Griffith Street: Major Town and College Projects

Griffith St. Community Center: Shutdown and Repurposing

Perhaps one of the earliest attempts by the town of Davidson to refurbish the main thoroughfare of Griffith Street came in the early 1950s with the shutdown and repurposing of a YMCA-sponsored community center constructed on grounds owned by the ADA Jenkins school.  After a review of the legal land use regulations associated with the plot of land,  the use of the land as grounds for a YMCA facility was determined an illegal use, and the land was bought by Davidson College in 1954 for repurposing.  After years of continued maintenance of the deteriorating building, the movement of the community center to the current location of the ADA Jenkins Center allowed Davidson College to take over rights to the building in 1974 (Community Center – Griffin Street, Letter from Robert Currie to Dean Burte).  Finally, in 1977, President Spencer communicated his desires to demolish the building and completely repurpose the land (Griffin Street – Community Center Building, Memo from Robert Currie to President Spencer).

Griffith Street, Roosevelt Wilson Park, and the Algae Pond Committee

In the early years of the 1970s, Davidson’s Town Board expressed significant interest in repurposing the small extension of Lake Norman located on the south side of Griffith Street, a pond that had grown into a deteriorated state.  While some proposed to simply fill in the pond, others became eager to remodel and redesign the pond and the empty land around it.  In turn, Davidson’s Town Board formed a small party in charge of planning and executing the lake and the land’s remodeling.  This newly formed Algae Pond Committee drafted and sent to Duke Energy—the legal maintainers of the pond—a series of propositions pertaining to the transformation of the land around the lake into a proper park.  These propositions included significant re-landscaping, the construction of walking paths, the planting of more trees, and the addition of lighting to the park for nighttime use.  Through this restructuring and repurposing of the area, it was believed that the continued build-up of algae and trash that had come to plague the pond might be reversed.  (Lake Area on Griffin Street, Memo from Gover Meetze, Jr. to President Spencer)

In the 1990s, another two-phase project was organized after the complaints of several neighbors about the bad appearance of the entryway to the college from Griffith Street, mostly attributable to a worsening condition of the park and pond.  The town of Davidson was given $77,000 from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund for the renovation of the park on the condition that the town matched it.  Collected silt from the pond was removed to uncover its natural bottom, while spillways were added to promote drainage into pipes around the pond, the few jogging trails were cleaned up, and a large playground was constructed.  An additional $50,000 was donated for the construction of a boardwalk across the pond and creation of a path that bypassed Griffith Street traffic.  (Goodson, 1997)

Contemporary picture of Roosevelt Wilson Park Courtesy of Davidson town website

Contemporary picture of Roosevelt Wilson Park
Courtesy of The Town of Davidson website

Another important factor in the reorganization of the park and pond during the 1990s was the voice of the Davidson homeowners living directly adjacent to the park.  A largely African American group, sentiments were largely split around whether this renovation effort would be a positive development.  Many of these residents were unable to afford memberships to the YMCA, the nearest recreational facility, and wanted a space for recreation.  Others remained concerned that the renovation of the park was a first step in a process of gentrification, as renovations might raise property prices in the area, property prices which they might no longer be able to afford.  (Schuetz, 1996)

This was but one of the many conflicts centered around race relations that took place during these developmental years for Griffith Street.  For more information on the social implications of the development of Griffith Street, click here.

Griffith Street Properties, Inc.

In 1981, four Davidson College alumni–Howard W. Covington, Robert A. Currie, Lawrence M. Kimbrough, and John A. Tate, Jr.–founded a new non-profit organization named Griffith Street Properties, Inc.  With the mission “to preserve, restore, renovate, upgrade, develop and take all necessary action to improve and promote revitalization of Griffith Street” (Eure, 1981), this organization, which included Davidson College’s Business Manager Robert A. Currie, worked to redirect certain funds contributed by Davidson alumni who specified that their donations go towards revitalization projects helmed by Griffith Street Properties, Inc.  As Howard Covington, “the driving force behind the corporation,” explained his motivations, “’I just kept seeing these houses painted all kinds of wild colors and junk cars in the front and I didn’t think this was a good entryway to a beautiful college campus’” (Mellnik, 1984).

‘I just kept seeing these houses painted all kinds of wild colors and junk cars in the front and I didn’t think this was a good entryway to a beautiful college campus.’

A variety of major players participated in this renovation effort helmed by Griffith Street Properties through substantial donations and loans, including, most importantly perhaps, two different local banks: Northwestern Bank (contributing some $2,500) and Piedmont Bank and Trust (contributing $25,000 over five years).  These funds were utilized directly in the purchasing of homes and land from a variety of homeowners–primarily lower income and African American homeowners–along Griffith Street.  For the most part, homeowners who decided to sell their land were set up with newer, oftentimes nicer homes located nearby.  As voice in John A Tate, Jr.’s letter to Howard Covington, interest existed to not only beautify these acquired plots, but to repurpose them for use by the college and the town: “Consideration should be given to making this land available for high technology, engineering, architecture, or other types of business compatible with academic affairs at the college” (Plans for Griffith Street, Letter from John A. Tate to Howard Covington).  So although beautification was one primary goal of Griffith Street Properties, Inc., providing a range of functional facilities was a secondary one.

Davidson College’s direct involvement in the transplant of Griffith Street homeowners away from this major thoroughfare funneling traffic to the college was evidenced not only by Robert A. Currie’s hands-on role, but also in the direct role played by Davidson College’s President John W. Kuykendall.  Appearing as a simple ‘cc.’ in a wide variety of letters between Griffith Street Properties, Inc. trustees and other role players (such as the banks mentioned above and other funders of the project) during the later part of 1984 and 1985, archival documents also reveal his attendance of a number of Board of Trustees meetings during these later years of the organization’s lifespan.  The work of Griffith Street Properties, Inc. was not simply the lovechild of a few select alumni from the college; Davidson College fully monitored, partly funded, and deftly supported this beautification endeavor.

For more information on the economic development of Griffith Street, click here.

Sources:

Robert A. Currie.  Letter to Dr. Samuel Reid Spencer.  March 9, 1977.  Davidson College Archives.  Davidson, NC.

Robert A. Currie.  Letter to Dean Burte.  October 22, 1968.  Davidson College Archives.  Davidson, NC.

Eure, Thad.  “Articles of Incorporation of Griffith Street Properties, Inc.”  Articles of Incorporation.  Notarized Document.  5 November, 1981.  Davidson College Archives.  Davidson, NC.

Goodson, Jessica.  “Griffith gets a make over.”  Davidsonian.  2 September, 1997.

Grover C. Meetze, Jr.  Letter to Dr. Samuel Reid Spencer.  April 29, 1970.  Davidson College Archives.  Davidson, NC.

Mellnik, Ted.  “Davidson’s urban renewal a private affair.”  The Charlotte News.  26 March, 1984.  Davidson College Archives.  Davidson, NC.

Schuetz, Jennifer.  “An Integrated Approach to Analyzing Options for the Davidson Pond.”  1996.  Davidson College Archives.  Davidson, NC.

John A. Tate.  Letter to Howard Covington.  13 November, 1984.  Davidson College Archives.  Davidson, NC.

Roosevelt Wilson Park.  Photograph.  n.d.  “The Town of Davidson’s Public Art Commission Seeks Artist for Artwork: Installation at Roosevelt Wilson Park To Honor Pat Knox.”  The Town of Davidson.  Web.  9 April, 2014.

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