Charles Kuralt called it home
02/09/2011 2:32 PM
02/14/2011 4:45 PM
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of SouthPark Magazine. It’s the kind of story Charles Kuralt probably would have loved to tell. If the legendary CBS journalist were alive today, he likely would do what most people do when they return to the place where they grew up. He’d ask, “Is the old house still there? What does it look like today? And what did the new owner do to it?” Kuralt, who died in 1997, probably would want to drive down Sharon Road to see the house where he lived during his junior and senior high school years. He probably would stare in amazement at the plot of land that was his front yard. The house is still there, but it’s much larger than it was in 1951, when at age 16 he went off to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If he were to be welcomed through the front door, still the same front door that he used, he would find new rooms that extend beyond where walls once stood. What might surprise him the most is that a street named Kuralt House Court now winds around the trees that were in his front yard. And that front yard now has five new homes surrounding his old house. The story about the place he used to call home could be one of his “On the Road” segments, his critically-acclaimed television essays featuring rare glimpses into people’s lives. Surely he’d talk about how not only Charlotte has changed, but also how the house that was once his home has evolved over the years.
Kuralt legacy remembered
After moving to Charlotte in 1996, Tim Crawford, now a prominent local developer, saw a for-sale sign in the yard and bought the house as an investment. Crawford says he originally had no intention of remodeling it. Then, he learned that it had been Charles Kuralt’s home, and he started hearing stories about the previous owners. Tim and Nikki Crawford converted it from 2,580 square feet to more than 4,800. Then, four years ago, they moved in. Nikki Crawford oversaw the interior decorating. “When the Kuralts moved in, it was probably about 1,200 square feet, four rooms up and four rooms down,” Tim Crawford says. Tax records show the house was built in 1942. Today, Kuralt’s books are on the downstairs bookshelves of the house, and old floor plans and photos also help tell the story of the how the house once looked. For many years, the house on Sharon Road wasn’t visible from the road because a large live oak tree and two magnolia trees stood in front of the house. Inside, the kitchen and bedrooms were much smaller, and family members shared a single bathroom years ago.
The famous son
Born in Wilmington on Sept. 10, 1934, Kuralt spent his early years in the same farmhouse in Onslow County where his mother was raised. That house didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing and had wood stoves and fireplaces for heat. Charles’ father, Wallace Kuralt, moved his family to Charlotte in 1945, when he became welfare superintendent of Mecklenburg County. Their house off Sharon Road, then 10 miles south of the city, was the only structure in the area. Charles, then 11, started seventh grade at Sharon School and entered eighth grade at Alexander Graham Junior High School. Anne Batten, his English teacher and journalism counselor, noted his interest in people and his curiosity, according to Ralph Grizzle’s 2001 book, “Remembering Charles Kuralt.” During the years he lived in that house, Kuralt became one of the youngest radio announcers in the country. Later, at Charlotte’s Central High School, Kuralt was voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”
A sister’s memories
Catherine Kuralt Harris, Charles’ younger sister, has vivid memories of the house where she grew up. Charles was 8 when she was born, and she says, “I idolized Charles. He was sweet to me.” Their grandmother lived with the family, and Harris remembers witnessing Charles in a spat with her. “I told her, ‘You can’t talk to him that way!’” She’s now living on Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. Harris remembers her parents tore down a garage with a dirt floor and added the family room in its place. Her father bricked the side of the house where the sun beat down. “He was tired of scraping paint and repainting it,” she says. “I was 12 when Charles got married to Sory Guthery, and there was a party in the right side yard,” she says, adding her own wedding reception was held at the house in 1967. She remembers her mother hanging white Japanese lanterns in the trees and her father making wine from the scuppernong grapes in their vineyard. Farmer Harry Kirkpatrick was across the street during her childhood, and once, when she was walking across his freshly tilled field, she found an arrowhead. “I saved it, and later my daughter used it in a school project,” she says. Inside the house, she remembers a red velvet sofa across from the fireplace in the living room. “Mother fussed when we sat there and messed up the slipcovers,” she says. Harris also remembers when the columns on the front porch needed to be replaced. “I wanted round columns, like Tara,” she says, evoking the look of the fictional “Gone with the Wind” plantation. Her father seemed agreeable to her request, but then replaced them with square columns. “I was upset,” she recalls.
More family stories
Barbara Svenson, who owned the home between the Kuralts and the Crawfords, knew the Kuralt family and visited when the Kuralts lived in the house. She and her late husband Eric moved to Charlotte from Chapel Hill to open a SouthPark mall bookstore in 1970. Wallace Kuralt, younger brother of Charles, owned The Intimate Bookshop in Chapel Hill and knew Eric, who was a sales representative for Doubleday & Company. He convinced the Svensons to open The Intimate Bookshop in Charlotte. The Kuralts invited the Svensons to holiday dinners, and Svenson remembers Charles sometimes came home to visit. When Wallace Sr. decided to sell the house, he offered the house to the Svensons. “It was very exciting for us,” Svenson says. The couple moved there in the spring of 1974. She remembers the well water was red in the bathtub. “We put new pipes in and added air conditioning,” she says. City water came to the neighborhood as new houses were built. At that time, the house still had a Sharon Road address. The Svensons bought only a few acres of the original property because that was all they could afford. The Kuralts sold part of their parcel to a developer who built houses along Bramwyck Drive. “We still had a big front yard,” Svenson says. “We used to have employee picnics and Little League picnics in the front yard. There was so much room for kids to run around.” In the 1990s, the Svensons bought the lot behind their house off Sharon Road and built their next home. As caregivers of the house that had such a rich history of family life, the Svensons feared new buyers would tear the Kuralt house down and build as many townhouses as possible on the property. “We were delighted Tim didn’t want to tear it down,” she says. Svenson recalls a time Kuralt returned to Charlotte for a book signing and did a story for WBTV, the local CBS affiliate. “I remember him walking on Bramwyck and talking about a chicken coop and scuppernong grapes that used to be where the road was now.”
Renaming the street
When Tim Crawford bought the house, he already was in the business of developing residential communities and mixed-use master planned neighborhoods. Now he’s developing The Silos at South End, bordering Charlotte’s light-rail line. Founder of Citiline Resortline Cos., Crawford undertook the redesign of the house, with the help of John Fryday of Fryday & Doyne, a Charlotte architecture and interior design firm. “We kept the essence of the house and added to it,” Fryday said. “Tim had a vision in his mind for the feel of what this could be.” Crawford also developed five other homes in what had been his front yard. From 3,200 to 5,000 square feet, the homes are variations of Southern architecture. Although there’s no historic marker identifying Kuralt’s former residence, the street is now called Kuralt House Court. At the entrance, a plaque explains the Kuralt connection and tells the story of the cupola on the house, which was made in Mexico. Kuralt sent it home as a gift to his parents during one of his journeys. Today’s house
Just inside the entrance, the room to the right is now the dining room and has the original mantel and fireplace. French doors have replaced a long, vertical window, because the new owners wanted to bring more light into the house. Original floors blend into new floors where a wall was opened for access to the remodeled kitchen and the addition of a spacious family room. The Kuralts called the room to the left of the front entry the preacher’s parlor. “When the preacher came, that’s where they sat,” Svenson says. During remodeling, two bedrooms were added upstairs, along with a bath and a half. The 8-by-8-foot back bedroom that was Charles Kuralt’s room is now part of a Jack-and-Jill bathroom off a bedroom that was added at the back of the house. Crawford found that some remodeled elements from earlier projects were dysfunctional, including an upstairs closet that opened to an area of the roof, allowing birds to enter. Dormers that were part of an earlier remodeling project weren’t the correct proportion for the house, so Crawford changed those to improve the look of the home’s front. Varying floor and ceiling heights were other challenges. Part of the master bath shower is in the original house and part is in the new addition, requiring two steps to enter the shower. Small stairways from earlier construction also proved to be a challenge for moving a king-sized bed into the new upstairs master suite. Originally the kitchen had a low ceiling with a large beam that supported the second story. When Crawford remodeled, the second floor was jacked up while steel beams were added to support new construction. Now, a steel post in the pantry provides support. Outside, much of the yard is unchanged from its original landscape created by Ina Kuralt, who was considered a master gardener. Catherine Kuralt Harris returned to Charlotte a few years ago and stopped at her childhood home. She saw the remodeled downstairs. “It’s lovely,” she says. “But in my dreams, I still picture the house the way it originally was.”
What happened to Charles Kuralt: Left CBS “Sunday Morning” in 1994. Died July 4, 1997. Wallace Kuralt (brother of Charles): Died in 2003. Mr. and Mrs. Wallace and Ina Kuralt: Moved to Kitty Hawk. Ina Kuralt died in 1991; Wallace Kuralt retired from his position as director of the Mecklenburg County Department of Public Welfare in 1972 and died in 1993. Catherine Kuralt Harris and her husband, Gary Harris, live in Bainbridge Island, Wash. Catherine was a flight attendant for Pam American Airways and her husband was a pilot.
To see the story from news partner WCNC about the home's fate in 2011, click here.
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