Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

Preservation Awards Highlight History in Charlotte
Second Ward High School Gym honored in ceremony's return

By Ryan Pitkin

August 23, 2019

Nearly 200 people showed up at Charlotte Museum of History on Thursday night for the Historic Preservation Awards, the first event of its kind in Charlotte since 2014, at which five commercial and residential properties were recognized in a celebration of the importance of historic preservation in a fast-growing city.

Thompson Mayes, chief legal officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and author of Why Old Places Matter, began the evening with a speech listing 14 reasons why preservation is an important part of human society.

“In a place like Charlotte that changes all the time, I think you can feel that sense of stability that old places give us,” said the Cornelius native, who added that he was struck upon returning to Charlotte how little he recognized parts of North Tryon Street, while other parts loom just as they have for decades.

All the honorees of the night. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

After Mayes spoke, he introduced the five winners and two honorable mentions that were chosen out of 27 nominations submitted by the public. Winners were chosen in five categories: Historic Neighborhood Infill Commercial, Historic Neighborhood Infill Residential, Preservation Commercial, Preservation Residential and Excellence in Preservation. The winners and their stories can be found below. 

(Note: Save for direct quotes from Gwen Jackson and Adria Focht, much of the research and reporting below was carried out by nomination submitters and compiled by Charlotte Museum of History. We thank them for sharing.)

Excellence in Preservation Award: The Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation, Neighboring Concepts; Second Ward High School Gym

The Second Ward High School Gymnasium (Photo courtesy of CMoH)

Established in 1980 by Second Ward High School alumnae Dr. Mildred Baxter-Davis, Louis C. Coleman and Cecelia Jackson Wilson, the Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation has fought to preserve the memory and what’s left physically of its namesake school, which was razed along with much of the rest of the historic Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1960s.

Over the last 25 years, the foundation has held annual meetings and reunions; created a number of history exhibits; saved stories and images from the school and the Brooklyn neighborhood; and shared the school’s legacy through film, exhibits, oral history recordings and multimedia projects.

In 2018, the organization successfully advocated for the renovation and reuse of the Second Ward High School Gymnasium, built in 1949 and currently all that’s left of Second Ward High School. The gym was listed as a local historic landmark in 2008. The restoration and renovation project was done in partnership with Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

Though not a member of the foundation, Gwen Jackson has worked alongside the SWHSNAF on different projects since the late ’90s. She nominated the foundation for Thursday’s ceremony and was there to accept the award on the foundation’s behalf.

The team that accepted the top award of the night included Gwen Jackson (second from right) and representatives of Neighboring Concepts, which helped renovate the gym. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

“I thought this was a perfect time for them to get some recognition — not just for the building that they were able to save and get preserved, but for their tenacity, their resilience,” Jackson told Queen City Nerve. “All those people are not in their 20s and 30s, they are elders, and they have made Second Ward and Brooklyn a well-known place.

“They kept the culture of that eviscerated area alive even though you can’t see much of it anymore, but their tenacity has really kept it alive here in Charlotte,” she continued. “They made sure that the history has been archived and preserved and they shared it, they made it accessible to everyone; they didn’t want it to be in a silo of just Africa- American history, but of Charlotte’s history.”

Today, foundation members and former Brooklyn residents are working to help preserve Brooklyn’s cultural and historical significance by participating in stakeholder meetings with Brooklyn Village developers BK Partners and Mecklenburg County as they develop a master plan for a large mixed-use development to stand where Brooklyn once thrived. The foundation envisions the restoration of the neighborhood in a way that is propelled by community outreach and honors the history of the lost Brooklyn neighborhood.


Excellence in Preservation Honorable Mention: Leigh McDonald, Dale Treml and Jennifer Cole; NoDa Mills Homes Easements

A preserved mill home in NoDa. (Photo courtesy of CMoH)

In the early 2010s, property values in the NoDa neighborhood were soaring, making the underlying land worth far more than the small mill homes on each lot. This situation led to the loss of many of the original mill homes. Neighbors Leigh McDonald, Dale Treml and Jennifer Cole banded together to search for a way to preserve NoDa’s historic mill homes before more were lost. Because the neighborhood was resistant to seeking a historic designation, the small but passionate group sought out other options. The group eventually discovered the nonprofit Preservation North Carolina, which offers a process where individual homeowners can elect to preserve their homes through voluntary preservation easements.

To date, this effort has saved three 1905 mill homes in NoDa, providing an example of how preservation can happen in spite of high economic pressure and how sensitive renovations can provide livable, sustainable homes that also maintain neighborhood streetscapes. As a result of their success, there is new interest among NoDa residents who see the mill home’s scale and comfortable feel as a valuable asset worth preserving.


Preservation Award (Residential): The Greene Residence, 2601 Selwyn Ave.

The Greene residence (Photo courtesy of CMoH)

After purchasing the property in 2008, owners Phillip and Amy Greene undertook a multi-year process to preserve and restore this 1921 Craftsman-style residence to its original glory. Phillip led the project as general contractor and Amy provided design support, with planning assistance from architect Don Duffy. The goal was to restore the home to preserve all of its original architectural character along the popular Selwyn Avenue corridor. The result is a home that has been transformed from its prior deteriorated state into a dwelling that respects the original spirit of American foursquare architectural design, while offering the comfort and functionality of modern living.


Preservation Award (Commercial): Optimist Hall, 401 E. 16th St.

Optimist Hall (Photo courtesy of CMoH)

Charlotte-based White Point Partners and Atlanta-based Paces Properties restored the 147,000-square-foot Highland Park Manufacturing Company Mill No. 1 to its historic condition, while creating a modern space for office workers and retail patrons. Located in the Optimist Park neighborhood, this turn-of-the century textile mill building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is architecturally significant as one of Charlotte’s oldest and most intact textile manufacturing plants. The developers worked with a variety of partners to transform this historic industrial space into a commercially viable development that stays true to its original design and honors its history.

Partners included Perkins and Will, Fearnbach History Services, the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, the National Park Service and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. The finished product allows the public to see elements that epitomize late-19th- and early-20th-century industrial construction, while artifacts and signage help visitors experience the story of Highland Park Mill No.1 and the importance of textiles to the history and growth of Charlotte.


Historic Neighborhood Infill Award (Residential): Charlie Miller, 5 Points Realty; Atomic Palm Project

The Atomic Palm Project was recognized as new residential buildings that integrate sensitively with their historic environment. (Photo courtesy of CMoH)

Developer Charlie Miller of 5 Points Realty built four mid-century-modern-inspired ranch homes in 2017 on a large lot that was originally developed in the 1950s with a single cottage-style home in the center. The original 70-year-old home was moved to another location on the large lot. The new homes complement the architectural period of the neighborhood, which was developed in the 1950s and 1960s. The new homes have key elements of the original mid-century-era homes in the neighborhood, including open floor plans and unique roof lines, such as the butterfly roof.


Residential Historic Neighborhood Infill Honorable Mention: Alter Architects; 1901 Dilworth Road

Renovations to this 1924 Tudor-style cottage in Dilworth’s Historic District included the addition of a new outdoor living space and a master suite, as well as renovations inside. The team at Alter Architects paid close attention to proportions and details, inside and out, to ensure the final product honored the architectural character of the original house and integrated seamlessly with the surrounding historic neighborhood. Details included carefully matching new windows to the original restored windows, ensuring the addition’s roofline and stucco matched the original house, saving mature trees on the site and restoring the original hardware and doors.


Historic Neighborhood Infill Award (Commercial): Allen L. Brooks, ALB Architecture; Raynor Law Office, 1822 Cleveland Ave.

The Raynor Law Office, recognized as a new commercial building that integrates sensitively with its historic environment. (Photo courtesy of CMoH)

Built in 2016, the Raynor Law Office is on a corner lot at the edge of the Dilworth Historic District. Owners Ken and Lucy Raynor embarked on a project to refurbish an existing historic home facing East Worthington Avenue and add a business location facing Cleveland Avenue. The project provides a unique example of historic preservation and commercial infill on a single site, striking a balance between privacy and public interaction on a busy street corner and embracing a walkable, urban lifestyle. The goal of the project was to provide a business addition that would complement the historic house and be pedestrian-friendly, with signage and landscaping that enhance the streetscape on Cleveland Avenue. A new side patio provides accessibility to the business conference room, while a water fountain diffuses street noise. The project’s architect, Allen L. Brooks of ALB Architecture, worked closely with the Historic Districts Commission on the design elements and with the Charlotte Zoning Department to obtain a custom zoning permit for the expanded structure, allowing it to be considered a single structure with two uses by connecting the new and old buildings with a large roofed pergola.

Charlotte Museum of History President and CEO Adria Focht said she was overwhelmed by the response, both from area residents submitting nominees and the turnout on Thursday night, which doubled her expectations.
“Preservation is a passion of mine,” she told Queen City Nerve after the ceremony had wrapped.

“Particularly in Charlotte, as a growing city, it’s so important for us to celebrate historic preservation success stories, especially because I think we do a lot of lamenting about the things that are lost. But hopefully by celebrating success stories and historic preservation and sensitive neighborhood integration projects we will inspire people to do these kinds of projects and to foster a preservation ethic in Charlotte so that the average person appreciates the built environment, the architectural history that’s unique to Charlotte and represents our legacy and identity.”

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