City House, located at 500 East Kingston Avenue, is the oldest remaining
residential structure that originally served as a duplex in Dilworth, Charlotte’s first suburban
development. The lot on which the former duplex sits was part of
the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company’s initial phase of the
new streetcar suburb and was first purchased in 18911.
The first owner of the lot, Colonel (ret) John E. Brown, and several
subsequent owners left the lot undeveloped for a number of years,
possible awaiting the annexation of Dilworth by the City of Charlotte,
which took place in 19072. Finally, in 1908, Mr. C. B.
Bryant purchased the lot, and built what is now called the City House on
it in 1909. Although there are no extant building permits for
Dilworth from before 1911, Mecklenburg County Deed records
show C. B. Bryant mortgaging the property
(originally numbered 600 Kingston Ave) to the
Mecklenburg Building and Loan Association for $4000.00, consistent with
financing the construction of a duplex on the site3.
In a 1904 letter to the editor of the Charlotte Daily Observer,
eminent Queen City architect Charles C. Hook advocated the building of
adjoined residences, which he referred to as “city houses,” and what we
might today call duplexes or townhouses. Hook links the building of
this type of home with the growing urban character of the city, cites them
as models of convenience, wise real-estate investments, and very “popular
with the Northern people who are locating in Charlotte.”4
The City House is the oldest
existing residence in Dilworth which was initially designed as a duplex.
Although duplex homes would later become more common in Dilworth, of the
three duplexes clearly indicated as such on the 1911 Sanborn Fire
Insurance Map5, the City House is the only one still
standing. The other two residential
duplexes shown on the Sanborn map were at 12/13 Eustace Avenue and
314/316 Worthington Avenue. Eustace Avenue no longer exists; and
the duplex is gone, while the Worthington Avenue lot is now the parking
lot for an auto repair facility. Only the duplex at 500 Kingston
remains with its original design still clearly to be seen and dating
from Dilworth's earliest period of development.
From the time of its
construction until the early 1960’s, the City House served as an
investment property, owned by absentee landlords and rented to
working-class residents. Research of Charlotte City
Directories indicates that the first families to reside in the
City House were the Spielmans and the Simpsons, both moving from
Morehead Street in 19096. Mr. Spielman and Mr. Simpson
were listed as traveling salesman. An examination of the Charlotte
City Directories shows a steady flow of teachers, salesmen, dressmakers,
widows, bookkeepers, factory workers, bank cashiers
and other working-class tenants, most of whom
stayed in the house for only a year or two7.
The mid-1960s and 1970s were
a difficult period for Dilworth and for the City House. Many Dilworth
residents began forsaking the center city for the outlying suburbs, and
blight and decay crept into the neighborhood. The City House sat
vacant from 1963 to 1967, at which point it was divided into seven small
apartments8, and three new exterior entrances were punched
through, one near the center on the south-east side, and two on the
north-west side fronting Lyndhurst Avenue9. City Directories
from the late 1960’s through the early 1980’s indicate that the
residents of the property were for the first time African American and
were of lower social standing than previous tenants (many were
unemployed). Long-time residents of the neighborhood have told the
current owners many stories about the property in which it is referred
to as a “flop-house” and associated with prostitution and other
By the late 1970’s and early
80’s a revitalization movement was taking hold in Dilworth. Two
newcomers to the area, Bryan E. Robinson and Cecil J. McCullers,
purchased the greatly weathered City House in 198511.
Working with two architects and under the supervision of the Mecklenburg
County Historic Districts Commission, the pair set about restoring the
home to its original beauty and renovating the interior as a single
family home. Their efforts were successful, and the home was cited
by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission in the spring
of 1989 for best residential restoration in a historic district12.
1. Mecklenburg County Deed Book 81; page 110.
2. Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City,
University of Chapel Hill Press, p 215
3. Mecklenburg County Deed Book 239,
p167 (Feb 9, 1909)
4. Charlotte Observer (May
5. Maps of the
Sanborn Fire Insurance Company, “Charlotte, NC,” (1911)
1910 City Directory. The 1909 City Directory shows both these
families resident on Morehead Street, indication that they were not new
to the city and that they were new to the property as opposed to its
simply not being listed.
Charlotte City Directories (1908 – 1989).
8. Charlotte City
Two of these entrances are visible in Architectural Analysis
of Dilworth, historic district proposal, (1978) and all three are
shown on a 1983 survey of the property by Leo Zoutewelle in the files of
the Mecklenburg County Historic District Commission.
Interview with Cherie Beach (August 10, 2005).
11. Mecklenburg County Deed Book 5007; page 216
12. Charlotte Observer
(May 18, 1989).
The wood frame and clapboard structure sits on a flat lot at the
corner of East Kingston and Lyndhurst Avenues, with both units fronting
East Kingston Ave to the northeast. The City House was built as an
upstairs/downstairs duplex, and, even after modifications over the
years, the home clearly retains the architectural integrity of its
original design. From the exterior, the building appears to be a
symmetrical two-story rectangle of typical late Victorian design, with
two front doors with transoms and side lights set in decorative casings
flanking either side of the central mass. Inside, however, the
two entrances, which have remained virtually unchanged throughout the
various renovations to the structure, are not symmetrical at all.
The original first floor entrance door leads into a small foyer only
6’8” deep which in turn opens into the main living room area. The
second floor entrance door opens into a much deeper space which
accommodates a stairway to the second floor and an entrance to a
basement. This is one of two separate basements, the other
accessible from what was originally the first floor unit. The
second floor unit’s foyer is similar in width to that of the first
floor, but originally ended in a blank wall, closing it off from the
first floor living area.
Although extensive modifications over its lifetime have made it
somewhat difficult to definitively discover the entire original floor
plan of the City House once past the entrance foyers, certain elements
of its original design do remain, including two rooms, one directly
above the other, with identical bay windows and coal fireplaces (now
used as the dining room (first floor) and as a bedroom (second floor),
and two small original bathrooms, again identical in size, shape, and
design, one above the other.
The front northeast elevation is strongly characterized by a large
one-story front porch with plain railing that spans the full front
façade. Doric columns support a flat porch roof and a frieze ornamented
with alternating triglyphs and rondels. Twin sets of steps lead from
each front corner of the porch down to concrete sidewalks that cross the
front yard connecting to the street. A four-foot high black
painted steel fence with two gates, added in 1989 encloses the front and
northwest side yards.
The main block of the structure has a low-pitched hip roof.
Large brackets support the overhanging boxed eaves and dominate the
cornice. Arranged in pairs, and separated by modillions, these
brackets are placed on a trim band elaborated with sawn-work. A
central dormer is perched on the roof and features three six-light
The northwest elevation fronts Lyndhurst and is seven bays in width,
with the bracketed eaves and trim motifs continued from the front.
The most defining element of this face is the two-story high bay window,
itself four bays wide with its own hip roof. As with most in the
City House, the windows are double-hung one-over-one sash. A chimney
rises from the roof, visible just behind the bay window. An examination
of the brick foundation along the northwest side makes apparent the
division between the original portion of the house and the later 1930s
addition, which includes a second story porch with simple railing.
A single shouldered chimney abuts the wall near the west corner.
A rear addition extends the footprint of the City House to the
southwest and has seen extensive modifications over the years.
Nine bays wide, the addition was constructed around 1930-1931. The rear
is asymmetrical, with a large mass extending from the second story from
the southern (right) side of the building and spanning three-fourths of
the elevation. Seven large single-pane windows replaced the
original two small six-over-six double hung windows in 1988. A
recessed sleeping porch, extends the
remaining length. Popular additions in the 1930s, sleeping porches were
especially favored in the South.
The rear porch has been rebuilt at least four times. The 1911
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows a fairly wide rear porch spanning
three-fourths of the way across the rear elevation. By the time of
the Sanborn’s next addition in 1929, a new shorter porch was in place,
as were a set of external stairs descending below grade to what may have
been a newly dug cellar beneath the rear of the foundation. The
1930-1931 rear addition necessitated the demolition of the second porch
and the building of another, which stood until the late 1980s.
Documentary photographs show the southeast side of the City House
accessed from the rear by a stoop and single door entrance with a
pedimented front-gabled porch-roof; these were demolished in 1988, the
door clapboarded over and the porch’s shed roof extended back to span
three-fourths of the elevation. Ivan Beach, the current owner was
required to replace the porch in 2002 because of decay, using vinyl
planks atop a cinder-block foundation. The rear yard is shielded by a 7
½-foot cypress privacy fence, constructed in 2002. In the back
yard is non-contributing storage building of corrugated pressed metal
siding of recent origin.The rear yard is beautifully landscaped
and is dominated by a red brick patio and walkways.
The southeast façade, visually obscured by the home on the adjoining
lot is the least visually dramatic elevation, not really meant for
viewing from the street. Eight bays wide, the bracketed eaves and
trim motifs from the other elevations are continued. Thirteen
windows pierce the elevation, all double hung one-over-one sash, with a
single exception in the lower level of the rear elevation that is
six-over-six. Two windows that look out from the upper and lower
level-bathrooms are about half the height of their counterparts. Five
small rectangular windows with metal security grates ventilate the
The interior of the City House has been much altered over the years.
The interior layout was somewhat altered by the 1930s rearward extension
of the building. However, the most radical changes to the historic
fabric most likely occurred during the 1967 conversion of the two-unit
duplex into a seven-unit apartment building. Renovations and
restorations in the 1980s saw the undoing of many of the 1960s changes
and the conversion of the building into a single-family home. The
first phase of 1980s remodeling, centered on the rear 1930s addition,
was carried out in a contemporary style, and included the creation of a
lofted space between the floors. The second phase cut passages
between the units, opened up spaces and modernized the downstairs
kitchen and den. Since this second phase was carried out using
recycled architectural materials or materials that mimic the originals
it is at times difficult to date the original fabric.
The Lower Level:
The front door in the north corner opens into a stair hall. A
handsome stair winds up to the second story. It has a simple balustrade
and square newel with paneled sides. At the base of the stair is a
built in “hall tree” or “throne” and a small door leads beneath the
stair to a subterranean basement. From the stair hall, a new
doorway opens into the lower unit’s living room and central hall.
The living room at the front of the house has a wide molded baseboard
and a small molded cornice, motifs that are carried throughout the
house. A brick running bond fireplace with mantle of white wooden
molding and adjoining built-in bookcase dominates the northwest wall.
A side door to the southeast connects the living room to the entrance
foyer and exterior door of the lower unit, while a door at the rear of
the room (southwest) provides access to the home’s central hallway.
Continuing down the central hallway, the dining room occurs to the
right (northwest), behind the stair hall, and is defined by the light
from the bay window and the coal fireplace; the original wall separating
this room from the hallway was knocked out in favor of a more open
colonnaded partition. Across the hall from the dining room are two
bedrooms separated by a full bath. The bathroom features an
original built-in medicine cabinet with a recycled tub and toilet
removed from the Hotel Charlotte prior to its demolition.
Behind the dining room is a finely appointed and extensively
renovated modern kitchen. The kitchen is separated from the den by
two-tier countertop. The den occupies most of the 1930s addition
area, is characterized by recent built-in bookcases and an entertainment
unit, as well as the newly added fireplace with pink marble surround.
The den area is additionally characterized by a feeling of openness
created by light spilling in from the new large windows and lofted plan
which opens the space to the second story. A contemporary
staircase with steel railing rises from the south corner of the den to
the second story.
Across from the den (southeast) a door access
the second cellar and a hallway leads to a half-bath and a third
downstairs bed-room, which is utilized by the current owners as an
The Upper Level:
Ascending the stairs from the front stair hall in the one comes to a
central hallway that runs the length of the structure.
Behind the front façade of the City House two are two large rooms
that would have originally functioned as the public areas of the upper
unit. The larger of these, in the east corner is utilized by the
current owners as an office space and is characterized by service style
wainscot and chair rails. Nested in the far corner of this room is
a small half-bath, which has contemporary fixtures, but retains the
original ceiling moldings with decorative rosettes and door surrounds
with bull’s-eye corners. A double door connects the office to the
other front room.
Closely mirroring the layout of the lower unit, two bedrooms flank
the southeast side of the central hall, both of which have been carpeted
and painted with texturized paint. The two bedrooms are separated by a
short hallway accessing a full bathroom—featuring a built-in medicine
cabinet and an antique claw foot tub—and a linen closet with
contemporary mirrored doors.
A small hall behind the front room in the north corner provides
access to the attic via a large rolling door and connects to a room the
current owners use as a master bedroom. The blue floral wall paper
in this space is quite old and should probably be preserved if possible.
The room now utilized as the master bedroom sits directly above the
downstairs dining room and is most characterized by the light from the
bay window and the coal-burning fireplace. This is the only room in the
house that contains picture molding in addition to the moldings used
throughout the rest of the house.
Behind the master bedroom and accessed from the central hall by a
screen door is a room utilized as a kitchen. The conversion of
this room to kitchen use appears to be from the dwelling’s days as an
apartment building. The appliances and cabinets are in poor repair
and are probably noncontributing elements. Interestingly, this
room may have originally been open to the elements before the 1930s
addition, as indicated by the screen door and the severe weathering of
the floorboards. A rear door from this room opens onto the
The central hall terminates at a set of double doors that open into
the renovated lofted area at the rear of the house. A carpeted walkway
with contemporary steel railing and balustrade looks over into the
downstairs den and connects to an open office area and the descending