinas. [Charlotte Historic Properties commission] The Belk Mansion, as the house is known, was a fitting symbol of its owner's position in the community.
While the Gothic Revival and the imposing Neo-Classical Revival styles were chosen for institutional buildings and some of the larger residences, the Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and Craftsman styles were the most popular for the vast number of houses built in Elizabeth between 1910 and 1941. Designs for most houses, including the large collection of bungalows found throughout the district, were most probably derived from the readily available pattern books and magazines of the day or from stock designs provided by the builder. Also represented in the district are the Queen Anne style, the Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival styles, and the Italian Renaissance Revival style.
By the 1920s, Charlotte was facing a pressing need for middle-income housing. During the 1920s and 1930s, this need was partially met in Elizabeth by the construction of numerous multi-family buildings — duplexes, triplexes and small apartment buildings. The majority of the latter contained four units, although a few were more substantial, the largest being the three-story Rutzler Apartments at 712 Louise Avenue, with thirty apartments. All architectural styles found in the Elizabeth Historic District are represented in these multi-unit buildings, with particularly notable Craftsman and Colonial Revival quadraplexes and Dutch Colonial duplexes. Both the Craftsman-style R.H. Theiling Apartments at 424 Beaumont Avenue and the Colonial Revival style Piedmont Apartments (700 Hawthorne Lane) were designed by architect Frederick L. Bonfoey, a Connecticut native who had moved to Charlotte in 1911 and designed many of Dilworth's numerous Bungalows. [Oswald: Dilworth] Bonfoey has been identified as the designer of several houses and apartment buildings in the Elizabeth Historic District during the 1920s. [Building permits] Duplexes and apartment buildings are found on virtually every street in the Elizabeth Historic District and represent a significant departure from the more typical North Carolina residential suburb made up almost entirely of single-family dwellings.
A number of significant changes have occurred in the Elizabeth neighborhood which have threatened its special qualities as a quiet residential suburb. Among the earliest of these potentially damaging changes was the arrival of two downtown hospitals. Mercy Hospital, which had been established by the Catholic Church in 1906, moved in 1916 to a site in Rosemont at the intersection of Fifth Street and Caswell Road. Two years later, Presbyterian Hospital moved from West Trade Street to the Elizabeth College campus; in 1915, the college had removed to Salem, Virginia where it merged with Roanoke College. ["Move Elizabeth to Salem, Va."] Both hospitals have expanded greatly over the last seventy years, with several additions and construction of paved parking lots at the cost of a number of early houses and apartment buildings and the Elizabeth College buildings. The William Henry Belk House now stands in a parking lot of Presbyterian Hospital which occupies it as an administration building. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.25-27] While both hospitals are outside the district's boundaries, they do have an impact on the district, including the conversion of some houses for medical offices and the construction of modern buildings for smaller related medical facilities within and at the edges of the district.
As the population of the Elizabeth neighborhood grew, a small number of grocery and drug stores were opened in the 1920s and 1930s to provide easier access to certain goods and services. Small brick buildings for these purposes were built on Hawthorne Lane near East Seventh Street, on East Seventh and East Eighth streets near Pecan Avenue, and on Laurel Avenue. [Hanchett: "Elizabeth Neighborhood," pp.27-28; Sanborn maps, 1929] In the 1950s, commercial development intensified and has continued at a sometimes alarming pace to the present. Areas at the edges of the district, including Elizabeth and Central avenues, once leading residential addresses, have been omitted from the district because of demolition or commercial conversion of nearly all of the houses which once lined the streets. Although several streets in the Elizabeth Historic District have experienced loss of early houses and construction of modern buildings, East Seventh Street has been the location of the most intensive development. Few houses on Seventh between Louise and Laurel avenues remain in residential use, and many have been demolished and replaced by office, apartment or commercial buildings. Two shopping centers flank the street's intersection with Pecan Avenue, one dating from the early 1950s and recently remodeled and one built within the last three years.
Perhaps the most traumatic of the changes was the construction in the late 1940s of East Independence Boulevard, which converted the former High Street (located between Sunnyside Avenue and Bay Street) into a six-lane highway, dividing the Elizabeth neighborhood into two sections of unequal size. This necessitated the destruction or moving of many houses and apartment buildings, some of which were moved to undeveloped sites in the neighborhood. Commercial and office development has naturally occurred on this highway, although a few houses remain. Also sacrificed were Piedmont Park and its Sunnyside Rose Garden and a portion of Independence Park. The latter has also become the site of two modern buildings owned by the City Parks and Recreation Department. [Hanchett, pp.31-32]
Even with all of the changes which have affected the district, most of the streets flanking or crossing the major thoroughfares remain residential in character and retain their special qualities, enhanced by the mature trees which line several, most notably Clement Avenue and the appropriately named Greenway Avenue. The Elizabeth Historic District still conveys a strong sense of its origins as an early 20th century residential suburb, with its major collection of middle-income housing. The multi-family buildings particularly emphasize the city's urgent need for housing in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, although comprising all or parts of five separate but contiguous residential subdivisions, the Elizabeth Historic District contains a housing stock which reflects the reality of essentially simultaneous construction throughout each with similar scale and designs features, resulting in a singular homogeneity. The subdivisions have become so closely blended that they have long been recognized as one neighborhood, and it is now virtually impossible to distinguish one from another. Residents in the district have a strong sense of identity; they formed the Elizabeth Community Association in 1970 in an attempt to preserve the neighborhood's special qualities.
Architecture, Community Development and Landscape Architecture Context
The five subdivisions within the Elizabeth Historic District were another manifestation of Charlotte's participation in the nationwide movement to the suburbs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The area was the city's second streetcar suburb, following Dilworth, which was platted in 1891 shortly before the first Elizabeth section. Early 20th century promotions of the neighborhood clearly set out the main ideas behind the movement — "Elizabeth Heights combines the two ideal suburban qualifications in a high degree. It is near enough to the business district to enable one to keep in close touch with the day's developments, as well as to be within easy reach of churches, theatres and depots. On the other hand it is far enough removed from the noise and bustle incidental to every large town to have practically all of the advantages of the country in this respect." ["Trolley Trips in Charlotte Suburbs"]
Typical of piedmont North Carolina suburbs of the period, the Elizabeth Historic District has both grid and curvilinear street layouts, dedicated park space, and trees planted along many of the residential streets and as backdrops for the houses.
Atypical is the large number of multi-family dwellings and apartment houses scattered throughout the Elizabeth Historic District. These duplexes, triplexes, quadraplexes and small apartment buildings were built in answer to the city's urgent need for housing during the 1920s and 1930s. State architectural historians believe that the Elizabeth neighborhood has more such rental structures than any other district or city in the state. They possess "...a remarkable middle-class respectability...which set them apart and above so many of their contemporaries" [Hood, p.1] Both these multi-family buildings and the significant number of houses built as rental property are of an unusually high quality, with several being architect-designed and all exhibiting design characteristics typical of owner-occupied middle-income housing. [Hood, p.1]
Architecturally, the houses, duplexes, apartment buildings, churches and school building in the Elizabeth Historic District fall within the mainstream of popular fashions of the first four decades of the 20th century. The Gothic Revival and Neo-Classical Revival styles were favored for the institutional buildings and larger residences, while the Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and Craftsman styles were dominant among the more standard frame and brick-veneered houses of one, one-and-one-half and two stories. The prevalence of the Bungalow in some sections of the district is reflected in a 1911 advertisement for the Southern Real Estate Loan and Trust Company for houses under construction on Hawthorne Lane and East Eighth Street; the ad bore the heading "Bungalowland," and extolled the neighborhood thus, "Out among the pines, tall and stately, the sunshine, the shade, the cool breezes, the pure air — out to the place where nature communes, out to the place where all is homeland, to "Bungalowland" — that is where you should be. Our "Bungalowland" means all this and more; it means cozy homes built not only to look good but to last long; not only to last long, but to be convenient and comfortable." [Charlotte Daily Observer, 8 May 1911, p.10]
The suburban movement was strong in Charlotte, whose population underwent tremendous expansion in the early 20th century, with the smallish market town growing into a major metropolitan area. Its economy diversified as it became a manufacturing, banking and trade center for the region. A large and mobile middle class required housing, both for ownership and lease, and these factors are most clearly reflected in the Elizabeth Historic District. [Hood, p.2] Around 1920, the Chamber of Commerce published a pamphlet in which it was stated that, "Perhaps in no other direction has the thrift and enterprise and farsightedness in the leadership of Charlotte shown itself so remarkably as in the developing of suburban communities. On every side of the city can be seen these vast and improved areas, rapidly building up into congested residential sections, with all the improvements in the way of civic advantages enjoyed by those in the heart of the city.... Some of these suburban developments have been projected on a mammoth scale." ["In the Heart of the Piedmont"]
In comparing the two Charlotte suburban historic districts already listed in the National Register, Dilworth and Myers Park, with the Elizabeth Historic District, one notes a number of similarities and differences. Dilworth and Elizabeth were designed for parallel clienteles, principally members of the city's growing middle class, and therefore exhibit a certain conformity of architectural styles and building scale.
In the Dilworth Historic District, a relatively small number of substantial houses of more academic form and detail were built on the broad boulevards during the subdivision's early period of development, of late Victorian or early Colonial Revival design. Dilworth is the only one of the three districts to retain a sizeable collection of late Victorian houses. Thereafter, construction on the smaller cross streets was more modest in scale and more standard in design, with the Colonial Revival style and the Bungalow form being dominant and wood being the principal building material. Lot sizes and building orientation followed earlier urban precedents, as houses were built close to the street on narrow, deep lots. [Oswald: Dilworth]
While the Bungalow form constitutes a significant portion of the housing stock in the Elizabeth Historic District, they are generally on a larger scale than those in Dilworth, and a far greater number have original brick-veneered exteriors. More substantial houses of outstanding design are scattered throughout the Elizabeth Historic District, being found on Hawthorne Lane, Clement and Sunnyside avenues, and East Seventh, East Eighth and East Ninth streets; they were erected in all decades of the Elizabeth Historic District's period of significance. Elizabeth also possesses a greater number of large Craftsman-style houses. Lot sizes are generally larger in Elizabeth than Dilworth, and houses exhibit deeper setbacks.
The most notable difference between the two districts is the number of multi-family dwelling units. While there are such buildings in Dilworth, their number is so small that their existence is barely touched upon in the National Register nomination. Within the Elizabeth Historic District, by contrast, there are more than 100 surviving from the period of significance, including duplexes, triplexes, quadraplexes and small apartment buildings, which translates to more than fifteen per cent of the contributing primary buildings in the district. Their number and the general high quality of their design heightens the impression of a neighborhood intended to furnish homes for a broad spectrum of middle-class residents with varying requirements for permanency.
The distinctions between these two districts and the Myers Park Historic District are much more obvious, as the latter was planned for a wealthier clientele. Lot sizes are more ample, setbacks are deeper, and broad tree-lined streets meander through the district following the natural topography, In addition, the houses generally are much larger and more faithful renderings of the popular styles of the second, third and fourth decades of the 20th century, particularly the Colonial and Tudor Revival styles. Many were designed by the city's most active early 20th century architects (C.C. Hook, Louis Asbury, J.M. McMichael, William Peeps and Martin Boyer), and there are also houses designed by the nationally-renowned architect Charles Barton Keen of Philadelphia. [Hanchett: Myers Park] Some, such as the 52-room J.B. Duke Mansion, live up to this title.
The Elizabeth Historic District can be viewed as a link between the Dilworth Historic District and the Myers Park Historic District, reflecting the city's astounding early 20th century growth, its increasing prosperity and the diversification of its population. Elizabeth combines several aspects of the suburban movement and contains the broadest mix of housing stock for middle-class residents, with a smattering of houses for those at the wealthier end of the spectrum.
Independence Park is not only the first public park in the city of Charlotte, it is also one of the earliest parks in the state to be designed by a professional landscape architect and executed and maintained at public expense for the benefit of a community's citizenry. Many of the state's late 19th and early 20th century residential suburbs had parks, but they were all the property of the developers of those suburbs and their use was often restricted to the residents of the neighborhood. The land for Pullen Park in Raleigh was given to that city prior to the establishment of Independence Park, but its original interior design evolved informally. Unfortunately, as already noted, John Nolen's plans for Independence Park are lost, so that they cannot be compared with those of similar public parks in other areas.
Abbott, F.C. Fifty Years in Charlotte Real Estate, 1897-1947. Charlotte: privately published, 1947.
"Another Jewel in Her Crown." Daily Charlotte Observer, 28 May 1896, p.4.
"Bungalowland." Daily Charlotte Observer, 8 May 1911, p.10.
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. "In the Heart of the Piedmont." Charlotte: Observer Printing House, n.d.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission. Historic Properties Designation Reports. Copies in individual Survey Files, Survey and Planning Branch, N.C. Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.
Charlotte, N.C. Building Standards Department. Building Permits (1924-25).
Charlotte News, 2 February 1904, p. 6.
Charlotte Observer. Sunday issues 1939.
Eisenberg, William Edward. The First Hundred Years: Roanoke College, 1842-1942. Salem, Va.; Trustees of Roanoke College, 1942.
Goldfield, David R. "North Carolina's Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs and the Urbanizing South." In Early Twentieth-century Suburbs in North Carolina, pp.9-19. Edited by Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence S. Earley. Raleigh: N.C. Department of cultural Resources, 1985.
Hanchett, Thomas W. Charlotte Neighborhood Survey: An Architectural Inventory: The Elizabeth Neighborhood. Prepared for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, 1984. Typescript in Survey Files of Survey and Planning Branch, N.C. Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.
________. "Charlotte: Suburban Development in the Textile and Trade Center of the Carolinas." In Early Twentieth-century Suburbs in North Carolina, pp.69-76. Edited Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence S. Earley. Raleigh: N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, 1985.
________. Myers Park Historic District. Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Listed August 10, 1987.
Harding, Harry P. "The Charlotte City Schools." Original manuscript dated 1966 located in Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System Offices. Copy in Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Charlotte, N.C.
Hood, Davyd Foard. Survey and Planning Branch, N.C. Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C. Letter to Allison Harris Black, Black & Black, 16 February 1988.
Mecklenburg County, N.C. Register of Deeds. Map books, deed books, and records of corporations.
"Move Elizabeth to Salem, Va." Charlotte Daily Observer, 23 May 1915, p.1. "New Driveway Finished." Charlotte Daily Observer, 7 April 1906, p.5.
Newton, Norman T. Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Division of Archives and History. Survey and Planning Branch. Charlotte, Mecklenburg County Survey Files.
Oswald, Virginia. Dilworth Historic District. Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Listed April 9, 1987.
Sanborn Map Company. Sanborn maps. Charlotte series, 1929.
St. Martin's Chapel: A Brief History of Its Origin and Work, 1887-1937. n.p.: n.d. Copy in North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Stephens, Paul. "Six Landmarks of Elizabeth Heights." Paper prepared for Independent Study, Dr. Dan Morrill, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, N.C., 1980. Copy in Survey Files, Survey and Planning Branch, N.C. Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.
"The Plans Here." Daily Charlotte Observer, 31 January 1897, p.6.
"Trolley Trips in Charlotte Suburbs." Charlotte Evening Chronicle, 16 April 1910, p.7.
"Unique Locations." Charlotte News, 2 February 1904, p.1.
Young, Richard L. and Sanford, J. Kenneth. Fifty Favored Years: A History of St. John's Baptist Church. [Charlotte]: n.p., 1972.
† Allison Harris Black, Architectural Historian, Black & Black Preservation Consultants, Elizabeth Historic District, Mecklenburg County, NC, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.