Historical Heavyweights: The guy who all the stuff is named after
Plus: Top news of the week — New report on homelessness — AvidXchange rings Nasdaq bell — Bosco reassigned — Charlotte diamond business acquired — Energy prices expected to rise
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Businessman Edward Dilworth Latta had a vision of building suburbs outside Charlotte’s downtown; Cut deal with Thomas Edison, but a later hotel venture led to self-exile
Editor’s note: You see their names on street signs or parks, but who were some of the big-name people from decades ago who shaped Charlotte? They have fascinating stories, and on Saturdays in October, we’re sharing them with you.
by John Short
Have you ever heard of Dilworth? Latta Park and/or Latta Arcade? That’s this guy.
A clear winner of the Charlotte “Most Eponymous” award, Edward Dilworth Latta was a businessman and Charlotte visionary whose fingerprints are all over the neighborhood infrastructure of the Queen City like few other individuals. (Latta Plantation belonged to one of his ancestors, not this particular fellow.)
As remembered as his name(s) are in Charlotte, it makes his unceremonious exit from the city toward the end of his career on a self-imposed business exile that much more curious.
But first, the Origin Story: Edward Dilworth Latta was born in Pendleton, S.C., in 1851 and briefly attended Princeton before setting out on a career in New York as a traveling salesman. In 1876, Latta moved to Charlotte, where he opened a men’s clothing store, ED Latta and Brothers. In 1883, Latta expanded his clothing empire with his creation of the Charlotte Trouser Co.
However, men’s trousers wouldn’t be the vehicle for Latta’s Charlotte legacy. Seeking to take advantage of the growing textile industry, Latta sold his clothing interests and in 1890 joined a group of business partners (including the Mayor, F.B. McDowell), to establish the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Co., which became known colloquially in town as the “Four C’s.”
The group had a vision of creating a suburb on the outskirts of downtown to cater to Charlotte’s growing middle class of professionals. At the time, the “city” of Charlotte consisted of a few buildings inside what’s now the I-277 loop. The 4C vision of people wanting to live in “the country” beyond Morehead Street was difficult to imagine.
However, the Four C’s crew was influenced to make their plan of a suburb by none other than a visiting Thomas Edison, who in 1890 attended a dinner of the Charlotte elite. At this dinner, Edison and Latta discussed using electricity to create modern streetcars from the horse drawn streetcars the Four C’s had purchased from the city to bring modern transportation to the “country” — the new suburb of Dilworth.
In February 1891, the Four C’s hired the Edison Electric Co. to install the power lines for electric streetcars that would serve Dilworth, where land would sell at a premium for $350 to $500 per lot.
To make the suburb more attractive, the Four C’s set out creating Latta Park (guess who got to name things in the Four C’s), which initially included a lake, fountains and flower gardens. The Whitewater Center of its day, Latta Park would later expand, and by 1897, the bustling recreation area included a boathouse, bowling alley, bicycle racetrack (!), horse racing course, football field and of course a baseball diamond and grandstand.
At the turn of the century, Latta’s fortunes and monopoly on the city of Charlotte would begin to decline. Latta, like his contemporary D.A. Tompkins, was an extreme capitalist, and in general held a low opinion of the working class. These views played out in the public eye in December 1903 during a high-profile streetcar labor dispute, with Latta drawing a hard line against the workers.
Ultimately, Latta won the dispute, but his reputation in the city was tarnished. In the subsequent years, Latta and the Four C’s would face stiff competition for city contracts, losing business to James B. Duke’s Southern Power Co., which offered lower prices. By 1910, the Four C’s had lost its virtual monopoly on transportation, gas and electricity for the city. Perhaps symbolically, the Four C’s made the decision to drain the water from the lake at Latta Park and demolish the pavilion.
But Latta had one more high-stakes, dramatic business venture left in his Charlotte story: In 1920, to put Charlotte on the map, city leaders decided they needed to build a grand hotel to host visiting businessmen, politicians and dignitaries. Latta was one of 20 business leaders who pledged $50,000 for a grand total of $1 million to build what would be called Hotel Charlotte, which was built on the site where the new Grand Bohemian hotel now stands in uptown.
Latta disagreed with the broader group over the location of the hotel. This dispute became public in March 1923, when local newspapers broke the story that Latta was being sued by the Citizens Hotel Co. for failing to pay his $50,000 pledge for the hotel. The lawsuit and jury trial played out in the public eye, with Latta losing the suit and being forced to pay his share plus interest.
Defeated and embarrassed, Latta left Charlotte and moved to Asheville, selling his home in Dilworth (now the location of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church), and virtually pulling out his capital from Charlotte.
Dilworth died in Asheville and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. His legacy lives beyond Charlotte landmarks and neighborhoods, and his will left endowments for schools like Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., and to the North Carolina Orthopedic Hospital and the Memorial Mission Hospital in Gastonia.
Other mini-biographies from our “Historical Heavyweights” series:
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This week in Charlotte: AvidXchange debuts on Nasdaq; Myers Park principal reassigned; report shows homeless problem worsening
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
Myers Park High principal cleared, reassigned: (Ledger 🔒) The lawyer for Myers Park High principal Mark Bosco says CMS has cleared him of wrongdoing following accusations that school administrators discouraged and downplayed reports of sexual assaults. CMS also moved him to a new central office job at the same pay.
CMS to investigate building conditions: (WFAE) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said occupational health experts will evaluate whether employee cancer cases are linked to building conditions at the Smith Family Center on Tyvola Road, which was a workplace for CMS administrative employees for the last decade. The investigation comes after WSOC aired reports about 12 former Smith employees diagnosed with cancer.
Energy reform: (WFAE) Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday signed into law a major energy reform bill designed to promote cleaner energy and change the way electric utilities are regulated. Some business, environmental and consumer groups say it doesn’t go far enough and could lead to price increases.
Controversial remarks: (AP) N.C. Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has repeatedly refused to apologize for remarks he made in June criticizing sexual education in public schools and likening gay and transgender people to “filth.” Some democrats and LGBTQ groups have called for him to resign. Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that Robinson “does not speak for North Carolina.”
Housing needs detailed: (UNC Charlotte Urban Institute) More than 28,000 Mecklenburg County households were behind on rent and at risk of eviction as of July 2021, as local housing becomes less affordable and Covid-related job instability continues, according to a new report. The Charlotte area is short about 23,000 rental units for extremely low-income households, which contributes to homelessness and housing instability, the annual report from UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute said.
Charlotte crime falls: (WFAE) The number of crimes in Charlotte is down 4% in the first nine months of 2021, compared with the same period last year, police said. Homicides are down 18%, though reported sexual assaults are up 17%. Police Chief Johnny Jennings attributed the declines to life returning to normal after the pandemic: “As things start to open up, as kids are back in school, as people are going back to work, I think that creates less opportunities of some of these criminal activities that we’ve seen,” he said.
AVDX Nasdaq debut: Charlotte financial technology company AvidXchange started trading on the Nasdaq exchange on Wednesday, becoming one of North Carolina’s largest publicly traded tech firms. “Today is a day that every tech entrepreneur dreams of when they start their company,” CEO Michael Praeger said at a celebration at the company’s headquarters north of uptown.
Diamond purchase: (Biz Journal) Charlotte-based Diamonds Direct is being acquired by the world’s largest diamond jewelry retailer in a $490M deal. Signet Jewelers Ltd. said it has entered into an agreement to buy the local jewelry chain in an all-cash transaction. Bermuda-based Signet’s portfolio of jewelry brands already consists of Kay Jewelers, Zales, Jared, H. Samuel and Ernest Jones, among others.
Another Ball headed to Hornets organization: (Observer) The Charlotte Hornets signed and released LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo’s older brother, a move that is expected to result to LiAngelo playing for the Hornets’ minor-league team, the Greensboro Swarm.
Charlotte’s crown symbol origin story: (Charlotte is Creative) If you’ve ever wondered how Charlotte got the crown logo that’s on everything from signs to tattoos, writer Amanda Lea gives the history of how the logo came to be — and how it was hotly contested in 1982 by a women’s barbershop-style singing group called “Sweet Adelines.”
More cowbell: (North Carolina Rabbit Hole) Writer Jeremy Markovich did a massive double-take when he saw news last week that a high school in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., auctioned off the cowbell used by Will Ferrell in the famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch from 2000. So Markovich did what Markovich does — he uncovered Ferrell’s connection with North Carolina and got to the bottom of whether the auctioned-off cowbell was actually part of the famous sketch. (You’ll need to read it to find out.)
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Inspiring message from ‘Hamilton’ creator: (Monday) Charlotte native Emily Holler was in a Washington, D.C., hospital ICU after a serious moped injury last month when Broadway big-name Lin-Manuel Miranda got wind that she had to give up her tickets to see “Hamilton” on Broadway. Miranda sent Holler an inspiring video message to lift her spirits.
ABC Q&A: (Wednesday 🔒) In an interview with The Ledger, Mecklenburg County ABC Board CEO Keva Walton says dramatically higher demand and tighter supplies are to blame for the county’s liquor shortage, which he says he personally finds “painful” since customers cannot find the products they want.
Lawmakers weigh in on ABC reform: (Monday) As Mecklenburg County ABC stores continue to have severe shortages, some citizens are calling for the state’s liquor distribution system to be privatized. We asked 17 state lawmakers from our region whether they support ABC reform. Three responded — here’s what they had to say.
Scorching-hot rezonings🔥: (Monday 🔒) In this too-hot-to-handle🔥 list of September rezonings, we share plans for townhouses in east Charlotte, Ballantyne and Derita; plans for apartments in west Charlotte; and … the never-before-published site plan to redo the Cotswold Chick-fil-A.
She always found a way to help: (Ways of Life 🔒) Diane Ruehl was most herself when she was serving others, and she did so in a multitude of ways, as an ER nurse, a hospice nurse and a “mom” to foreign exchange students she hosted over the years.
Truist sign drama headed to ATL? (Wednesday 🔒) Remember all the moaning that ensued when Truist hoisted its new giant sign and logo atop the former Hearst Tower last November? The same thing could be about to unfold in Atlanta, where the bank is getting ready to install giant signs on the city’s second-largest skyscraper.
2 takes on development ordinance: (Wednesday 🔒) Charlotte’s planning department released its first draft of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance, which will put the teeth in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. A final vote on the ordinance is expected in July 2022, and there are lots of opinions swirling from various constituencies about the ordinance. We talked to one urban planner who was part of the ordinance’s advisory committee, as well as a leader in the city’s building and development industry for their two different takes.
Car-free in Charlotte? (Transit Time) In a car-centric city like Charlotte, it’s unusual to meet someone who chooses not to own a vehicle. We introduce you to a 26-year-old South End resident who has no car, and show how developers are starting to build with the assumption that not everyone will be fully reliant on cars.
Signs exhibit: (Friday 🔒)An exhibit that debuts today at the Charlotte Museum of History features iconic signs that once were Charlotte landmarks. They range from signs for former restaurants like the Penguin and Hickory House Restaurant to businesses of yesteryear like Ivey’s department store, the midcentury modern Coliseum shopping center and Peeler’s Portrait Studio off Beatties Ford Road.
Energy bills rising: (Friday 🔒) Piedmont Natural Gas is warning customers that they should expect higher energy bills this winter. We explain why it’s happening, and how much bills are expected to rise.
Growth study: (Friday 🔒) A new study by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance projects that Charlotte’s population will grow by 50% by 2050. The Ledger spoke with the study’s lead researcher to learn about what will fuel the growth, and what it means for the city.
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