Mark Washburn

Salute to a man who came from Charlotte's future

Architect A.G. Odell Jr. points to the map showing Charlotte’s core area during the presentation of the Charlotte downtown plan to local business leaders on August 23, 1965, a plan that led to the Charlotte of today.
Architect A.G. Odell Jr. points to the map showing Charlotte’s core area during the presentation of the Charlotte downtown plan to local business leaders on August 23, 1965, a plan that led to the Charlotte of today. Observer archives

Crazy, loopy ideas. Charlotte is built on them.

In August 1965, city leaders found themselves listening to a fantastical vision from local architect A.G. Odell.

He wanted to plop a sparkling version of the Emerald City onto the dour grid of uptown.

Wide streets. Shade trees. Skyscrapers around the Square. A vibrant business district. Fourth Ward housing. Hustle, bustle.

Charlotte was already bulldozing the Brooklyn neighborhood and wondering what would take its place. Odell was the man with a grand plan.

Crazy, loopy ideas seem to bloom here in the red Piedmont clay where nothing else wants to grow.

A mayor named Ben Elbert Douglas once decided the city needed a first-class airport if it were to prosper. Somehow he got it done – smack in the gloomy pits of the Depression.

Those who think Charlotte is too big for its britches are absolutely correct. It has passed its peer cities in growth and vitality. It has been punching above its weight for decades.

Rapid transit, the uptown cultural district, professional sports and other amenities that distinguish the city have been the harvest of dreamers with crazy, loopy ideas.

Encouraged by our rich uncle banks, Charlotte is a town that doesn’t ask “How?” but rather “How soon?”

Reaction to Odell’s plan was tepid at first, according to accounts from that era. It sounded good, way too good to be true.

Odell was born to wealth and privilege in a Concord textile family and was accustomed to getting his way. He sailed around town in a 1952 Rolls Royce.

When he retired in 1982 at age 68, he was regarded by many as the most prolific and influential architect in the Carolinas.

Odell thought big, and he had big ideas about what cities should be.

He thought they needed pride and neighborliness. To stimulate the eye and feed the soul, he said, cities needed trees, sidewalks, parks, plazas and ornamental gateways to signal visitors that they had arrived someplace special.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Odell Master Plan. It is remarkable how the city now adheres to his blueprint – he even envisioned a vast stadium in the very neighborhood where the Panthers play today.

Odell died in 1988 at age 74. Visible for miles around is the stunning monument to his crazy, loopy ideas.

It is called Charlotte.

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