1901 Oaklawn 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 the mid 1910s, this is one of the earliest residences on Oaklawn Avenue, which emerged during the 1920s – 1930s as a prestigious suburban address for African American ministers, physicians and other prosperous men. The street was initially called Double Oaks Avenue (until about 1930) and was initially considered part of the Washington Heights streetcar suburb, which had been developed on the other side of Beatties Ford Road in the early 1910s.

Elias L. Foster and wife Mary were listed as living in “Washington Heights” starting in the 1914 city directory, then residing on “Double Oaks Avenue, Washington Heights” beginning in 1918  He was a barber downtown on South Mint Street. In that era there were few white barbers; African Americans had largely controlled the trade since slavery days. Barbers who owned their own shops often became important community leaders.

During the 1960s – 1980s, this house was owned by Alexander W. Davis and wife Leila. He worked for the Federal Reserve downtown, lived in a brick house he had built at 1911 Oaklawn in 1956-57, and held the adjoining older dwellings at 1901 Oaklawn and 1907 Oaklawn as rental properties.

In 1974 the City of Charlotte used its eminent domain power to take land on both sides of Oaklawn Avenue in order to widen the the street. The project was part of a planned thoroughfare that would have included present-day Matheson Avenue in the NoDa area. Community activists, especially in the neighborhood that became known as Plaza Midwood, succeeded in blocking the plan but not before Oaklawn Avenue was widened. Alexander and Leila Davis were compelled to sell about twenty feet of lawn in front of their two houses at 1907 and 1911 Oaklawn and they also had to sell land they held adjacent to this house at 1901 Oaklawn.

[Note: Oaklawn Avenue was known as Double Oaks Avenue until about 1930. Because it was at the edge of the city, street listings in the directory seem to be haphazard. To get the date that Foster first appeared, I consulted the alphabetically listings in each directory working backward from 1930.]

Oaklawn-1901-b-web
Oaklawn-1901-a-web

Architecture

This house is a one-story variant on the Four Square style (usually two-story) popular in the 1900s – 1920s. It is almost square in plan under a hip roof that has a small hip-roofed front dormer. A hip-roofed porch extends across the front of the house supported by simple Doric columns. There is a prominent exterior chimney at the west side of the dwelling, and a smaller interior chimney near the right rear. The foundation of the house, including the porch, is substantial red-brick — a note of a solidity in an era when many houses sat on piers, rather than a continuous foundation.

The exterior has been remodeled with aluminum siding, new windows and new porch columns. That may have come in 1964 when then-owner Alexander Davis took out a permit to have Mangie McQueen (one of the city’s most active African American contractors, whose daughter Clotelle lived in McCrorey Heights) make “repairs” for $2900, a substantial sum.

Building permits

Oaklawn-1901-1906-permit
Date issued: March 20, 1936
Owner: E.L. Foster
Contractor: E.L. Foster
Estimated cost:
Other permit info: re-roof residence

Oaklawn-1901-permit-a
Date issued: December 15, 1964
Owner: Alexander Davis & wife
Contractor: Mangie McQueen
Estimated cost: $2,900
Other permit info: repairs to meet housing code

Building permit files, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

First appeared in city directory

1914 & 16 – Foster, Elias L. & Mary (residence: Washington Heights)
He: Barber at 504 S. Mint. She: No occupation listed.

1918 & 20 – Foster, Elias & Mary (residence: Double Oaks Av, Washington Heights)
He: Barber at 504 S. Mint. She: No occupation listed.

1922 – Foster, Eli L. & Mary (residence: Double Oaks Av, Washington Heights)
He: Barber at 502 S. Mint. She: No occupation listed.

1924 – Elias L. Foster & Mary  (residence: Double Oaks Av, Washington Heights)
He: Barber at 504 S. Mint. She: No occupation listed.

1925 – Elijah L. Foster & Mary  (residence: Washington Heights)
He: Barber at 205 W. Stonewall. She: No occupation listed.

1930 – Elias L. Foster & Mary. (residence: 1923 Oaklawn Avenue)
He: Barber, 606 S. Mint.  She: No occupation listed.

1981 – Priscilla A. Davis (renter). Office Sec, WL Smith Ins Agency

City directory collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Resources

Charlotte City Clerk, Minute Book 60, page 176, May 20, 1974.  On-line at: http://charlottenc.gov/CityClerk/Minutes/May%206,%201974.pdf