Very Local History: Waffle House Coming Soon


Very Local History: Waffle House Coming Soon

In this Very Local History episode we tackle the concept of “urban renewal,” using Wilmington, North Carolina as a case study.

In the 1970’s the Downtown Area Revitalization Effort was formed to spearhead the transformation of the languishing central business district back into a center of commerce. But the story begins long before this, spanning decades of history that paralleled momentous national trends that were affecting the very heart of American cities.

Show Summary


  • The new show topics
  • “In the Arms of the Flappy Man,” a sendoff to Wilmington only content

Defining Some Concepts

  • Manhattan invented the term “downtown”
  • The competing “uptown” designation
  • The “central business district” or CBD
  • “Urban sprawl,” “urban decay,” and “urban renewal”
  • Redlining and blockbusting

Main Themes

  • Transportation and “urban sprawl” went hand in hand
  • Urban renewal interests were often pitted against the interests of poor and minorities
  • Historical preservation was an uneasy partnership with revitalization efforts
  • Where people shop is an important part of this story

Early Wilmington

  • Relying on shipyard industry
  • The city center being the source of modern amenities
  • Recovering from the American Civil War

Transportation 2: Rise of the Transportatrons

  • The railway was the Internet of the day
  • The Segway of the day, the trolley, created “trolley car suburbs”
  • The beach cars and “the hammocks.”

Marketing Your City: “City Beautiful”

  • “City Beautiful” is a precursor to what would become the Downtown Area Revitalization Effort
  • Preached beautification and social philosophies, sandwiched around architectural standards
  • Prominent during the 1890s and 1900s, had a sister movement in Britain called “Garden City”
  • Wilmington used City Beautiful to market itself to Northern investors
  • “White City,” the Hyperloop of the day, unveiled at the World’s Fair

A Tale of Two Suburbs: Carolina Place and Sunset Park

  • Carolina Place and Sunset Park are two early “trolley car suburbs”
  • They are founded with restrictions similar to modern day HOAs, along with discrimination
  • Styled after City Beautiful

Boom Times

  • In the early 1900s Wilmington is met with good economic fortune
  • Atlantic Coast Line Railroad brings freight operations to town, eventually becomes largest employer
  • The growing middle class is hungry for suburban living
  • Suburbs are built with running water, electricity, sewer and sidewalks
  • Sunset Park anecdotes as an example of growing pains
  • Interwar period and The Great Depression stalls the party

The Great History Shortage

  • Post World War II sees a movement to preserve historic buildings and sites
  • Arguably the nadir of American downtown desirability
  • Urban renewal efforts, sometimes called “slum removal” begins as a trend
  • Automobiles make suburban living very accessible
  • The GI Bill accelerates homeownership for (some) returning veterans
  • The National Highway System strikes at the very heart of American downtowns
  • The National Trust, modeled after the British National Trust, forms in 1949
  • Shopping malls are also on the rise, cementing the problem of keeping viable commercial businesses located in downtown areas

Wilmington on the Rocks

  • Wilmington suffers a big blow when major ACL operations leave in the 1950s
  • The “Committee of 100” forms, recruits many new businesses
  • In response to this, historical organizations form to try to save old buidlings
  • Other attractions come to town, the Azalea Festival and the USS NC Battleship
  • Following national trends Wilmington establishes historical preservation groups
  • Historic buildings are bought to save from demolition
  • The concept of “adaptive use”

We Knew You Would Come Back

  • The middle and upper class return to downtown
  • Tax breaks incentivize the purchase and restoration of historic homes
  • The mixed blessing of gentrification and inflation of property values
  • DARE, Downtown Area Revitalization Effort, is formed
  • Tasked with public improvements, stabilizing the business environment and “removing blight”
  • JCPenney leave downtown for the mall, forcing a change in perspective

The Riff Raff

  • “Red light district” elements are targeted downtown
  • DARE takes credit for its successes
  • DARE has a split with historic preservation efforts
  • DARE becomes concerned with essentially marketing downtown as business friendly
  • The Historical Wilmington Foundation turns its sights on the trolley car suburbs

Post Modern Downtown

  • Downtown needs to define itself as “cool”
  • Downtown versus mixed used developments
  • The rise of bar culture
  • PPD and other business additions to the city
  • Thalian Hall versus the Wilson Center
  • The North Fourth / Brooklyn Arts District area
  • The marina and convention center
  • The “hipster conundrum” and fearing a loss of local identity to large chains
  • Bottega, Firebelly Lounge and The Soapbox
  • Defining why it feels better to love local businesses
  • Waffle House coming soon

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