The second of a three-part series reviewing the history of apartment housing in Greensboro.
The completion of the Vick Apartments on East Fisher Avenue in 1919 – the first exclusively residential apartment building in the city – proved the market for non-single family housing was strong. A flurry of other apartment houses followed, including the Dixie on Bellemeade Street (1921), the Pickett at 252 Summit Avenue (1923), and the Gilmer at 416-420 North Elm (1923). In August 1925, the Greensboro Daily Record declared “Greensboro now has something less than 20 apartment buildings erected or in the process of construction…From 1920 to 1923 the popularity of apartments reached a peak, and this popularity has resulted in the erection of many such dwellings. However, figures now indicate that the propensity of the American people is away from communal dwellings. While this propensity exists in the country as a whole, it may not have been noted in Greensboro as yet.” In fact, apartment construction in the Gate City was just gaining momentum.
Built in the acute angle created by the intersection of Summit Avenue and Church Court (old Church Street), the Kaplan Apartment Building at 201 Summit Avenue was constructed for investor Abraham W. Kaplan in 1922 as a four-unit apartment building. It was designed by Charles C. Hartmann, an architect newly arrived in Greensboro from New York. The firm Myers, Jones, and Well served as the project’s contractors, and delivered the completed two-story building to Kaplan for $30,000 in eight months. The Flemish-bond brick building features an entrance courtyard, blind arches of stucco, a stucco-patterned parapet, expansive bay windows on the west side, and a two-story porch at the intersection. An advertisement in the Greensboro Daily News described the project as “Built on a lot of the ‘flat-iron’ shape the apartment house is unique in design and presents a beautiful exterior view. There are four separate and distinctive apartments in the building, each apartment having its own entrance and the skill of the architect is shown in the arrangement so that each apartment is in fact an entirely separate home.” Today, the building is known as the Flatiron.
Just seven blocks north, the Vance, Shirley, and Fairfax apartments were erected near the corner of East Bessemer Avenue and Magnolia Street in 1925 by Richmond Virginia investor C. W. Sampson and architect Max Ruehrmund. Located in the Fisher Park neighborhood, each house was constructed of brick, stood three-stories high, and contained twelve apartments. The complex was designed as three separate structures, each with distinctive Neoclassical Revival features. The façade of Vance at 1104 Magnolia Street is composed of an entry entablature, recessed brick coursework, blind arches on the ground floor and keystones on upper floors, and a modillion cornice. The Fairfax (image, right) at 201 East Bessemer Avenue features a broken pediment above the entry and attenuated columns, quoins, stucco spandrel panels, a bull’s eye window, and a modillion cornice. The Shirley (image, right) at 203 East Bessemer Avenue is nearly identical to the Vance except for an open entablature above the entry and keystones above ground floor blind arches.
Units in the $120,000 triad featured hardwood floors, a built-in refrigerator, gas stove, kitchen cabinetry, and hot and cold water. The Greensboro Daily Record opined “In one detail the owners are sure to make a hit with the housewife. They have put in window shades. Everyone who knows women is cognizant of the fact that they do detest this business of having to buy window shades and put them up.” The front apartments rented for $60 and the rear ones for $50 per month.
At the same time the trio of apartments was rising in eastern Fisher Park, the Dolly Madison Apartment House was constructed in the west side of the 1000 block of North Elm Street. The $90,000, four-story building, red-brick structure contained 24 apartments of three-, four- and five-rooms each. The developers and contractors were Claud Cole Pierce and C. M. Baylor, both experienced apartment developers based in Norfolk, Virginia. The façade features wrought-iron balconies, stair towers topped by an arched parapet, and a red tile pent roof. A similar apartment building was built by Pierce on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh.
Pierce was also the developer for Fisher Park’s Cannon Court Apartments (image, top) located at 828 North Elm Street. Cannon Court was constructed in 1926 to plans devised by Norfolk-based architect Philip Bell Moser. The complex was the largest and most expensive apartment building built to-date in the city, with three-stories, 26,000 square feet of space and a cost $150,000 to build. The reinforced concrete building is arranged around a central courtyard oriented to North Elm Street with stair towers, decorative brick banding, and an elaborate crenellated parapet.
Cannon Court offered thirty apartments in six different unit plans. Units ranged from studio to one- or two-bedroom options and rented from $55 to 100 per month. The apartment house was named for Joseph Gurney Cannon, a Guilford County-born Republican congressman from Illinois who served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1903-1911.
Not all apartment projects were planned on such a grand scale. Numerous apartment buildings were built in established neighborhoods. In 1926, the Greensboro Daily News observed “Just on the outskirts of the business zone apartments have sprung up almost over night and they are now dotted here and there in various sections.”
In College Hill, J. W. Hicks erected the two-story Coe Apartment House at 406 South Mendenhall for $17,000. The building and its twin at 412 South Mendenhall Street, feature brick veneer, and two-story porches with green barrel-tile pent roofs. In Fisher Park, the Lewis Apartment Building at 603 Simpson Street was built in 1929 to designs provided by architect Lorenzo Winslow. The façade features Neoclassical details such as blind arches, quoins, and keystones. Also in Fisher Park, the Casa Sevilla Apartments (image, right) were built in 1927 as a bungalow court and marketed as “Baby Grand Apartments.” The apartments are tucked on Bessemer Court off Parkway Street, and include a series of double-houses with porches and a variety of stucco textures and stepped parapets as an exotic Spanish Revival motif.
The Powhatan Apartments were completed in 1927 at 904 West Market Street in College Hill. The elegant three-story brick building was an investment of Thomas A. Armstrong who lived nearby at 841 West Market Street. Armstrong commissioned architect Harry Barton to design the initial 12-unit complex for a second phase to the west, which was completed in 1929. The expansion contained six units that were larger than the first phase. The entire complex is united beneath a variegated red and beige tile roof, and includes limestone entryways and trim, and a heavy modillion cornice. Powhatan was the Native American father of legendary princess Pocahontas.
Two notable apartment projects were designed by architect Lorenzo Winslow at the end of the decade. L. B. Leftwich commissioned the Irving Park Manor, a three-story English Tudor-style complex of three linked buildings. The apartments were the finest to-date constructed in the city, including crafted details such as false half-timbering, brick, and limestone trim. The complex was designed with twelve 5-room apartments, and six 4-room suites. The northernmost structure was named Stratford Hall, the central portion Irving Hall, and the southernmost section was Haddon Hall. Interior details of the six deluxe units included arched doorways, electric cooking ranges, electric refrigerators, electric dishwashers, pantries, radio and telephone connections, and soundproof walls. A monthly window washing and floor waxing program was included. Exterior amenities included a garden, playground, and garages. Contractor W. S. Beers completed the complex in 1928. Upon completion, the $200,000 project was considered North Carolina’s finest apartment building.
Winslow’s second apartment commission was Winborne Court, opened in 1929 at 203 South Tate Street. The three-story building features a Spanish motif, with stucco-covered walls, rounded arches, a wide overhanging timber eave, and a barrel-tile roof. The building, originally intended to be one of a pair, was erected at a cost of $100,000 by Greensboro-based Sunshine Apartment Corporation. It contained 18 apartments, each with gas ranges, tile bathrooms, pantries, textured plaster walls, radio and telephone outlets, and basement storage. The grounds included gardens with flagstone walks, a fountain, and garages.
In 1931 Winslow took a position in Washington DC where he was later employed as the first Architect to the White House.
Virtually no apartments were built in the years following the October 1929 stock market crash. The Great Depression ended a spectacular run of apartment construction in the Gate City that may be unrivalled in the state. As the economy began to recover, however, the city witnessed a new form of apartment living in the form of “Garden-Style” apartments.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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