The Emergence Of Diversity: Women, District
Dan L. Morrill
of North Carolina at Charlotte
A. G. Odell's 1966 Vision For Center City
The thirty years following the end of World War
Two in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County were anything but dull and boring.
These three decades are rivaled in importance in terms of
fundamental social and political modification only by the arrival of white
settlers in the 1740s, the defeat of the Confederacy and the end of
slavery in the 1860s, and the overpowering of Populism and the enactment
of Jim Crow
laws at the turn of the last century. Change occurred on many fronts, but all shared the common
result of increasing participation by a broader spectrum of society in
influencing and making decisions about the future of Charlotte and
The decades immediately following World War II also witnessed a major
shift in the architecture of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Modernist architects, including A. G. Odell, Jr., J. N. Pease, Jr.,
rose to prominence in Charlotte during these years and became outspoken
advocates of principles of design that rejected traditional notions of
beauty, especially the attachment of decorative ornamentation to the
outsides of buildings. Infused with optimistic expectations of the
future, architects like Odell and Pease argued that buildings should
encourage humanity to move boldly into a bright, prosperous, and better
"world of tomorrow." "The basic tenets of Modernism
emphasized function and utility; abstract beauty, sculptural form, and
symbolism; honesty in materials, and the use of modern materials and
technology as well as an emphasis on the use of natural materials," write
historians Sherry Joines Wyatt and Sarah Woodard. A. G. Odell, Jr.
had nothing but disdain for the architecture he observed when he arrived
in Charlotte in the late 1930s. "There was
nothing here," he remembered, "that illustrated the honesty of stone as
stone, steel as steel, glass as glass. Everybody was still wallowing in
the Colonial heritage." Odell, Pease, and other Charlotte
architects were determined to change that circumstance.
Nobody was predicting profound change when
World War Two came to an end. Everybody assumed that it would be
"business as usual." Indeed,
during the immediate post-war years it looked as if Charlotte’s white
male business elite would continue to monopolize local power.
The process by which Independence Boulevard
came into being seemed to affirm this truth.
tore this community apart. Beneath the deafening din of
car horns and truck exhausts one can still hear the anguished cries of the
hundreds of Chantilly
, and Piedmont Park
residents who gathered at Midwood School on Central Avenue on
September 8, 1946. These were desperate people who had just learned
that Mayor Herbert Baxter
and the City Council wanted to use $200,000 of local bond
money to help build a massive "cross-town boulevard" up
Westmoreland Avenue, down High Street, and across the Sunnyside Rose
Garden, through Independence Park
, along Fox Street past the Douglas and Sing Mortuary, through Cherry and
the Thompson Orphanage pasture, up Stonewall Street and down Brevard
Street to end at Morehead Street.
Mayor Herbert Baxter
The protestors called it a "foolish scheme" that could
"throttle traffic between downtown and the eastern residential
districts." One irate resident suggested that the route had
been chosen because it would increase the value of the property that Ben
, District Highway Commissioner and former Mayor, owned at what is now the
intersection of Independence Boulevard
and Elizabeth Avenue. "In fact, it is strange," the
irate citizen proclaimed, "how the highway seems to seek out the
schools, the stadium, one of the few parks we have, the Rose Garden and
other such places to bring its roaring buses and streams of cars along
throughout the day and night." "Virtually everybody who
lives in the eastern part of the city will have to cross its snake-like
meandering," the group warned.
Lucille K. Tyson
, an elderly lady, lived at 829 South Brevard Street, right in the path of
the proposed "cross-town boulevard." "My thoughts may
not mean so much, but I feel pretty blue and washed up today," she
lamented in a letter to the Charlotte
on March 13, 1947.
"Many times I've looked out to see surveyors all around the place,
our property staked off. Again, an official sitting in a parked car
observing and figuring." Ms.
Tyson felt powerless, maybe afraid, as she saw her whole world crashing
down around her and saw no way out of her dilemma. "We work and
work to enjoy a few happy moments in our old years, knowing we do not have
many more to go. Here comes a new idea. A Super Highway!
There! We have to pick up and go," she decried.
"Certainly, I feel let down about having to lose a home. It is
something to think about when it hits you."
John P. White
"Somebody's toes are bound to be stepped on."
That's how Councilman John P. White
, the affable, cigar-smoking, 67-year-old production manager and
mechanical superintendent of the Charlotte
responded to the protestors
of the proposed "cross-town boulevard." A native of
Alabama, White lived on Grandin Road in the Wesley Heights neighborhood
off West Trade Street. Like the majority of Charlotte businessmen of
that era, he was caught up in the euphoria and optimism that gripped the
country in the years immediately after
World War Two.
Exciting things were happening all over Charlotte. The real
estate market was booming, as developers like C. D. Spangler Sr
. and John Crosland
labored feverishly to provide housing for the hordes of
veterans who were marrying and beginning their families. Brides
appeared in regal, white gowns on page after page of the Sunday
newspaper, serenely ready to partake of the wonders of the newest kitchen
paraphernalia. Dishwashers. Electric can openers. WBT
was about to put its FM station on the air. Bing Crosby and Ingrid
Bergman were starring in "The Bells of St. Mary's" at the
Carolina Theater. In August
1946, Liggett Drugstore opened its lavish, modernistic retail outlet on
the northeastern corner of the Square, where the Bank of America
headquarters is now located.
This was not a time for sentimentality or restraint.
"You only look back for reasons to move ahead, and by golly nobody
can say that we lacked ideas," Mayor Baxter told journalist Kays Gary
in 1964. A handsome and personable Bostonian, Herbert Baxter
had come to Charlotte during World War One to train at Camp
, had settled here, had prospered in the lumber business, and had moved to
a fine home on Queens Road in Myers Park
. "Because he was so much a doer by nature," the Charlotte
reported, "he was never
a precise planner, never a man to wait to weigh every possible detail that
might go wrong." The same could have been said about Edward Dilworth
, Z. V. Taylor
, or most of Charlotte’s New South leaders.
The real brain behind the building of Independence Boulevard
was James B. Marshall
. Marshall Park in
Uptown Charlotte is named for him.
He was a brilliant engineer who had served as Mayor Ben Douglas
's City Manager. Born in Anderson, South Carolina in the early
1890s, Marshall graduated from the College of Charleston and settled in
Charlotte in the 1920s. He left City government in 1941 and joined
J. N. Pease as an engineer and contact man with City Hall.
In 1946, the Charlotte Planning Board hired Marshall as a
consultant to prepare a master plan for Charlotte's streets. Several
month earlier, the North Carolina Highway Department had conducted a
comprehensive survey of local traffic trends and had determined that
Charlotte needed "cross-town boulevards" to relieve
congestion on uptown streets. The prospect of grand and majestic
expressways was music to the ears of men like Mayor Baxter and District
Highway Commissioner Douglas. They
knew that Charlotte had become a major trucking and distribution center in
the first half of the twentieth century and that highways were essential
to the local economy. Buildings
such as the Charlotte Supply Company Building
and the Textile Mill Supply Company Building
attested to Charlotte's
service to the regional textile industry.
The first mention of what was to become Independence Boulevard
occurred in the Charlotte
on May 7, 1946. C. W.
Gilchrist, Chairman of the City Planning Board, announced that Jim
Marshall had completed a street plan that included an expressway from
Graham Street eastward along Stonewall to Sugar Creek, where it forked,
one arm leading to the Monroe and Albemarle highways, and another
connecting with Queens Road. On June 4th, City Council adopted
Marshall's master scheme, even though the exact route of the cross-town
boulevard was still undecided.
The issue did not surface again until September 1946, when word
leaked out that the expressway would split the Chantilly
, and Piedmont Park
neighborhoods. A throng of infuriated citizens packed
the City Council meeting on September 10th, and their spokesman, attorney
Frank K. Sims, Jr
., accused the City of being secretive and manipulative. They had good
reason to be mad. The group had not even seen a map of the proposed
route. Mayor Baxter assured
the neighborhood leaders that the location of the expressway was still up
in the air; he directed City Manager Henry A. Yancey
to release maps of the cross-town boulevard; and he promised
the protestors that they would have ample time to express their concerns.
On October 8, 1946, the City Council gathered for an informal
dinner at the Myers Park
County Club, where Mayor Baxter was president. In those
days it was customary for the Councilmen to decide issues in private and
then to emerge like the College of Cardinals and cast their pre-determined
votes. Imagine what the scene must have been like. There in
the midst of Myers Park, with
fine china, cut crystal, and sumptuous food on the table, the
representatives of the people endorsed the route through Chantilly
, and Piedmont Park
. That's how deals were struck in those days. Baxter and his
colleague were following a well-traveled path -- no pun intended.
On October 21, 1946, the outraged residents of the affected
neighborhoods descended upon City Hall for a public hearing. The
atmosphere was tense and electric. "Isn't it a little absurd,"
Frank Sims remarked, "to build a highway that winds and twists and
turns across a park and baseball diamond and over a rose garden and
through a thickly populated residential section just to reach Ben Douglas
Mayor Baxter and the Councilmen did modify their position in the
face of this fierce public opposition, at least in terms of the preferred
route. They instructed Jim Marshall and Henry Yancey to come up with
alternative routes for the expressway.
At 2:00 p.m. on November 12, 1946, the City Council toured eastern
Charlotte to examine three prospective rights-of-way. One was the
original route up Westmoreland Avenue and through Independence Park
, from which the cross-town boulevard eventually took its name. A
second used Westmoreland but turned left on Hawthorne Lane to Fourth
Street and continued across Sugar Creek to Stonewall. The third
, Piedmont Park
, the Sunnyside Rose Garden, and Independence Park by entering the city
along Monroe Road, swinging left past the railroad overpass to connect
with Randolph Road, continuing to the intersection of Queens Road and
Fourth Street, then moving through the Cherry neighborhood to Morehead
Street, and proceeding along Morehead to South Boulevard.
City Council approved the third route by a vote of 5 to 1 on
November 25, 1946. Ponder what that decision would have meant for
and Crescent Heights neighborhoods and the Mint Museum of Art
. But this route was never built, because the Federal government,
the principal financier of the project, rejected it outright as unsuitable
for an expressway. On December 5, 1946, the Councilmen took up the
issue again. For a while it looked like Charlotte would never decide
the issue of where to build Independence Boulevard
. The members of City Council seemed to be hopelessly divided, two
favoring the original route, two supporting Hawthorne Lane, and two
opposing the road regardless of its route.
City Councilman John P. White
saved the day. He persuaded Ross Puette and Henry Newson
to abandon Hawthorne Lane and back the original route. "By
jingo, at one point there, I thought I was going to have to switch to
Hawthorne Lane myself," White laughed. Such were the fickle
ways of politics in those days.
The battle was not over. City Council approved the contract
with the Federal government on March 11, 1947, but the opponents
threatened to sue the City for misuse of local bond money. The next
City Council had to reaffirm its support for the project in June 1947.
The momentum to build the cross-town boulevard was irreversible. And
we all live with the consequences -- good and bad.
Dr. Elmer Garinger
Few Charlotteans noticed when Bonnie E. Cone
, a mathematics teacher at Central High School
, was named the director of the Charlotte Center of the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill
in 1947. The
school was a temporary facility created to educate veterans. Cone's
appointment to head the institution turned out to be a momentous event and
a harbinger of significant change.
A woman of indomitable will and determination, Cone began almost
immediately laying plans to make the school a permanent institution of
higher education. "It is doubtful that city leaders fully anticipated at
the beginning the ramifications of having a major university in their
midst," writes Ken Sanford in his history of Charlotte College
Sanford continues, "the coming of state-supported higher education to
Charlotte set in motion a sequence of events that would forever change
Charlotte and its greater region."
Charlotte College at Central High School
The creation of Charlotte College in 1949 as a municipal-financed
institution and its eventual transformation into the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte
in 1965 was a seminal
development in the history of this community, perhaps as notable as
the arrival of Alexander Craighead
in 1758, the coming of the
first railroad to town
in 1852, and the opening of the Charlotte Cotton Mills
in 1881. So
profound was the impact of Cone's attainments that one must place her
accomplishments even above those of Jane Smedburg Wilkes, in this writer's
opinion the second most important woman in Charlotte-Mecklenburg history.
wouldn't be where it is now if it hadn't been for her,"
said Board chairperson J.
about Bonnie Cone
. Bonnie Ethel Cone
was born on June 22, 1907, in Lodge, South Carolina, a tiny
railroad town of some 200 people located roughly midway between Columbia
and Charleston. Reared in a
conservative Baptist home, Cone acquired a love of teaching as a young
child. Her first
students were the animals on her father's farm.
"I taught every little animal around in those fantastic
years," she told a reporter many years later.
"I knew from the time I started to school that I wanted to be
a teacher." Always an
excellent student, Cone graduated from Coker College, a private liberal
arts college in Hartsville, South Carolina, in 1928 with a B.S. in
mathematics. She taught in
the public schools of South Carolina until 1940.
earned an M.A. in mathematics from Duke University and moved
to Charlotte in 1941 to teach the same subject at Central High School
. The school's principal, Dr. Elmer H. Garinger
, was most impressed with Cone's intelligence and instructional abilities. In 1943, Cone returned to Duke to work as a statistician for
a U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory. After
a brief stint in Washington, D.C., she returned to Central High School in
1946 and resumed her career as a high school mathematics instructor.
Not surprisingly, Elmer Garinger
recruited Bonnie Cone
also to be a part-time teacher in the newly-opened
Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina.
She taught mathematics to engineering students.
In August 1947, Garinger summoned Cone to his
office and asked her to become the Director of the Charlotte Center,
because the first occupant of that position had returned to Chapel Hill.
"I took the job of director only as a temporary
position," she explained. "I
had prepared myself for high school teaching, and that's what I wanted to
do." Cone's administrative office was formerly the Lost and Found
Room at Central High School
. Cone did not own an automobile.
She rode a bus to campus from a house where she rented a single
room. She had no
administrative experience beyond the classroom or what she might have
acquired working for the Navy.
Dr. Bonnie E. Cone
Everybody assumed that Cone had taken a dead-end job.
Indeed, it is unlikely that Chapel Hill would have allowed a woman
to assume the position if the job had
appeared to have had any prospects of becoming permanent.
"People told me I was out on a limb, that I couldn't last. They said I should look for another job." Cone worked up
to eighteen hours a day. She
taught classes. She recruited
faculty. She even made sure
the classrooms were left clean for the high school students who would
return the next morning. "I
can't say anything but good about her," proclaimed Mary Denny
, a long-time associate. Cone's
most enjoyable task was advising students.
"Miss Cone is one of the very choice people in college
education work because she takes such a personal interest in all of the
students," said Elmer Garinger
Cone decided to fight to keep the Charlotte Center open because of
the educational opportunities the institution provided for students who
otherwise would have had little hope of attending college.
"I saw what was happening to the young people," she
explained. Governor James
summed up Cone's achievements best at the time of her
retirement. "Some people
devote their lives to building monuments to themselves. She has devoted hers to building educational opportunities
Cone's first major victory came in 1949.
She and her supporters won permission from the North Carolina
General Assembly to continue the two-year college under the auspices of
the Charlotte public school system of which Garinger had just become
, the institution ran on a shoestring.
It operated with part-time faculty in part-time classrooms and had
to depend almost solely upon student tuitions for its financial survival.
The man responsible for obtaining initial State funding in 1955 for
and maybe as influential as Bonnie Cone
in the early history of the institution was W. A. Kennedy
, nicknamed "Woody." Ken
Sanford calls Kennedy the "spiritual father of Charlotte
College." Because he
died in 1958 and therefore like Moses on Mount Nebo could only look into
the "promised land" of the college's present suburban campus,
"Woody" Kennedy is largely forgotten.
A graduate of North Carolina State University and seller of textile
machinery, Kennedy was unswerving in his determination to establish a
State-supported institution of higher education in Charlotte.
Kennedy worked tirelessly, even spending his own money to prepare
and mail out questionnaires to potential backers of the school.
Kennedy left no stone unturned in his search for money.
If necessary, he and Bonnie Cone
would let it be a private institution. At one point he approached Governor Cameron Morrison
about giving money to the school, which would then be renamed
"Morrison College." Morrison
Sometimes Kennedy's rhetoric in support of a State-supported
four-year college for Charlotte became strident.
"For years Carolina and State have both tried to throw us a
sop or bone here in Charlotte in the nature of an extension course in
order to keep us quiet," he stated. According to Kennedy, extension courses were not sufficient
to meet the educational needs of Charlotte and its environs.
"1000 additional high school graduates would go to college
each year if they had the same opportunity or the same available
facilities as some other areas of the state,"
Kennedy declared. Characterizing his critics as the same kind of nay Sayers who
had told leaders like the Oates Brothers and D. A. Tompkins
that Charlotte would never become a major textile center,
Kennedy called for a positive attitude on the subject of making Charlotte
a four-year, State-supported institution.
"Do you believe in a timid or bold approach to this
problem?," he asked.
Except for the tenacity of Kennedy and Bonne Cone, Charlotte
would never have moved beyond being a two-year community
college. "Miss Cone has
provided the faith on which the college many times found its primary
ability to exist," commented J. Murrey Atkins
. "She has stuck with it and never even thought of giving
up when sometimes the sledding seemed pretty hard." Support among the business executives of Charlotte for the
school was lukewarm at best. One
influential graduate of North Carolina State feared that putting a
state-supported college in Charlotte would harm his beloved alma mater. "I would not be in favor of anything that would in any
way hinder the growth and prestige of 'dear old State,'" he wrote.
The writer was not alone in harboring such sentiments.
"Charlotte has never been short on pride," said the Charlotte
May 11, 1956, "but with the chips down, it has often exhibited
distressingly little interest in higher education in the past."
Dramatic breakthroughs for Charlotte College
did occur in 1957 and 1958.
The school began holding its first day classes; it acquired an
independent Board of Trustees; local property tax revenues in support of
the school increased; and Charlotte College secured options on land for
its own campus. Several sites
were considered, including the Cameron Morrison
Estate or Morrocroft, the former Naval Ammunition Depot
site in what is now the
Arrowood Industrial Park, a cleared site in the Second Ward or
Brooklyn neighborhood, and a 248-acre tract on Highway 49 northeast of
Charlotte owned by Construction Brick and Tile Company.
On August 12, 1957, the Charlotte College Board of Trustees voted
to buy the Highway 49 property. Businessman
remembered going to the site with Bonnie Cone
when the only buildings on the land were a barn and a silo
left from earlier farming days. "She
reached down and grasped a handful of earth, let it sift through her
fingers and said, 'This is the place.
This is the place.'"
|The Groundbreaking Ceremony. J. Murrey Atkins
is on far right. Bonnie Cone has shovel in hand.
moved to its suburban campus in 1961. The first two buildings, one named for "Woody"
Kennedy, were designed by A.
G. Odell, Jr
., the same man David Ovens
had selected to design Ovens Auditorium
and the Charlotte Coliseum
on Independence Boulevard
. Odell, the son of a wealthy Concord textile family and
graduate of Cornell University, was Charlotte's best known and most
prolific Modernist architect. Upset
that the Charlotte College buildings resembled those that Odell was
designing for St. Andrews College at Laurinburg, Cone nonetheless pushed
ahead with Odell's plans for the new campus.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on November 21, 1960, and
classes opened the following September.
On May 8, 1962, the Board of Trustees voted to request the addition
of the junior year in 1963 and the senior year in 1964.
The North Carolina General Assembly did approve four-year,
state-supported status for Charlotte College in 1963.
Oliver Rowe was among Ms. Cone's staunchest
supporters. A building on campus is named in his honor.
was seemingly omnipresent on the Charlotte College
Campus in those early days.
This writer, a brash twenty-five year old historian at the time,
joined the faculty in June
1963 and had his first office
in what had been the kitchen for the college soda shop.
The floor sloped down to a drain in the middle of the room where
countless fluids of countless types had once descended into the unknown
depths below. Bonnie Cone
walked by one day and saw the less than ideal environment in
which this writer worked. It
might have reminded her of the Lost and Found Room at Central High School
. "I will not have a faculty member of mine sit in a
place like this," she proclaimed.
Carpenters arrived within an hour to rectify the situation.
Uppermost in Cone's mind was making
a campus of the University of North Carolina system.
"Few of the faculty and staff recruited in 1963 and 1964 would
have come to the brand new four-year college without seeing through Cone's
eyes the university that was to unfold," says Ken Sanford.
J. Murrey Atkins
, long-time chairman of the Charlotte College Board of Trustees, would not
live to see the dream's fulfillment.
He died on December 2, 1963. But
came on March 2, 1965, when the General Assembly approved the
transformation of Charlotte College into the University of North Carolina
, effective July 1, 1965. Not
since Stephen Mattoon
had raised the money to build Biddle Hall in 1883 had
Charlotte witnessed such an astounding success in the arena of higher
education. A spontaneous
celebration erupted on campus when word reached Charlotte from Raleigh.
"Miss Cone, can you hear the victory bell ringing?,"
exclaimed her secretary into
Certainly, there were influential
women in this community
before Bonnie Cone
. Not the least among them was Gladys Avery Tillett
. Tillett labored tirelessly for the ratification of the
19th Amendment in 1920, even using a handkerchief embroidered
"Votes for Women." She
helped found the Mecklenburg League of Women Voters
and was an active Democrat
until her death in 1984.
It was in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that
substantial numbers of women began to assume positions of political
influence in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
"A lot of women became involved in the political process in
our community -- not just pouring the tea and helping the guys, but
getting out there themselves and being in the forefront," remembered
one member of the Women's Political Caucus.
"It was very exciting, the beginning of women feeling they had
some power, to be reckoned with, to be able to speak in a voice,"
recalled another. In 1954, Martha Evans
, an exuberant redhead, became the first female member of the Charlotte
City Council. She twice ran for mayor, against James Smith
in 1959 and against Stan Brookshire
and James Smith
in 1961. Evans
lost both times. In 1972, Myers Park
resident Elizabeth or "Liz" Hair
won a seat on the Board of County Commissioners and became
chairperson of that body in 1974.
A founding member of the Charlotte Women's Political Caucus
, Hair was determined to advance issues that were especially important to
women. She was instrumental
in establishing the Mecklenburg County Women's Commission
, the Council on Aging, and the adoption of the county's first affirmative
action plan. She was
responsible for the County's initial greenway master plan and was pivotal
in saving the historic First Baptist Church in 1977 as the home of Spirit
Betty Chafin, now Betty Chafin Rash
, was also an early leader of the Charlotte Women's Political Caucus
. Born in Atlanta and reared
in Winston-Salem, Chafin came to Charlotte in 1965 and soon started
devoting much of her energy and talents to broadening the base of
political participation in this community.
Elected to City Council in 1975, she became a champion for ending
the totally at-large system of electing members to that body.
It had been that arrangement, enacted in 1917, that more than
anything else had assured that white males would dominate local
government. "Almost the
whole council lived in one quadrant of the city," declared one of
Chafin's allies. "This
whole community was being governed by a slice of pie which if you'd eaten
it, you would've eaten up southeast Charlotte."
representation was the "product of no blue-ribbon
committee, Chamber task force or uptown bankroll," wrote Charlotte Observer
Jim Morrill. It was the
"result of a small group of people who wanted to push more chairs
around the public table." Sam
, a computer software developer, called it "as pure grass-roots an
effort as you'll ever see." Smith
insisted that Charlotte's Westside was the "stepchild" of the
city and would never receive just treatment until it was more adequately
represented on City Council and on other elected and appointed committees
and agencies. Smith recruited
other Westsiders, including truck driver Marvin Smith
, and leaders of Charlotte's emerging neighborhood movement to back his
of the Urban
Institute at UNCC
assisted Smith and his
supporters in developing a plan for having City Council consist of
seven district representatives and four at-large representatives.
, son of New South retailer William Henry Belk
, was mayor from 1969 until 1977. A
millionaire, Belk vigorously opposed district representation.
On October 11, 1976, he took the unprecedented step of vetoing a
resolution calling for a referendum on the issue.
Rash and the other three members of City Council who had supported
the initiative were stunned. "All we wanted," explained City
Councilman Neil Williams
, "was the chance to submit the proposal to the people."
Mayor John Belk opposed district representation.
According to Belk, a specific scheme
had to be presented to the voters. "Being for district representation
is like being for motherhood," he declared.
"In my opinion, you've got to find out who your mother is
before you come out for motherhood."
Belk insisted that district representation was not a priority
issue. Wrangling over district boundaries, he argued, would take
inordinate amounts of time and would divert public attention from the more
urgent need to consolidate city and county governments.
"I think the main thing that needs to be worked out is
consolidation of the city and county," said Belk during the debate on
Much like his father, Belk
believed that corporate executives and their lieutenants could provide the
best government for all. "When
you've got a winning team," he maintained, "you ought to leave
it alone" Mayor Belk contended that "district representation
would impede growth of the city, create 'horse trading' among council
members and mean that the district council members would not represent the
city at large on some issues," writes Alex Coffin in his book, Brookshire
and his allies overcame Belk's veto by gathering thousands of
names on petitions to force a referendum. "We won in the face of a
lot of power," said Smith. The
voters of Charlotte narrowly approved district representation for City
Council on April 19, 1977. Blacks
broke their traditional alliance with southeast Charlotte and sided
instead with middle class and lower middle class white precincts in west,
north, and east Charlotte and with neighborhoods such as Dilworth
. A reporter for the Charlotte
the import of what had occurred. "When
neighborhood groups in north, west, and east Charlotte combined with a
substantial majority of black voters to pass district representation
Tuesday, they said goodbye to a long tradition in city government -- the
domination of City Hall by well-to-do business leaders from southeast
The establishment of district
representation on City Council in 1977 and the eventual adoption of
similar arrangements for the Board of County Commissioners and the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board in the 1980s sounded the death knell of
the political system that the New South leaders had established at the
turn of the last century. "The result," says Alex Coffin,
"was that fewer payroll-meeting businessmen -- or businesswomen --
were elected thereafter." Not
surprisingly, there was a concerted effort by some business executives to
abolish district representation. In 1981, the citizens of Charlotte
defeated that initiative. They
went to the polls and said "yes" to continuing the new system by
a margin of 11,023 votes. The
days of unrivaled political
hegemony by Charlotte's business elite were over.
A. G. Odell, Jr. in an informal moment
The architecture and urban design plans for Charlotte-Mecklenburg of this
era also reflected the profound changes
that were occurring in this community in the years immediately following
World War II. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the work of A.
G. Odell, Jr. A. G. Odell, Jr., the
flamboyant son of a Cabarrus County textile executive, studied
architecture at Cornell University and came to Charlotte in 1939 to
establish a one-man office. By the time of his death in April 1988 Odell
oversaw the operations of one of the largest and most influential
architectural businesses in North Carolina. "In a society where class
connection still counted for much, young Odell had automatic entry to the
offices of the area's mill owners and businessmen," writes historian
Thomas Hanchett. When Odell arrived, Charlotte’s buildings were
overwhelming conservative and revivalist in appearance and had been so for
decades. "Most architecture in the area can best be described as
pseudo-neoclassical, with elements of design copied from buildings
elsewhere that had already incorporated copied elements of classic
design," remembered M. H. Ward, one of Odell’s early associates. A. G.
Odell, Jr. became Charlotte’s principal champion of the International
style and devoted his considerable talents and energies to reshaping the
local urban landscape. For good or ill, he largely succeeded. Odell
embraced the architecture of "tomorrow" and had nothing but disdain for
the revivalist buildings he observed on the streets of Charlotte.
One of Odell's
earliest surviving International style houses is the Robert and Elizabeth Lassiter
House at 726 Hempstead Place in Charlotte. Built in 1951 in the
otherwise traditionalist Eastover neighborhood, the Lassiter House
exhibits the exuberant boldness one finds in Odell's designs. A
friend of attorney Robert Lassiter, Odell worked closely with Lassiter's
wife Elizabeth in developing plans for the house. Steel beams support the
roof and eliminate the need for load-bearing interior walls, thereby
enabling large open spaces to predominate throughout the interior. A
particularly ingenious scheme was an arrangement whereby the dining table
could be set in the kitchen, complete with food and adornments, and slid
through the wall into the dining room, where guests could witness the
dramatic arrival of the entire repast.
Odell made special arrangements for a built-in
The foyer of the Lassiter House is walled in glass
to allow light to penetrate the interior.
Another of Odell's early
home designs is the Goldstein House (1958) on Merwick Circle.
Fashioned by Albert Cameron, an architect in Odell's firm, the house is
modest in size but dramatic in impact.
The fundamentals of the International style centered upon the exploitation
of new materials, especially reinforced concrete, strengthened steel, and
large expanses of glass, to create grace, airiness, and to allow great
amounts of sunlight to penetrate the interior of structures.