2001 Oaklawn Avenue

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

During the 1920s-1930s Oaklawn Avenue became a prestigious address for African American doctors, ministers and other Charlotte leaders. This substantial house on a corner lot was constructed in 1937 for physician Dr. Robert H. Greene. He resided here for more than forty years as he became a doctor respected not just in Charlotte but statewide. He served as state president for the black Old North State Medical Society; in 1970 it named him Doctor of the Year. His Civil Rights activism included taking part in the successful lawsuit filed in 1951 to desegregate the golf course at Revolution Park. The case, watched widely across the United States, helped invalidate the deed covenants that barred African Americans from public parks.

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The Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission designated the house as an historic landmark in 2009. The survey and research report by William Jeffers included this information:

“Robert H. Greene was born in Washington D.C. August 21, 1901 the son of Robert Benjamin Greene and Daisy Dean Hadley.[17]  As a young boy, he already had a desire to become a physician.  In his own words he states, “ . . . there were three doctors who lived near my home.  As a little kid I would watch them.  I admired them tremendously.  They had cars for one thing.  Hardly anybody else did.  They also had wonderful reputations and were idolized by almost everybody.  I wanted to emulate them.”[18]

“These early life influences stayed with Dr. Greene as he matriculated through the Washington D.C. public school system.  After graduating Armstrong High School[19], he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree at Howard University in 1923.  Four years later in 1927, he would graduate from the medical school of Howard University.  He served for two years as an interning physician at Lincoln Hospital in Durham N.C. and it was during this time that he would meet and marry Gladys Elizabeth Lee (May 20, 1903 – May 13, 1985).[20]  After completing his internship, the Greenes moved to Charlotte so Robert could start a career in private practice.

“While Gladys pursued a career in education as a teacher at Isabella Wyche Elementary School,[21] Dr. Greene established himself in Brooklyn.  He chose the Mecklenburg Investment Company building at 233 S. Brevard Street to set up his practice.  In addition to maintaining an office in Second Ward, Greene was the staff physician at Good Samaritan Hospital (now the site of Bank of America Stadium), the local African American hospital in Charlotte.  He also had privileges at Charlotte Memorial Hospital.  In 1934, the Greenes lived in Second Ward in an apartment at 224 South McDowell Street.

“Around 1936, the Greenes decided to settle away from the wards in the newly forming neighborhood of McCrorey Heights along Oaklawn Avenue.  They purchased from Janine L. Graham “Lot 5, Block 390, Section 4 of the City of Charlotte as shown on the tax records of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; also being Lot 5, block 4 of the property of Dr. H.L. McCrorey.”[22]  On this plot the Greenes erected a two-story Colonial Revival style house in keeping with the upper-middle-class status of the neighborhood.  It appears that the Greenes picked the particular house style from a catalogue of home designs by Robert L. Stevenson of Boston, Massachusetts.  Their house was a copy of a residence Stevenson designed in Braintree, just outside of Boston.  In a copy of the catalogue are handwritten notes by Dr. Greene commenting on particular ornamentation for the house as well as a list of things to include in it.  There is also a “to-do” checklist for the residence to ensure completion of the home.[23]

“Dr. Greene was a leader and member of many professional organizations.  They included the Charlotte Medical Society and the Old North State Medical Society (in both organizations he served a term as president), Mecklenburg County Medical Society, Medical Society of the State of North Carolina, National Medical Association, American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Family Practice.  Dr. Greene also was a member of Sigma Pi Phi, an exclusive fraternity for African American professionals.  He became a member of some of the aforementioned organizations though only after the end of Jim Crow because for thirty-five of the fifty years he spent practicing medicine he was not allowed to join any of the local medical societies because he was black.  Since he was not allowed to join the white medical societies, he was therefore not allowed to treat patients in white hospitals.  In retrospect, Greene remarks that, “I guess my greatest triumph during all the years of my practice was being admitted to the County Medical Society.  Blacks were not allowed to enter before 1963.  We couldn’t join the AMA or the State Medical Association before then either.  But the county was very interested in black doctors joining their society . . . and they pushed for us hard.  I joined the county, state, and AMA in 1963.”[24]

“…. The Old North State Medical Society named Dr. Greene “Doctor of the Year” in 1970.[27]  He also received statewide recognition when “he was appointed by Governor (Dan Killian) Moore and reappointed by Governor (Robert Walter) Scott to the Medical Advisory Council to the State Board of Mental Health.[28]  Another position of note includes being a member of the Executive Board of the Mecklenburg County Mental Health Association.

“To the community he served, Dr. Greene was also held in high esteem.   While primarily a family doctor, one specialty that he has been remembered for was his talents as an obstetrician.  Dr. Greene delivered many babies in Charlotte’s African American community. Margaret Alexander decided to utilize his services as an obstetrician and family doctor because; “He’d always take time with you and answer your questions.  He was a very patient individual.  Any time something would happen with the children, I would call him and he would come.”[29]  As Dr. Greene reflected on his career in obstetrics:  “I think one of the hardest things was delivering babies.  I’ve delivered hundreds of babies, and that was hard.  I’d have to get up I the middle of the night and rush out to deliver one, and then be back at the office the first thing in the morning.  One night I delivered four . . . It has been a demanding life, and a hard life, but I’ve loved it all.[30]

“Upon his retirement in 1979, Dr Greene alluded that while he was retiring from medicine he was not retiring from living.  Among the various things he planned to do:  “I love to read and I have never seemed to have enough time before.  I have a whole lot of catching up to do.  I’ve got a big back yard on Oaklawn Avenue and I plan to do a lot of gardening there, and we have a place where we’ll spend a lot of time at Badin Lake.  I’ve been thinking of taking up fishing too.  It’s never to late.”[31]  On November 23, 1990[32], eleven years after his retirement, Dr. Greene passed away.”

Oaklawn-2001-c-web
Oaklawn-2001-a-web
Oaklawn-2001-d-web

Architecture

Colonial Revival style two-story center-hall house. The massing is symmetrical with a gable-roofed main block flanked by a pair of side porches.  The gable roof has molding under the eaves which continues across both gable ends to form pediments. A pedimented gable supported by Doric columns forms the roof of the small front porch. It shelters a stylish front door with a fanlight and sidelights in the Colonial manner.  Similar columns support the east side porch. The west side porch is enclosed to form a screened room.

The original physician owner took out a permit in 1956 for a rear addition used as a home office. The same owner added aluminum “clapboard” siding in 1961, according to building permit data — an early use of that material, with notable care taken not to harm any original features of the dwelling.

The residence was carefully renovated in 2009 by Thomasina Massey, an African American real estate investor. Historic Charlotte, Inc., honored the work with its annual preservation award.

Building permits

Oaklawn-2001-2004-permit
Date issued: April 27, 1937
Owner: Dr. Robt. Greene
Contractor: C. L. Rabb

Oaklawn-2001-permit
Date issued: December 14, 1956
Owner: Dr. Robert Greene
Contractor: Wells Const. Co.
Other permit info: to build addition

Oaklawn-2001-permit-a
Date issued: January 17, 1961
Owner: Robert H. Greene
Contractor: Carolina Awing Co.
Estimated cost: $1,600
Other permit info: to apply siding to residence

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

Obituary

Green_Robert, funeral program in the Obituary Project notebooks, African American Genealogy Interest Group collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

First appeared in city directory

1938 – Dr. Robert H. Greene & Gladys L.
He: Physician at 235 S. Brevrad Rm 20.
She: Teacher, Isabella Wyche School

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

Resources

“Dr. Robert H. Greene House: Survey and Research Report,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 2009. On-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/Surveys&rGreene.htm