Lake Norman & Mooresville

Landmarks group has new plan for old Torrence-Lytle School

A class of sixth-graders at Torrence-Lytle in the late 1950s. The school closed in 1966.
A class of sixth-graders at Torrence-Lytle in the late 1950s. The school closed in 1966.

Parents by the thousands have brought their children to the Waymer Center in Huntersville for youth basketball games and other activities. But even after spending countless hours in the rickety gym, many of those same parents – and their children – know little about the origin of the place or its place in local history.

The Waymer Center is part of a cluster of aging brick buildings on Holbrooks Road that once made up the Torrence-Lytle School. For most newcomers to the Lake Norman area, that name does little to distinguish the school, which closed in 1966. When the school opened in 1937, however, it had another name: Huntersville Colored School.

It’s a jolting title in modern Southern suburbia, where the scourge of segregation can feel like something that not only happened in another era, but in another world. But the deliberate separation of white and black students happened here, not so long ago.

In its nearly three decades of existence, the school also was the heart of the historically black Pottstown community, east of N.C. 115 in southern Huntersville. Sock hops in what is now the Waymer Center were some of the few social events for African-Americans from Pottstown and beyond, and Torrence-Lytle football and basketball games were major events for the community. Many of the early Pottstown homes where Torrence-Lytle students lived remain in the same families generations later.

For nearly two years, the owner of the buildings, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, has been searching for a partner to redevelop the property while preserving its place in history. That hasn’t happened, so the Landmarks Commission is moving to plan B.

The commission plans to stabilize the school’s original building by removing asbestos, repairing the leaky roof and replacing broken windows, said Dan Morrill, the Landmarks Commission’s consulting director.

That’s the easy part. What happens next “is a little bit complicated,” Morrill said.

When the structural fixes are complete, the Landmarks Commission will spend up to a year looking for a redevelopment partner, Morrill said.

“The goal is to find someone who understands all the economic development potential” of the property, Morrill said. “It would likely be some market-driven adaptive re-use.”

If it continues to be unsuccessful in finding a development partner, Morrill added, the commission likely will restore the original seven-classroom building to look much like it did when it opened in 1937, and raze the structures added in 1952 (eight classrooms and a cafeteria) and 1957 (12 classrooms). The commission then would restart its effort to find a redevelopment partner.

How might that redevelopment look? Town zoning classifies the property as neighborhood residential, which encourages infill – development of homes within existing neighborhoods near the town’s traditional center.

The zoning would allow for some commercial development, as long as it is on scale with the residential neighborhood surrounding the property.

The Torrence-Lytle tract and surrounding Pottstown community are incorporated in the East Huntersville Area Development Plan approved by the town board in 2007. Using input from residents in the neighborhood, that plan suggested converting the existing school buildings into senior housing, retail and office space and a preschool. The plan also suggested multi-family housing for adjacent land along Central Avenue.

Morrill said preserving the original building is important because of its historical significance as the only public education option for many African-Americans in north Mecklenburg before the desegregation of the county’s schools, and because it was designed by a prominent local architect, William Peeps, and built as a federal Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression.

“It’s a very, very handsome building,” Morrill said.

Morrill added that Huntersville Town Board members have expressed interest in having the town take over the main building if it is restored.

“In that case, it would probably become an arts and craft center of some sort,” he said.

John Deem is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for John? Email him at john.deem@outlook.com.

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