The neon green and white Ratcliffe’s Flowers sign stands as a landmark at the Green on South Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte, but 60 years ago it represented anything but a celebrated piece of history.
Back then, business owners along Tryon had agreed to remove their neon signs, concluding that they’d become too cluttered and were tacky. All except Louis Ratcliffe Jr., a member of the Charlotte Chamber who wasn’t about to let others tell him what to do with his sign, his son, David, recalled Saturday.
“He was a very independent guy and didn’t like government intruding on him,” David Ratcliffe said. “It’s ironic that now the city thinks of it as a beautiful piece of art.”
Ratcliffe, who served in the U.S. Army in Germany at the time of the World War II Battle of the Bulge and returned to Charlotte to help lead his family’s floral business for decades, died Wednesday at Sunrise Assisted Living. He was 90.
Ratcliffe’s Flowers opened in 1917 at Latta Arcade and later moved to what was “the edge of town,” where the sign today hangs on a pole near Levine Avenue of the Arts, David Ratcliffe said.
World War II interrupted his schooling, but Louis Ratcliffe eventually graduated from Clemson University (military school) with a pre-med degree and then joined his father in the family business.
The family also operated greenhouses at North Graham Street and Sugar Creek Road in the Derita community. They ran a floral supply company in a Quonset hut that still stands on South Tryon in South End, David Ratcliffe said.
David Ratcliffe and his cousin Starke Ratcliffe now operate Derita Floral Supply, a wholesale florist.
He said his dad worked hard in the greenhouses and the rest of the business, but also loved to play tennis at Olde Providence Racquet Club and golf at Myers Park Country Club. He also enjoyed fishing trips with his longtime friend James “Slick” Evans.
A member of the Charlotte Rotary Club for at least 50 years, Louis Ratcliffe was a native Charlottean who also enjoyed making “face jug” pottery and had several kilns. He was a musician, too, who played the violin and the accordion.
Louis Ratcliffe Jr.’s other son, Mark, lives in Tampa Bay, Fla. He had seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Charlotte. David Ratcliffe said he will always remember his dad as “a very active, hardworking, trustworthy friend.”
A service is 2 p.m. July 16 at Harry & Bryant’s Chapel in the Oaks on Providence Road.