1623 Madison Avenue

This is a draft, now being reviewed by members of the McCrorey Heights Neighborhood Association. Please share comments with Tom@HistorySouth.org 

Built in 1957 – 58, this is the long-time home of Isaac Heard, Sr., and wife Gwendolyn. He was among the most highly skilled professionals in Charlotte’s African American community when he arrived in the 1950s as an engineer with Douglas Aircraft. He became a upper-level official in Charlotte’s Community Development Office during the 1970s and 1980s, working to heal the scars of Urban Renewal. He and Gwendolyn raised son Ike Heard, Jr., here, who became a well-known planner active both locally and nationally.

African American architect Harvey Gantt (later elected as Charlotte’s first African American mayor) designed the 1975 carport extension that accentuates the dwelling’s horizontal lines, echoing the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

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Ervin Construction, one of the era’s largest suburban builders in Charlotte, took out the permit to construct this residence in 1957. They sold it to Isaac Heard, Sr., and his wife Gwendolyn Bridge Heard who lived here for over six decades.

Ike Heard, Sr., grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He went off to college at Hampton Institute in Virginia. Best-known for its early role in educating the famed African American leader Booker T. Washington, it ranked among the top black colleges in the nation for training engineers. Heard enrolled in the Division of Trades and Industries with a major in Building Construction.

After graduation in the late 1940s, he joined Douglas Aircraft as an engineer. Douglas Aircraft was one of the nation’s major defense contractors. When President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 in 1941,  setting “the policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in … government because of race…,” Douglas moved actively to recruit African Americans. The first hire was in the engineering department. Within two years, writes scholar Stephanie Capparell, “aircraft factories reported having gone from just a handful of blacks on the payroll to having twelve thousand.”

Douglas Aircraft sent engineer Heard to Charlotte. The company had just taken over a sprawling factory on Charlotte’s Stateville Avenue, built in the 1920s as an automobile assembly plant by Henry Ford, then expanded during World War II as an Army Quartermaster depot. Bought and enlarged by Douglas Aircraft, the Charlotte Army Missile Plant (CAMP) as it became known, began turning out Nike Ajax missiles in 1956. Two years later it debuted the Nike Hercules missile. The Hercules became an essential weapon in the Cold War, with 145 missile batteries constructed by the U.S. and more by allies around the globe. The Charlotte plant was the only production site for Hercules Nike missiles, active from 1958 to 1965.

As the Charlotte Army Missile Plant wound down its production, Mr. Heard moved to the Charlotte Planning Commission where he served until 1975. He then signed on with the city’s Community Development Office. The agency had been created at the end of the 1960s as a successor to Urban Renewal. Under the cluster of grant programs known as Urban Renewal, the federal government had underwritten the demolition of vast areas of America cities. The work professed noble aims — wiping out substandard housing — but in practice it destroyed thousands of African American neighborhoods including the Brooklyn and Greenville districts in Charlotte. Under President Richard Nixon, the U.S. ended Urban Renewal and instead offered Community Development Block Grants. CDBG regulations required public hearings and extensive local input, a new idea in America, and they encouraged investments in infrastructure that would strengthen rather than demolish existing neighborhoods. Isaac Heard was the highest ranking African American in Charlotte’s Community Development Office for decades until retirement in the 1990s [check this].

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Isaac Heard married fellow student Gwendolyn Ohland Bridge in 1948 during their days at Hampton. The wedding merited a lengthy article in the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the leading African American newspapers covering the South. It described in detail the bride’s “gown of candlelit satin” with its “bouffant skirt extending into a cathedral length train.” Gwendolyn came from Galveston, Texas, where her father taught in the public schools. At Hampton she had helped charter the Gamma Theta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

In Charlotte, Gwendolyn Heard became known for tireless volunteering in her neighborhood, in social organizations, and in civic life. When well-educated African American parents got together in 1957 to charter the Charlotte chapter of Jacks & Jills, a national educational enrichment association for youngsters, Gwendolyn Heard served as Vice Chair. When Dorothy Counts — who had made headlines when she integrated Harding High School in 1957 — got married in 1965, Gwendolyn Heard was listed in the Pittsburgh Courier as “the bridal consultant.” When the School Board closed seven “Negro schools” during desegregation, Gwendolyn Heard co-led an effort with Presbyterian minister Rev. Robert Shirley to allow neighborhood children to use the facilities for recreation. The effort grew into the Mecklenburg New Frontier Council in 1966, with Mrs. Heard as Chair, to push for “total school integration…, fair employment and fair housing practices by the real estate men of the city,” and increased “responsiveness of established social and welfare agencies to the needs of low-income groups.”

Mrs. Heard’s persistent community activism and Mr. Heard’s passion for planning carried over into their son Ike Heard, Jr. At Dartmouth University young Ike studied urban policy and sociology, graduating in 1971, then went to Harvard University as HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) Urban Studies Fellow. He followed that 1974 degree with a Masters of Urban Administration at UNC Charlotte in 1978. His career began as a transportation planner with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission. In the 1980s he moved over to private development, employed by homebuilders to create projects such as south Charlotte’s Cameron Wood neighborhood. Work during the 1990s included leading the Northwest Corridor Community Development Corporation, a neighborhood-based non-profit that built housing for senior citizens on LaSalle Street off Beatties Ford Road and the Carolinas Medical Center clinic near JCSU. More recently he has worked as a planning consult whose clients included Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: from 1999 – 2004 his analysis guided the system’s school construction plans — a quiet triumph for a son of McCrorey Heights, the neighborhood whose activists had fought so long for African American educational opportunity.

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Architect Harvey Gantt designed the 1975 addition to this house soon after he launched his firm Gantt-Huberman Associates. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, he was barred from the state’s one architecture school, located at Clemson University, because of his race. So he sued for admission and won, becoming the first African American to attend a formerly all-white college in South Carolina. Following graduation in 1965 he came to Charlotte, largest city in the Carolinas, to work for the South’s preeminent Modernist architecture firm, Odell and Associates. He went off to MIT for a graduate degree in urban planning, then helped plan Cvil Rights activist Floyd McKissick’s new town in eastern North Carolina called Soul City. In 1971 Gantt returned to Charlotte to co-found Gantt-Huberman. It earned a regional reputation as one of the South’s busiest black-led design firms into the 2010s. Gantt himself emerged as a highly visible political leader, beginning on City Council 1975 – 1983, winning two terms as Mayor 1983 – 1987, and running twice for the U.S. Senate.

Contractor for Gantt’s addition to the Heard house was Robert H. McClure, whose family’s McClure Lumber on Rozelle’s Ferry Road near McCrorey Heights ranked among Charlotte’s oldest building materials supplier.

Madison-1623-e-web
Madison-1623-c-web
Madison-1623-a-web

Architecture

Ranch style house, one-story in red brick under low hip roofs. Massing is more complex than many Ranch houses in McCrorey Heights: there is a main hip-roofed block, a projecting front wing with its own hip roof, and a hip-roofed rear wing. All windows are double-hung, grouped in twos and threes to give the house the horizontality that characterizes the Ranch style.

That horizontality was increased in 1975 when the original owners hired important African American architect Harvey Gantt to expand the house. He designed a two-vehicle car-port with an enclosed room at the rear, all under a hip roof that perfectly echoes the earlier design. The addition’s horizontality, combined with complex massing of the entire ensemble, is reminiscent of the work of America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The dwelling is located on a corner lot at Creek Street, with both the entrance and car-port facing Madison Avenue. Note the towering, carefully spaced street trees planted by the Heard family, a rarity in McCrorey Heights.

 

Building permits

Madison 1623 permit b
Date issued: December 16, 1975
Owner: Isaac Heard
Arch: Harvey Gantt
Contractor: Robt. H. McClure
Estimated cost: $16,257.57
Other permit info: Carport and added room behind carport.

Madison 1623 permit c
Date issued: April 17, 1957
Owner: Ervin [Erwin?] Const. Co.
Contractor: Ervin [Erwin?] Const. Co.
Estimated cost:
Other permit info: Build residence

First appeared in city directory

1958 – Issac Heard & Gwendolyn.
He: Engineer, Douglas Aircraft
She: No occupation listed

1981 city directory – Isaac Heard & Gwendolyn B.
He: Coordinator, Community Devel Dept. She: No occupation listed
[note son Isaac Jr., Planner, Char Meck Plan Comm, hs 6728 Constitution]

Resources

Capparell, Stephanie, The Real Pepsi Challenge: The Inspirational Story of Breaking the Color Bar (Free Press, 2007).

“County-wide Council Formed to Push for Negro Goals,” Charlotte Observer, July 29, 1966.

“Has Charlotte Missed Bus? Charlotte Observer, June 26, 1977.

“Harvey Bernard Gantt, FAIA (1943 –  ),” on the NC Modernist Houses website. On-line at: http://www.ncmodernist.org/gantt.htm

“Isaac Heard, Jr., Curriculum Vitae, 2013.” On-line at: https://mpa.uncc.edu/sites/mpa.uncc.edu/files/media/Heard%20CV%202013.pdf

McClure, Ralph Hutchinson, obituary in the Wilmington Star News, December 22, 2011. On-line at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/starnewsonline/obituary.aspx?pid=155145944

“Miss Gwendolyn Bridge Marries Isaac Heard,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 24, 1948.  On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/39978391/

“Our Chapter History,” on the Charlotte Chapter of Jack & Jill, Incorporated website. On-line at: http://www.jackandjillcharlottechapter.com/our-chapter-history.html

“Resignation of Isaac Heard, Sr., from Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commision Accepted with Thanks,” Charlotte City Council Minutes, November 10, 1975. On-line at: http://charlottenc.gov/CityClerk/Minutes/November%2010,%201975.pdf

Sumner, Ryan L., “Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant / Army Quartermaster Depot / Charlotte Army Missile Plant: Survey and Research Report,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 2002.  On-line at: http://landmarkscommission.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Ford-Motor-Co-Plant-SR.pdf