_914 Clifton Avenue

 

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

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Built in 1953 – 54 for Novella McCrorey Flannagan, daughter of JCSU president Dr. H.L. McCrorey who developed the neighborhood. She became a valued part of the New York City music scene in the late 1920s and 1930s, eventually founding and leading the Mt. Morris Music School in Harlem during the 1940s and early 1950s. When her father passed away, she returned to Charlotte to handle the sales of McCrorey Heights. Once that work was largely complete, neighbors recall, she returned to New York.

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The New York Age, the black newspaper published in New York City, printed notes from contributors across the United States. On May 1, 1926, it briefly called attention to a music recital at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. Classical soprano Marguerite Avery “encored several times, so great was the applause.” Her accompanist, “Miss Novella McCrorey, daughter of the president of Johnson C. Smith University, …showed her ability as a pianist when she played a piano solo. She, too was encored.” The applause marked the launch of a career that would take Novella McCrorey to the heart to the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1927 Alexander and McCrorey carried their musical collaboration to New York City. They booked the Imperial Auditorium on West 129th Street in Harlem and took out an ad in the New York Age. Novella must have liked her taste of the Big Apple because soon she moved there to live and work as a musician. By 1929 she had a guest spot on WABC radio, playing on the Negro Achievement Hour alongside other members of  the Johnson C. Smith University Club of New York City.

The early 1930s brought continued work but also heartbreak. Novella’s sisters DeArosa and Muriel joined her, all three living at the Emma Ransom House YMCA in Harlem, a haven for young women working toward careers in arts and education. Muriel moved into a job teaching in Trenton, New Jersey. DeArosa seemed to find her niche in YWCA administration, studying at Columbia University and working at the Ashland Place YMCA in Brooklyn. But the pace of a city career overwhelmed DeArosa. In 1930 she died of heart failure brought on by overwork.

The hard times of the Great Depression must have exacerbated DeArosa’s decline, but the New Deal created by President Franklin Roosevelt to counter the Depression gave Novella her life’s purpose. In 1936 Novella McCrorey signed on with the Harlem unit the WPA (Works Progress Administration) Music Project, part of the federal government’s New Deal effort to provide jobs during the Great Depression. According to Opportunity, the national magazine of the Urban League, “Miss Novella McCrorey … graduate of Julliard School of Music who has studied under private teachers both here and abroad, is the head teacher.” As the project’s supervisor she took charge of hiring out-of-work musicians to teach lessons to youngsters and play concerts for the community. Over seven years her Harlem operation reached somewhere between 1000 and 1800 people.

The school caught the imagination of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. His wholehearted enjoyment of New York culture made him beloved figure as New Yorkers struggled to keep their spirits up during the Depression. When newspapers went out on strike, he read the funny pages over the radio, to the delight of both children and adults. He founded the New York High School for Music and Art, and was known for slipping away from official duties to enjoy rehearsals of the New York Philharmonic. When Congress defunded the WPA during World War II, LaGuardia helped broker a deal to keep the Harlem site open. The school had occupied a handsome old brownstone on West 123rd Street at Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). Now the family that owned townhouse donated it to the City. Other donors stepped up to give operating funds.

The new Mount Morris Music School would welcome “children of all racial groups who are unable to pay for instruction,” reported the New York Age. The school aimed to “meet the rapidly growing problem of delinquency by opening up to the children some vital channels of creative and artistic expression.” Indeed the City’s Juvenile Welfare Council was a sponsor. On June 28, 1943, Mayor LaGuardia himself presided over the grand opening. Noted the New York Age: “The school program is directed by Miss Novella McCrorey, who was formerly a supervisor of the WPA Music Project in Harlem. She is a product of the Syracuse University College of Fine Arts and the Institute of Musical Art in New York City.”

For the next decade, the school was often in the pages of the New York Age, which detailed the recitals by its graduates and also its ongoing quest for funds. Marian Anderson, the world-famous African American classical singer, served on its board in the late 1940s. William Warfield, soon to star in the MGM musical Ol’ Man River, gave a fund-raising concert. Paul Robeson, perhaps the era’s best known black musician and actor, is said to have lent a hand as well.

In 1945 the New York Age carried news of the summer wedding of Novella McCrorey and William Flannagan: “Mrs. Flannagan is director of Mt. Morris Music School in the city, a project officially opened two years ago by Mayor LaGuardia. Her husband is connected with a business firm in the downtown area.” Research has so far turned up nothing more about Mr. Flannagan. He may have passed away within a few years; a 1961 Charlotte directory listed Mrs. Flannagan as a widow.

It was another death in the family that pulled Novella to Charlotte. In 1951, Novella’s father Dr. H.L. McCrorey passed away soon after his retirement from the presidency of JCSU. Novella left New York City for the funeral and stayed on to help settle the estate. Lot sales in the McCrorey Heights neighborhood were well underway, but there was much work to do to complete the neighborhood. The Mt. Morris Music School seems to have closed about this time after years of cultural success but an ongoing struggle to raise operating finds.

Whatever the combination of factors, in 1953 Novella took out a permit to construct a house for herself in the middle of the growing McCrorey Heights neighborhood. The residence — largely unchanged today in 2017 — was a sophisticated and early example of the new Ranch style, which had begun to spread from California in the years around 1950. It was just the type of forward-looking, urbane design that one might expect of a fashionable New York cultural leader.

Novella McCrorey Flannagan took over the work of land sales in McCrorey Heights. The blueprint map of the neighborhood that she used is now in the archives at Johnson C. Smith University. City Council minutes in 1955 showed her arranging for two sewer mains to extend into the area.

She also joined her neighbors in building the social life of the neighborhood and the city. In 1955 she and fourteen other women, many from McCrorey Heights, chartered the the Charlotte chapter of The Links, Incorporated. Launched in Philadelphia in 1946, the Links became perhaps the nation’s most important organization (outside of the sorority system) forging social networks among upscale African American women locally and nationally. A 1960 newspaper article showed Novella Flannagan as chapter president, hosting a brunch and bridge-playing event at the Excelsior Club for seventy-five members.

Neighbors recall that Flannagan always longed to return to the cultural excitement of New York City. Hers papers in the Johnson C. Smith University archives include a detailed appraisal in 1972 of her house at 914 Clifton Street. This was evidently the time she chose to leave Charlotte.

She sold the house to Earl Lanier Avant and his wife Pauline L. Avant, African American investors in real estate who also operated the Lenn Haven Motel at 6233 Brookshire Boulevard at the northwest edge of the city. Pauline Avant continues to reside in the house at 914 Clifton Avenue in 2017.

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Architecture

The Novella McCrorey Flannagan House is among Charlotte’s earliest examples of Ranch style architecture. Its sophisticated massing seems to reflect the hand of an architect or perhaps inspiration from one of the forward-looking home magazines of the day. There are three segments, all one-story in tan brick with cypress wood trim.

  • Closest to Clifton Street is a flat-roofed section that holds a one-vehicle carport and also an enclosed garage.
  • The next section is wider, with a very low gable roof over the living room and room and kitchen. Its front window consists of five large panes arranged in a single horizontal strip — providing a horizontality that is characteristic of Ranch and also International Style houses in the mid twentieth century. Note the substantial chimney between this section and the final section, a favorite touch of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, which promises a welcoming hearth within.
  • The final section of the house is the widest, holding the bedrooms under a low gable roof. The individual front windows here are set in a horizontal wooden band, continuing the horizontal thrust of the house.

The address is on Clifton, and that is the location where the driveway carries cars into the carport. But the pedestrian entrance and indeed the composition of the dwelling faces Washington Avenue. The entrance is nestled into the angle where the living section meets the wider bedroom section. It is set at 45 degrees to the main facade of the house, with the wooden front door flanked by floor-ceiling glass panes.

A 1972 real estate sales appraisal of the dwelling by Howard Webb of Charlotte gave this interior description — which included a fashionable sunken living room:

“The floorplan of the house is very livable. There is an entrance foyer in the center of the house with the bedrooms to one side and the living room and kitchen to the other.

“The house has a flagstone entrance and foyer area. From the foyer, one steps down into the living room, thus giving a sunken effect. The living room has a fireplace with a flagstone deck in front of it. There is an enclosed porch off of the living room area with a flagstone patio off of the porch. The dining room area is at the end off the living area. Off of the dining area is the kitchen and breakfast room area. There is an exit to the garage and to the carport from the kitchen. The kitchen is well-planned with plenty of cabinet space.

“Located at the other end of the house are the bedrooms. There are three bedrooms. Also located on the upper type level of the house is a room used as a study or den. Each of the bedrooms has a large cedar lined closet and there is plenty of closet space in the hallways. There are two full baths on this upper level. Each bath has a bath and shower with ceramic type tile. Between the two end bedrooms is located a double type bath with two lavatories.”

 

Building permits

Clifton-914-permit

Date issued: July 195X
Owner: Mrs. N. McCrorey Flanagan
Contractor: Moss Trucking Co.
Estimated cost:
Other permit info: Move home from 301 Beatties Ford Road to 914 Clifton

Date issued: August 14, 1953
Owner: Mrs. N. McCrorey Flannagan
Contractor: C. J. Brown
Estimated cost:
Other permit info: to build residence

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Date issued: May 10, 1962
Owner: Flanagan
Contractor: Power Electric Co.
Estimated cost:
Other permit info: apparently for some electrical updating

First appeared in city directory

First appeared in city directory:
1955 – McCrorey M. Flannagan.

1959 – Mrs. McCrorey N. Flannagan.

1961 – Mrs. Novella M. Flanagan (widow)

2000 city directory – Earl L. Avant & Pauline L.

Novella McCrorey Flanagan was President H.L. McCrorey’s daughter. Educated at Julliard, she became an important figure in the New York City music scene in the 1940s, launching a music academy with help from Paul Robeson.

Other Materials

Photos of house construction are in the McCrorey Papers at JCSU.

Flanagan home construction Flanagan homebuilding

Resources

“Announces Daughter’s Marriage,” New York Age, August 18, 1945. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/40853298/

“Busy LaGuardia Finds Time to Champion Cause of Music,” Courier-Journal, May 20, 1943. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/108384595/

“Charlotte Chapter History,” on the Charlotte Links, Inc. website. On-line at: http://www.charlottelinksinc.org/history.htm

“Charlotte, N.C.,” New York Age, May 1, 1926. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/40472440/

“Founding Members,” on the Links, Incorporated website. On-line at: http://linksinc.org/original_members.shtml

“Happenings in the Realm of Music,” New York Age, March 30, 1929. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/40789487/

“Mt. Morris Music School Benefit Features Warfield,” New York Age, April 29, 1950. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/40472923/

“Mt. Morris Music School Holds Closing Exercises: Talented Students Cited,” New York Age, July 3, 1948. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/40655770/

“Mt. Morris Music School Opened Monday for Harlem Children: Instructions Free,” New York Age, July 3, 1943. On-line at: www.newspapers.com/image/40799252/

“Music-Art Centre,” Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, Published by the Urban League, [month?] 1936, p. 122. On-line at: https://books.google.com/books?id=sJgXAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA122&lpg=RA1-PA122&dq=%22Novella+McCrorey%22++Julliard&source=bl&ots=aylV1psmrP&sig=nEihn5K1E7jCKCXPgQw480Yvlvk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiQmeqQuNjXAhWEc98KHXvmB7EQ6AEIMjAC#v=onepage&q=%22Novella%20McCrorey%22%20%20Julliard&f=false