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Interview with J. Norman Pease

Pease, J. Norman
Perzel, Edward
Date of Interview: 
Architecture - North Carolina - Charlotte; Charlotte - Buildings, structures, etc.; Charlotte Commerce; Automobile racing; Fort Bragg, NC; African Americans - Civil Rights; Charlotte Politics and Government; Parks
>Noted architect Colonel J. Norman Pease gives details of early Charlotte development and his relationship and opinion of the leaders who helped shape Charlotte.
Charlotte, 1920s - 1940s
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The WSOC-TV Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
Interview Audio: 
EP (Edward Perzel): This is Edward Perzel interviewing Colonel J. Norman Pease on May 22, 1979. Colonel Pease tell us, were you born in Charlotte?
NP (J. Norman Pease): No, I was born in Columbus, Georgia.
EP: And when did you come to Charlotte?
NP: Moved to Charlotte in 1920.
EP: What was Charlotte like when you came here?
NP: It was, well, Charlotte had a population of about 30,000 people. Streetcars were still running. And Tryon Street was Tryon Street. Streets were the same as they are now, but I think they are very--, most of the old buildings have been demolished, although there are a few still left. And the old hotel that I stayed at the first night I was in Charlotte was the Central Hotel. That was the corner of Tryon and Trade Street. Right where the Radisson Ho--, Plaza is now. And where the other hotel was the Buford Hotel, which was on the corner below. They were the two hotels that were--, possibly the Selwyn, I'm not sure about that. But I stayed at that, and they had just regular old time, and I've often heard my friend Mr. Wade say that at lunch time the waiters with a brass bell would walk up and down Tryon Street yelling, "Lunch is served at the Buford Hotel. Lunch is served at the Central Hotel." Both hotels of course have been torn down now. And the Buford Hotel was the site of the original City Club.
EP: Was the Central really fancy inside by that standard of the day?
NP: By that standard. Yes. By that standard, yes.
EP: Did, did you remember in 1923 they built the present day White House Inn. Do you remember them building that?
NP: Oh, yes.
EP: Do you remember the controversy over building that?
NP: I do.
EP: Do you remember anything about Edward Dilworth Latta?
NP: I remember that Mr. Latta had a site on South Tyron Street that he wanted them to build on. And they did not build on that site but built where it was built, and Mr. Latta got very upset about it moved to Asheville. So I'm told.
EP: That's true. [laughter] He died shortly after.
NP: He, Mr. Latta at that time had franchise to the street railway. He sold that to Duke Power company. But he did provide, as I understand it, that a street car would still run down East Boulevard where Mr. Latta's home was for a number of years after the sale was made. It was the last street car to be taken up.
EP: The one going to East Boulevard?
NP: Yeah. Mr. Latta lived there and provided in his sale that it would continue running.
EP: Did you ever meet Mr. Latta?
NP: No, I met his son, but I never met Mr. Latta.
EP: So, you really didn't know too much about him.
NP: No, I didn't know him at all.
EP: His personality?
NP: I knew his daughter and son.
EP: Did his son stay in Charlotte?
NP: For a while, yes. I don't just when he died. He stayed in Charlotte I believe 'til he died.
EP: Why did you come to Charlotte in 1920?
NP: Well, I was then associated with Lockwood Green Engineers, and they felt this was a growing community. They had no representative here. Sent me in to open an office. They were engineers, architects. Mostly in the textile industry and this was at that time, the center of the textile industry.
EP: Where was your office that you opened?
NP: [pause] In the old Academy of Arts building next to the old insurance building that was called the [pause].
EP: It was on South Tryon?
NP: South Tryon ( ).
EP: The Piedmont Building?
NP: Piedmont Building. Yes, it was in the Piedmont Building. And we grew out of that office and moved into the Johnson building. And then later moved down into the building now, the Tate Building just over Jack Woods place. That's when I left Charlotte, went to New York. Stayed in New York for five years with my family and then later, I commuted to New York for five years.
EP: From Charlotte?
NP: Yes. Then came back to Charlotte in 1938 and opened my own business.
EP: Tell me, did, what was the Academy of Music Building like. I've, I've seen pictures of it. It's a very attractive building.
NP: You know it burned. It was just a big opera house, we called it at that time. I imagine it seated in my memory, maybe, 1200 people. And we had lots of good shows, travelling shows, at that time.
EP: That was sort of the Ovens Auditorium of the day.
NP: Right. Right. Then it burned, and then moved down to the corner of 5th and College Street. Then later out to the, near Central Piedmont Community College.
EP: It's the armory.
NP: The armory.
EP: Parts of it.
NP: Parts of it.
EP: Why did you leave Charlotte? To, did your company move you?
NP: My company moved me to New York. That was the headquarters of the firm at the time. They moved me to New York.
EP: You came in 1920, did you recall people talking about Camp Greene, which of course, it had been
NP: Oh, yes.
EP: destroyed by then, but did they think that was important to Charlotte?
NP: Well, all of those camps, and I visited Camp Greene. 'Cause I was in the army and I came to Charlotte on official business and went to Camp Greene. And it was like, it wasn't any different from any other city in which they had big camps. It was an in rush of, of men, money, and a splurge. Where I think that everybody was cooperative, filled with the spirit of trying to do something for the soldiers, which was a popular expression, with the best intent. No, I didn't here any adverse comment about it.
EP: Well, did people think that it was important to making Charlotte grow in the 1920's?
NP: I don't think so. It was a temporary shot in the arm. Just like you take a shot of novocain. But it a, it was good for the city of Charlotte. Because otherwise, you'd, you'd had a very bad economic situation. Draining the men off say go to Raleigh, Salisbury, you name it. Same thing that happened many of the towns.
EP: When you came to Camp Greene was it a visit or were you stationed there for--?
NP: Oh, no, no, no. I just came on official business. I was stationed Washington.
EP: You just came and visited and left the Camp.
NP: I came and spent a few hours and left.
EP: You weren't there very long?
NP: Oh, no. No. I just came down. Was sent there by Washington, official business.
EP: What, what was your role in the army at that time? Were you in the engineering corps?
NP: I was in the construction, I mean the construction division of the quarter master corps. And in Washington, I was executive officer to the [pause], to the officer in charge of purchasing all materials for all war materi--, for all war construction.
EP: So, you were involved in purchasing of materials at Camp Greene?
NP: No. No. Well, I guess I was at that. I didn't know it. Now that you--.
EP: Indirectly?
NP: Indirectly. Yes, Now that you mention it.
EP: You came back to Charlotte in 1938.
NP: That's right.
EP: Did you notice a change from 1920?
NP: Not drastic. No, you see they'd been through the terrible Depression. And everybody was trying to recover from the Depression. [clears throat] And I just felt, which I had been through in New York, a very drastically drain on me and my resources at that time. And I just decided that I'd open an office of my own. The company I was with was flat, and so I just decided that--, I just decided that Charlotte was a town with a lot of future and I better get down there and get busy, which I did.
EP: You think there wasn't a whole lot of growth between 1920 and 1938?
NP: No not a lot. Not marked growth and certainly no big development downtown.
EP: When, when would you say that that kind of growth began?
NP: Started just about that time. Ivey's added a big addition to it downtown. It was followed by several other projects downtown. Not drastic like it was the last ten, fifteen years.
EP: What were some of the first buildings you were involved with in Charlotte when you returned?
NP: Well, was the first one. Central Piedmont Community College from its beginning. We've been there all the time. [pause] It would have to-I'm getting dates mixed up. If you were talking about 1938.
EP: 193--, as your separate firm. That's what I'm curious which buildings you were involved with?
NP: Well, we were involved with the city of Charlotte doing a great deal of there sanitary work. Sewage disposal plants. Water works installation and that was a major part of our business immediately. And then we had our camp, Camp Bragg, which was a big job. That was when we were getting ready for World War II, see. We did all the work at Camp Bragg. At one time we had 40,000 men working. It seems ridiculous now, but factually it did. But they, they built a whole town for about 60,000 men in eight months. Water works. Sewage. Housing and everything else. Hospitals and everything else.
EP: Your firm handled that whole job?
NP: Yes, we handled the job.
EP: That's quite a job.
NP: And then [pause] I went in the army again. In '42 and was away during that period until I came back.
EP: How old were you when you back in the army?
NP: Fifty-seven.
EP: Fifty-seven, was that unusual for somebody your age to be returning to the army?
NP: Well, I don't know. Everybody wanted to do what they could regardless of age. I was associated with men who were older than I.
EP: You weren't in a reserve or anything in the--?
NP: Yes, I was.
EP: You were?
NP: I was called back.
EP: Oh, so between World War I and II you were still in the army?
NP: In the Reserves, yes.
EP: reserve status?
NP: Right. I was called back.
EP: And you have the title colonel. Is that out of World War II?
NP: I was lieutenant colonel and promoted later. Lieutenant colonel first World War.
EP: First World War?
NP: Right. Then I was promoted later to a colonel. Then after serving in Washington for several months I was getting a regiment, 369th regiment, which I took to the South Pacific.
EP: So you saw active duty and combat duty in that--?
NP: No, we did not get in the combat zone. We got in the combat zone, but I never saw, with our regiment we di--, we were rather far behind most of the activity.
EP: Were you in the quartermen--, in construction end at that time?
NP: No, I was in the Corps of Engineers. I had been transferred from quartermaster to the Corps of Engineers.
EP: So tell me something about some of the, the movers and shakers in Charlotte? You came here 1920, you've obviously run into an awful lot them, and I know you were one of them. But some of those who helped you move and shake.
NP: [laughter] Well, some of the most shaking [laughter] people that I knew then was [long pause]. The Chamber of Commerce was a big influence. Run by, run at that time by Clarence Kuester, who devoted his real life and sacrificially to the Chamber of Commerce and deserves a lot of credit. They--, Mr. H. M. Wade was a factor. Mr. McAden was a factor, although he suffered terrible losses in the great recession. He lost his home and his bank and everything else. Mr.--.
EP: He was textiles first, didn't he?
NP: No, he was not in textiles. Although maybe split our interest. He was at the bank, president of the bank, of the Charlotte National Bank. First National Bank it was called. Mr. Wilkinson was a factor. Mr. Little was a factor. [pause] Mr. -- W. S. Lee was president of Duke Power, and the grandfather of the present president, was a big factor in promoting Charlotte. John Fox, who worked for the Duke Power Company, was a public relations man, as was Paul Lucas the father of the Paul Lucas who recently died. Norman Conch.
EP: Did you know some of the mayors of Charlotte?
NP: I knew them all.
EP: You knew them all?
NP: Yeah.
EP: From when. The 30s?
NP: The 20s.
EP: From the 20s. What, who were some of the people do you think really served the city well in that capacity?
NP: Well, I think that Herbert Baxter served the city well. Stan Brookshire served the city well. John Belk did a tremendous job.
EP: Tell me a little bit about Herbert Baxter. He, he left didn't he, moved to Gastonia eventually?
NP: No, no. That was Smith.
EP: Smith did. I see.
NP: Herbert Baxter was president of the Central Lumber Company. And a very personable, a man devoted to the city of Charlotte, would who spend twenty-four hours if necessary for the benefit of the city. So much so that he, is love for the city interfered with his operation of Central Lumber Company. He had a very, very tough time financially. But Charlotte never had a more devoted citizen than Herbert Baxter.
EP: Does Central Lumber exist today at all?
NP: No.
EP: It went out of business?
NP: It went out of business.
EP: It wasn't purchased or bought or moved?
NP: No. It might have been bought, but Herbert lost all the interest he had and it's gone out of business now.
EP: Who were some of the other figures in the earlier years of Charlotte that--?
NP: Mr. Victor. Tom Griffith.
EP: What did Mr. Victor do?
NP: President of First Un--, of the Union National Bank it was called then.
EP: Was there a real rivalry between these banks--.
NP: Oh yeah.
EP: Today we tend to have that. Was that--? Did that--?
NP: Oh yes.
EP: Do you think that was good for the city?
NP: I do.
EP: It brought business in they tried to build.
NP: Oh sure. A good healthy rivalry always helps. This was good and healthy. And, and I thought it was good for the city. They were good banks. [pause] My, god, there were so many people that contributed to the growth of Charlotte. Jack Oven was a stem winder. Henry Allison. Why I hate to name names because you leave out some of the most important people that you know, that were really. [pause]
EP: Tell me a little bit about Mr. Kuester. Was he, he was called Booster Kuester? Is that right?
NP: Yeah. Booster Kuester.
EP: Why, why do think he became so involved? What motivated him?
NP: Clarence Kuester was in the wholesale. Was a travelling salesman. A wholesale distributor. I think. I don't know whether it was drugs or whether it was a drug store or whether it was food. But I did know at the time. I think it was Scott Drug Company, but I'm not sure. But Clarence was probably the most sacrificial man I know. He and Herbert Baxter were very much alike. He spent all of his time thinking what he could do to promote Charlotte.
EP: He made that his career?
NP: He, definitely. He made that his career. He was, didn't have any real capital of his own. Worked on a very small salary. Raised a nice family. The boys are here now and the daughter, and they're all fine citizens. Clarence to his own detriment spent much, much more time in Chamber of Commerce work than his salary would justify. Now when he resigned from the Chamber of Commerce, I was president. And we gave him a dinner at the Charlotte Country Club, gave him an automobile, and a silver Charlotte Chamber of Commerce card. And I never saw a man more appreciative in my life. And I, the next day I left, went to New York on some business trip, was there maybe a couple of days. Came back and Clarence was dead. He had a heart attack, the next day after that. Never saw his automobile, never rode in it, but if any man could go out at the height of his own personal glory, Clarence did. He was really, just had his honor paid him by the his peers--, I don't like that word. But anyhow he was, and he was very, very pleased, very happy, and died very happy.
EP: Did he ever become frustrated with his attempts to make Charlotte grow?
NP: No, I never saw it. Just worked.
EP: He never came to you?
NP: No.
EP: In despair at any time?
NP: No.
EP: You'd say he was a real optimist?
NP: No question about it. If you wanted something done, [laughter] I'll never forget this statue we've got out here of the doughboy. He just went around to a lot of people and said, "I want some money." And he got it to buy the statue. He did things that way.
EP: Is it true that the Chamber of Commerce more or less picked the mayors of Charlotte? Do you think they had a lot of political influence?
NP: No. No.
EP: You don't--. That's said sometimes.
NP: Oh, yes, I know. I really, I've been in Chamber of Commerce since 1920, except for the time I was in New York, and I've never seen them enter into a political campaign.
EP: Some people said if you weren't president of the Chamber, you couldn't become mayor? But you never became mayor.
NP: No I never became mayor, and I. There are very few presidents of the Chamber of Commerce. Herbert Baxter never, never was may--, president of the Chamber of Commerce. [pause] The present mayor was never president of the Chamber of Commerce. John Belk was never president of the Chamber of Commerce. Now, wait a minute. Maybe, maybe he was.
EP: I believe so.
NP: Yes, he was president because I went to John with the nominating committee. He was president. [pause]
EP: Did you know Mr. Younts, or Younts?
NP: Paul Younts. Yes, Paul was a leader too. I'm glad you mentioned him. Paul was a stem winder.
EP: He was an important political figure too, wasn't he?
NP: Yes. Definitely.
EP: Sort of behind the scenes?
NP: Right. Never ran for public office himself, although he was postmaster at one time.
EP: He was postmaster?
NP: Right. And he was in the second World War. And was a general, Brigadier General when he came out.
EP: He outranked you then.
NP: Oh, yes.
EP: How, well, how did he get so far in the army when he--? Had he been a career man?
NP: No, but Paul worked at it. I didn't work at it. [laughter]
EP: You played at the army and he worked?
NP: Well, after I got in I did, but I, in the meantime, didn't. He did. He, he worked out of as a reserve officer. Kept him on it. Yeah.
EP: Were there any really major political controversies in Charlotte in the 30s and 40s that you're aware of? [long pause]
NP: Oh, there have always been controversies, particularly about zoning. And liquor by the drink was big factor. It was defeated the first time. But that's been a big, big factor. Zoning is always a controversial object. [pause]
EP: Do you think Charlotte has had pretty good planning for its growth?
NP: I think it has had remarkably good planning. I think that when people, I have said it several times, that one of the things that has kept Charlotte downtown alive was that the governing bodies employed competent planners ten, fifteen years ago to make a plan for the growth of Charlotte--excuse me-- of Charlotte. As the occasion demanded, it's been changed some, but generally speaking, they've stuck to one idea of developing Charlotte and it's, it's paid off.
EP: Who do you think is responsible for that one idea? What group?
NP: I think the city council at the time and possibly the Chamber of Commerce. Chamber of Commerce was very active, very influential, but they haven't gotten into politics.
EP: They have been very important.
NP: They recently, within the last few months, have decided it is perfectly proper for them to get into politics.
EP: They're, they're creating a committee
NP: Right.
EP: that requires that kind of involvement.
NP: That's right.
EP: Tell me something about the, the changes, racial changes in Charlotte. You lived here a long time and, and saw the desegregation of the city. What, what do you remember about that? Do you remember the sit-ins and anything like that?
NP: Yes. With the, when they passed the desegregation laws [pause] there was a lot of controversy, particularly this school busing business.
EP: What about prior to that though in the, in the 60s when I believe Stan Brookshire made efforts to integrate restaurants and the theatres and things like--. Were you ever involved in some of that?
NP: Yes, I was. I, I think that there were expressions and people talked about it but I differentiate between difference of opinion and controversy.
EP: Um.
NP: We had a violent difference of opinion. I remember Stan Brookshire as the president of the Chamber of Commerce. I think it was Stan. Slug Clyburn, Clayburn, who as you may know runs a lot of restaurants here. He said to the Chamber of Commerce, "Now we've got a law that restaurants and all ( ) should be open to all races." And he said, "That is the law. My restaurants will be open. And if you men believe that that it is the right thing to do, why don't you do something about it. How many of you," he said, "will invite a nigger to have lunch with you in the dining room of one of the hotels?" That, that we did.
EP: So you think Slug Clayburn was an important leader in that change?
NP: He was one of the important leaders, yes, in that sense. Now, I think there is still controversy on this busing. It makes little sense to take six and seven year old children and put them in a bus and carry them four, five miles in the dark in the winter in order that they can go to some other school besides the neighborhood school. And I think most of the blacks and whites agree to that. It'll take some time, but there's no tension now to amount to anything at all. It's a, it's a Charlotte, I think, has been signaled out as a good example of having met a very tough proposition very well. And we in Charlotte as you must in Raleigh and other places resent the implication that we in the South have to do that but New York doesn't find it convenient. And other big cities, although Boston has had a terrible time with it. [pause]
EP: Tell, tell me some more about some of the people in Charlotte. There, there are a lot of colorful figures. If you had to pick the three most colorful figures in the last fifty years in Charlotte, who'd, who'd you put on that list?
NP: A man from the university came to my office one day on 7th Street where we had an office. And he said, "I'm writing a thesis," or making a survey I believe, he said. "Young man," I said, "Here is a list of fifteen prominent men in Charlotte. Do you--. Would you say they are the fifteen most prominent men in Charlotte?" And I said, "I tell you. They are fifteen prominent men, but for every fifteen men you give me, prominent men, child, I give you fifteen more." That's the genesis of Charlotte's growth. We do, do not have any group that runs the city of Charlotte.
EP: Do you think, in some reading I've done, that perhaps Mr. Latta's departure sort of signaled that change. It, it really seems that, that he wanted to run it and he wasn't able to.
NP: Well, I wouldn't say that. I, I mean, I wouldn't make that accusation. I di--, I never knew Mr. Latta, so I, I don't know. But I know he did just that.
EP: Do you remember David Ovens?
NP: Oh, David Ovens. I'd put him down as a top man. Very--, right among the very top. Now, Dave was a very close friend of mine. Dave was top notch in any thing for the benefit of Charlotte. I don't know any man in Charlotte that during his lifetime entered into more of the community concerts, the arts of various kinds, the [pause], oh the a, the church building, the Myers Park Presbyterian Church. He was a leader in that. He was a leader in merchants. He was--, I don't know why I didn't think of Dave almost immediately.
EP: He was a leader in the Chamber?
NP: Oh yeah! Dave was a leader in almost anything he undertook. He founded the, took over the Good Fellows Club when he it was just a boy's benefit club or some such thing on the Second Presbyterian Church. And he started that and it is currently a big charitable organization with about 900 members. And Dave's the spark plug that did it.
EP: Do you, did you ever meet William Henry Belk?
NP: Yes.
EP: Well, tell us something about him.
NP: Mr. Belk was a conservative, splendid citizen. Merchant. Very generous. [pause] Founded, of course, the Belk organization, he and his brother. And very quiet. Cut that thing off for a minute.
EP: Sure you want us to turn it off.
NP: Yeah, I don't think this--.
EP: That's what we need is things you want us to turn this off for.
NP: But that gives you some idea of Mr. Belk.
EP: What about the Ivey's. You obvio--, you did some work for them you obviously must have known them.
NP: Oh, yes. I've known all the Ivey's including George, the original founder. You see, he founded the firm and then he, Dave Ovens was here, I think, with Crestal Woolworth, and Mr. Ivey got Dave Ovens from them. And David was a big factor in looking forward to Ivey's stores. At that time, Mr. Ivey was a very religious man. Very much wrapped up in his church and never would have the show windows open on Sunday. He always pulled the curtains on the show windows on Sunday.
EP: That's been 'til quite recently too.
NP: Well, 'til George Jr. took over.
EP: He changed it?
NP: He changed it.
EP: Well, you've been involved in architecture and you've seen the city grow and so forth and of course there's a big movement in preservation of various buildings,
NP: Right.
EP: Fourth Ward and downtown. What do you think of all that?
NP: I think the idea is good, but I think the interpretation of what is historical has gone far field.
EP: How do you mean that?
NP: Well, I mean the Independence building up here. It's supposed a historical building. It's not historical in any amount or means in my sense. In the first place the original building was added to three stories to the original building was added. It was built about the turn of the century, but that's eighty years old so that's not old.
EP: You're older than that.
NP: Well, yeah. I'm not a historical figure though.
EP: I don't know about that.
NP: I've been pretty well preserved I'd say that. [laughter] But, but that's, that's my criticism there. I think they if they, the idea is all right. The idea is all right. And there are a lot of buildings here or houses or places that have been torn that I wish we had maintained.
EP: Do you remember Fourth Ward when it was a much better neighborhood than it has been recently?
NP: Fourth Ward was a well by comparison only, Fourth Ward was a good neighborhood by comparison to the area where the Civic Center is now. Where the civic development, in the court house and all. Marshall Park. Marshall Park was a definite slum area. They had a creek running through there, open sewage. I have crossed that stream to get to a house on a plank that was maybe a twelve inch plank or fourteen inch plank just on that bank and this bank crossing that stream. It was as bad a slum area and a foul a place as you can imagine people live in. And when they bought all that. The city acquired it all and developed a Civic Center, a Civil Center, a governmental center is the proper name. Developed a governmental center, they did a magnificent thing for the city of Charlotte. That was really one the outstanding point of growth. [pause]
EP: When you moved here in 1920, where was the best neighborhood to live in and where? Where would you say the so called elite lived at that time?
NP: I knew, I would say many of the elite lived right where we are: North Tryon Street, South Tryon Street, Church Street and College Street, in this general neighborhood. And new development in 1920s was Myers Park. Eastover came later. Myers Park.
EP: Did you know Mr. Myers?
NP: No. No. I don't know when he died. I never knew him. That was a farm, you know, out there, and Earl Draper developed it. Landscape architect for Mr. Myers or for, for the corporation. I don't know who it was. But that was the, the elite place.
EP: Do you have any other good stories to tell us like the one about Mr. Belk? Would you let us put on tape.
NP: No, I don't think so.
EP: No. Don't you think you have something you'd like to leave for posterity?
NP: [laughter] I don't care what posterity. [laughter] I don't think posterity is interested in anything that I have done or said.
EP: I think they are.
NP: Well, it's your story. [laughter] No, I just came because I was flattered to be asked.
EP: Well, I think that it's great you came, and I certainly enjoyed having you here.
NP: Well, got everything you want now, you think?
EP: I don't know. Well, I'm sure we could spend a few more days or more, but--?
NP: Well, I have, I have an appointment later, but I can stay. I mean I have, I'm in no hurry and if there's anything you just want to yap about. But, but I'm glad to give you anything I have if it contributes to anything.
EP: Tell me about--. Let me turn this tape over and talk because we're sort of at the end of it.
EP: Let me just check this and see if we're--. All right, we're back on here now. Tell me, tell me as an architect engineer and a major civic leader in Charlotte, tell me your perspective on your contributions in building in Charlotte. You've done an awful lot.
NP: I don't know that I've done anything. I've just done my job that I was paid for.
EP: Well, what, what are the kinds of things you, you were involved in that you remember the most.
NP: Well, I've been involved in, professionally, in many of the developments of Charlotte. But I rather think that that's something that I was employed to do rather than voluntary service. I've been worked in the United Appeal, and I've worked in the, many of the charitable organizations. The Good Fellows Club has been my hobby. And the church. But I, I've always felt that I enjoyed my work and all its ramifications. It hasn't always been easy. We've had some very, very tough years. Then we've had some very good years. But we've had the privilege of being associated with some very fine men: Curtis Johnson, the Knight brothers of the Knight Publishing Company, the First Union National Bank, First Citizen's Bank. You name it. They've all been, George Ivey from Ivey's. The Belks. And we've enjoyed association with all those people.
EP: How, when did you first get involved in things like United Community Services or whatever else that was called?
NP: First time I came to Charlotte.
EP: In the 20s?
NP: Yeah.
EP: What, why did you get involved then. Why, why do you think you decided to?
NP: They just asked me to do something, and I did it.
EP: You were sort of asked and just got involved.
NP: Right.
EP: And you've been involved with them ever since basically.
NP: [laughter] Yes, I have to some extent.
EP: Let me ask you, if you remember Lakewood Park which was at the end of the trolley line.
NP: We used to go out there to have a picnic.
EP: What kind of a development was that?
NP: No development.
EP: It was just a--.
NP: I think they had a merry-go-round or something like that at one time. And they had a lake, and the end of the trolley line, and the Charlotte Country Club was first located out there.
EP: Oh really.
NP: Yeah. Very are few people know that.
EP: Did they have a golf course or--?
NP: No, no, no. Just a clubhouse. That was OK down at the Lakewood area first.
EP: I didn't know that. Well, so it wasn't an amusement park. It wasn't a Carowinds type of thing.
NP: Oh, no, nothing like that. They, they I don't remember that they had anything of that kind, but I do remember that we'd go out there once or twice and have a picnic.
EP: Did a lot of people go there?
NP: I don't know.
EP: It was, was sort of like Reedy Park
NP: Yeah.
EP: is today.
NP: About like that, yes. Very, very small scale.
EP: There was, was another park up there called Liberty Park?
NP: I don't know Liberty Park.
EP: It was adjacent to Camp Greene. I, I just-
NP: I don't know. I don't know that one.
EP: What about auto racing? I, I understand that there used to be a board track somewhere in Charlotte.
NP: In 1925 about, Osmond Barringer, who was a pioneer in the automobile business in Charlotte, Cottington. B. D. Heath, and several other men of that, got decided they wanted to have some big auto racing. And they built, I think it was a mile and a half, board track. And they did. They opened with a five hundred mile race. And they had the big races down here. I remember Peter DePaulo was here. The Chevrolet boys were here. One of them, the other one had been killed. They brought their big Indianapolis cars down here, and we had a first class race.
EP: Where was that track?
NP: It was just beyond where Lance's plant is and between there and Pineville. There's an industrial development there now on that site. It lasted three years. The second year they felt they had comment that five hundred miles was too long so they had two races: a three hundred mile and two hundred mile race. And Petey DePaulo autographed a book on, on, of him, his for my boy and he still has it. And about the fourth year, the end of the boards starting turning up, [laughter] and the track got bad and the attendance didn't pay for it so it went out.
EP: Was it a banked track?
NP: Sure it was. Big steep track. Was better than this one out here.
EP: Made out of wood?
NP: Out of wood. The whole thing was out of wood.
EP: Must have been quite an engineering feat.
NP: It was quite a job.
EP: What, what kind of things did you do for entertainment in the, in the early years of Charlotte?
NP: Of course, we always had some kind of picture shows. I remember when the first color pictures came in. And [pause] there, we had a good entertainment at the Academy of Music.
EP: Vaudeville. And those kinds--.
NP: Vaudeville. Visiting shows. Some of the best shows I ever say have been these travelling musicals. In those days, they had big stars come. I've seen some of the best stars that were ever on Broadway. Not necessarily here, but in Atlanta where I was for awhile. I saw [pause] Jefferson De Angelis. I saw the Barrymores. I saw the, you name it. Many of the big stars at that time in there. There they favor the roads. They did then, but they don't know. It's too expensive. And we're not prepared to handle it. We would could handle it, but we are prepared. Dave Ovens is one of the leading spirits that behind the Coliseum and the Auditorium here.
EP: Where, where there places downtown, Charlotte used to be more of downtown city--,
NP: Right.
EP: I'm sure back then, were there places, restaurants, lunch counters, that, that
NP: Had a few.
EP: were sort of known for there being there.
NP: Yeah. Brown Betty. Brown Betty was over Garabaldi and Bruns. And they had excellent food.
EP: Was that a restaurant or sort of a lunch time place?
NP: Lunchtime place more or less. Run by two nice ladies. And there were, there were other places. I don't remember much. The old Manufacturer's Club was quite an institution. It was built about the turn of the century. And--.
EP: What happened to that? That used to sit next to First Presbyterian Church didn't it?
NP: Yeah, right across the street. The lot they're talking about buying now. Well, it deteriorated. It was badly designed. It was designed well for what they wanted it at that time. It had a lot of bedrooms. It was a three stories, I believe, a basement. It needed an awful lot of renovation. Effort was made to renovate it, borrowed a lot of money form the insurance company in Virginia. And then in 1934, Patterson's got way down, and it turned it over to the univer--, [laughter] to the insurance company of Virginia.
EP: Nothing ever replaced that I mean as
NP: The City Club.
EP: The City Club ( ).
NP: At a later date. Now that's an example of Herbert Baxter. He was mayor, and we all talked about a downtown place to eat. A city club downtown. Had a lot of conversation about it. This was 19--, I'm not sure what date it was, around '35, around '40 I guess, '38 something like that. And one day we had a call, I had a call from George Crouch who was president of the Union National Bank asking me if I could meet him in the directors room down there for a short meeting, and I did. And he had about ten men in there and Herbert Baxter. And he said, "Herbert has just leased the two top floors, the two, the second and third floor of this building for a city club. Herbert said, "Well, you fellas kept talking about and I thought we better do something about it. I came on down here and worked out a lease for $10,000 a year ( ) turn underwrite it." And that's the way Herbert Baxter did it and that was the start the City Club, which is quite an institution in town now.
EP: I wondered if, if the City Club grew out of the Southern Manufacturer's Club?
NP: Well, I wouldn't say that. It, it replaced a need downtown for that, but the people who were most interested in the Manufacturer's Club. You see there was a lapse of eight, ten years in there. It was another generation almost of interested people, and the City Club has been a success from the start.
EP: Did you know the Garabaldi's, Tom Garalbaldi?
NP: Joe Garabaldi.
EP: Joe Gara--, Garabaldi?
NP: Yeah.
EP: The whole family. They were very influential.
NP: Right. I knew Joe Garabaldi and Tom Griffith. Ed Keesler, Sr. I mean the father of this generation.
EP: There, there obviously were an awful lot of important people.
NP: There were
EP: Who dedicated themselves to this city.
NP: There were, and I've never seen any big split in them. There's never been that kind of thing in the city of Charlotte that I remember. Difference of opinion, yes, but nothing that effected the results. I mean detrimentally. Sure, it effected results.
EP: What Church are you a member of?
NP: First Presby--, the Myers Park Presbyterian Church.
EP: Myers Park. Do you remember the controversy of moving Second Presbyterian from here to Dilworth as Covenant Presbyterian?
NP: I don't think that. Well, whenever you do anything with any church, you're going to have dissenters. But there was never any serious controversy that I know of. We were employed to design the Covenant Church.
EP: Oh, were you?
NP: So I know. I worked with both, bo, both groups. Dr. Luther Little was just as cooperative as he could be in the move.
EP: That was a big move to take a big Church and move it that far out of the city.
NP: Right, well, they co, they com--, they had to enlarge and they couldn't do anything else. And they were where Montaldo's sits now.
EP: Was that Church torn down, I mean
NP: Oh yes.
EP: right after they moved?
NP: I think so. Not many years, very soon afterwards. They it, the Covenant Church grew out of it too. Although you know, this is about, this is about Charlotte. A young man came to see me and said he moved to Charlotte, and he wanted to know people. And he asked me how. I had never seen the boy before. Nice person. He said, "You got any advice." I said, "Yes, I have advice if you want it. What church do you belong to." He looked at me like I had shot him. He said, "You know, that's the third time today I've been asked that question. I've never before in my life was asked it." And I say, "You want my advice? You found out a church you want to go and join that church and work in that church because they, I've never seen anything worthwhile started in Charlotte that was carried out t--, and promoted that wasn't done by men who also were leaders in there church. And that's true today.
EP: What, what kind of working relation have you had with Dr. Bonnie Cone?
NP: Not any working relation as such. Dr. Bonnie Cone and I are very close friends. But I have know her at the, at the University, and when she was Central High School or rather in that building before they moved. But we've been very, very close friends. I've never done any work with her, but in Friends of the University I was closely associated with her.
EP: She did quite a job.
NP: Fine woman. Fine, fine woman. Deserves a lot of credit.
EP: Sure does.
NP: Well, well anything that I, I don't know if I've told you anything about the Chamber of Commerce but about the United Way. It was United Appeal when I first came. Changed the name later. It's always been a factor, always been a success, it's always been run by top-notch people, and they've always taken a big interest in it. Every drive has gone over the top far as I know.
EP: It sounds like Charlotte has had that kind of spirit in your opinion all the way.
NP: It has.
EP: I mean--.
NP: The people of Charlotte can do anything in the world they want, they get anything accomplished provided they want to do it.
EP: Well, I certainly thank you for coming.
NP: [laughter] You're welcome.
EP: It's been very fun.