Very Local History: Waffle House Coming Soon

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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

Intro

  • 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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