Easily missed 1920s building near uptown Charlotte could get historic landmark status

Easily missed 1920s building near uptown Charlotte could get historic landmark status

CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte's old Wilmore Elementary School, built in 1925, could soon be one of the city's historic landmarks. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is scheduled to vote on the matter Monday.

The site at 428 West Boulevard is important for illustrating the city's evolution from a concentrated small town to a growing web of "streetcar suburbs." The Wilmore neighborhood was one of several such suburbs that rose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The site ceased hosting students in 1978, but is still owned by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Dan Morrill, of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, said the history of Wilmore Elementary School reflects the history of Charlotte, including changes in the way different races related to each other. He said it should become a local historic landmark to give recognition and protection to what was once a prominent part of Charlotte.

In his book, "Sorting Out The New South City. Race, Class And Urban Development In Charlotte 1875-1975," historian Thomas W. Hanchett describes the many factors that transformed Charlotte from a city where all classes lived side by side to a place where neighborhoods were demarcated by race and class.

Wilmore was one of the neighborhoods that were defined by race and class, especially in its early years, Hanchett said. Established in 1906 by the Suburban Real Estate Company, Wilmore was marketed as a convenient and affordable place exclusively for whites.

Churches and schools soon followed, with the first students arriving at Wilmore in the fall of 1925, Morrill said. Only white children attended Wilmore School until the 1960s, he said.

"Wilmore Elementary School was a cultural and social centerpiece of the Wilmore community," Morrill said. "It's where people went to vote. It's where neighborhood children gathered to play after school and during the summer. The grassy front yard at Wilmore was used for informal football games, and the playground behind the school had a baseball diamond."

The neighborhood began its demographic transformation in the 1970s, he said. The reasons were many, including federal urban renewal projects that displaced African Americans living in center city Charlotte. Urban renewal forced substantial numbers of blacks to look for other places to live, he said.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the amount of rental housing in Wilmore rose steadily, and the neighborhood earned a reputation for being distressed. However, that began to change between 2003 and 2011, as young people of all races began looking for older homes near uptown to buy cheaply and renovate.

In May 2010, urban pioneers living in Wilmore succeeded in securing local historic district designation for the neighborhood, thereby encouraging its gentrification. It is today considered one of Charlotte's popular neighborhoods, with a growing number of neighborhood businesses catering to the middle class.