This is 12,000 people coming together to care. People play a crucial role in any organization, none more so than in health care. That’s why Cone Health is especially proud of our recent certification as a Great Place to Work. We are more than 12,000 diverse individuals who share a commitment to excellence and to caring for each other, our patients and the communities we are privileged to serve. To learn more, including opportunities to join our team, go to careers.conehealth.com.
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What they’re saying about us!
“My family moved to Greensboro as a corporate relocation from New York City. We quickly discovered a great place to live, work, play, make friends and volunteer. Greensboro is one of the most generous places in the country when it comes to philanthropy. The community truly cares about helping neighbors by changing systems to improve lives.”
Michelle Gethers-Clark President/CEO United Way of Greater Greensboro
“Greensboro prides itself for being an arts and culture destination. We’re known for our southern hospitality and want everyone to feel this is a place to call home.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan City of Greensboro “Greensboro is a place wherein together, people are trying to create a city which is not content merely with things the way they are, but is striving to become the city that it was meant to be; a city of good education, economic development, culture, brotherhood and sisterhood, compassion, justice and peace.”
“We at UNC Greensboro are proud of our hometown. Like our campus, it is a vibrant community, home to a vast array of people from all walks of life. It is a city that continues to grow, and the universities here play a key role in helping to keep the quality of life here high – bringing world-class arts and culture, wellprepared talent, innovative research, and economic opportunity to the region. More than 30,000 UNCG alumni live within 25 miles, proving that once people find their way here, they realize this community is a wonderful place to learn, work, and live. The future for UNCG – and for Greensboro – is certainly bright.”
“Greensboro is a creative city, second to none. You can find a dynamic music scene and world-class visual arts, theater and dance, murals and public art everywhere you look, and independent artist studios, collaboratives and innovative art spaces. You can Make, Learn, Enjoy life in Greensboro!”
Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. UNC Greensboro Chancellor
Laura Way President and CEO ArtsGreensboro
Rabbi Fred Guttman Temple Emanuel Greensboro
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.............. What theyâ€™re saying about us! 5.............. Home for Keeps 6.............. What Greensboro Gave The World 11............ 10 Things You Never Knew About the Battle of Guilford Courthouse 16............ The Sunny Side of the Street 21............ A Second Act 26............ City of Trees 34............ Diamond in the Ruff 41............ For Love of Books 44............ City Girl 46............ A Woman Worth Millions 49............ Ranch Dressing 60............ Taco Time 64............ Eat, Love, Pay 69............ The Soul of the Circuit 74............ A Homegrown Garden of Eden
HOME FOR KEEPS BY JIM DODSON FOUNDING EDITOR, O.HENRY MAGAZINE
ILLUSTRATION BY HARRY BLAIR
orty-two years ago this spring, I left my hometown of Greensboro for the bright lights of Atlanta and a job as a staff writer on the oldest Sunday magazine in America. I’d just turned 24. It was a dream job, covering everything from sports to presidential politics for the magazine. After my time at the largest news magazine of the South, I moved on to work for a legendary magazine in New England, which launched a career working for the leading travel and golf magazines that took me anywhere I ever dreamed of going in the world. By the time marriage and fatherhood found me living with my young family in a post-and-beam house on a beautiful forested hilltop on the coat of Maine, I feared I might never find my way home to the leafy green city where streets were named for ancestors and my family roots reached back to pre-Revolutionary times. This was the late 1980s and early ’90s, and like many cities of the region, Greensboro was struggling to overcome changing economic circumstances and somehow redefine its future. Looking back, it took the unexpected opportunity to serve as Louis D. Rubin Jr. Writer-in-Residence at a historic University in Virginia and a simultaneous invitation to spend a fortnight covering the U.S. Open of 2005 for the award-winning Pilot newspaper of Southern Pines that brought me briefly home — or very near it — again. I signed on figuring I’d stay two or three weeks in Pinehurst, my old golfing stomping ground, and reconnect with friends from Greensboro before I headed off to a new horizon. Those wonderful evenings with friends reminded me how much I loved the city where I grew up. The hand of sweet Providence did the rest. A short time late, a gifted art director named Andie Rose and I transformed a local newsprint tabloid called PineStraw into a serious arts and culture magazine for the Carolina Sandhills. Buoyed by its enthusiastic reception, in 2011 — the aftermath of the Great Recession
— we decided to launch a sister arts magazine for Greensboro because I knew no other place in the South could match the Gate City for its wealth of history, enlightened civic involvement, diverse social culture and a fulsome grassroots arts community that was quietly helping to fuel a Gate City renaissance. It proved a wise decision. O.Henry magazine — named for Greensboro’s famous native son whose short stories with unexpected endings made him the most beloved author of the early 20th century — launched in August of 2011, and now approaches its 10th anniversary as the voice of a city that is blooming almost everywhere you look these days, symbolized by the new Stephen Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, a transformed downtown and thriving South Elm Street and art district, spectacular LeBauer Park and revitalized urban living on a thoughtful human scale. Indeed, as one decade ends and another begins, Greensboro has been singled out by several national organizations for its warmth, physical beauty and high “livability” factors that include everything from reasonable housing prices to civic roadways that are described as the easiest to navigate in the nation -- not to mention several outstanding colleges and a pair of booming state universities with growing national profiles. Topping off the list: a thriving sports scene, an uncommon number of spectacular gardens and wonderful public spaces. Of course, some of us have always known it was only a matter of time before the rest of America discovered what many of us have known all along — that there’s no better place to live, work and make one’s own happy O.Henry ending than in the Gate City of the South. James (Jim) Dodson is the Founding Editor of O.Henry Magazine, award-winning journalist and and bestselling author of 14 books, including four Books of the Year in the world of golf. His latest project is The Great Wagon Road for Simon & Schuster, expected in 2021. 5
What Greensboro Gave the World The surprising things Greensboro gave the world By Billy Ingram
ore than a century ago, Greensboro’s proximity to multiple railroad lines first earned it the proud monicker of Gate City. Since then, two Interstate highways, with a third in the offing, and a FedEx hub at its international airport, have opened even more doors to markets all over the world, both large and small. So it’s little surprise that the list of things made in Greensboro is a long one — from brawny Volvo and Mack trucks to the sleek HondaJets; from hand-battered okra at Biscuitville to exotic Twining teas; from Winston and Salem cigarettes (now made right here at Lollilard) to interactive gas pumps manufactured at Gilbarco. Of course, those aren’t the only homegrown enterprises that made it out of the gate. Here are some other products, services and talents that are, or were, certifiably O.G. — Original Greensboro.
In 1969 Buffalo Creek overran its borders, flooding a warehouse for the Cone White Oak plant with chemically charged wastewater. Faced with tons of spotted, unevenly washed-out fabric, someone had the bright idea to market it, and a new fashion statement was born, the acid-washed jean. Today the White Oak plant produces high-quality selvage denim on shuttle looms from the 1940s for trendy jeans that retail for as much as $300.
Made-Rite Sandwiches was located on Battleground for half a century. Known for its pimiento-cheese and chicken-salad sandwiches squeezed into plastic triangles, the company also packaged ready-toeat hot dogs and ham biscuits. Former employees still rave about the familial atmosphere, the respect and loyalty that extended from the very top down. After a bomb threat was communicated in the 1960s, the distressed but undeterred owner called each employee at home to inform them of the situation, then awarded everyone who showed up a $100 bonus.
It’s in the Sauce
When the Bavarian-esque environs of Boar and Castle welcomed diners in the late 1920s, it was situated at the end of a dirt road, on West Market where it meets Walker. That curb-hopping hot spot was a beacon for teens and cruising college kids, as much for the party in the parking lot as the cheap eats. What gave the hand-cut fries, juicy Castleburgers and signature Butter Steak sandwiches their unmistakable zip-zing was Leon Thomas’ signature sauce, which he began bottling in the midfifties. The restaurant was an anachronism by 1980 but Boar and Castle Sauce, made from a 100-plus-year-old-recipe, was a flavor unique to Greensboro, but is still in good taste anywhere. I prefer Samson’s Sauce myself. In the ’60s it was first mixed up in a backyard bunker in Old Irving Park by Gurney Boren. You had to order months in advance, never knowing when the brewmaster might get motivated to mixing up another vat. Gurney was a true character during a time when that was considered a compliment. By the 1970s word had spread so far and wide about his peppery concoction with the comical label (“Also used for baldness, hangovers, aphrodisia and amnesia”) that orders were pouring in, overwhelming the poor guy. Still difficult to find today, but well worth the hunt, Samson’s Sauce tastes as tangy as it did forty years ago.
Harville and Six-Gun Playhouse for the kiddies. With only around 1,200 sets in the viewing area, it was an audacious undertaking. Advertisers were seemingly already well-served by two daily newspapers and several established radio outlets (including one owned by WFMY). Once Channel 2 was on firm footing, larger more modern studios were built on Phillips Avenue in 1955. Furthering its commitment to local coverage The Good Morning Show debuted two years later, making it one of the longest-running television shows in the nation, for almost sixty years — more popular locally than anything the networks could throw at it.
A Leg Up on the Competition
Mock, Judson, Voehringer Hosiery began weaving sheer, sleek Mojud silk stockings — “Magic Motion” for a “New Hue New You” — with fourteen employees in 1926. Within three years 600 employees were producing upwards of 4 million pairs of elegant seam-up-theback nylons at 2610 Oakland Avenue off Spring Garden, near the railroad tracks. The company kept expanding throughout the ’30s. This was a time when the public display of a woman’s bare ankle was considered, well, nothing short of uncouth. So hosiery was de rigueur for ladies. In a 1947, MJV filed suit against Esquire magazine for trademark appropriation. The mill had, from the beginning, been using the Esquire name for scarves, neckties and mufflers. The case was settled to the satisfaction of all in 1951. At that time, they were the largest hosiery maker in the South during the ’50s. Mojud’s assets were sold to Kayser-Roth in 1961. The plant was shuttered in 1972, but the Rolane Factory Outlet Store continued to be run out of a corner of the mill for almost three decades.
“The Eyes and Ears of the Piedmont”
Around dinnertime on August 18, 1949, WFMY-TV broadcast a test signal from its tiny Art Deco studio at 210 North Davie. It was the state’s first live video broadcast. A regular schedule got underway a month later with programming from all four networks and strong emphasis on local nighttime fare including Sports Page with Charlie
In a Nightclub at 1910 East Market Street
In the documentary My First Name Is Maceo, drummer Melvin Parker recalled a chance meeting in 1963, when he and his brother were music students at N.C. A&T: “I was working with a group at a club called The El Rocco. During one of the performances . . . James Brown liked the way I played and wanted to hire me to work with him. But of course I didn’t go with James Brown at the time.” It was a year later when Melvin and his brother, alto saxophonist Maceo Parker, met with James Brown in the Greensboro Coliseum parking lot to sign on with the JBs. In his autobiography Brown confessed, “I really wanted Melvin but I figured I had to hire Maceo, too, if I wanted to get his brother. I didn’t know what I had got!” What he got was a funked-up horn section like no other, fueling a string of Gold Records beginning with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Sex Machine.” Maceo’s halting staccato sax solos provided the thrill and thrust for the Godfather of Soul’s legendary live concerts, assuming the role of both comic emcee and rhythmic lifeline whenever Brown chose to shout “Maceo!” before tossing the spotlight over to him. Having earned his bona fides during James Brown’s most revered period, Maceo Parker left in 1975 to colonize George Clinton’s P-Funking Mothership before re-joining James Brown from 1984 to 1988. Maceo currently records and tours with his own band, and in October of 2011 was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
Mellow Mushroom does business at 609 South Elm now, but it was Harrison Grocery in 1904 when Charles C. Hudson began producing his bib overalls on the second floor with sewing machines purchased from the bankrupt clothier where he’d found work years earlier as a button sewer earning a quarter a day. Hudson’s durable, hand-made coveralls were especially coveted by railroad workers and trains stopped here day and night. Blue Bell Overall Company grew in fits and starts and did so quickly, becoming the city’s biggest garment maker and one of the largest overall mills in the world not long after Charles Hudson and his brother Homer erected their L-shaped factory on the corner of Elm and Lee. That’s where the first Wranglers in heaviest Sanforized denim with the branded leather patch and bright orange stitching came off the line in 1947. At that time, Wrangler’s marketing efforts concentrated on sponsoring rodeos and winning endorsements from hard-charging champions like Jim Shoulders, Bill Linderman and Harry Tompkins. They were the cowboy’s brand of choice when Western movies were all the rage, nicely positioned when jeans became ’50s’ fashionable after Marilyn, Monty and Marlon cavorted across the silver screen in denim. Snug fitting, high-waisted dungarees practically defined the rockabilly style, “Red Blue Jeans And A Pony Tail” was Gene Vincent’s overly excited paean to a “crazy little cat” in a pair of tapered Wranglers with white stitching. Despite ever-expanding global competition, by focusing on innovation and comfort Wrangler Cowboy Cuts are more popular than ever. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, this isn’t their first time at the rodeo.
Richard Spencer jammed alongside Melvin Parker in El Rocco’s raucous house band. In 1969, as singer/songwriter for The Winstons, Spencer scored a Grammy Award–winning No. 1 smash with “Color Him Father,” an uplifting but unflinching testimony record from 1969 that effectively bridged the gap separating rap and melody. So it’s not at all ironic that six seconds of a drum solo from “Amen, Brother” on that 45’s B-side, lifted and looped in the 1980s, spread like a percussive contagion, imprinted onto innumerable DJ Dubplates, becoming one of the most sampled break beats in history. That drum lick became known as the Amen break, hip hop’s primordial backbeat, the sonic underpinning for NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton,” Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” Mantronix’s “King of the Beats” and
who knows how many thousands of others. As artist and writer Nate Harrison explained in 2013, “It has been used as the rhythmic backdrop in everything from late ’80s gangster rap to corporate America’s recycling hip-hop forms to sell things like Jeeps and blue jeans to suburban America. Just last week I saw a TV commercial for a pharmaceutical company where this drum beat was used to promote some sort of purple pill. It’s been used so much I might argue it has now entered the collective audio unconscious and did so about three or four years ago.” Naturally Richard Spencer, who owns the track, never earned his share of the billions of dollars generated from an untold number of pirated needle drops.
They didn’t invent the cough drop. That was the Smith Brothers in 1852 whose suppression recipe originally involved morphine and heroin. No, it was until 1931 that Vicks, riding on the success of its croup-busting Vaporub sale, first compounded here in 1891, came out with two new products: Vicks V-tro-nol Nose Drops and Vicks Cough Drops, “medicated with ingredients of Vicks Vaporub.” An immediate hit, the cough drops sold more than 25 million packages in its first year. Over the years, hundreds of million of boxes of Vick’s Wild Cherry flavored menthol lozenges spat out from plants on Milton Street and on Wendover across from Latham Park. Proctor and Gamble owns the brand now, and still manufactures versions of Vick’s NyQuil here.
Seventy Years Ago in a Drugstore Back Room
The flavor mavens at Mother Murphy’s Laboratories have developed thousands upon thousands of distinct notes for your favorite soft drinks, seasonings, lattes, cereals, candy, ice cream, pretty much anything you can think of — even your dog’s dinner. It all began in 1946 when Dr. Richard Stelling, a Greensboro physician with a passion for concocting flavors in his basement lab, teamed up with insurance agent Kermit L. Murphy Sr. to supply extracts for local bakeries. In the ’50s they marketed their first vanilla flavor to the public. As the food and beverage in-
dustry mushroomed over the next two decades, the company grew exponentially. As long as there are new innovations driven by a demand for flavorful components, like infused liquors, or stranger demands —jelly beans that mimicked, among other things, Bernie Bott’s Everry Flavor Beans in Harry Potter books — Mother Murphy’s will continue to be the world leader in good taste.
Administration from N.C. A&T. In 1967, the Dudleys blended and bottled a line of shampoo and beauty products formulated especially for African-American hairstyles that would eventually be sold through salons across the country. They were so prosperous the company ultimately bought Fuller but kept the Dudley name. Joe Dudley, a Horatio Alger Award recipient, told CNN: “I don’t have anything against people who sell their company. But I didn’t build my company to sell it. I built my company as an example of what you can do with difficulties in life. In first grade I was labeled mentally retarded, and the teachers told my mom and everybody else that I would never get anywhere. Now I want to show young African Americans that they can run a business too. So at Dudley we spend a lot of time being a role model, sometimes to the detriment of our own business.”
The Day Disco Died
Naughty by Nature Boy
When Ric Flair entered a steel cage for his match against Harley Race at the Greensboro Coliseum on November 24, 1983, he was grappling for more than a championship belt. He was ushering in a new era. After that night, professional wrestling would be irrevocably transformed. Starrcade ’83, the first pay-per-view allstar wrestling card, was Jim Crockett’s boldest promotion to date, an attempt to capitalize on the astronomical revenues that live video feeds of boxing matches were generating. Although based out of Charlotte, Crockett chose Greensboro for that historic broadcast because he knew the crowd would be the largest and most vociferous. They were: More than 15,000 screaming fans dropped half a million dollars at the Coliseum box office alone that night. The precursor to WWE’s WrestleMania had a lasting effect. The future of championship wrestling would forever more be about chasing the biggest bucks.
Grimsley and UNCG alum Rick Dees was L.A.’s top morning radio personality for two decades. He had his own late-night show on ABC in the early 1990s and is perhaps best-known for Rick Dees Weekly Top 40, a Casey Kasem-less countdown show heard around the nation. Before any of that, he wrote and recorded Disco Duck (with his Cast of Idiots) while working at WMPS AM in Memphis. That multiplatinum chart-topper sold more that 6 million copies, but the station wouldn’t let their morning man play it, considering it a conflict of interest. Then, they fired Dees for daring to mention the song’s rise to No. 1 on the air. Your Drive Time DJ has the fastest selling single in memory and you can him? Jealous, much?
Joe Louis Dudley Sr. and Eunice Mosley were Fuller Products’ (no relation to the Fuller Brush Company) door-to-door salespersons when they met and married in 1961, settling in Greensboro where he’d earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Business
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Things You Never Knew about
the Battle of
Guilford Courthouse By Jim Dodson • Photograph by Lynn Donovan
any of us had the great fortune to grow up with the historic Guilford Battleground in our backyard, the place where the city’s namesake General Nathanael Greene met British General Cornwallis’ army. The fateful showdown on March 15, 1781, helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War in favor of the Patriot struggle for independence from Great Britain. Today, when you are driving over streets named New Garden and Battleground or through neighborhoods called Kirkwood and British Woods, you are covering bloody ground where arguably the pivotal battle for American independence took place. One local story holds that the name “Brassfield” derives from brass military ornaments recovered in the vicinity of Horse Pen Creek where the shopping center exists today. If you’ve never witnessed the battle’s annual series of reenactments live, an event that attracts hundreds of “Rev War” re-enactors and battlefield buffs from across the nation to what is now officially called Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, you are in for a real treat. It’s the perfect mix of history and military pageantry on an early spring day. Jay Callaham not only happens to be an expert on military history and a veteran re-enactor of more than 50 years, but also the narrator of the action at Guilford Courthouse for approaching 20 years. Among other things, he also served as an advisor on the film The Patriot. Callaham portrays an officer of the
Coldstream Guards, and for many years acted as a British field commander, and has performed the role of Lord Cornwallis. During his nearly 20 years of narrating the battle presentations, he is typically uniformed as a British Officer. We caught up to the retired communications executive and former Army major on a recent afternoon at the Greensboro Masonic Temple on Market Street, wondering if there might be 10 curious and lesser-known facts about the famous battle. Lord Callaham happily obliged.
1. The Super Bowl of the Revolutionary War
By the time Cornwallis marched his troops to Deep River Friends, where he camped prior to the battle, having unsuccessfully engaged General Greene’s army for six weeks across the Carolinas to the Dan River and back, both armies were showing serious wear and tear. “Both were in pretty terrible shape. Cornwallis halted his march in Salisbury, for example, just to find shoes for his troops. As they came through Old Salem,” notes Callaham, “the British and their camp followers stole clothes off lines. Despite their worn appearance, Cornwallis’ 33rd Regiment was among the best in the world. His force included the renowned Royal Welch Fusiliers, and veteran 71st Highland Regiment, as well as the battle-hardened Brigade of 11
Guards and Hessian Regiment von Bose (pronounced bose-a), all led by seasoned commanders. Not to mention American Loyalist or Tory troops. Greene’s force was a mix of militia troops from the Carolinas and Virginia, many of whom had prior experience and training in the Continental Army, as well as the 1st and 2nd Maryland Continental Regiments and Kirkwood’s Delaware Continentals. One army was led by a British General who’d never lost a fight in the field, the other by a Colonial general who’d never won a fight in the field — and wouldn’t win this one. In many respects, despite their tattered condition, this was the Super Bowl of the American Revolution, the battle that changed the whole complexion of the war and brought it to a close.
2. The Myth that the North Carolina Militia failed to hold its ground. In his report following the battle, General Greene asserted that the front line of the deployed Americans — manned by the North Carolina Militia — failed to hold its ground during the first assault by the British. “He wrote that the Carolina militia broke and ran at the start of the action. It’s simply not true,” says Callaham. “They weren’t even a true militia, rather a mix of local farmers and tradesmen and highly seasoned Continental troops that had proven themselves in plenty of action. They were deployed behind split rail fences overlooking Horse Pen Creek. The next line up was the Virginia militia followed by the 1st and 2nd Maryland. The commander of the 71st Highland Regiment — one of the finest units in the British army — reported that the lost half his company in the first volley. The North Carolina Militia troops did their job splendidly,
Photograph provided by Greensboro Sports Foundation
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in fact, enduring a 30-minute cannonade from three-pounder Royal Artillery cannons. Greene was simply trying to cover his rear end for losing the battle, which broke out everywhere and was mostly one of complete chaos. Fighting was brutal and bloody, hand-to-hand at times.”
3. The Scope of the Battlefield
The scope of the battlefield was huge, stretching from New Garden Friends — where Kirkwood’s Delaware troops engaged along New Garden Road — to the Guilford Courthouse site, a distance of about four miles. Cornwallis’s 2,000 troops were deployed along what is now Battleground Avenue, roughly from where Lowe’s Home Improvement is today all the way to Walmart. Artifacts from the battle have been found around both big box stores and along Battleground. The national battlefield encompasses only about a third of the actual battleground, and does not include skirmish sites along New Garden Road. Other parts of the battlefield are under Forest Lawn Cemetery and Greensboro Jaycee Park, both places where many artifacts have been found.
4. Rifles vs. Muskets
Soldiers in both armies used similar weapons, mostly muskets made in France or the venerable British Brown Bess muskets commonly used by infantrymen on both sides. Muskets fired a ball about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, loaded from paper cartridges containing powder and bullet or buckshot, rammed down the unrifled, smooth-bore barrel to the breech. A skilled fighter with a musket could load and fire his musket three times within a minute. The musket had an auxiliary weapon as well — a fixed bayonet — used effectively by the tenacious 1st Maryland at the Battle of Guilford (though by the 18th century, deaths in battle from bayonets were becoming less common). Rifles were a more specialized weapon, defined by a barrel with twisted grooves along its interior that allowed for a more accurate shot. The problem was a slower loading process that could be problematic in close-quarter fighting. On the other hand, rifles had extended ranges of accuracy — up to 300 yards — and were used effectively by both sides during Britain’s failed Southern Campaign, whose objective was to sever the South from the North, destroying the “bread basket” of the Colonial Army and ending the war in Britain’s favor. Rifles affected the outcome of at least three major Southern battles — at Kings Mountain, Cowpens in South Carolina and to some extent Guilford Courthouse, where the British used Jäger riflemen from Germany to great effect. These were skilled hunters dressed in green, whose deadly accuracy and discipline made them formidable foes. “The Jägers were professional huntsmen and were crack shots. The problem was every rifle had its own caliber, which often meant a rifleman had to make his own ammunition. Rifles played a significant role but muskets and bayonets won the war,” says Callaham.
5. Question: Which Side was dressed in Blue? Answer: Both sides
A key regiment of the British force at Guilford that saw intense action was the von Bose regiment composed of well-drilled German soldiers who wore dark blue uniforms that resembled the uniforms worn by both the Colonial Army, and both British and Continental artillery units — producing confusion in the fog of battle. The British army’s uniforms were bright red so they would stand out in the smoke of battle. The proud von Bose unit was composed of Hessians who came from a number of places across Germany, leased to the British army by King George III’s German allies. Fighting on the right flank of the advancing British force, the von Bose unit was savagely attacked both front and back by the Americans, distinguishing themselves and affecting the outcome of the battle. “Contrary to the myth, these troops were not mercenaries. They belonged to the lord of their home principality. An interesting postscript: Most Hessians who were captured were sent as prisoners to Pennsylvania where German farmers employed them. Many were encouraged to stay in America and were even given land. Many became American citizens.”
6. Did Cornwallis really fire upon his own troops?
Not intentionally, insists Callaham. “That’s one of the biggest myths about the battle. At one point in the battle, he came upon a melee in close combat between the 2nd Battalion of the Guards and 1st Maryland and ordered his soldiers to use a 3-pounder [cannon] to fire on Lt. Col William Washington’s light dragoons [calvary] that had attacked the Guards and in so doing had come between Cornwallis and his troops. Cannon doesn’t discriminate between red and blue. But the decision halted the Dragoons, separated the Guards from the 1st Maryland, prompting Greene to leave the field to preserve his Continental troops — and allowed Cornwallis to escape. It would have been very bad for the British if he’d been killed or taken prisoner. General Cornwallis also had at least one horse shot out from under him and was almost captured during the confused fighting in the woods. The fighting was that intense, neither side yielding, convincing General Greene to leave the field, in good order, to preserve his Continental troops.
7. Light Horse Harry Lee vs. Banastre Tarleton
Both were legendary cavalrymen. Tarleton was commander of the green-clad British Legion and the subject of a rebel American campaign, which claimed that his men terrorized the countryside and massacred surrendering Continental Army troops at the Battle of Waxhaws, South Carolina, in 1780. The alleged outrage earned him the nickname “Bloody Ban.” As leader of the highly mobile Continental Light Dragoons, cavalry and infantry, Lee won fame for his hit-and-run guerilla-style harassment that helped stymie the British army during General Greene’s “Race to the Dan.” Both men saw action at Guilford Courthouse. Both men presided over the massacre of unarmed soldiers — Tarleton at Waxhaws, Lee in Alamance County, whose Legions cut down a large group of royalist volunteers marching to join up with Cornwallis, camped in Hillsborough, N.C. before returning to Guilford County. “Light Horse Harry’s Legion basically slaughtered them, hacked them to pieces,” Calaham says. Adding insult to injury, the survivors were fired upon by British sentries when they sought shelter with Cornwallis. Harry Lee went on to become governor of Virginia and father to Robert E. Lee. Tarleton lost two fingers on his right hand in the battle at Guilford Courthouse and back home was elected to Parliament. “The truth of the matter is, Harry Lee wasn’t as great as he’s made out to be and Tarleton wasn’t as bad,” Callaham allows. Lee, he notes, was a terrible businessman who went bankrupt and nearly lost the Lee family estate, Stratford Hall — placed in trust, allowing Henry Lee IV to inherit it. “Tarleton had taken the town of Charlottesville, Virginia on a raid prior to the investment of the army at Yorktown. He had also taken Monticello, and could have destroyed it, but didn’t. There were good and bad men on both sides of the fight. The war brought out both aspects in them.”
8. The Numbers Game
No one knows for sure how many men were involved in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but the accepted number includes 4,000 Patriots and 1,700 men fighting for the Crown. “They were the best troops in both armies,” says Callaham, “the most elite troops with the best leaders. One of the most fascinating aspects is the disparity in their numbers.” The Brigade of Guards went into the battle with about 700 men and lost almost 50 percent of them — their worst day in the war, in part because the Americans had roughly a 2-to-1 advantage in numbers. “Traditional battlefield strategy holds that, if you’re going to attack an enemy, you should have at least a 3-to-1 superiority. Cornwallis had almost a
50 percent inferiority in numbers and still won the battle.” That was good news for the visitors. The bad news is that the British general lost a quarter of his troops. They were never quite the same after that. After withdrawing to Wilmington to rest and refit, Cornwallis abandoned the Carolinas, and moved into Virginia, joining his troops to another British force. Before marching into Virginia. Weeks later, Cornwallis surrendered 7,000 troops at Yorktown, ending the war.
9. A Dark Legacy
Col. Charles Lynch was also present at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, commander of a rifle unit for the Virginia militia, a planter-class judge who was infamous for the harsh brand of frontier justice he meted out to British spies and Tories during and after the war. Lynch coined the phrase “Lynch’s Law” to describe the hasty trials and punishment he meted out, particularly if the sympathizer happened to be a loyalist. Legend holds that his worst offenders were tied by their thumbs to branches of a black walnut tree and given 39 lashes with a whip known as the cat o’nine tails. If the convicted individual hollered “Liberty forever!”, so the story went, he would be spared the remaining lashes and forced to enter American military service for one year. “Basically,” says Jay Callaham, “he loved to hang Tories.” The term “Lynching” is commonly believed to have derived from his name and dark legacy. A young Sam Houston — who later avenged the Alamo and gave his name to the largest city in Texas, saw his first action as a sharpshooter serving in the Virginia Rifles at Guilford. Supposedly, he walked home to western Virginia after the battle.
10. On and a brighter note, Spring is back — Let’s Play Ball!
After you’ve checked out this year’s re-enactment scheduled on Saturday, March 16 and, Sunday, March 17, weather permitting, why not be a super patriot and show up for opening day of our beloved Greensboro Grasshoppers on Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m.? The Hoppers, at least in part, take their name for the highly mobile and effective 3-pounder cannon used so effectively by the Americans at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Look sharp and you’ll find the replica of the famous cannon owner Donald Moore acquired for the occasion. “Our park, after all, sits only five or six miles from the scene of the battle,” says Moore with a laugh. “You probably could have heard the cannon fire from home plate — if there’d been one in those days.” OH O.Henry Editor Jim Dodson has attended two re-enactments — one almost two decades ago and again in 2018. He plans to be there this year with his camera and tricorn hat.
The Sunny Side of the Street On the western side of South Elm, the face of downtown Greensboro is looking up By Billy Ingram â€˘ Illustrations by Harry Blair
uring Downtown Greensboro’s heyday, the 1940s and ’50s, Packards and DeSotos jammed the streets jockeying for parking spaces while massive neon signs illuminated the night sky, dazzling shoppers with movement and color. Towering hotels, multilayered department stores, elegant fashion boutiques, men’s haberdashers, car dealerships, four different movie theaters, some 700 businesses generating hundreds of millions of dollars from early morning until 9 p.m. when they rolled up the sidewalks. In the early 1970s it all unraveled with alarming speed. In an attempt to create a mall-like experience, the city covered over a majority of the parking spaces on Elm Street to widen the sidewalks. Within several years, downtown was two tumbleweeds short of a ghost town. Despite the recent boom in nightclubs and eateries, a major portion of South Elm Street has remained in a state of neglect with its magnificent architectural treasures languishing — but doing so mostly in their original states. Recently, there’s been a flurry of activity resurrecting the monuments to the gods of retail on the western side of the 300 block of South Elm erected between 1886 and 1927 — the sunny side of Main Street, if you will.
304 South Elm
Constructed just prior to the turn of the last century, 304 South Elm was named for contractor W.C. Bain, responsible for many of Greensboro’s more elaborate centercity retail hubs. The top two floors, accentuated by large arched windows and sculpted terra cotta overlays, were where dentist Dr. Walter Hartsell and barber George Sleight drilled and chilled throughout the 1930s and ’40s. In the 1950s, J. Lee Stone photographed bridal and baby portraits in his spacious studio. The inviting storefront at left features three dramatic glass showcases and transoms, all framed with impressive cast-iron columns. By far the Bain Building’s most soulful resident was the Greensboro Record Center, from the go-go ’60s into the ’80s, a musical epicenter with one of the largest selections of oldies 45s imaginable. City Councilwoman Nancy Hoffman rescued this derelict in 2013, undertaking a complete overhaul, restoring the handsome Neo-Classical metalwork and simple wooden door frames. It is once again an entertainment destination, Scuppernong Books, a relaxing wine bar/bookstore. “Largely it was what was missing in our own lives,” co-owner
Brian Lampkin says from his perch behind the cash register by the front door. “What do we want or expect from a city that wasn’t here? Bookstores have been a center of information, of friendship, of great personal value. We knew we weren’t alone. There’s a guy who was 11 years old sweeping floors here in the 1930s. Now he comes in, he’s in his late ’80s and reminisces with us. I guess it was his grandfather’s store.”
310 South Elm
The Grissom Building next door at 310 South Elm has also been reanimated with luxury accommodations upstairs. Designed by J. H. Hopkins, it’s a spectacular three-story example of the Italianate style predominant on this block. Cascading Romanesque brickwork surrounds palatial window arches, augmented with stone half-columns and sills. Like its neighbor, the ground level is framed in decorative cast iron. Built in 1899 for Grissom’s Drug Store, this was CecilRussell Drugs in the 1930s and ’40s. The downstairs is now the Jerusalem Market on Elm.
312 South Elm
Rich in Beaux-Arts inspired details, with windows crowned by stained glass semicircles and fanciful concrete sills, 312 South Elm will be restored to her former glory over the next few months thanks to developers Dawn Chaney and Pam Frye. Chaney shared their plans: “The building was Burtner’s Furniture. They were in there until about 1980, when The Book Trader moved in.” The 3,500 square feet downstairs will be a fusion of 1618 Seafood Grille and 1618 Wine Lounge. The two floors above will be graced with loft apartments. “We’re going to call them Book Trader Lofts. 17
business here for twenty-five years beginning in 1905; over a century later his bold painted mural on the front of the building still screams out “Cheap” across the boulevard above where Blu Martini sits. Boomers will fondly recall Tiny Town Toyland, owned and operated by a charming Cuban couple, Harry and Faye Rimsky. Merchandise they didn’t sell stayed on the shelves so metal cars and talking dolls dating back to the ’50s were displayed alongside the latest offerings. After a run of twenty years, this mom-and-pop toy shop closed in the mid-1970s.
320 South Elm
We will have two 2-bedroom, 2-bath, and four 1-bedroom, all with windows to the exterior.” Chaney owns dozens of historically significant commercial and residential units. She bought her first property downtown in 1979: “I can’t tell you how many people came to me and said, ‘You’re making a mistake, Dawn, something’s going to happen to you over there, that area is not safe.” Granted, Chaney says, “It was the low life.” A motorcycle gang, for instance, parked their cycles inside. “Do I need to say much more? But look what a dream can do. I want to help make Greensboro the No. 1 city in the state of North Carolina; it will take a team.”
314–316 South Elm
A galvanized cornice crowns 314–316 South Elm, the largest and most formidable building on the block, four stories fronted by rugged carved granite stones above two enormous retail spaces. It was built in 1904 for M.G. Newell, seller of buggies and bicycles — and an early distributor for a new motorized bike called Harley-Davidson. S.H. Kress was located in 316 before expanding a block north in 1929. The top three floors have new windows installed, but the interior hasn’t yet been refurbished. The storefronts, both presently empty, were last remodeled in the 1930s when Miller Furniture opened its doors. Last of the “Furniture Row” dinosaurs, Miller only recently closed.
318 South Elm
One of Greensboro’s first department stores, The Original Racket opened in 1892 at 318 South Elm. Clothing merchant A.V. Sapp (“Sells It Cheap”) did
It may be christened The Fortune Building, but 320 Elm was a revolving door for furnishings and fashion for years. The building’s longest standing tenant is the one that’s there now. When everyone else was hightailing it, Bill Heroy bought this dusty jewel in 1977 for $30,000, then lovingly refurbished it for his Old Photo Specialist studio. “I’ve always loved downtown,” he says. He fondly remembers when he and his wife used to walk their kids up and down Elm when they were 2 and 3. “It was like being in the country. On a Sunday I’d look out my window and never see a car. I spent almost $2 million rehabbing this building. We actually blew our roof out to put bedrooms on top of the building. We opened that in 1988 and I’ll bet we’ve had less than a half of a percent vacancy since then.”
342–344 South Elm
Design Archives occupies 342–344 Elm, constructed in 1890, then modernized in 1924 for the Gate City Hotel. That’s when Fleisher Brothers Clothing and Coble Hardware (later Sporting Goods) moved into the retail units underneath. Congressman Howard Coble recalls, “Jack Coble, who was no relation but a very good friend, used to come and watch our baseball games at Alamance High School. He had a horse and a carriage, a little buggy, he would ride right out into our ball field during the game. Very colorful guy Jack Coble was.” You can still read the name of the store in the tiles outside the front door. Modern office space is above Design Archives.
For generations the intersection of South Elm and McGee has been known as “Hamburger Square.” Take your pick. Jim’s Lunch, California Sandwich Shop, Princess Cafe and the New
York Cafe all served burgers, fries and more for decades. The upper floors and rear of 346 have been repurposed as bars — M’Coul’s, The Green Burro and Longshanks — but the corner spot where Little Brother Brewing is today, has never undergone a major renovation after serving its last burger in 1976. A year later, even the trains wouldn’t stop downtown any longer. The trains are back, so are the crowds. The rich history and traditions of South Elm are on track to be preserved for future generations to marvel over. And yes, you can get burgers and fries again in Hamburger Square, a darn good one, at Natty Greene’s where the California Sandwich Shop first buttered their buns back in 1934. OH The creator of TVparty.com and author of several books, Billy Ingram says he could undoubtedly use a facelift himself.
From global manufacturers to neighborhood bakeries, Greensboro means business – big and small. Ranked as the #1 place to start a business in the US in 2019 and #3 in the Southeast for manufacturing, Greensboro is an emerging hot spot for those looking to start a career or a new chapter.
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A Second Act
The Carolina Theatre’s stunning renovation is unveiled By Billy Ingram • Photographs by Lynn Donovan
year ago I toured the Carolina Theatre with Executive Director Brian Gray while construction was fully underway for their $2.5 million renovation and restoration project, slated for completion this month. It’s a floor-to-ceiling facelift of this former vaudeville theater. When I was there, all the seating had been removed and more than a dozen workers were pouring cement and installing new floor lighting. “What we did to prioritize the work was we did surveys of our audiences, our guests,” Gray notes. “‘What do you like? What can we do better?’ And we heard back from hundreds of people.” The number one thing folks requested was additional ladies’ restrooms. “Number two were
the seats and number three was the wait at the concession stand. So these are the things we addressed.” The bathrooms were few, the ones on the second floor, small, so an addition was made to the north side of the building to accommodate an expansive ladies’ room on the first floor. Seating in the auditorium was left over from 1969 when the Terrace Theatre converted from one screen to two. That’s when their famous rocking-chair seats were installed at the Carolina. “They were old and uncomfortable,” Gray says. “The new chairs are wider and they don’t rock. With a little creative ingenuity we actually added a row and there’s still the same amount of walking space between the rows.” 21
The concession stand in the lobby? “We reconfigured it, took out a wall for more space so we can have product waiting for our folks.” To lessen wait times Gray points out, “We’re going to have digital display boards that will fit in with the décor so we can move the lines much more quickly.” Everything in sight will be polished and upgraded, including new state-of-the-art loudspeakers, “We’re going to be installing a LINA Line Array system by Meyer. It can handle all of our shows.” Now when touring acts arrive, they can plug into a system that’s tuned to the building, with speakers hidden from view. If you’ve noticed more big-name entertainers playing the Carolina lately, there’s a reason. For the last few years management has been partnering with outside promoters who can book up to 20 acts for a season. “They’ve brought in higher recognition acts and it’s been a financial boon for the theater,” Gray explains. One of those marquee performers in 2018 was soul singer Gladys Knight, “She was wonderful. She’s 70-something years old, she never sat down.” That show sold out, “It was a really wonderful night for the theater.” In the months while work on the theater’s interior progressed, movies and concerts were staged upstairs in The Crown, originally a sign shop that now serves as an event space. This kept the staff busy — and intact. While the original 35mm projectors are still in place adjacent to The Crown, Gray notes, “We don’t use them. We can’t get the prints.” The Crown is scheduled to undergo its own facelift next summer. That’s when the projection booth will be repurposed for prop and dressing rooms. “We’re going to see if someone has a use for the [projectors]. I don’t want to landfill them but at the same time, it’s taking up space.” For that effort, “We’re still raising funds,” Gray reminds us. “We haven’t met our goal yet.” Of course, there have been hiccups for their construction team, “There’s just unknown conditions when you’re doing work on a building this old. We didn’t have the original blueprints, so when they went in to cut the concrete [for new seating] they cut some power lines.” Still, Brian Gray assures me everything is on track for the Carolina Theatre’s early October relaunch, “We have to be finished by then. One of our first events is a member of our staff’s wedding!”
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Showplace of the Carolinas
Triad Stage Photograph provided by VanderVeen Photographers
Greensboro is a city fueled by passion, imagination and creative energy. Culture is a priority here, and we’ve got something for everyone. Visual and performing artists flock to our city to find avid audiences, a wealth of venues and a welcoming community of kindred spirits. Whether you’re at a gallery opening or one of the world’s largest music festivals, the colorful cultural scene in Greensboro can’t and shouldn’t be missed.
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When the dust clears, the Carolina Theatre will shine just as brightly as it did on Monday evening, October 31, 1927, when the 2,200-seat vaudeville theater opened her doors to the public for the first time, offering a full slate of touring acts from jugglers to crooners. Built at a cost of half a million dollars, it was the largest theater in the state, employing a staff of 50 individuals, including an army of nattily attired ushers who stood ramrod straight for inspection every morning. Twenty musicians filled the orchestra pit for musical interludes and to accompany the movie portion of the program. The melodious Carolina Wonder Organ backstage could imitate a car horn, fire alarms, and other sound effects. That Robert Morton Organ Company theater pipe organ, says Brian Gray, the theater’s executive director, “Is still functional. We play it before movies and shows.” Touring acts appearing here were on the Keith Circuit, the exalted Palace Theater in New York being their flagship operation. The Carolina was of a similar gilded interior design as the Palace, though not nearly as elaborate. Matinee tickets at the Carolina sold for 50 cents, 75 cents for an evening’s entertainment, 15 cents at all times for children. And lest you think that was a great bargain, 50 cents in 1927 is equivalent to $7.24 today. Performers on the circuit were paid well, almost three times what the average factory worker earned. The reasoning, B. F. Keith famously said, “I never trust a man I can’t buy.” Ever wonder where the phrase ‘working blue’ originated? In her autobiography, legendary chanteuse Sophie Tucker, best known today for her dirty jokes, described a common practice on the Keith Circuit, “Between the [Monday] matinee and the night show, the blue envelopes began to appear in the performer’s mailboxes backstage. Inside would be a curt order to cut out a blue line of a song or piece of business. There was no arguing about the orders in the blue envelopes. They were final. You obeyed them or you quit.” A sign posted backstage at all Keith theaters proclaimed: “Don’t say ‘slob’ or ‘son of a gun’ on the stage unless you want to be canceled peremptorily. If you are guilty of uttering anything sacrilegious or even suggestive, you will be immediately closed and will never again be allowed in a theater where Mr. Keith is in authority.” In retrospect, the Carolina Theatre’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Vaudeville was floundering in 1927, and only a dozen of the finest theaters around the country were still in the business of live entertainment. After all, admission to the movies was only a nickel, equivalent to 75 cents today. Weeks after the Carolina opened, one of Broadway’s greatest female impersonators, Julian Eltinge, declared that vaudeville was “shot to pieces” and no longer able to attract top box office draws. He was right. Although Mae West, W. C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers played the Keith Circuit at one time, after perusing advertisements for entertainers appearing at the Carolina, I didn’t come across any familiar names. However, one of the attractions that first week was My Maryland, a Civil War diorama drama boasting a cast of 150 24
players that featured a singing soldier chorus for its finale. By March 1928, the Carolina Theatre took to screening motion pictures exclusively, at first silent films accompanied by their in-house Carolina Symphony Orchestra. When talkies came fully into vogue that year, the Carolina was first in the state to install the Vitaphone sound system, and would soon be the first business in Greensboro to offer air conditioning. In the ensuing years, the Carolina Theatre became the city’s premiere movie palace, considered the finest between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Baby Boomers packed the rafters on Saturday mornings in the ’50s and ’60s for the Circle K Club, with live performers like The Old Rebel and Pecos Pete. WCOG DJ Johnny Cee appeared regularly along with Looney Tunes cartoons, local bands, dance contests, sci-fi movie serials and black-and-white Westerns. Like vaudeville for the kiddie set, admission was a quarter but youngsters could get in free with burger wrappers from McDonald’s. (Mom needs some “me time?” Drop the kids off downtown and go shopping for a couple of hours.) In the mid-’60s, the Carolina was relegated to second run and B-movie status after more modern venues like the Terrace at Friendly Center and the multiple screens at Janus on Northwood eroded its customer base. Then people stopped going downtown altogether. By the 1970s, “The Showplace of the Carolinas” was scheduled to be demolished for a parking lot. Thanks to the efforts of Betty Cone and the United Arts Council, the theater was rescued in 1975. Gray remembers, “Betty and her team raised maybe $25,000 in a couple of days to pony up the money and they saved the building.” Not long after the antiquated theater was acquired, I and local arts supporter Dee Covington shampooed each and every seat in the house. Exploring that somewhat dilapidated building, I discovered a treasure trove of 3-D glasses from the 1950s on the third floor and two elaborately painted scrims hanging above the stage that were apparently abandoned in 1928. In 1977, the Carolina Theatre reemerged as a 1,200-seat performing arts center. A decade later, a $5 million, three year long renovation resulted in refurbished dressing rooms, new sound and lighting facilities, and a second floor banquet space. Now, 41 years later, the Carolina is getting a third or fourth new lease on life. OH 25
City of Trees
Greensboro measures its march through time by its remarkable bounty of trees â€” and those who treasure them
PHOTOGRAPH BY SAM FROELICH
By Molly Sentell Haile
e Greensboro people are tree people. Our love of flora is in our name. Even if the “Green” in our borough actually came from a Revolutionary general — and not the color of our fair city — we’ve wholeheartedly embraced that second meaning. The City of Greensboro has an impressive 9,256 acres of open space, including the Bicentennial Gardens, the Greensboro Arboretum, our leafy parks, lush neighborhoods, verdant watersheds and even our cemeteries. We have won the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA award twenty-four years in a row. One survey ranks Greensboro as the fifth greenest city in the U.S. right up there with Madison, Wisconsin and Anchorage, Alaska. Even if we’re farther down the list on other rankings, a recent tree study documented about 32,000 acres of trees in our city limits, which, by one estimate, are quietly providing us with $7.5 million in air pollution control and $15.9 million worth of stormwater control. That’s pretty damn green. But what distinguishes Greensboro — and what seems, in some ways, almost uncanny — is how the city’s history is so deeply rooted in stories and folklore involving trees — especially oaks. Take the little oak that, according to legend, General Nathanael Greene’s horse chewed and mangled on the morning of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. Although it died in 1986, that little tree, the Liberty Oak, grew to 78 feet tall and gained an 18-1/2-foot circumference, becoming a symbol for both the battle and our city. Near Guilford College in the Guilford Woods, you can still visit the Underground Railroad Tree, a 350-year-old tulip poplar that stood witness to untold numbers of slaves who hid in hollow trees nearby waiting to meet abolitionist Levi Coffin and others. In the early-to-mid-1800s, those woods were the Southern terminus along the Underground Railroad. Today the tree stands about 150 feet tall, and four or five people stretched around the base can just barely touch hands.
Or there’s Persimmon Grove. At the end of the 19th century a budding congregation of black American Methodist Episcopals (A.M.E.) lacked brick and mortar for a church, so they worshipped beneath the shade of a grove of trees near West Market Street’s railroad track at Guilford College Road. Which is how Persimmon Grove A.M.E. Church was born. With historical ties to Guilford College and New Garden Friends Meeting, the church has since moved to its current building on Dolley Madison Road. Other trees blaze a leafy trail through our history. When brothers Ceasar and Moses Cone built their second textile mill in Greensboro, one that by 1908 would become the largest manufacturer of denim in the world, they decided to name factory White Oak for the magnificent 200-year-old tree that stood nearby and was a gathering place for travelers to Greensboro from the surrounding countryside. And have you heard of Greensboro’s Johnny Appleseed, Bill Craft, who planted five hundred palmettos along Old Battleground Road and hundreds of other exotic trees and shrubs in Green Hill Cemetery on Battleground Road? Craft, who died in 2010, was a quirky eccentric often seen planting shrubs and trees wearing only a Speedo and sneakers. The maverick insurance man let neither the fashion police nor city regulations and red tape slow him down. Thanks to Craft, Green Hill has become a horticultural wonderland with species from all over the world, including a Japanese flowering apricot tree, a California redwood, tung oil trees and a Kentucky coffee tree. If you need further proof of how fiercely Greensboro treasures its trees, just ask Duke Energy or the 1,500 residents who signed a petition in 2013 to stop the utility from removing neighborhood trees, some close to 100 years old. Musician and storyteller Logie Meachum, who grew up attending Persimmon Grove A.M.E., says, “The trees watch us come and go. You can collect the march of time through trees.” Our green-loving community fosters people who — whether grounded in science, history or the imagination — understand the stories trees can tell us. Here are a few of the city’s most devoted champions of trees. 27
Up three flights of stairs and behind a plain wooden door in UNCG’s Graham Building, along with the microscopes and computers, you’ll find walls lined with pinecones, tree slabs the size of bicycle tires and map drawers full of core samples taken by geography professor Paul Knapp and his students. In the Carolina Tree-Ring Science Laboratory, each core sample — a sliver no thicker than a straw taken without harming the tree — is glued to a wooden base and sanded flat. Knapp pulls out an especially long metal increment borer he has used on Sitka Spruces in Oregon. The two students standing beside him, Keith Watkins and Thomas Patterson, had never seen one. Patterson laughs, “That would be like using a butcher knife to cut a lemon around here.” Knapp, who grew up and studied dendroclimatology (the study of past climates using trees, especially tree rings) in Oregon, opened the tree lab in UNCG’s geography department in 2006. What can you learn from ringlets? “You can reconstruct history or climate or ecological events from variations in tree-ring widths measured from core samples,” he says, “insect attacks, wind storms, ice storms, that kind of stuff.” Watkins and Patterson clearly admire their professor. The three have an easy, mutual respect and camaraderie that must come with the patient work of coring trees or hiking into the remotest sections of America. The home page on the tree lab’s website has a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Be just and good,” a quiet ethos that pervades the tree lab. 28
Knapp shows me a wall full of photos from research treks in Oregon, California, and, of course, North Carolina, where he has become fascinated with longleaf pines. Their unusual lifecycle depends on low-intensity periodic wildfires for survival. European settlers destroyed huge swaths of pines to clear farmland, build structures, and, especially in North Carolina, manufacture turpentine for the naval stores industry. Today our longleaf pine acreage is about three percent of what it was when the European settlers first arrived. In 2007 a graduate student accompanied by Knapp — who, in every instance, highlights his students’ successes over his own— discovered a longleaf pine in Southern Pines’ Weymouth Woods dating back to the 1500s. The Ph.D. candidate, Jason Ortegren, who is now an associate professor of geography at the University of West Florida, cored the tree and determined it is the oldest known longleaf living today. For part of his doctoral thesis, Patterson is studying the relationship between high producing pinecone years and tick-born illnesses. When I marvel at the way his tree research ties into human concerns, Patterson, whose thin features and shoulder-length hair must remind Knapp of his younger self, says it’s a “total forest ecology.” Watkins, who has a boyish face and the build of lumberjack, was recently awarded UNCG’s prestigious Undergraduate Research and Creativity Award for his work coring the oldest trees at UNCG and creating an interactive campus map that shows the age, height, diameter, species and location of these trees. He has found a short-leaf pine from 1842 and others from the 1870s that predate the university. Identifying old growth trees not only helps protect them from development, but also fills in historical details about an area. Old
PHOTOGRAPH BY MOLLY SENTELL HAILE
Paul Knapp, Thomas Patterson and Keith Watkins at The Carolina Tree-Ring Science Laboratory
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE CAROLINA TREE-RING SCIENCE LABORATORY
LeBauer Park Photograph by Lynn Donovan
growth short leaf pines, Knapp explains, besides being “really interesting to look at, have distinctive characteristics: They get gnarly at the top, and they have a longitudinal twist to their trunks.” Watkins, Patterson, and Knapp take me to a window to show me what they mean. Patterson points across campus to a stand of trees, “Look at the tallest pine, over there, how it’s flat across the top.” Watkins leans in closer to the window and says, “I want to core that one pretty badly.” He tells me he can’t go anywhere without noticing how “these beautiful pines trees shoot up over the canopy. I can’t help but look for them now.” For his research, he finds archival photographs of the trees from the early 1900s along with other university records, which he crossdates with tree rings for patterns that may uncover new historical data about both climate and changes to the tree’s surroundings. For instance, trees develop thinner rings during construction or other stresses and wider rings after good rain years or maybe the loss of a nearby tree. Patterson explains, “It’s not like you can get in a time ship and go back. A lot of times there’s gaps in the narration. That’s where trees can tell you a lot.” Knapp adds, “We think when you blend human history with what trees tell us, it becomes a really interesting story.” 29
As our name implies, we put a premium on the environment here – preserving green space, protecting lakes, maintaining air quality. There’s a place to play or picnic around every corner, from our national park to our neighborhood playgrounds. Experience the local wildlife, learn to sail or just kick off your shoes and stretch out under a giant aerial sculpture that’ll have you wondering, “How’d they do that?”
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Molly Maynard and the Revolutionary Tree On Easter mornings when she was little girl, Molly Maynard and her family walked from their farmhouse on the Guilford College campus, where her father was a coach and P.E. teacher, to the New Garden Friends Meeting Cemetery for a sunrise service under the Revolutionary Oak. The 100-foot-tall white oak, with branches as thick as the trunks of other trees, had a girth of at least 25 feet and dated back to the 1400s. The tree once shaded injured Revolutionary soldiers, both British and American, while New Garden Quakers tended their wounds. And later, it stood over common graves for soldiers from both sides of the war. In 1955 the nearly 500-year-old oak survived dynamite set off under its roots during Eleanor Roosevelt’s controversial civil rights speech across the road at a Guilford College symposium. In the 1940s and ’50s Maynard often hiked in the Guilford woods with her family and the kids of other professors. She loved to climb a sugar maple beside their house — “the little spinner seeds and the beautiful orange red glow” — where she could hide out and read her Nancy Drew mysteries. Maynard, who grew up to become an elementary school teacher in ten different countries, including Japan, Iceland and Sardinia, tells me, “I think kids sort of end up with their pet tree and notice how it’s changing and want to take care of it.” She observes that trees “stay put. There’s stability with a tree and 30
children have a natural tendency to like stability. You hear stories of people traveling back just to see a tree.” In 1959, for an eighth-grade essay assignment, Maynard decided to research the story of Revolutionary Oak, which she associated with Easter mornings. At the time many people feared the oak might die from damage sustained in the 1955 explosion. Maynard interviewed the chairman of the cemetery association, who told her Indians had probably used the knoll where the oak stood as a burial site. In the 1700s, some members of New Garden Friends Meeting attempted to trace the ownership so they could rightfully pay for the land. During the Revolutionary War, Friends brought more than a hundred injured soldiers from the front lines at Guilford Courthouse to the meeting house and neighboring Quakers’ homes. When there was no more space, the Quakers laid soldiers on lumber stacks intended for construction of a new meeting house. Some claimed the soldiers’ dark bloodstains stayed for anyone to see on planks that later formed the walls of the new building. Maynard researched her middle school essay beyond any measure of thorough, supplementing her nine pages of text with a diagram showing how she used triangulation to determine the height of the tree. She drew a cross section of the trunk with rings labeled according to significant dates and taped several black-and-white photos of the tree in the report. In one photo 13-year-old Maynard, wearing a knee-high skirt, bobby socks and loafers, balances on a knob in the
Revolutionary Oak’s massive trunk. Maynard has continued to tuck newspaper clippings and artifacts into the pages of her original report, including one of the oak’s leaves pressed in wax paper. About the explosion, young Maynard writes in her essay, “On a spring evening, six years ago, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke in the newer meeting house, across New Garden Road from the cemetery. She spoke on the subject of her worldwide travels. A boom was heard as an explosion was set off beside the oak tree. Her speech was recorded on tape, which was broadcast over the radio the next day. The explosion was heard on the tape, too. The culprits were believed to be people who objected to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s political ideas and expressed their feeling by setting the explosion.” John Campbell White, a member of New Garden Friends Meeting who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, remembers that June night in 1955 when someone (never discovered) set off several sticks of dynamite that cracked the base of the trunk and left the iconic oak with a precarious fifteen-degree tilt. White recalls, “My family had been invited off Friendly Road to eat supper with friends and just about the time we were getting ready to sit down to the meal, we heard this boom. It shook the whole neighborhood. I remember hearing that Eleanor Roosevelt was speaking and her only remark was, ‘Well, I see you have your own atom bomb here.’” Max Carter, religious studies professor and former director of the Friends Center at Guilford College, explains that Eleanor Roosevelt, “was invited to come and support the efforts for desegregation in the
public schools and promote civil rights. The audience was intentionally mixed black and white sitting together and that was one of the things that was galling the opposition, you know, the promiscuous mingling of the races.” In September 1959, just a few months after Maynard’s mother took the photograph of her with the Revolutionary Oak, Hurricane Gracie hit the South. A week of heavy rain saturated the ground and the damaged oak lost its hold in the face of Gracie’s 30–40 mph winds. In its colossal crash, the oak avoided all but a few of the cemetery’s gravestones. Maynard, who lives in a wooded neighborhood just a few hundred yards from the site, takes me to the graveyard. A light drizzle has left the grass bright and wet in the center of the graveyard. This open space where the Revolutionary Oak lived is a grassy, empty oddity in a graveyard otherwise full with gravestones and shade trees. Maynard shows me the common grave outlined by a cement rectangle and a marker that reads “British and American Soldiers Buried March 1781 by New Garden Friends, ‘Peace, Good Will.’” She walks me to a stone marker for the Revolutionary Oak that I’d mistaken for a gravestone and wipes away rain droplets from the bronze plaque even as more sprinkle down on it. As we’re leaving, Maynard points out a grand oak a few yards away. “That’s probably one of its saplings.”
Carolyn Toben, an educator who owns Timberlake Farm Earth Sanctuary in Whitsett, grew up in New Orleans where her favorite tree was a pine at the end of the boulevard in her neighborhood. “It was just a pine. I named it La Vert Arbor. I was doing French in school and had the wrong order of things.” Toben says she went to the tree when she wanted to run away. “Children want their own sacred space, you know.” At Timberlake, dense piney woods open into orchards and a charming vegetable patch called Gaia’s Garden. Wooden bridges and dogwood-lined trails take you to little vista nooks on Lake MacKintosh or to the Chapel or the Treehouse. Timberlake Farm feels part summer camp, part monastery, part fairyland. When her husband Boyd died in 1999, Toben didn’t know what to do with the 165-acre farm where she and Boyd had raised their three sons. With the encouragement of her family and her friend, the priest and ecotheologian Thomas Berry, Toben placed the land into an easement with the Conservation Trust of North Carolina, protecting it from development. The following year, it became home to the Center for Education, Imagination, and the Natural World, “a sacred place where children and teachers learn to fall in love with the earth.” Over the past fifteen years, more than 9,500 children have visited Timberlake as well as teachers who come from all over the country to learn how Toben and educators Peggy Whalen Levitt and Sandy Bisdee are guiding the children who visit. And recently, Toben has opened Timberlake for group retreats and weddings. Toben says everyone has a memory of a favorite tree. “Particularly are we close in our natures, in our souls, to trees. You know, the tree of life has been a major symbol all over the world forever. Children near from the programs and become very devoted to the trees. They listen to the trees, they touch the trees, they experience the neighborhood of the tree — what is growing around it. They experience the tree and all of life.” Timberlake is lush with early spring green on the misty Friday morning I visit. Toben meets me at the door to her house, a warm lofted retreat that blurs the boundaries between nature and the indoors with natural wood beams, dried herb and flower bouquets, smooth gourds and stones resting on tables — and Mei-ling, her Shih Tzu puppy. Mei-ling is a white fluffy confection who lets me play with her while Toben answers a phone call from her son, Scott. Just the day before, Scott injured his leg trying to clear a maple that fell into the lake during the last ice storm. The maple was a Timberlake icon that watched over The Rock. Children leaned on the tree before taking their last step onto The Wishing Rock, which sits at the water’s edge. Toben tells me each child in the Children’s Program would step out on the rock and make a wish as part of his or her Earth Walk. “The other children would be silent and make a wish for that child’s wish to come true. The tree heard these wishes all those years.” Toben remembers one little boy who said, “Every wish I’ve ever made here has come true.” She wanted to ask, “‘What were they?’ . . . but of course I didn’t.” Using a beautifully gnarled wooden walking cane, Toben leads me down several steps to her enclosed sun porch. We stop for her 32
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MOLLY SENTELL HAILE AND COURTESY OF MOLLY MAYNARD
Carolyn Toben and Timberlake Earth Sanctuary
to pick up Mei-ling, who hasn’t yet learned how to use stairs. Once we’re sitting, Mei-ling paws at us and whines for more attention. Toben laughs, “She graduated two classes, but she needs graduate school.” Toben picks up where we left our discussion. Timberlake tries to avoid using the word “environmental,” she says, “That’s because it has to do with science.” More important, she says, “is the heart’s connection to the Earth, the intuitive, the need for children to develop those inner capacities. And so that’s where we’ve been focusing our work.” Why? “I’m absolutely convinced that we learn patience and rootedness and perseverance and acceptance, that we can learn all of those qualities from our trees.” Take the Wishing Rock and the maple tree: “We loved this tree as it was, but now it’s going to have a different form. I ask the children, ‘Are you the same as you were when you were a baby?’” Suddenly, she stops and points out the window to a tulip magnolia. “We’re always teaching, always trying to say to people, stop and look around you.” Hundreds of bright pink and white blooms fill the frame of the huge window behind me. It’s a shock of exuberance against an otherwise rain dreary day. Toben explains that sometimes the magnolia’s blossoms are stunted by frost, “but this year it’s been able to come out completely. This is extraordinary.” Toben’s cheeks are flushed with the same exuberant pink as the tree blossoms, and Mei-ling has finally settled at our feet. “Yesterday I was doing a wedding tour here and the mother of the bride told me that there’s supposed to be a hard frost this weekend, and it’ll go. This’ll be the end.” It’s all part of a natural process, she says. “There’s life — the life that comes, and then ultimately, the life that goes. But then there’s always more, there’s always a resurrection of the natural world. But we have to go through every stage and experience our feelings through these stages.” We walk down to The Wishing Rock, and I can see the maple half sunken in the lake beside the huge gray stone. Nearby, bright green iris shoots have clustered on the muddy bank, but they won’t bloom for another month or two. Toben says that twenty years ago her husband went out on a little boat to plant those bulbs. We pull the wooden Wishing Rock sign away from the upturned roots of the maple and set it upright. Toben says, “In your imagination, imagine all those children coming down from the Treehouse and stopping at The Wishing Rock.” Since my visit Toben has planted a new maple tree — which was blessed by a group of students from Our Lady of Grace — and Greensboro permaculturist Charlie Heddington helped her design a promontory of stones that leads children once again across the water to The Wishing Rock. It’s not easy to leave Timberlake Farm. Toben has cultivated a retreat apart from the linked-in and smart-phone world — an increasingly rare lifeline to the natural world. She tells me, “A lot of people will leave here and say ‘I’m going back to the real world.’ And I’ll say, ‘Actually, this is the real world.’” OH Molly Sentell Haile, whose work has been published in the Oxford American, is a graduate of UNCG’s creative writing MFA program. She teaches creative writing at Hirsch Wellness Network in Greensboro.
Photograph provided by Little Brother Brewing
Why do young professionals keep moving to Greensboro? For starters, the cost-of-living index is an irresistible 10% below the national average and 4% below North Carolina’s. Translation: you don’t have to choose between a social life and saving for a home here (you also get more house for your money). With more than 150 neighborhoods, each with its own history, culture and personality, you’ll find the perfect place to put down roots.
Find your home. Visit us at greensboro.life
Diamond in the Ruff Like the Blue and Gold Marching Machine he directs for A&T State, Kenneth Ruff is a high stepping mentor on a mission.
o autographs, please,” reads the sign on Greensboro native son Kenneth Ruff’s desk. It’s hard to be modest when you’ve risen from a drum major at Grimsley High to be appointed, anointed and enrobed in the gold coat that the director of N.C. A&T State University’s marching band wears. “I tried to tell people that we were going to be famous,” he says of the weeks after he received the call for his Blue and Gold Marching Machine to open last year’s illustrious Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ruff marched his alma mater right into history as the first historically black school to open the legendary parade. With an estimated viewing audience of 53.5 million, the parade indeed catapulted the band into fame. “It’s like going to Hollywood for a band,” Ruff reflects. 34
It was a dream come true that started the first day Ruff stepped out on the practice field. As a freshman at A&T State University he remembers his first round of grueling practices. “I came to be an engineer but wanted to see what this band thing was all about,” he says. Having come from the military corps-style band tradition at Grimsley High School, loosening up would prove to be the biggest challenge for the six-foot-two flutist. “Getting to the collegiate level of A&T was different mentally and physically,” he explains. Mastering the music was not a problem. Nor was moving in formation. What proved problematic was really getting down: “Some students are ready for the band’s style when they arrive,” he says. He was not. But in 1983 he would learn style on N.C. A&T’s sacred turf under his mentor, the late director Dr. Johnny B. Hodge, aka “Doc.” Hodge sparked his passion for the artistic style of the small band
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHARLES WATKINS, N.C. A&T STATE UNIVERSITY
By Antionette G. Kerr
with the big sound that dazzled crowds. Doc was like a father to Ruff as he worked to master the band’s high stepping marching style and realized that this band thing was more about entertainment than anything else. “It saved my life and became my direction,” Ruff says. As friends headed down dangerous paths, often dropping out of school, music became Ruff’s saving passion. When he attempted to tell his mother he wanted to change his major from engineering to music education, she said, “No! No! No!” As a single mother who left the university to provide financially for her son, Linda was determined that Kenneth would one day earn an engineer’s salary. She had worked in factories and retired as a postal clerk so he could realize that dream. “We talked about it many a day,” she says, “and I didn’t want him to have to struggle the way that I did. It wasn’t till he finally looked at me and said, ‘Money isn’t everything’ that I agreed. ‘OK, you can change your major.’” He told her how Williams had once told him that “he wasn’t a rich man but he was blessed and God took care.”
It all began when Ruff, an only child, begged his mother to let him join the band in the fifth grade. He recalls being so desperate that he agreed to play his cousin’s hand-me-down flute simply because it was free. Ignoring taunts about his instrument of choice, he went on to play in several concert bands and earned honors for All County Band. But he had no intention of making a career out of music until he became Grimsley’s drum major. In addition to their stylish, gravity-defying, caped escapades, drum majors are selected for their leadership abilities. They command the respect of the band and maintain discipline. After earning a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s in educational administration and supervision from A&T, Ruff went on to earn a doctorate in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After serving as an administrator and band director at a number of high schools, he became a part-time assistant at A&T with his eye squarely on the post of band director. 37
Students have since nicknamed him “The Bishop.” Senior trombone player Alex Rebelle says, “His name is Ruff, but we think he is a diamond in the rough.” Ruff helped Rebelle, a graduate of the Durham School of the Arts, quite literally find his voice. Though Rebelle was an introvert, Ruff placed him in public speaking positions. “He put me out there to speak to the news and eventually I learned to always be prepared.” Rebelle is pursuing a degree in mass communications, and he credits Ruff with dozens of similar instances of identifying potential in students on and off the field. Kimberly Sowell, assistant vice chancellor of student affairs, says Ruff shows students “what they are worth.” He’s also shown the community what the band is worth. Through car washes and other fundraising activities, the band raised a dizzying $500,000 in order to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. With help from the university’s donors, students were also able to take in a Broadway show and tour the city. “And then the band went out there and put on an amazing show,” Sowell says. Some may think the Blue and Gold Marching Machine is all about high-stepping, dancing and loud music, but Ruff demands precision and says that “musicality is first and foremost with our band.” After a year of practice and preparation, the band performed a diverse medley of songs to honor the city, including the 38
classic “New York, New York” and rapper Jay-Z’s tribute “Empire State of Mind.” In the center of sharp turns and complex formations, TV cameras focused on the band’s beautiful Golden Delights. This elite team of women (once called The Untouchables) has developed a sophisticated dance-majorette style that marries hip-hop and modern jazz. Ruff challenged them to look “like the Rockettes but to kick even higher . . . We had 60 seconds of uninterrupted television coverage,” he says. “We wanted to show the world what we could do.” Ruff remains a man on a mission. Since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the group has been invited to entertain fans of NASCAR, the Carolina Panthers and Grammy-nominated R&B singer Janelle Monáe. With the passing of his mentor, Doc Hodge, in May, Ruff has fully accepted the yoke of the band’s rich legacy of mentorship, showmanship and excellence on and off the field. It’s time for The Bishop to make his move. OH Antionette G. Kerr, now the executive director of the Housing Community Development Corporation in Lexington, where her weekly “Just Sayin’” column appears in The Lexington Dispatch, never joined the marching band due to poor coordination so she became a cheerleader instead.
The Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts will be a state-of-the-art facility with a seating capacity of approximately 3,000 in downtown Greensboro. Projected to have nearly 150 performances and 330,000 arts center patrons each year, the Tanger Center will host a diverse variety of events including concerts, renowned speaking engagements, symphony performances, and touring Broadway productions.
For Love of Books Gate City book clubs have a long history of sharing great books — and deepening friendships
By Maria Johnson
Word to word. Sentence to sen-
PHOTOGRAPHS BY LYNN DONOVAN
tence. Chapter to chapter.
Book club members take these steps together, absorbing life through the words of others. Then they get together to learn more about the book, themselves, and each other. If they keep coming back, that’s why. The contact. The push. The urge to go where reading solo can’t take them. We called on representatives of three Greensboro book clubs, plus one club that’s heavy on literature, to talk about the experience of being in a group that’s devoted to ideas. We met over a cheese plate at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro. Occasionally, the conversation got, well, cheesy — just as it does in club meetings — but we had our pithy moments. Gail Boulton represented The Reviewers Club, which at 120 years old, calls itself the oldest literary club in North Carolina. The group began even before 1895 as a clutch of neighbors who gathered to read and talk about magazine stories in their homes around Greensboro’s Asheboro Street, now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The club morphed into a women’s organization as all-female groups gained steam nationwide. Now, the forty-seven-member group — which has produced its own historical DVD — meets monthly at the Greensboro
Country Club. Before lunch, a club member presents a thirty-minute program on a topic that interests her. On the other end of the spectrum, Wright Adams, a city librarian, spoke for The Manga, Anime and Graphic Novel Book Club, which he organized in 2011 as a way to reach out to young adults who are interested in the modern-day comics. Manga (pronounced MON-ga) is a form of Japanese comic book, usually with a mature theme. The quickest way to tell manga books from others? They’re about half the size of a regular comic book, and they read back-to-front. Anime (AN-na-may) is the animated version of those stories. Graphic novels, which come from everywhere, are thick, single-story comic books, as opposed to serials. A dozen of Adams’ book club kids — guys and girls ranging in age from 13 to 22 — meet at the Benjamin Branch Library the second Saturday of every month to discuss a clip or passage from one of these fantasy genres. Nichole Nichols attended the Scuppernong summit on behalf of Literary Links, the official book club of the Sigma Theta Lambda Literary Sorority, which was founded in Greensboro in 2009. An allfemale club of mostly African-American women, Literary Links meets at Scuppernong every other month. Members range from age 18 to 60-plus. Argosy Book Club, an all-men’s club named for a long-defunct magazine with stories aimed at men, sent resident curmudgeon Sam Frazier to talk on its behalf. The Argonauts, as they call themselves, 41
number a half dozen guys in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They meet at each other’s houses every six weeks or so. The club started in 2009 after the founder-dudes were shunned by their wives’ book club. We kicked off our Scuppernong discussion with a softball question then let the conversation ricochet freely. O.Henry: What was the last thing your group read? Wright: Attack on Titan. It’s manga. The characters are like warriors defending their region or their province. I think the discussion went pretty well. Lately, I think people are more into superheroes. Whenever we discuss Avengers: Age of Ultron, we always get a more lively discussion. O.H.: Gail, what was your last program? Gail: Our last program was our 120th anniversary open meeting. We had D.G. Martin who does Bookwatch on UNC-TV. He talked about how we don’t read anymore. And how families need to get together and read a book. I’m in a book club, too, and I think it’s so fun because you read something outside what you normally would, and you get together and discuss it. I love that. Even if you don’t like the book. O.H: What about your club, Nichole? Nichole: Our last book was Race Records by a Greensboro author, Wendy Hayton. The book was about her family and her greatgrandmother who was a black woman and her great-grandfather was white, and how the family dealt with the different race dynamics within their family. O.H.: How did that go over? Nichole: It went over well. We like to read multicultural selections. This one gave us a different perspective on a lot of the issues we’ve talked about in the past. O.H.: What’s the most moving experience you’ve ever had in your club? Sam: I don’t know about the club, but some of the books we’ve read have been pretty hard to take. There was one called the The Orphan Master’s Son. It’s fiction, but it’s about North Korea, and it’s so horrible, the things that happen in it, it seems like it’s science fiction. There was one nonfiction we read, In the Kingdom of Ice. These guys were lost on the ice for months and months, and it was excruciating. Talking about it wasn’t so hard, but reading about it was rough. But better to read about it than experience it. Gail: Ours is moving because we’ve had such an aging population, and we’ve had so many really sweet, special women pass away. And we all sit together at funerals. Some of the ladies are really beautiful writ42
ers, and they write a memorial and present it to at the club meeting, and that goes into our minutes so there are memorials for these ladies for 120 years, which is really a tear-jerker because you get to love these women. You only see them once a month, but they bring a little bit of life to you. Nichole: We haven’t had anything really sad happen, but we’ve had births and graduations, birthdays that we celebrate. Any time a member has a child, we have a baby shower for her. Sam: Sometimes, we get together and go see a movie based on a book we’ve read. Like The Road, or Life of Pi, or All the King’s Men. That’s kind of fun, too. O.H.: What’s the most unexpected thing that happened in your book club? Wright, you have a room full of teenagers. I know you’ve had unexpected things happen. Wright: A discussion about breasts. Sam: What was the context for that? Wright: I’d stepped out of the room. I don’t know how it got started. O.H.: Was that inspired by a mature manga theme? Wright: Yes, I think so, one of the characters. I don’t how it started, but we stopped it. O.H.: Sam? Anything unexpected? Sam: One of our members, Don Morgan, is an artist, a painter. He’s done a couple of CDs. I’m in a band with him called Piedmont Songbag. He’s also a writer, and he self-publishes these genre books. He has a painter-character mystery novel, and he also has a book called Nurse on Terror Island. He’s married to a nurse, so it’s a horror-romance. It’s a riot. We did that book one time. He read it [outloud]. He has one of those voices that makes everything sound cool. It was not unusual, but it sure was fun. You know, we bring food to these things. I’m pretty lazy, I just go to Donut World, but the guys sometimes come up with a concoction that’s related to the book. Like Don did this pâté that looked like a snake. O.H.: A pâté snake? Sam: Yeah. It looked really snakey. O.H.: And why did he do that? Sam: In the book, they were eating snake. O.H.: How do you encourage shy people to share their thoughts? Is that ever a problem? Wright: It can be. The strategy I employ is to get them talking about something they’re comfortable talking about. It may not be that
particular reading, but once you’re on solid ground, then you can get them going. O.H: Every club has someone who really likes to talk. What do you do about that? Nichole: We’ve had that situation before, and it’s kind of hard. But when we had a chance to segue and change the subject, we just had to take it. When she took a breath, we jumped in. Sam: Everybody’s gotta breathe. O.H.: Have you ever found yourself sitting there, discussing something totally unrelated to the book and thinking, “How did we get here?” Wright: Yeah, with relationships. O.H.: You hear a lot of true romance with teenagers? Wright: Yeah, but it’s more like, “How should I go about doing this?’ and “What should I do in certain situations?” You know, “Why don’t girls like this?” O.H.: Gail, Do you have someone who keeps you on topic? A sergeant-at-arms? Gail: There’s a president, with a gavel. O.H.: Nichole? Nichole: We try to be open. We focus on how literature bonds people, so if people go off and relate something in the book to something they’re going through, it’s OK. One of my favorite books that we’ve read is called 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. There is a part talking about the main character, and how she never spoke until she was like a teenage because she came from an abusive home. People who were there had not been through abuse, but they related to being in a situation where you feel like you’re invisible and have lost your voice. We also read fictional books about relationships, and that brings up a lot of incidents about women dealing with romantic relationships. O.Henry: How do you select books, and what do you look for in a book? Nichole: We try to focus on local authors, and since one of the tenets of the sorority is to promote women in the literary arts, we focus on female authors. We like to find things that appeal to a wide range of women. We usually read a lot of fiction, but we read a lot of memoirs and inspirational and self-help books. We have a selection committee, but we take suggestion from members. O.H.: Gail, how do you select your programs? Gail: Each member, when it’s her month to do a program, she can do whatever she wants. She just presents it. Sam: Does that ever turn out bizarre? Gail: No, its fun. Like one person had a fascination with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or someone would say, “My sister just renovated a house in Provence, and this is the story,” or like someone would walk in, in historical dress and start talking like Jane Austen. O.H.: Wright, how do you guys pick what you read? Wright: At times it can have a tie-in to a movie that’s coming out, say with The Avengers. It’s usually interest driven. If someone is interested in the Planet of the Apes, we’ll read the latest graphic novels. O.H.: Sam, how do you guys do it? Sam: It’s loosey goosey. At the end of the book club, we talk about the next book. The last one was a book I chose. It didn’t go over that well. It’s called The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson. He’s a very good writer, He wrote a book called Train Dreams a few years ago that was up for a National Book Award, and it was one of the best things
I’ve ever read, so I took a shot. Sure enough, it was very well written, but what it was about didn’t grab anybody. It was one of those books where you don’t really like anybody in the book. But that’s OK. The one before that was a science fiction book called The Sparrow, and I hated it. The next we’re reading is called Finn. It’s a prequel to Huckleberry Finn. O.H.: How can you tell if someone hasn’t read the book? Nichole: We try to pick books so that you don’t necessarily have to have read the book to participate in the discussion. We like for people to read the book, but that’s one thing about book clubs we wanted to stray away from. If you haven’t read it, we hope we’ll be talking about something that’ll encourage you to read it later. O.H.: Sam? Sam: Once, we were reading The Grapes of Wrath, and I waited too long. I couldn’t finish it, so I was going to sit there long enough to talk a little bit about it and leave. That didn’t work out so well for me. Anyway, people just like to hang out, so if they haven’t read the book, they just come hang out. O.H.: What’s the most popular refreshment at your meetings? Sam: A couple of us don’t drink, but probably beer. And as far as food goes, chicken wings. O.H.: Wright, do you all have refreshments? Wright: We have Pocky, which is like a pretzel stick with chocolate on it. It’s authentic Japanese. And chocolate mushrooms. It’s sort of like a cracker that looks like a mushroom with chocolate on top. And Mountain Dew. Nichole: One time we did a salsa bar. We’ve done donuts. There’s this chicken salad that has grapes in it, nuts and different fruit. It’s really good. O.H.: Who makes that? Nichole: My aunt gets it from Lowes Foods. O.H.: So what keeps people coming back to your club? Sam: Donut World. O.H.: Bear claws or apple fritters? Sam: You know, those fritters, I don’t even want to think about them. I like to think we’re all in the club for the same reason. We like to read. We’re very egalitarian as far as the books we choose. We just like hanging out with each other and talking about the books. When life gets in the way, and guys can’t make it, I think they’d rather be there most of the time. O.H.: Wright, what keeps your members coming back? Wright: The Pocky. Gail: Where do you get it? Wright: I go to Super G Mart. They have a lot of good stuff there. Gail: I think people come back to our club because you’re a part of something that has gone on for so long. I grew up with my grandmother in my house, so for me to sit with older women, it’s such a gift because you can learn so much — what to let go, and what’s important. Just to laugh with them is such a gift. Nichole: I think members come back because we have pretty good discussions. We can have discussions through social media and other avenues, but there’s just something about coming together with people and talking with people in real time. You don’t get an opportunity to do that a lot. OH
A brief history of Borden and the ’boro By Jane Borden
I believe identity is shaped
circa 1750 • Before it was Greensboro, the area was known as
Capefair, which was settled by Quaker migrants from Pennsylvania. • Before I was Jane, I was going to be named Millie, after one of my father’s aunts. Actually, my mother’s doctor believed I would be a boy, so before Millie, I was probably Robert. Or Doug.
Late 18th century • Greensboro becomes the third most populous city in North Carolina. • I’ve been third place, generally speaking, most of my life. I always made the varsity teams in school, but I never started. I was good enough at improv to be placed on one of the theater’s house teams — but not on one that performed weekend nights. I published a book! It wasn’t a best-seller. You get the idea. Late 18th century • Sallie Stockard wrote in The History of Guilford County, North Carolina, that Greensboro was established on “an unbroken forest with thick undergrowth of huckleberry bushes, that bore a finely flavored fruit.” • I almost always have fruit on me. Raisins, apple slices, a tangerine: You’ll find them in the side console of my car door, at the bottom of my purse, smushed into a pants pocket. I feel more in touch with Greensboro than ever. 1808 • The city’s name became Greensborough, after Nathanael Greene. Other places in America named after the same man include Greeneville, Tennessee, Greenville, South Carolina, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a 128-foot long Army tug boat and a nuclear submarine. • I was named after Jane Pullen, who was named for Jane Armfield. Other women in America named for Jane Armfield include Jane Preyer, Janie Fountain, Ellie Jane Preyer and Janie Vaughan. Early 1800s • The county seat moved from Martinville to Greensborough, deemed the natural choice on account of being the geographic center of the county. Later, a courthouse was built to hear 44
local disputes and cases. • My parents’ house was also deemed a natural location for a courthouse, by me, who filed countless complaints, and made arguments for both the prosecution and defense, depending on what had been asked of me or what I had been caught doing. My parents are still surprised I’m not a lawyer. But I think I understood, even then, that an actual court of law would never accept my key tactic of “wearing down” the judge.
1865 • Greensboro did witness the demise of the Confederacy
when Governor Vance surrendered to Union officials in the parlor of Blandwood Mansion. • And I am still witnessing the demise of the Confederacy, because its prevailing ideologies are slow to disappear.
1869 • The Bank of Greensboro becomes the first bank chartered by the state of North Carolina. • When I was a freshman at Page High School, I saved money all year to buy an $85 ring at Glitters on Elm Street. It was a big green eyeball, encased in dragon claws. Needless to say, I was cool.
1890 • The Daily Record was first printed. A later iteration of it would
eventually merge with another local paper, the Greensboro Daily News, and become the Greensboro News & Record. • In 2005, I started writing about my life. But I have no employees. Still, like newspaper staffers everywhere, I wonder if I chose the wrong career.
1900 • Greensboro became known as a center of the Southern textile industry. • One time I tie-dyed T-shirts in Girl Scouts. You better believe it was cutting-edge fashion. I also invented a few pairs of cut-off shorts in high school, but my factory foreman (mother) wasn’t pleased with the product.
ILLUSTRATION BY MERIDITH MARTENS
by place, especially by the towns and cities of childhood. As a memoirist, I’ve made a (modest) career out of self-investigation. As a new parent, I’m more confused than ever. Therefore, to learn about myself, I turned to Greensboro’s past. Here’s a timeline of our shared histories.
1926 • WBIG begins broadcasting.
• Throughout my childhood, my uncle Lucius told me I could one day be the first female president of the United States. After seeing what’s happened in the last few years, I’m relieved I didn’t try to.
1920s & 1930s • During this time, Greensboro grew so rapidly
2010 • The census determined that 48.33 percent of the population of Greensboro is religiously affiliated, broken down thusly: 11.85 percent Baptist, 10.25 percent Methodist, 3.97 percent Presbyterian, 3.71 percent Roman Catholic, 2.61 percent Penecostal, 1.17 percent Episcopalian, 1.02 percent Latter Day Saints, 0.96 percent Lutheran, and 11.03 percent other Christian denominations (including Greek Orthodox, Quaker, Moravian, Church of Christ and nondenominational); 0.82 percent Islam, 0.60 percent Judaism, and 0.34 percent Eastern religions.
• In 1978, I started talking, and haven’t stopped. The only time I’m quiet is when I’m writing, and really that’s just talking onto paper. that it experienced a housing shortage. Workers scrambled for one of the 80 to 100 affordable housing units built each year. Growth even continued during the Great Depression, when about 200 new families came each year. • I put on 15 pounds in high school.
1957 • The Greensboro Science Center was first established, but
under a different name, the Greensboro Junior Museum. • In 1987, I asked my parents for a guinea pig. Instead, they gave me a book detailing how to care for a guinea pig. I read it and didn’t want one anymore.
1960 • The Greensboro Four sat at the segregated lunch counter at
Woolworth’s on Elm Street, requesting service. The largest civil rights protests in N.C. history would take place in Greensboro over the next few years. • The concurrence of having a child and living under our current president have simultaneously increased my capacity for empathy while increasing my awareness that “not being part of the problem” still makes one part of the problem. I have joined the organization White People 4 Black Lives and am (slowly) learning to fight effectively for racial justice. I will never have the courage of the Greensboro Four, but I strive always to be better than I was the day before.
Early 1960s • Greensboro got its own Barn Dinner Theatre. • I performed live comedy for seven years during the aughts. However, I am a terrible cook. 1969 • Governor Robert W. Scott ordered 600 National
Guardsmen, a tank, a helicopter, an airplane and several armed personnel carriers to crush an uprising of students from Dudley High School and A&T University, who became frustrated after Dudley’s administration denied their choice for student council president on account of the candidate’s ties to the Black Power movement. • This is where I stray from Greensboro history: Although they could occasionally be described as authoritarian, my mother’s attempts to quash my rebellions were always warranted.
1978 • The United Arts Council of Greensboro raised $550,000 to save the Carolina Theatre of Greensboro from demolition and reopen it as a community arts performing arts center. • I rescued several pieces of furniture off the streets of Brooklyn because, free furniture. I never refurbished any of it, but the pieces definitely lent my home “history.” 1983 • Emerald Pointe water park opens in Greensboro.
• Around the same time, my family tied a rope swing to a tree in our side yard. I chipped my tooth once, while swinging, which is generally the reason I wasn’t allowed to go to Emerald Pointe. To wit, a decade later, while going down a slide at a water park on the Outer Banks, I broke my nose.
1993 • Carolyn Allen became the first female mayor of Greensboro.
• Similarly, I ascribe to all belief systems a little bit, but am mostly Christian. Side note: I am surprised the Presbyterian population is that small, considering how many bells are in the First Presbyterian Church’s bell choir. I got a real workout as a kid.
Current day Greensboro • The formerly economically depressed downtown area has seen incredible redevelopment and growth, attracting new businesses, shops, bars and restaurants. • Since college, and an early foray into sales that followed shortly after, the business areas of my brain were also neglected. Unlike Greensboro, they may never see reinvigoration. • Greensboro is once again the headquarters of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. • I have let an errant neighborhood basketball sit in a corner of my lawn for weeks. • Gateway University Research Park, a joint project between UNCG and A&T, attracts businesses in the nanotech, high-tech, aviation and transportation/logistics sectors. • I recently decided I should have pursued the sciences. Unlike Greensboro, it’s probably too late for me. • Greensboro continues to be home to eight universities and colleges. • Sigh, I used to read. And learn. Novels, science journals, current events. I had intelligent conversations too. Now I clean sippie cups. • The I-40 & I-85 interchange is always backed up. • I create similar logjams when I move through parties because I keep stopping to talk to people. Then again, who am I kidding? I don’t attend parties anymore. So, what have I learned? That Greensboro remains a thriving and innovative business and cultural center. And that I’m at a bit of a stalemate. But even if there’s no longer time for me to throw cocktail parties, read books or bathe regularly, I am buoyed by my confidence in building a happy and supportive home life for my daughter. Perhaps that’s the biggest quality I can endeavor to share with Greensboro, the city that reared me: being a beautiful place to call home. OH Jane Borden has exhausted the pertinent details of her life in this month’s column. 45
PHOTO BY WEATHERSPOON: WILLEM DE KOONING, “WOMAN”, 1949-50, LENA KERNODLE MCDUFFIE MEMORIAL PURCHASE, 1954.
A Woman Worth Millions
How Weatherspoon Art Museum become home to a modern master
By Joe Hoesl
UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum opened in 1941 in a former physics lab on the campus of what was then Woman’s College, not in the free-standing, modernist building it now occupies at Tate and Spring Garden streets.
In 1954, John Opper, a professor in the art department, was given $1,800 to drive his station wagon to New York City to buy artwork for the museum’s permanent collection. As his colleagues waited anxiously, many thought he would return with a carload of paintings. What a surprise when Opper showed up with just one. And it was an abstract painting that a number of people didn’t like. “Get your money back,” they said. “I don’t think I can do that,” he replied. Fast forward to the late 1980s. The telephone rings and Ann Dortch, Weatherspoon’s office manager, answers it. The caller says, “You have a painting by de Kooning titled ‘Woman’?” “Yes, we do,” Dortch replies. “I’d like to offer you $1 million for it.” She checks with the director of the museum and comes back to the phone. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s not for sale.” Several weeks later, Dortch answers the phone, and the same caller says, “I’ll give you $4 million for the painting.” She checks and again notifies the caller that UNCG’s de Kooning is not for sale. This goes on for several weeks. Each time the caller raises the ante, and each time Dortch says it isn’t for sale. Finally the caller says, “Who actually owns the painting?” Dortch replies, “This is a North Carolina university, so, technically, I guess the governor owns it.” (In fact, all of Weatherspoon’s paintings belong to a private foundation.) The caller must have called the governor’s office because a few days later the governor is on the phone. “What kind of painting do you have up there that’s worth $15 million?” The painting, of course, is by Willem de Kooning, a Dutch American abstract impressionist artist, now considered a modern master. A couple of years ago, New York’s Museum of Modern Art had a huge de Kooning retrospective featuring twenty paintings with an appraised value of $4 billion. One of his paintings titled Woman III reportedly sold for over $150 million. I asked Nancy Doll, Weatherspoon’s executive director, how much she thought the painting was worth. She diplomatically said she didn’t know. But she admits that it is a very valuable painting. OH Joe Hoesl is perhaps best known to Greensboro as the playwright who pens adaptations of William Sydney Porter’s short stories for the Greensboro Historical Museum’s 5 by O.Henry.
Photograph provided by SouthEnd Brewing Co.
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Ranch Dressing Reimagining an American family classic in Brown Town By Nancy Oakley • Photographs by Stacey Van Berkel
or some generations, the term “ranch house” conjures visions of Formica countertops, braided rugs and Leave It to Beaver reruns. But to an interior designer like Kara Cox, the architectural style represents endless possibilities. “I think sometimes ranches get a bad rap because they’re very typical, very average,” she observes. “But the reason they’re so popular is they’re great for families. A ranch can really transition from different stages of life.” And that’s precisely why she and her husband, Stephen, chose to live in one in Greensboro’s Brown Town neighborhood, bordered by Cornwallis, Cleburne and Cone Boulevard, and so named for its developer, Brown Corporation.
For Stephen and Kara, who after all does use her own home to reflect her talent, it’s important never to forget that what makes a house a home is, above all, accommodating those who live there, especially when children are involved. The brick exterior of the Cox home looks about like any other from in postwar suburbia, but it’s deceptively spacious, given a second-floor addition on the back of the house that overlooks a big, shaded backyard, worlds away from city traffic and hustle and bustle — and ideal for a 7-yearold and a 3-year-old to entertain themselves and friends on a swing set or practice a budding golf game. “We have this great screened porch, which we love right now, because we can sit out here and watch the kids play,” Cox says. But she envisions the space morphing into an extension of the kitchen to include a laundry room 49
Dame’s Chicken & Waffles Photograph by Brandi Swarms
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“I definitely have a bit of glam to my design style. I also like what mirrors can do for light and reflection; they’re really great in small spaces or to help brighten a room that feels dark otherwise.” and mudroom and changes to the backyard, as well. “It would be a great yard for a pool,” Cox reflects. “We could add a two-car garage . . . we just have options.” Options, and a mix of clean modern lines with classic Southern sensibility, fuel her creativity. Having apprenticed with local designer Lindsay Henderson, Cox started her own enterprise, Kara Cox Interiors (www.karacoxinteriors.com) in 2010. Earlier this year, she showcased her talent by designing a girl’s bedroom for the Junior League ShowHouse at the Adamsleigh Estate. Viewing the event as a “coming-out party,” Cox selected items that are easily adaptable. “I chose things that were neutral, the larger pieces of upholstery and the big pieces in the room, so they could be worked into other spaces. I also wanted to use things that were unique and handmade — and custom-built for that space, because I feel like that’s where a designer can really show creativity.” Partnering with young artists and artisans, such as painter and Greensboro native-turned-Charleston-resident Kate Long Stevenson, and New Orleans artist Michael Clement, who fashioned some ceramic lamps, Cox was able to “show that young people can create beautiful spaces and beautiful products,” she says. “I just chose things I loved.” It’s a good thing, because after the room in the ShowHouse was disassembled, Cox had to find a home for the pieces that didn’t sell. What better place to incorporate them than in the ranch in Brown Town? The Michael Clement lamps now adorn end tables in her living room, as do two chairs from Hickory-based Wesley Hall that are 53
“As a child, I loved color and texture and pattern and put interesting outfits together — never repeating the same outfit twice. Interior design is a lot like accessorizing an outfit, putting a room together. The lamps and the pictures are kind of like your jewelry.” upholstered in woven silk — a generous donation from the Jim Thompson company in Thailand. They blend seamlessly with an older, neutral couch, a rug made of sea grass and colorful pieces of artwork. “Adding art, adding handmade objects to your house is really important to give that collective look,” Cox explains. “I think it’s really important for people to go and explore art and recognize that it’s local and something we should support.” In fact, Cox tries to use as many North Carolina artists and manufacturers in her designs as possible. She points to a beloved secretary desk by Hickory Chair — a piece from her tenure with Lindsay Henderson, which she waited five years to acquire; a series of wall-mounted, gilt sculptural flowers by Chapel Hill artist and former Greensboro resident Tommy Mitchell; the crystalline pottery from Seagrove that she and her husband, both natives of Randolph County, have collected over the years; and a commissioned, abstract painting of the family enjoying a day at Caswell Beach. But how compatible are silk upholstery, artwork — some of it fragile — with two small children? “We have taught our kids to be respectful of the things that we have. And that’s not easy!” Cox notes. “You shouldn’t have to wait until they’re 8 or 10 to buy things that you love for your home,” she adds. It helps to set up ground rules, as in, no snacks in the living room, where the Coxes entertain friends. But most of the spaces in the house are childfriendly. The den has an older, darker sofa, one of a few pieces that won’t be replaced until her 3-year-old son is “out of that phase of smearing peanut butter and jelly on things.” The kitchen has new banquettes with vinyl cushions — easy for wiping up spills. Otherwise, there’s nothing a good upholstery cleaner and a bottle of Windex (for wiping fingerprints off the master bedroom’s mirrored dressers, also artifacts from the ShowHouse) won’t cure. That’s not to say the Cox children are made to be seen and not heard. Far from it. “For me, it’s important for my kids to grow up in a house that’s creative and beautiful and helps them appreciate art and nice things, but that also allows them to be kids and to grow and develop their own tastes,” Cox explains. Her daughter’s room, a profusion of soft pink, complete with drapes and a valance made from a Jim Thompson shower curtain used in the 54
ShowHouse, is in its third incarnation. “She has a very distinct opinion on what she wants,” says Cox. “So, she has had a lavender nursery. She has had a pink room with bright coral accents. What 7-year-old has had three bedrooms? Only a designer’s child!” she laughs. Hanging on the wall is a Jackson Pollock-style splash painting that Mom and daughter did together. And what’s this? A leopard print carpet? “I love animal prints, and I’m sure there might be an animal print in every room in my house, in some way, shape or form,” Cox says. “And for kids’ rooms they’re great, because they have so much pattern to them that they hide stains.” As for the active 3-year-old, his space is all-boy, as the papier-mâché, mounted animal heads and the Dick and Jane-like prints hanging over the bright red, antique twin beds suggest: “I like to/ run/ run, run, run,” says one, and “Come with me/ come on/ come play,” says the other. They appealed to Cox, because they so accurately capture her son’s boundless energy and enthusiasm. She found them on the King’s Lane site, a favorite, and she also enjoys browsing antique stores. And if Target or T.J. Maxx have interesting accents that complement the custom-made (as in her son’s room, a Noah’s ark handcrafted by a potter in Seagrove), she’ll gladly use them. “It’s great to be able to mix high and low in a home,” she says. But Cox is ever aware that children grow up fast, so she’ll sometimes switch out the family photos and her kids’ framed artwork in the stairwell leading to the addition that includes a spacious master bedroom and a walk-in attic. Currently used for storage, the space might one day become a playroom, an office or a bonus room, which explains why the Coxes thoughtfully installed an HVAC unit. “We often entertain with families, so we could let all the kids run up here and play, and the adults could be downstairs without tripping over one another,” she says. “I see them using this as they get older.” Thinking ahead — something Cox encourages her clients to do — and the appeal of new products, colors, patterns and textures mean the ranch in Brown Town is a constant work in progress. The dining room chandelier, a modern wonder by Visual Comfort consisting of strands of crystal cubes, is the third. The house’s original, a standard, five-armed brass number, was supplanted by what Cox 58
Photograph provided by Greensboro Children’s Museum
describes as a “Parisian flea market-style” fixture with wooden beads to complement the room’s former rustic French country décor. “It’s gotten a little more glam, a little dressier, more formal, as our family’s changed. So we are now at the point where we can have a formal dinner party. It just didn’t happen when we had two itty-bitty kids,” she explains. A blue sideboard from the French Provincial phase will be removed to accommodate the custommade dining room table, but that’s OK, because the new banquettes in the kitchen have storage underneath for china — and room enough for the whole family to gather at mealtimes. “That’s something that’s really important to me as a mom,” Cox says. “I grew up having dinner at the table. I want my kids to have that same experience.” She has recently added new draperies to the living room that pick up the metallic tones of those sculptural flowers and is having the dining room ceiling lacquered a light blue. Her palette, she says, has shifted from darker colors to softer, lighter blues and corals, with a new favorite, citron green; used in small doses, it’s good for jazzing up a space. Cox is also freshening up the den by replacing the overstuffed toile armchairs to lighter green ones, adding some brighter pillows, an end table covered in raffia and, for the walls, a blue-feathered African headdress and a commissioned painting by Greensboro artist Maggie Marshall. “When our friends come over they’re like: ‘Wait, was that here the last time we were here?’ Or we’ll say, ‘Oh, you like that? You want it? It’s for sale. Everything’s for sale!’” Cox jokes. Everything, that is, except the artwork. “I do get attached to my art,” she says, “But my furnishings: If someone comes in and they love it, and they want it in their house, I can find something else. I can find more of it. It’s not difficult for me to replace. So, I literally have sold things right out of my door all the time.” And what does husband Stephen think of the ongoing creative process? “He’s really, really patient with all of it,” Cox says. “He’s gotten to the point where he has said, ‘I just trust that whatever you’re going to do, it’s going to work. So, I’m just not going to ask questions, and when it’s finished, I’m sure I’ll love it.’” Though at times, Cox admits, he does ask if they can enjoy a given design phase for at least a couple of years. In the meantime, her restless imagination will configure new designs. “The bathrooms are all still original,” she says. “That’s the next project on the list, to get to the bathrooms.” There’s still the unfinished attic, perhaps that backyard pool and a new doorway to the patio to consider. And of course, any new furnishings, fabrics, accents and artwork that catch her keen designer’s eye will inevitably lead to a new design. For Kara Cox, the way a space is used is ephemeral. “You use it as your family needs it at the time, and then you use it as you need it down the road when that time’s over,” she asserts. “Everything can evolve.” OH Greensboro native Nancy Oakley grew up in a ranch house, where she developed an appreciation for nice things and a distaste for housework. Published in Delta’s Sky and US Airways Magazine, she keeps her eye on Winston-Salem for O.Henry.
Two words you won’t hear from a Greensboro kid: “I’m bored.” In case you haven’t heard, Greensboro’s a great place to raise a family. Affordable living? Check. Top-rated schools? Check. Family fun hot spots? There are too many to list! We believe all kids should have a place to express themselves, and we offer plenty of options for doing just that.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY CASSIE BUTLER TIMPY
Forget what you think you know about the staple of Mexican dishes â€” and let these innovative Gate City taco-makers educate you
By Tina Firesheets
First, let’s discuss what a traditional taco shouldn’t be.
Not smothered in cheese. Not topped with diced lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. And a traditional Mexican taco is never ever served in a hard, yellow shell, but in a fresh, soft, still warm, corn tortilla. So how did gringos get the notion that tacos are served in hard shells? Two words. Taco. Bell. The chain that presents Mexican fare the way Sbarro interprets Italian cuisine. Above all else, traditional Mexican tacos rely on meats that are cooked with care — asada (grilled steak), pollo (grilled chicken), lengua (beef tongue), chorizo (sausage), tripa (tripe), carnitas (roast pork) and pastor (marinated pork). Tacos are also traditionally finished with minimal, but seasonally fresh toppings. Perhaps a sliced radish or a sprinkle of fresh cilantro leaves. A wedge of lime or fire-roasted pepper may rest beside them. Add your own salsa — either red, rojo, or green, verde. But as with many foods introduced to Americans, the taco has evolved. While Baja fish tacos have made their way into mainstream restaurants, chefs in the Triad have been putting their own interpretations and ethnic spins on the taco. The result is a fusion of flavors with meats, spices and accouterments from as far away as Asia and the Middle East. Take the Korean barbecue taco. Long popular in California, where there are large Mexican and Korean communities, this concept was just recently introduced in Greensboro. (See sidebar) And increasingly tacos are getting an upscale makeover with fillings like blackened ahi tuna or lobster tempura. When it comes to the taco, its versatility is only limited by the chef’s imagination. Still, for the purists, the most authentic tacos are found at small tacquerias or markets selling Latino food. How about a taco tour through the Gate City?
Carnicera el Mercadito
103 Muirs Chapel Road, Greensboro; (336) 855-5722. A tacqueria is, simply, a place that sells tacos. Here, the tacqueria is within a bakery and Latino supermarket. This is as simple and authentic as it gets. The complexly flavored, savory fillings make these tacos some of the best in town. An order of four tacos costs $6. They are served in freshly made corn tortillas and topped with cilantro and onions. Options for fillings are the impressive array of beef, pork or chicken described above, including lengua, braised beef tongue. Order at the counter (English is often spoken) and take your order to one of the half-dozen tables separating the grill from
the supermarket aisles. During the week, customers are manual laborers or families, with the occasional Anglo dressed in office attire jostling in line. And if your visit leaves you inspired to make your own tacos at home, grab a bag of fresh, warm tortillas from the container next to the store’s register. Their aroma will fill your nose and warm your face as soon as you lift the lid.
Crafted The Art of the Taco
219-A South Elm Street, Greensboro; (336) 273-0030 or craftedtheartofthetaco.com Kristina Fuller’s philosophy for her downtown restaurant, Crafted, is direct: “We are not a Mexican restaurant. We are a taco joint!” That’s not to say you can’t order a basket of chips and salsa at her restaurant. Or a burger. But the emphasis — and what draws her customers — are tacos. Fuller, a fine dining chef, calls the tortilla “the perfect vessel” because the options for turning it into a meal are endless. Fuller’s vision uses tacos as a platform to experiment with what appeals to her own palate: Southeast Asian, Southern and Mexican cuisines. Take her Fedora taco — blackened ahi tuna, kimchi and spicy garlic aioli. It’s a medley of Japanese, Korean, Mexican and contemporary American flavors. When she introduced the Fedora at her Adams Farm restaurant, The Bistro, it was a hit and has stayed on the menu. Why not open a taco joint, she wondered. Her mother and business partner, Rhonda Fuller, was skeptical, and four years passed before Greensboro’s first taco fusion bar came to life. Kristina Fuller says the first taco she ever ate was probably her mom’s. Ground beef in a hard shell. “It was good. As a kid, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s tasty,’” she says. “But the first taco I ever ate that sort of changed my mind about tacos was when I started to experiment on my own with it.” The Fedora remains her favorite, but she offers traditional tacos using fresh corn tortillas from El Mercadito. Choose from chicken, pork, chorizo, fish, shrimp or veggie fillings. The selection of specialty tacos includes the Fixie, braised beef brisket with grilled pineapple, sweet chili sauce and coconut aioli. Or the Hoodie, falafel with spicy pickled cucumbers, shredded carrots, greens and a spicy sour-cream sauce. Does she ever tire of eating tacos? “It’s easy to eat them every day because you’re not eating them with the same filling or flavor,” she says.
El Camino Real
4131 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro; (336) 632-0003 or www. elcaminoreal01.com The other thing you should know about tacos: Leave the uten61
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sils wrapped in the napkin. Frankie Casillas, owner of El Camino Real, tells his friends: “We’ve got to teach Americans how to eat Mexican food.” And tacos aren’t meant to be eaten with a fork. “You gotta use your fingers. Get messy, and enjoy it,” Casillas says. His restaurant bookends a small shopping center on Spring Garden Street that includes a Mexican grocery store. Tacqueria El Azteca got its start in the same spot, before moving to the Guilford College area. El Camino Real is cozy and attracts a balanced mix of Mexican and non-Mexican customers. Baskets of chips and salsa, upbeat Mexican music and two flat-screen TVs greet guests. Tacos are $1.50 each and are served on fresh tortillas made inhouse. Fillings include asada, pollo, lengua, chorizo, tripa, carnitas and pastor, a subtle blend of marinated pork and pineapple. Toppings include diced onion, cilantro, sliced radish and avocado. Casillas says Americans are more open to trying authentic Mexican food today than when he first got into the restaurant business more than twenty years ago. When customers suggested he launch a food truck, he did. In May, the El Camino Real food truck started a weekly trek to Jamestown. It’s also parked daily in a BP gas station parking lot at 2512 Battleground Avenue. Truck fare ranges from $2–7 and reflects typical Mexican street food: sopes, tacos and burritos. Food you eat with your hands.
Tacqueria El Azteca
5605 West Friendly Avenue, Greensboro; (336) 2924008 or www.taqueriaelazteca.com Gloria Guzman says she’s made tortillas for most of her 57 years — fresh, daily, oneby-one. She forms each tortilla by hand, squeezes it in a press and then pops it onto the griddle, where it puffs and browns in seconds. She then removes the tortilla at the precise moment it’s done. She is known as the tortillera. In Mexico, women generally make tortillas. The person who cooks tacos are called tacqueros, and they are almost always men. In the Tacqueria El Azteca kitchen, Guzman and the tacqueros work side-by-side or back-to-back in a cozy kitchen with just enough room for a handful of cooks. The restaurant’s owner, Greg Munning, is a Greensboro native. His background is Italian-American, but with years of experience working in Mexican restau-
rants during college and a degree in Spanish, he decided he’d start a traditional Mexican taqueria. His quest to find recipes for good, authentic tacos took him to the Mayan region of Mexico. It was at a truck stop in the small Mayan village of Carrillo Puerta that he encountered the best taco he’s ever eaten. He especially remembers the roasted tomato salsa and the perfectly cooked beef. In 2000, he opened a small restaurant on Spring Garden Street that drew mostly Latinos. Its specialty is what Munning calls a rustic, true taco — a corn or flour tortilla, filled with beef, chicken or pork, served with sliced radish and a wedge of lime. In 2007, Munning upgraded to a larger space in the Quaker Village Shopping Center across from Guilford College. The expansion and relocation meant catering to a new clientele and offering hard-shell tacos, a wine list and thirty-five different tequilas. But what still excites Munning are traditional tacos, which led to his foray into the food-truck business, providing him with an outlet for “rustic, honest Mexican street food.” Munning sounds like a kid talking about his new bike when he describes the experience of driving through town in the food truck. “I’m a tacquero,” he says. “I am what I am.”
329 Tate Street, Greensboro; (336) 274-6684 or sushirepublicgso.com Sushi Republic is an atmospheric sushi restaurant popular with the UNCG crowd. I love their bulgogi taco, made with Korean-style barbecue beef, avocado, tomato, cilantro and cucumber, $7.95 (for two). So here’s a spot where I can have my bulgogi and sushi. But no kimchi.
The hand-painted sign that faces High Point Road entices customers with the words: $1 tacos. In a convenience store parking lot, they’ll find Tacquito Estrella, a genuine, authentic taco truck specializing in traditional Mexican fare: barbacoa (a method where the meat is simultaneously steamed and smoked); asada; lengua ; tripa; and soft chicharron (pork skin). Served on Styrofoam plates, the corn tortillas are the real deal, and the generous portions of meat are topped with just a sprinkle of diced onion and cilantro. OH
Eat, Love, Pay
Who knew authentic, exotic and gourmet came so good and cheap?
ssst! Want to try Greensboro’s best Chinese steamed bun? Or a “real” Mexican taco, overstuffed with sizzling pork and big chunks of avocado? Can I interest you in an order of fiery, melt-in-yourmouth jerk chicken? If so, come along with me and I’ll introduce you to five of Greensboro’s best-kept culinary secrets — all of them small, out-of-the-way eateries that, with no advertising, thrive on serving incredibly authentic ethnic dishes at fast-food prices. Don’t expect candlelight, tablecloths or even real plates at most of these spots. If that’s your thing, skip to the next story. But if you like to wander a little on the culinary wild side, if you’re someone who will try anything once, if your taste buds constantly yearn for something just a little more exotic than the last time you picked up a fork, keep reading. I’ll share with you some spots where the chef/owners serve up made-from-scratch food so authentic and lip-smacking, it makes up for their off-the-beatenpath locales and their no-frills ambience.
4925 West Market Street (Fanta City food court); (336) 235-2422 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., seven days a week Category: Chinese, counter-service with food-court seating Don’t miss: The yeasty steamed buns ($1-1.50) are as pillowy as clouds and stuffed with all sorts of savory and exotic ingredients, including my fave, red-bean paste. The lowdown: I could just as easily be in San Francisco’s Chinatown, spellbound over a Dry Erase board of offerings scrawled in colorful Chinese characters, when, in fact, I’m in Greensboro at Fanta City International Shopping Center’s food court, where a fellow diner is generously translating the various choices for me. Several of them are way beyond my ken, even though I’m a lifelong fan of Chinese food. The scene: Don’t look for fancy. You’ll eat off paper plates on a Formica tabletop under the glow of fluorescent lights. And you’ll order at a counter from one of two menus — one featuring Westernized Chinese chow and $6 lunch specials such as kung
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAM FROELICH
By David C. Bailey
pao chicken, moo goo gai pan, lo mein or sweet-and-sour chicken. The other menu, though, itemizes 174 dishes, from spicy lamb to dan dan noodles — whatever they are. The chow: “Best Authentic Chinese Food in Town!” says the menu and that’s not a total exaggeration. The steamed dumplings ($7) come piping hot right from the kitchen, plump, obviously handmade and filled with ground pork, savory onions and spices. Offerings include a wide range of stir-fries, a number of preparations as elaborate as Peking duck, sizzling casseroles, spare ribs galore and a wide array of seafood specialties, including whole steamed fish. For the adventurous, there’s sizzling frog, fish-head casserole, pork intestine hotpot and wok’ed beef belly.
Carnicera El Mercadito
103 Muirs Chapel Road, (336) 855-5722 Kitchen open 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., seven days a week (Store opens at 7 a.m.) Category: Mexican tacqueria, with counter service and limited seating
Photograph by Charles Watkins, N.C. A&T State University
Greensboro is home to two research universities, four colleges and a law school. There are degrees or certification programs for nearly every profession and continuing education opportunities for students of all ages. If you’re looking for an outstanding educational experience—for your child or yourself—Greensboro gets an A+.
Don’t miss: Home-cooked tamales (six for $5 — cheese, chicken or pork) are available on weekends until they run out. I recommend the ones filled with melt-in-the-mouth pulled pork, not overly spicy and wrapped in cornhusks. The lowdown: You decide whether this is more a bakery, butcher shop, Mexican convenience store or a tacqueria — or a cacophonous combination of all the above. Where else can you buy a wedding cake, a leg of goat, a piñata, donkey-milk soap and an order of gorditas all from the same place? The scene: Order from an overhead Coca-Cola menu board featuring more than 40 items. The menu is English-friendly, and most of the time the cashier who takes your order speaks adequate 65
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English. She’ll be glad — if she’s not slammed — to tell you the difference between beef barbacoa (slow-cooked beef cheeks) and beef al pastor (spicy and complex). The tables are small and you’ll eat shoulder-to-shoulder with a mix of workmen and families, who have inevitably ordered something I wish I had known about — fiery-looking birria (goat stew), for instance, or menudo (tripe soup).
bouncing off the walls. But make no mistake: This is one neat, clean and extremely well-run café.
The chow: You can’t go wrong ordering a raft of four soft tacos ($7). Be sure to get them contado or “all the way.” I would suggest you order each of them with a different filling — asada (grilled beef), al pastor or pollo (roasted chicken if you want to play it safe, though chorizo and deep-fat-fried pork skins beckon). Squeeze bottles full of salsa are on the tables, or if you get a takeout, ask for both green (mild) salsa and red (hot) salsa. Finally, go to the bakery counter and get a couple of punishingly sweet cookies for dessert.
The chow: The jerk chicken ($6 as an appetizer) is marvelous, fork-tender and no mister blister unless you request it extra-hot. The codfish fritters ($3.50) are a great and savory appetizer. The menu is wide-ranging, with several fish and shrimp dishes, curried goat, hearty stewed beef and stewed peas made with pig’s tail. The calaloo with codfish ($4.50) is a must. Or try the bammi ($3.50, fried cassava) dusted with cinnamon with a sweet dipping sauce.
Da Reggae Café
2528 W. Gate City Blvd., (336) 333-3788 Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Category: Jamaican, full-service Don’t miss: The “Rockaway” oxtail soup ($10) is slow-cooked into a thick, vigorously spiced stew that’s one of my favorite dishes in Greensboro. A little pricey, but it’s a big serving and comes with two sides you’ll want to try anyway — steamed cabbage, plus rice and peas. The lowdown: Sit back and savor “da mood & da food of da islands,” Mon, surrounded by images of Bob Marley with his music 66
The scene: Tropical foliage, the beat of reggae, a laid-back staff and electric-yellow walls turn this small café into a vibrant, funloving scene. Booths line the narrow dining room, where the service is crisp and friendly, with Jamaican accents as authentic as the food.
827 West Florida Street, (336) 574-4404 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., closed Sundays Category: Laotian restaurant, serving Vietnamese sandwiches; counter service with limited seating Don’t miss: The Vietnamese fresh rolls (two for $3) couldn’t be fresher — as in made before your very eyes. And definitely order a classic Asian iced espresso coffee, served with sweetened condensed milk. The lowdown: For eleven years, this little eatery has thrived on serving basically two items: traditional banh mi sandwiches and Laotian papaya salad. “Definitely pure Lao style,” said one online fan whose husband is Laotian. Friendly service with limited
English, but the “sandwich” board itemizing the basic menu items makes ordering a breeze.
hearty fare — and yes, it is beef-hoof soup, but a meal in itself with huge, chunky slices of cabbage, squash, yucca and corn.
The scene: The strip mall may be a little sketchy, but the interior of Pakse (named for a provincial capital city in southern Laos) has a fun and winning ambience. Look for a combination of Asian kitsch, such as wind chimes made from seashells, iconic East Asian landscape paintings on bamboo matting and an animatronic love monkey that greets customers with fiery red, blinking eyes and a lewd wolf whistle. Sandwiches are served in baskets, salads on Styrofoam plates. And though the few tables are small and just a bit crowded, the service is warm and friendly.
The lowdown: Westerners tend to make the mistake of lumping all Latin cuisines together, which is sort of like saying that all sports played with a ball are like soccer. Salvadorian cuisine is generally milder than Mexican — more comfort food than fireworks. The food at Los Cobanos is lovingly served and cooked from scratch by Mariby Melendez. As both your cook and culinary guide, she’ll fill you in, with impeccable English, on what’s what and how best to enjoy it (“Yes, go ahead,” she says of the sopa de pata. “Pick up the beef bone and clean the meat off of it.”).
The chow: I would argue there’s not a better, fresher sandwich in all of Greensboro than Pakse’s banh mi. Take a crusty, fresh baked baguette and slather on butter and paté — remnants of Vietnam’s Colonial rule — pile on Chinese roast pork, plus cilantro, julienned carrots, cucumbers and jalapeños, and you’ve got arguably the best fusion dish on the planet. Choose from five different fillings, but start by trying the classic roast pork ($4). The papaya salad ($5-10) is strictly for devotees of fish-sauce and redhot-peppers. Begin with the one-pepper edition and work your way up to the 10-pepper, subatomic bomb version with a plastic fork as a detonator.
The scene: With plastic parrots hiding in faux ferns beneath a thatched-roof treatment, the counter at Los Cobanos (named after a beach in El Salvador) is tropically festive, festooned with peacock feathers and flowering birds of paradise. You’ll eat in the same food court that the eatery shares with Apple China, off paper plates using plastic silverware.
4925 West Market Street (Fanta City food court); (336) 482-2979 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., closed Tuesdays Category: Salvadorian, counter-service with food-court seating Don’t miss: Plantains, deep-fat fried ($1.75) are as good as I’ve had in Greensboro. The sopa de pata ($9 for a gigantic bowl) is
The chow: Papusas ($1.75) are the specialty here and they’re fabulous. Though sometimes described as stuffed tortillas, papusas are more like small discs of hand-patted, yellow Salvadorian corn flour, stuffed with cheese, squash, beans, meat or a combination thereof and then pan fried (the mixed papusa, with beans, pork and cheese, is my favorite). Served with a tangy slaw of pickled cabbage, carrots and onions, Melendez’s papusas are not in the least greasy. Fresh-corn tamales ($1.75), lighter than the Mexican variety, are nearly as good as the papusas. And the pineapple pudding is fab. OH David Bailey is a regular contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. 67
The Soul of the Circuit
Once a preferred stop on the legendary R&B Chitlin’ Circuit, The Historic Magnolia House reclaims the glory of its Green Book days — and then some By Grant Britt
nce upon a time, there was a magical musical pathway that wound through the Piedmont, carrying deliverers of soul on their appointed rounds. African-American singers and musicians toured the country on a beltway that connected the East Coast to a string of clubs specializing in R&B and soul. The pathway was called the Chitlin’ Circuit, named after a stinky comfort food made from a pig’s large intestine, initially favored by folks who by economic necessity had to use every part of the hog but the squeal. James Brown spotlit some of the Chitlin’ Circuit’s whistle stops including Raleigh, North Carolina, on his 1961 version of “Night Train,” recorded at one of the Circuit’s top venues, the Apollo Theater in New York City. Other notable stops along the way included The Howard Theatre in D.C., the Royal Peacock in Atlanta, Richmond’s Hippodrome Theater, and The Ritz Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida. Greensboro was an important stop along the way as well, with The Ritz and the Carlotta Club providing a showplace for big names like Brown and Joe Tex. Getting there was the easy part. But finding a place to eat,or more important a place to stay, was a problem for black artists for decades in those preintegration days. In 1936, New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green compiled a coast-to-coast compendium of establishments that catered to AfricanAmerican travelers. The Negro Motorist Green Book, (inspiration for the current Oscar-nominated film, Green Book) became the Negro Travelers’ Green Book in the early ’50s when it expanded its coverage to Mexico, Canada and part of the Caribbean. It provided names and addresses of restaurants, bars and hotels that would let road-weary African-Americans eat, drink and rest with dignity and in comfort. The 1939 edition, expanded from early editions only listing New York destinations, shows a variety of establishments in Greensboro that welcomed black travelers, including the Legion club, listed under hotels on 829 East Market Street and the Travelers Inn, also on East Market, and several private “Tourist” homes on East Market: T Daniels at 912 East Market, Mrs. Evans at 906, Mrs. Lewis at 829, as well as the Paramount Tavern at 907 East Market. But one of Greensboro’s most prestigious Chitlin’ Circuit rest stops wouldn’t show up in the Green Book till 1955. The Magnolia House Motel was built by Daniel D.Debutts in 1889 at the corner of Gorrell and Plott streets in the Southside community. The 5,000- square-foot Victorian was a showplace even back then with its wraparound porch and imposing façade with five chimneys. The 69
house began its career as a lodging destination when the Gist Family bought the property in 1949, catering to a Who’s Who of Chitlin’ Circuiters including James Brown, Ray Charles and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. State legislator Herman Gist and his wife, Grace, inherited the property from their parents and ran it as a motel for several years. But the house fell into disrepair in the ’70s and remained a decaying shadow of its former self till 1996, when neighbor Sam Pass, who lives right around the corner on Martin street, saw the property up for sale. “It was in pretty bad demise. The roof was caving in, she [Grace Gist] couldn’t keep the street people out of here.” Pass was so determined to own the property that he ripped the for sale sign out of the ground and hid it until he could make Gist an offer, which she accepted.“ I remember the big marquee in the front yard,” he recalls. “It always said ‘NoVacancy.’ Magnolia House has been in existence as long as my generation has been in existence.” “I noticed Magnolia House when I was a kid,” Pass continues, recalling that his older brother Bobby, a music promoter, brought his 13-year-old sibling to the house and introduced him to Joe Tex, who was playing in town. Pass met Tex on the front porch and remembers him as being very cordial to his tonguetied, star-struck younger self. Pass’s brother introduced him to several other of the celebs staying at the Magnolia, and Pass says he heard stories of Tex and Brown playing baseball with the neighborhood children. “We knew about the Magnolia House even before then.” Pass says. “This was the first black hotel. When they couldn’t Magnolia House today stay anywhere else, they stayed here.” Greensboro had several musical hot spots from the mid-’40s through the ’60s. The black-owned El Rocco club on Market Street in Greensboro also brought in big names in the ‘50s including Jackie Wilson and James Brown, as well as Otis Redding. It also served the best fried chicken in town. “James Brown used to come to El Rocco,” Pass recalls. “My cousin George Simms was a drummer. He [James] used to come to my grandmother’s house and beg her to let George play for him. ‘I’ll keep him outta trouble, Miz Pass,’” he remembers Brown promising. “El Rocco was something like in New York,” says Chic Carter, former pitcher for the Winston-Salem Pond Giants, a Negro League team in the 1950s. Evoking comparisons to Gotham’s famous Apollo Theater and a few others on the Circuit, he adds, “El Rocco had a nice place over there for them to come.” Although it was a black club, some white visitors were welcome. “I used to take some girls to the El Rocco,” says Greensboro-based shag dancer Larry McCranie, who is white. “One time in the mid-’50s, I 70
took four girls down there and we were the only white folks in there. They were cool girls, they ended up dancing with all the black guys and I danced with black women and we just had a ball. Not too many white kids went over there,” he reminisces, “but occasionally they were invited, the girls could dance, and you could just have a good time.” McCranie also recalls a tobacco warehouse in Greensboro outside the city limits on South Elm/Eugene Street that hosted big-name acts about every other month. He says he remembers seeing Fats Domino, Lavern Baker, Ruth Brown and Chuck Berry, all on one show. Sheriff’s deputies hired to keep order between the races would put a rope from the front where you entered, all the way up to the middle of the stage. “White folks would go on one side, and black folks would go on the other. Everybody had a little bottle in their pockets, they’d get to drinking when they opened around 8:30 or 9 o’clock,” McCranie says. “Around 11 o’clock, that rope would come down and there was nothing they could do about it. There weren’t that many sheriffs there, and then everybody danced with everybody.” Pass also heard about the warehouse and mentions another club, the Carlotta, down off Market Street, that was also a popular destination for Chitlin’-esque performers. There was the ABA club off High Street near Ray Warren Homes. “Then there was this little club called the Americana up near Gillepsie Golf Course. My brother used to frequent the place,” Pass says, recounting an anecdote about how older sibling Bobby once introduced their sister Ruth to Ben E. King of “Stand By Me” fame. The clubs showcased them, but the Magnolia nourished black entertainers and gave a place to rest their weary heads; Pass wanted to pay homage to that tradition as well as preserving a piece of AfricanAmerican history. He had the house, but now he needed help with the restoration. Retired from FedEx, Pass set up a mobile kitchen outside the property, selling ribs, chicken and fried fish to help raise money to put with $70,000 of his own. The city of Greensboro gave him a community block grant, and he got some help from suppliers impressed with what he was undertaking. “It’s family basically,” Pass says of his renovation and restoration team. “Me, my wife [Kimberly], my oldest daughter [Natalie Miller] are what’s making this happen. Hopefully I’ll be keeping it in the family. That’s why I restored it.” On a guided tour of the property, Pass’s pride in the work is evident in his voice as well as in the finished product. “A lot of it I did. But
PHOTOGRAPH BY CASSIE BUTLER
of course, I don’t have the talent to do all of this,” he says. “We didn’t renovate; we totally restored it.” With the help of local cabinetmaker Pete Williams, the Magnolia was gutted to its skeleton. “Then we came back with everything.” The heart pine floor came from the American Tobacco Company Warehouse in Reidsville. The owner of Reidsville’s Tobacco-Pine Reclaimed Timber was so impressed at what Pass was doing, he gave him a steep discount. “The entire house is the same heart pine lumber — the chair rails, the window casings, door casings, all the interior doors,” Pass says. “The baseboards, quarter rounds, the crown moldings, all of that are from heart pine lumber. We did the house the way it was supposed to be done.” Working from the original blueprints, Pass and family did their best to keep the house true to its original design. “It was important that we leave the outside just like it was, as far as structure was concerned, since the house was on the National Register of Historic Places.” He did do a kitchen makeover, installing a commercial kitchen. The outside wall was improved on as well to create the majestic stonework that surrounds the house today. Part of the restoration phase was to repair and restore the original 2-foot retaining wall going around the house at 442 Gorrell Street. He approached Mount Airy’s North Carolina Granite Corporation about cutting the granite for the needed repairs. The company ended up donating not only rocks to make repairs but additional granite. “So we were able to repair the wall, but they also gave us 160 tons of it,” he says. “That’s how Sam Pass we got that 7-foot wall built around the house on our property line.” Architectural Salvage of Greensboro donated period furniture, including a dresser with an impressive pedigree. “We didn’t know what we had until one of our customers for Sunday brunch came through, looked at the piece and said, ‘That looks like Thomas Day furniture,” referring to perhaps North Carolina’s most famous black cabinet maker. “Of course, we researched it, and come to find out, it is.” Daughter Natalie Pass Miller oversaw the furniture restoration. Pass calls her “an innovative Alpha woman,” which causes Miller to break out into peals of laughter when told of the description. “That is so Sam,” she says, when she can catch her breath. “Oh gosh, I don’t know about that. I’m just trying to help Daddy carry out his vision.” Miller stepped in about a year ago, bringing back period pieces from Atlanta, where she was living at the time. “This was my very first time driving a U-Haul packed with furniture long distance, praying all the entire way cause I’d never done it before,” she says. “When I pulled up, Dad just happened to be on the porch and you could see the look on his face, like, ‘Is that my kid driving a U-Haul? It is!’” But her furniture -moving project turned to operational matters
once she started probing her father about his intentions for Magnolia House. “Dad’s tone changed to a sad one,” she recalls. Pass’s renovation work was going slowly due to his daily commute to Durham, where he inspects buildings for Duke University in advance of fire marshal visits. His daughter could tell he needed some help. She suggested to him “Dad, why don’t I come in, and let’s work together to see if we can complete this vision that you have now that you’ve done the hard part of restoring the house?” Pass’s efforts hit another snag when he had a stroke in early November. These days, he is just getting back to work and seeing the changes Miller has implemented. “One of those priorities, including making over the ambiance is, ‘How do we rebuild our brand and reputation and what do we want people to experience when they walk in the house?’” Miller explains. To that end, she’s changed up the serving format of the weekly Sunday Jazz Brunches from a buffet line to family-style dining in the large front room that was once a porch. “The room is cavernous, with 14-foot ceilings,” she says. “The Gist family had renovated it and lowered the ceiling with tile, but I put it back the way it was,” Pass explains. Brunch is served here, with servers bringing out large bowls of sides and entrees to several long trestle tables set end-to-end along the length of the room. “When the Gist family had it as the historic Magnolia House, one of the key things that I noted was that they were really big on creating a sense of family and engagement and unity, bringing that concept to the table,” she says. “And if you think about it, that process exists even in the overnight stay, because not every room had its individual bathroom, so if that doesn’t bring a community together, nothing does,” Miller chuckles. “So moving over to the family-style dining was really created as a part of continuing the legacy of what the motel created.” The current menu has a number of staples, but introduces a few unique dishes every week. Feedback from guests plays an important role as well, with Magnolia brunch regulars praising the fish and grits, and fried chicken. “We also have a penne pasta in garlic Parmesan sauce with seasonal vegetables that is just to die for,” Miller says of the fare she’s proud to label as comfort food. But Pass is quick to point out that the family is not calling the new Magnolia House completely a restaurant. “We do have a commercial kitchen in the facility, but it was our intention to open up as a bed and breakfast, and will still be a component because we have the upstairs mostly finished, Pass says. But we haven’t gotten to that point yet.” Right now the focus is on using the house for special events, with bridal showers and baby showers, as well as hosting several local clubs and civic associations parties, including A&T State University Alumni Association events. 71
Ike & Tina Turner
Pass has also introduced a series of presentations he calls the Juke Joint Series, dinner and a show, sort of like The Barn Dinner Theatre. “We do tributes to some entertainers that registered here during segregation. First one, we did a tribute to Ray Charles and Ruth Brown, and we just recently did a dinner and a show, a tribute to Gladys Knight and the Pips, and we’re working on a Valentine’s show now. So we do events here, Sunday brunch here every Sunday from 11 til 3:30. And the public will come here for some of the good food that we cook.” He’s got quite a list of celebs who stayed at Magnolia to sustain the Juke Joint Series for quite a while. Duke Ellington almost made the list. “Duke didn’t stay here, but his band did, “ Pass says. “Duke was comfortable enough financially to have his own rail car. So he stayed in his own car on that train,” he explains. “Ray Charles stayed here, Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, heavyweight champ Ezzard Charles. Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, they came here to play at War Memorial Stadium. And Ruth Brown stayed here; she was very hot, had top billing on the Chitlin’ Circuit. Gladys Knight and the Pips, stayed here, Smokey Robinson stayed here, The Midnighters stayed here. Buddy Gist donated Miles Davis’ trumpet to UNCG. He talked often about how his mother used to cook for Louis Armstrong when Armstrong would come here. The place was just the vortex of the African -American community here,” Pass says. Pass and family hope to return to the Magnolia House’s long tradition of hospitality both for events and as a bed and breakfast. “We hope to cater to the furniture market when we finish upstairs,” Pass says, referring to the five bedrooms on the top floor, two of which are fully completed and ready for guests, but currently used only for 72
family and friends. “People who own homes in the High Point area rent out their entire houses to people who come to furniture market. We’d be interested in doing that same thing with the Magnolia House,” he says explaining that they would offer a full package of services — concierge, transportation to Market, for example. To kick off Black History Month, Miller has organized an event to share the Magnolia House’s current path and history with the public. “We’re calling it our Magnolia Table Talk. And it’s the Green Book edition because we’re celebrating that we’ve been listed in the Green Book for six of their editions,” she says. Miller adds that she envisioned the event as an upscale intimate setting “with my dad and all of his siblings sitting at the table leading a panel discussion with the audience, talking about the history of the Magnolia House, how it tied into history of the Triad and how our family line contributed to that history of the Triad as well.” Pass says that the Magnolia House resurrection is for his community as well as his family: “I restored it because I am interested in preserving our history. My grandchildren won’t know where they’re going until they know where they’ve been.” OH Grant Britt lives in a much humbler abode than the Magnolia House, but he shares the same reverence for its soulful musical guests who provided the soundtrack of his young life and still resonate in his residence and his head. For a complete list of events open to the public at The Historic Magnolia House, please visit thehistoricmagnoliahouse.com.
Garden of Eden Self-made gardeners extraordinaire Ken Eaton and Tom Earles say goodbye to a backyard that achieved almost mythic status among Greensboro’s elite gardeners By Jim Dodson • Photographs by Hannah Sharpe
ne early autumn afternoon not long ago, my wife, Wendy, and I weren’t three feet into the garden of Ken Eaton and Tom Earles aka Earltons Gardens on Westridge Road, when I had to stop and give myself a swift mental kick in the pants. “I can’t believe I didn’t get here months ago,” I actually said out loud, astounded by what lay in front of me. “This is unbelievable.” Ken Eaton merely smiled as if he’d heard this a thousand times. His partner, Tom Earles, was just emerging from the kitchen door, thoughtfully bearing a tray of cool mineral water for the escorted
walk through the garden. “Well,” said Ken, “you’re here just in the nick of time. People have been coming fairly steadily this summer when word got out that we were giving up the garden. By October we’ll be gone — though the garden will still be here. That’s the important thing. The new owner is the Dean of Elon’s law school. The moment he saw it, he fell in love with the property. So it’s going to the perfect new owner. ” As any veteran gardener knows, timing in life and gardening is everything. Both are subject to change without notice. Comprising just under an acre of land and tucked inconspicu-
ously out of sight behind a conventional tan brick ranch on a popular byway that once defined the suburban expansion of Greensboro’s western ambitions, Earltons Gardens — an artful conflation of its creators’ similar surnames — is simply a love story that operates on several inspiring levels. One is the story of couple of Greensboro guys now in their 60s who grew up in different parts of the county and never knew each other until they met at a Gate City party and found a soul mate — keeping their relationship hidden from view for decades until the culture around them evolved to a level of public acceptance. On another level, Earltons is simply the story of two working-class chaps who fell hard for the magic of making the ground around them a showcase of extraordinary botanical imagination, itself evolving as their homegrown expertise grew across three decades. Following his honorable service as a Marine in Vietnam, Tom Earles returned home to Greensboro, took the postal exam and went to work as a residential route carrier in 1968. After thirty-seven years he retired as a human resources specialist. Ken Eaton, five years his junior, joined the post office as a key letter operator and finished his career as a customer service supervisor after thirty-two years of service. Neither had much of a gardening legacy of any depth that might hint at the botanical glory to come, though as a youngster Ken had been inspired by a gardening grandfather who “showed me a mound of growing watermelons and got me interested in making things grow.” His parents discouraged his gardening interests, however, which only came to flower decades later when the partners bought their first house on Kirby Drive in Starmount and began transforming it in the early ’80s. “We really didn’t know a lot about gardening,” says Ken. “It was a conventional backyard with lots of azaleas and grass to cut, nothing very special. But it had a nice covered terrace where we began entertaining friends. I started growing plants in pots and containers — really starting that modestly — and found I loved doing it. Secretly, I always wished we had a pool. What a perfect focal point for a garden that would be, I thought.” “Or not so secret,” injects Tom with a laugh. After four years on Kirby, they sold the house and moved to Wafco Mills near downtown, eager to be part of the reviving urban scene around South Elm. “Truthfully we realized we missed owning our own house, and we were soon looking at places along Westridge Road,” Tom explains. “Both of us always liked the houses and land there. Unfortunately, the first house we found had a pool but sold before we could make an offer. So we kept hunting.” In 1985, they found the perfect place, a 2,100-square-foot, standard brick ranch tucked into a nicely wooded lot. It was just under an acre in size and not far from the corner of Westridge and Friendly. “We decided it was now or never,” says Ken. “The first thing we did was set out to build the perfect swimming pool. Everything evolved from that.” With the help of Greensboro’s Creative Pools Sales and Service, and inspired by their friend Joe Bryan Jr.’s “black-bottom pool” down in Key West, Ken and Tom custom-designed the large kidney-shaped cement pool that was artfully darkened to give it the impression of being a pond. “We had the workers use a Bob Cat to mound up the earth around its edges, envisioning a natural border that came right to the edge of the pool, greenery overlapping the water, a genuine feel of nature and the wild, right outside our main picture window — the first thing you would see stepping into our den,” explained Ken. “A friend who owns a nursery gave us some wonderful foundation plants, bayberries and azaleas and other things.” A road trip up to Black Mountain resulted in seven-and-one-half tons of Blue Ridge gray mountain rock — similar to that used to build the Grove Park Inn — dumped in their driveway for their Bobcat crew to place. Among the first plants to take root in the red clay soil, rather poetically, were watermelon seeds left by the 77
pool’s construction crew. “The first plants we had really were these beautiful sugar baby melons that grew up in the rocks, popping open as they grew. It was a pretty basic beginning to a garden.” A friend brought them a young river birch to plant by the pool. Thirty years later, the magnificent tree arches over the pool providing shade and arboreal serenity that’s gloriously integrated with textures and hues of leaf and foliage and fern. Nearby mature Japanese maples and dogwoods shade the borders of a pool that is home to several varieties of hydrangeas — Annabelles and a pair of impressive Limelights in massive slate pots — with other flowering greenery completing Ken’s vision of a pool in the wild. “We actually have had people think it’s a pond,” Tom confirms — injecting that these creative ideas come strictly from Ken. Garden maintenance and cooking, he says, are his specialties. “Outside I’m Juan,” he quips. “Inside, Juanita.” “Don’t kid yourself,” Ken responds. “A lot of what you see here comes directly from Tom’s input. He’s as passionate about this place as I am.” Spreading out lavishly in at least three directions around the pool are equally breathtaking “rooms” of green and flowering surprises galore: a low poolside hedge of euonymus shaped like an anteater; sudden bursts of old-fashioned nandina; a spectacular shade garden linked by stone pathways and arbors covered by variegated ivies for a marbled effect, including a yellow heart ivy Ken is particularly fond of for its effect in showing off a series of large and mobile container plant specimens he’s grown expert at moving to ever-changing effect as the garden matured. A pair of large Swedish blue walls are used effectively to block out sight lines of neighbor roofs for a visiting photographer and Ken’s own spectacular photography — posted daily on Facebook, a visual daybook of the garden’s life. Everywhere you look lies some modest little surprise: classic urns and stone heads peering from the lush greenery; a whimsical pair of presiding garden deities named Betty and Elizabeth; small mirrors embedded in the vines that provide the surprise to see your own face poking about in a secret garden. Ken is a devoted student of the garden writings of the late Russell Page and Bunny Williams, and his own novel ideas include a number of stacked containers. These include everything from an unlikely, yet arrestingly beautiful, presentation of ordinary monkey grass (liriope, the South’s ubiquitous groundcover) in a gilded pot to rustic vases spilling mona lavender, bougainvillea and rainbow jasmine. Huge, classic urns send up lusty arches of purple Plumbago articulata in riotous late-summer bloom. Even as the summer days wane, Brazilian plum flowers light up the winding pathways. Meanwhile, a series of iron gates that once belonged to a defunct Holiday Inn — discovered by the shores of Lake Norman during one of the couple’s famous garden foraging trips — screen off sections of the garden and anchor the ever-changing landscape in unexpected places, providing pockets of deep quiet, chapels of green reflection. Stunning optics and focal points abound. It’s all a moveable feast for the garden-mad eye, a homegrown Garden of Eden It’s also clever ideas like these — many remarkably inexpensive to create — that inevitably attracted the attention of commercial interests like Lowe’s and various clients of the High Point Furniture 78
Market, who’ve appropriated the garden for numerous product photo shoots. Not surprisingly, Biltmore Estate used the garden for photographing its wines, playing Earltons on the cover of its quarterly magazine. The garden has also attracted a passionate following among Guilford Horticultural Society members, who, besides using the garden as a splendid resource for sharing ideas, specifically insisted that Earltons Gardens be scheduled on their annual tour an unprecedented three years in a row. “Ken’s ideas inspire visitors to put together presentations they have not previously considered,” society member Beth Cross wrote in her friendly but urgent email last summer, suggesting O.Henry get straight off to see — and photograph — this remarkable garden before it passes from the hands of its creators to new owners. “It is not unusual for Hort Society members to walk around his gardens two or three times to be sure they haven’t missed something, taking photos as they do so,” Cross added. “Even when they do not copy any of the ideas, just being around his gardens is an uplifting and inspiring experience.” After our own hour or so of wandering around the garden, even as a sudden noticeably cooler autumn rain came on, our only question to these modest keepers of Eden was simply, How can you bear to leave this behind? Ken smiled. “This garden has been a true labor of love for us and a sustaining passion of ours for thirty years. During that time we’ve grown and changed and learned so much. We’ve had so many good times with friends and family and neighborhood people, all of whom came to love this place. It’s given us a lifetime of great memories. We’ve made so many great friends because of this garden, it’s impossible to feel too bad about letting it go.” The new owner, he pointed out, “Has asked that we help him look after the garden, which we’re happy to do. Besides, the name Earltons Gardens will travel with us.” Tom explained that the couple was merely relocating to Caldwell Square condominiums near the Bog Gardens of Tanger Family gardens. “It’s a beautiful place and I’m sure Ken will come up with equally creative ideas there.” “Besides, in a few days,” Ken came back, “many of our tenderer pots will be going off to a wonderful friend named Vivian Jones, who has come every autumn for years in a 15-foot U-Haul to collect them for winter care in her greenhouses out in Snow Camp. Others will be making the trip with us to the new place,” he said with a smile. “That includes Betty and Elizabeth, of course. Wherever we are, they are.” We thanked them for what we hoped would not be a last look at one of Greensboro’s most beloved secret gardens, a thirty-year masterpiece in the making. “A good garden goes on,” said Ken. “Meanwhile, Earltons Gardens will have a clean new canvas with more emphasis on container gardening and creative ideas. We’ll also be able to enjoy some wishful traveling. “ OH Jim Dodson, O.Henry’s editor, is the author of Beautiful Madness: One Man’s Journey Through Other People’s Gardens. 79
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