Tryon Street through Charlotte is one of the most documented thoroughfares in the Southeast, but even it has a few mysteries yet to solve.
Among them is 1024 N. Tryon, a two-story brick relic that’s been up for sale much of the past two decades.
Developers are wary because of its proximity to a strip of North Tryon that hosts Mecklenburg County’s Homeless Services, the Urban Ministry Center and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.
Homeless people dot the sidewalks daily, lounging next to no-loitering signs and openly sipping beer from brown bags.
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Clearly, 1024 N. Tryon has suffered indignities, but perhaps none worse than a collective memory loss as to its historic significance in a town known for tearing down history without remorse.
Built in 1925, it is one of the oldest surviving commercial structures linked to Charlotte’s so-called third boom, a period in the 1920s when businesses were pushing out of uptown and the city’s population rose 78 percent in 10 years.
It’s unclear how long the building has been empty and boarded up, but its prospects have recently improved.
The 1000 block is again on Charlotte’s economic front line, with a light-rail extension just two blocks behind it, a business corridor beautification project four blocks north, and a North Tryon Vision Plan that intends to reshape dozens of blocks to the south.
Better times are clearly ahead, but historians are worried. The higher the property value, the more likely it is the building will be torn down for redevelopment.
An odd building
“Hellooooo! Hello, anybody in here?” David Wayne Britt yells into the dark after opening a side door. He pauses, listens and shines his flashlight in all directions before letting his guard down.
“I never come in here without being fully loaded,” he says, admitting to carrying a gun. “You can’t be too careful. I once came in, getting ready to show the building, and ran into a homeless guy pretending to be a chicken. He was standing there clucking. It scared the hell out of me.”
That same day, he says he found half a rabbit in the building. “I still don’t know where the other half went.”
Britt is the latest real estate broker to handle 1024 N. Tryon, on behalf of a family from Iran who bought the one-third acre from another family from Iran.
The price tag is an optimistic $950,000. He’s been trying to sell the 8,200-square-foot building for two years and has fallen in love with it, even trying to uncover its history. “I haven’t had much luck.”
Potential buyers from around the country have visited, he said, but left after seeing so many homeless people.
The inside is an odd mix. The first floor was clearly born for commercial use, while it’s obvious the second floor was a living quarters. The wooden staircase to the second floor is broad and leads to an impressive hall that sweeps the full length of the building.
Up there, white pine floors remain but are gray with age. The metal window grilles have rusted shut, and custom cupboards still fit perfectly into the walls, their doors hanging open to expose empty shelves.
“It’s a cool building, but a weird space,” Britt says. “A lot about it doesn’t make sense. Was it a house or a school? I wonder that, because maybe dorms were upstairs. It looks like bedrooms.
“It will drive you crazy trying to figure this place out.”
Built as a dry goods store
North Tryon Street just outside the Interstate 277 loop is largely a series of warehouses and commercial buildings, few of which can be called attractive.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Historic Landmarks Commission says 1024 N. Tryon is among a handful of historic structures that survive largely unnoticed in the area.
Its history is rife with contradictions, including spelling discrepancies in city directories and years when the building doesn’t show up at all. That’s why Britt has had little luck finding a narrative.
Shelia Bumgarner, a researcher with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, says the property appears to have once belonged to J.W. Wadsworth, a major landowner from a family tied to the region’s gold mining business.
However, the building doesn’t appear in records until 1925, after the land passed through a series of owners.
It opened that year as House and Caudle Dry Goods, at a time when North Tryon was transitioning from homes to businesses associated with transportation and shipping. Some of the community’s best-known textile mills were nearby, not to mention the biggest railroad switching yard in the Carolinas.
Someone named J.B. Caudle lived upstairs, and W.F. Caudle owned a large home two lots down on North Tryon. It’s assumed the two men ran the store together.
“It was 1926 and the Great Depression hadn’t hit yet, so things were booming,” said Stewart Gray of the Historic Landmarks Commission.
Three years later, in 1929, the stock market crashed. By 1938, the Caudle name is gone. Half the building is called the North Tryon Market and the other half is Austin’s Dining Room. Four random tenants live upstairs.
“What started with a merchant from the neighborhood opening a nearby store completely changed in just 10 years,” said Gray. “One can speculate that the Great Depression caused a lot to be up in the air.”
Fear for survival
Britt is hoping the building can be saved, and he’s full of ideas of how it would make a good bank, music venue or art gallery. He says it’s crucial that community leaders try to solve the issue of homeless loitering. So far, no one has stepped up with specific proposals.
“In 20 or 30 years, you have to imagine this place surrounded by skyscrapers, because that’s what is coming,” Britt says. “You have to be a visionary.”
It’s the same philosophy the Caudles likely used, when they built a store across from open farm land on East Liddell Street.
Ninety-one years later, at least part of their dream survives, boarded up and waiting for a second life.