On Trade and Graham, the nexus between Gateway Center and the rest of uptown, a building sits crumbling, rotting, and withering away. Its masonry walls and ornately appointed parapet bake in the summer sun, as the building waits for somebody to show it some love. It represents a lost, forgotten and destroyed part of Charlotte’s history.
Life as the Coddington Building
Today we know this building as the dilapidated James K. Polk Building, but it didn’t start that way. In 1925 C.C Coddington built what was then known as the Coddington Building to house his flagship Buick Dealership. Designed by the renowned industrial architect Albert Kahn, aka “The Man who Built Detroit,” it was often described as one of the most stately and impressive buildings in the city, and was a showcase of 1920s neo classicism.
The building has changed hands numerous times. It housed the Buick Dealership and WBT Radio (1110 AM). WBT’s call letters actually stood for “Watch Buicks Travel” and was used to promote his dealership.
Life as the James K. Polk Building
Years later, the Coddington building was sold to the state government, changed names to the James K. Polk Building and underwent a half-hearted renovation, before the state dumped it in the early 1990s.
There have been a number of plans for the land Polk sits on. In 2006, Trinity Capital proposed a condo high-rise. In 2008, Crosland, LLC proposed one of Charlotte’s first and largest urban apartment communities. I fondly remember David Ravin’s quote in the original press release:
“The appeal of urban living in uptown Charlotte is obvious, but until now, the only new projects were condominiums,” said Ravin, president of Crosland’s residential division. “We’re creating a luxury-living option that offers all the amenities and conveniences of Charlotte’s latest condo towers, but without the ownership strings attached.”
In 2011, David Ravin, in a 50/50 venture with Northwood Investments, acquired the Development and Construction units of Crosland and the company became Northwood Ravin. Included in this transaction was the Polk Building.
Today and the future
Today the building sits, seemingly waiting for its appointment with the wrecking ball, an endangered species. Its a completely undeserved fate for a building that could offer the city so much.
With a building like Polk there is an opportunity to create what is unavailable in 95 percent of the space uptown — Historic office space, in a prime location, perfect for creative agencies, catering companies, coworking space, artist lofts, and more. The possibilities are endless.
Polk also offers authentic historic store fronts that could be leased out to young, hungry, retailers and entrepreneurs.
Polk bridges a massive gap between two very different, inharmonious districts. It lies on what will be the Gold Line Extension, and one day will sit across from the Gateway Station. Outside of the building there is still more than three acres to develop.
Do something inspiring with Polk and wrap it in high-rise residential and an 800-1,200 space parking deck, that will serve retail, office, residential spaces and Gateway Station.
This block deserves more than just another mid-rise apartment building, as is what has been most recently proposed by Northwood Ravin. (I reached out to David Ravin for comment but I haven’t received a response.)
I’m sure I seem like a starry-eyed dreamer with no working knowledge of the the historic preservation process, but I’m not.
I am well aware of the problems that Polk faces: Deterioration, decades of neglect, a settling facade, the half-hearted patches the state applied when they purchased the building, and more.
I am well aware that the problems go beyond structure: Currently the building sits in the right of way of both the Graham Street and Trade St. How ironic is it that a building built for the auto industry might end up facing the wrecking ball because of our reliance on automobiles. This problem can be solved by wrangling possession of Graham from NCDOT and treat it to a road diet.
In the 2020 Plan the need to reimagine and revamp Graham is noted for its role in the proposed “Ward Loop.”
“The City of Charlotte should explore requesting control of Graham Street within the city limits from NCDOT to evaluate the acceptance of responsibility for the design and maintenance of the roadway,” the plan reads. “The Ward Loop should foster pedestrian- and bike-friendly neighborhood connections between the Four wards.”
Treat this as a Legacy Project and champion a road diet with the City and State, using the premise that it will help save a historic building.
Wake up, Charlotte: There is a consequence to demolishing your history! You can’t just rebuild a 1925 Albert Kahn designed icon of the American Automotive Industry.
Rendering by Clayton Sealy; Photo: Courtesy of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.