In an effort to preserve the character of Plaza Midwood, the Historic Landmarks Commission has purchased the land that the 80-year-old Charles E. Barnhardt House sits on and is moving forward with restoration efforts.
“This will be a very, very challenging project, but we felt that we needed to step forward,” Dan Morrill, Consulting Director of the Historic Landmarks Commission, told the Agenda. “It’s a very important house for the neighborhood’s character.”
The 6,500 square foot house, commissioned by Charles Barnhardt and built by Martin E. Boyer, Jr., sits at 2733 Country Club Lane and was completed in 1938.
Barnhardt was a well-known figure in the county’s textile industry, running first in 1914 Withers and Barnhardt, a cotton brokerage firm, before being listed as the owner of the Charles E. Barnhardt and Company: Cotton and Rayon Brokers in 1929 and forming Barnhardt Brothers, a cotton yarn brokerage company, in 1934. Other accomplishments included transforming Davidson’s Linden Cotton Mill into Kubar Manufacturing, acting as a trustee for Presbyterian Hospital and an active member of the Charlotte Country Club and the Masons.
When he and his wife, Edna, commissioned Boyer to design the house, Boyer was one of the only architects that had a steady number of jobs throughout the Great Depression – 48 between 1929 and 1941, including both the Hamilton Jones and Charles W. and Gladys Avery Tillet houses and Harding High School. Morrill calls him the of the city’s “premier” architects of the first half of the 20th century, and he’s known today as the most important revivalist architect.
When designing the house, Boyer went for what the Commission calls a “stately” look in the Colonial Revival Style, complete with half-round bay windows and a porch, but mixed in “flamboyant architectural elements” on the back of the house.
“It’s an incredibly sophisticated piece of architecture,” Morrill said, speaking specifically to the way the front of the house incorporates elements typical of the time, like half-round bay windows and a porch, while the back is an “entirely different phenomenon” and sees an unusual mix of styles that prove to be more lavish and imaginative. Morrill speculates that this was done because of the immense amount of privacy the back of the house was allowed.
“I know of no other house in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, built during the depths of the Depression, that has the degree of sophistication that this house does,” he said.
When it was completed in 1938, it was worth an estimated $50,000 – and sat empty until 1944.
Barnhardt, during a routine trip to the house while it was under construction, was found dead in a pond on the property. It’s believed that he tripped on fishing net on the top of the dam.
Edna never moved into the home, and by 1943, it was listed as vacant. In 1944, it was bought by the Hollingsworth family and sold again to George Cramer, a prominent figure in the textile industry, in 1948.
Cramer’s family stayed in the house until 2015, when, according to records, it was sold for $5 million to a real estate developer.
Grandfather Homes, the same firm behind The Towers at Mattie Rose, The Park in Plaza Midwood and The Heights off Queens Road, is currently in the process of building a 37 single-family home community called Cramer’s Pond on the land.
The need for a connecting street called for the home to be demolished, and it was already scheduled when the Historic Landmarks Commission stepped in and purchased the land (four lots in total) for $975,000.
According to Morrill, the Commission felt the need to step forward to restore and preserve the home’s history and character, both of which it had so much of that it was deemed a designated historic landmark in October of 2017.
The problems the Commission faces aren’t related to its age, but rather the care that was – or, rather wasn’t – given to the home in the recent past, with problems stemming from water damage, vandalism and a general drying out of the interior.
“In terms of the stairways, the balance grades, the doors, it’s an incredibly sophisticated house,” he continued. “Of course, that will all be protected.”
By the time it’s all said and done, including installing a new roof and repairing interior damage, it will be put on the market.
While the rest of the work will come from the new owner, likely in the kitchen and bathrooms, each move will need to be approved by the Commission, which will include a preservation covenant in the home’s deed.
“The Historic Landmarks Commission will have design review over everything,” Morrill said. “Interior, exterior, grounds – any kind of material alterations will have to have the Commission’s approval, and it will have ongoing design review on the project.”
The Commission will also have the ability to buy back the home, which was valued at $1,887,900 in September of 2016.
“The house has problems, but also tremendous potential.”