Saturday, June 8, 2019

‘Charlotte doesn’t have a brand’? Here’s an idea

The famed Excelsior Club, possibly to be demolished, in keeping with local tradition. Photo courtesy Dan Morrill
Even in the chest-pumping venues of deep-booster Charlotte, an inkling of the problem sometimes creeps in. Janet LaBar, the new CEO of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance even said it out loud in an interview with the Charlotte Observer. “I think Charlotte doesn’t have a brand,” she told reporter Deon Roberts.

The comment came up today at a regular weekly rump session over eggs, biscuits, livermush and bacon with a group of mostly long-time Charlotte residents, several of them Charlotte natives. I recalled the one-time civic discussion of a possible monument at The Square, the symbolic heart of the city at Trade and Tryon uptown. There was a time when folks were trying to figure out what could be an image that would capture the city’s essence. The late Doug Marlette, then the Observer’s editorial cartoonist, proposed an Eternal Barbecue Pit. Of course, other N.C. barbecue fans noted that Charlotte was famed, not for barbecue, but for being a place without authentic N.C. barbecue joints. Whatever.

What got put up at The Square was four didactic, symbolic statues representing Commerce, Industry, Transportation, and The Future. Visiting poet Andrei Codrescu once described them on NPR as Socialist-Realist and noted that the gold nuggets pouring on a symbolic banker’s head looked like turds.

And there’s a nice old-fashioned-looking clock in a small park on one corner. That park is modeled on the terrain of the Pacific Northwest, or maybe it was the Appalachian mountains – neither of them exactly representative of Charlotte’s terrain. It was built after the city used eminent domain to take and demolish the only antebellum store buildings uptown, which were offering not a heavily symbolic statue but actual Commerce.

Which leads me to the idea our rump session this morning devised. Because when asked, what iconic image does “Charlotte” bring to mind, people said: There isn’t one because Charlotte tears everything down.

After discussion digressed for a short time into various houses folks had owned and raised kids in only to see new owners tear them down for bigger houses, the idea emerged organically. The iconic image of Charlotte is of buildings being torn down.

Hence this modest proposal: Create a monument to Charlotte that is a building. It might be a small model of a historic building that should have been preserved. Maybe the Hotel Charlotte. Maybe the Independence Building. Maybe the Masonic Temple. I hope the Excelsior Club does not join this list.

Then every year on the city’s birthday, the model building is demolished. A new one goes in its place. It will last one year, and then, with pomp and ritual, it too is demolished. And so on. Erasing the past, year after year after year.