A shopping wonderland!
A tribute to the former home of Sears, Roebuck & Company and its amazing architect, Fred M. Simmons.
As preparations are being made to demolish the former Sears, Roebuck & Co. department store on West Franklin Boulevard for the FUSE project, it is only fitting that we take a moment to remember the building and its architect in former days. Both represented a time of exuberant enthusiasm and unity in the Spindle City before politics and demographics forever changed Gastonia and created, in essence, two cities. The late Mr. Simmons (his groundbreaking modernist office still stands on East Dixon Boulevard, US Highway 74, in Shelby) was a pioneer aviator, engineer and architect, and, at the time of his death at age 99, was the oldest living Eagle Scout in the eleven-county Piedmont Council BSA. Learn more about him by reading an article published in the Shelby StarDecember 15, 2014and his obituary, which appeared in the Gaston Gazette December 11, 2014. Never forget that every structure built by the hand of man was for a purpose. Sometimes that purpose was to construct something that was modern, convenient, attractive, and wondrous, as was the case of Gastonia's class "A" Sears Store. Pass it one final time and look with understanding.
DEMOLITION ALERT! UPDATE Tuesday night October 4, 2016, the Gastonia City Council voted to purchase much of the former Trenton Mill Village property, including the Mill, the former Coca Cola plant, and the three block former location of Sears. The meeting was positive, and Council voted to purchase the property, remove the old Sears store, and work toward integration of the two historic properties into the overall FUSE plan. Attitudes toward preservation of historic structures in Gastonia seem to be changing for the better. It has been a long journey.
The historic Trenton Mill, Gastonia's second textile factory and the oldest still standing--1893, is threatened with demolition along with the architecturally important Coca-Cola bottling plant.
This proposed action is part of a planned downtown ballpark that, without concurrent commercial and residential development, will create a permanent "dead space" and also will abandon Sims Legion Park, which itself brings much needed activity to the depressed former "machine shop row" area of North Marietta Street (now Dr. Martin Luther King Way). See pictures of both structures and read why loss of the city's architectural heritage continues to be the tragic legacy of government interference in the organic operation of the private sector and market forces.
At the rollout of the ballpark plans, an elected official was reported to have remarked, "We cannot wait for the cavalry." The urgency with which demolition of viable structures is being pursued is chillingly reminiscent of the statement by the previous Mayor that buildings needed to fall to show that the Mayor and City Council meant business about the swim center/conference center project. That project has forever removed a quarter of downtown's main business block from dense development that would have ensured vitality and security with pedestrian traffic and 24-hour eyes-on-the-street.
The cavalry is coming--and soon. Recent events across the river will signal to many that Charlotte has reached a tipping point regarding liveable size and that many who wish for lower taxes, better schools, cheaper property, and a more sane way of life, will look west. The tidal wave of the Queen City's outmigration, which was interrupted by the Great Recession, is about to resume. This time it will go well beyond Belmont, Mount Holly, Cramerton, and Lowell. With that tidal wave will come young creative minds that will see more potential for undeveloped urban land in the center of a mature infrastructure and transportaton network than an isolated ballfield.
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T&T Supermarket (Tatham and Treadway) was an anchor of the Firestone Square (Greasy Corner) business district from the 1940s until the 1970s. Located on the southwest corner of West Franklin Avenue and South Vance Street in a building previously occupied by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P--until it relocated to the present site of the Sav-A-Lot Supermarket), T&T was the last (along with A.D. Blanton and Sons) of the several grocery stores that operated in the populous and busy old West Gastonia from the time of the Loray Mill's construction in 1900-1901. (The circa-November 1952 Gastonia Gazette article appears courtesy of Gail Treadway Elmore, T&T proprietor G.M. "Spoon" Treadway's daughter.)
Franklin Drug Store was established a short distance west of Loray Square/Firestone Square/"Greasy Corner" in West Gastonia at 1343 West Franklin Avenue next door to a McCoy Gas Station around 1920. In 1941 it was purchased by Mr. Henry C. Bell, a local pharmacist who had received on-the-job experience following graduation from the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy. He moved the business across the street to 1402 (currently the location of an automotive paint business) in the mid-1950s where it remained until it closed in the 1970s.
When on-street parking was eliminated on Franklin Avenue in the late 1960s (when it became "Franklin Boulevard"), much of the human scale and walkability of Gastonia's central traffic artery was replaced by what amounted to a six-lane freeway. If life is ever to return to the abandoned storefronts and under-utilized structures all along Franklin, on-street parking must be re-established. This is now possible due to the existence of three crosstown highways (Long, Garrison, and Hudson) that did not exist or did not exist as high-volume arteries when Franklin parking was eliminated. The City of Gastonia Planning Department has developed an interesting draft plan for the Loray Village area that includes reclaiming Franklin Boulevard as a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare.
(The picture of the Franklin Drug Store is from a c.1948 Gastonia Gazette article and was furnished by Mr. Bell's son-in-law Gary Dellinger. The link to the draft plan for the Loray Village area was used with permission.)
On a sunny March Sunday afternoon in 2009, after church and lunch with my mother (the primary inspiration for my love of Gastonia history), I rode over to Gaston Avenue to take some pictures of the old Gastonia Bottling Company building at Gaston and Firestone. To finish the roll of film, I turned to my right and snapped a quick shot of the old neon sign that once announced the location of Stowe's Florist to an almost unbelievably different "across the tracks," back when the Airline/Gaston Avenue area was full of life and vitality. I had the film developed and put the pictures in a box with hundreds of others. Life rolled on. Seven years passed. Mom is gone, the Gastonia Bottling Company building is gone, and Stowe's Florist is gone .
We often focus upon the big things of Old Gastonia: The Loray Mill, The Lawyers' and Commercial Buildings, and so on, while the small places that figure so prominently in our collective and individual pasts quietly disappear without mention or mourning. These are the real landmarks of Old Gastonia and of Old Anyplace. They are worthy of preserving in pictures, memories, and the oft-recounted stories of our lives.
Below are the pictures captured Sunday afternoon March 8, 2009 of the former Gastonia Bottling Company building at the northwest corner of North Firestone Boulevard and Gaston Avenue.
WHAT WAS CAN BE AGAIN !
One of our primary goals at VintageGastonia.com is to refute the misconception regarding the older parts of the city that they were always dilapidated and dangerous . Native Gastonians who remember the years before 1970 are often shocked at the views newer residents have toward places that were, in our minds, only recently filled with life and vitality. The wastelands of old West Gastonia (now referred to as the western edge of Downtown) are slowly being stirred from their restless and troubling slumber by the energy and promise of the advancing Loray / Firestone Mill project.
Gastonia's original Holiday Inn was constructed on former Trenton Mill Village property in 1962 amid much fanfare. For a time, it represented the highest development of the hospitality industry and was state-of-the-art for the company.
Within a short time after the motel's construction, the bulk of the remaining Trenton Village property was sold to the Sears Roebuck Company for the construction of a class "A" store. Ample parking was provided in front of the store on Franklin Avenue with an additional two blocks of well-lighted space at the rear entrance across Main Avenue bounded by Trenton Street, Hill Street, and the Southern Railway tracks.
These anchor institutions and the surrounding churches, homes, stores, and the sparkling new YMCA teemed with life. It was a good place.
Sometimes the past presents a picture of what the future can be.
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(Credits: The Holiday Inn Postcard was produced by Curt Teich & Co., Chicago, c.1960; the newspaper clipping is from the "Weekender" supplement to the Gastonia Gazette, October 31, 1965.)
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