Charlotte's last big apartment boom was in 1972. Here's what it looked like. | Charlotte Observer

Charlotte’s last big apartment boom was in 1972. Here’s what it looked like. | Charlotte Observer

In South End and uptown, developers are building thousands of new apartments.

But today’s apartment boom is arguably muted compared with the early 1970s, when developers transformed east Charlotte with new complexes like the Aztec Apartments on Eastway Drive, Villa East near Independence Boulevard and the Woodhaven Apartments on McAlway Road.

In 1972, developers finished 4,569 apartments in 24 new complexes in a city that had 250,000 people.

In the recent boom, 8,500 apartments may be finished this year. That’s in a city of 850,000 people.

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Today, many of those early 1970s complexes have recently become an important part of the city’s plan to preserve more affordable housing. Mayor Vi Lyles and council members are considering buying aging complexes, making modest improvements, and then keeping rents affordable.

City Manager Marcus Jones has proposed the city ask voters to approve a $50 million bond for the Housing Trust Fund in November, instead of the $15 million the city usually asks voters to approve. The $50 million bond could give the city millions of dollars to partner with non-profits to buy older apartment complexes.

As the city focuses on preserving existing affordable housing, a look at advertising from the early 1970s is a reminder that that era’s apartment boom was about luxury — not affordability. Today’s low-income housing was once a place with "all the modern comforts," including "soft shag carpeting to curl your toes in," as a 1974 advertisement for the Woodhaven apartments proclaimed.

The 60-unit Woodhaven apartments on McAlway Road were built in 1973.

The Woodhaven Apartments are now called Maple Way Apartments.

Steve Harrison/

The Mammoth Oaks apartment complex was built near the Woodhaven apartments on the edge of Cotswold.

Time has not been kind to the Woodhaven Apartments, on the edge of Cotswold. At some point they become the Rose Bud apartments, and today the complex’s new name — Maple Way — is on a hand-painted sign hanging on a chain-link fence. Their condition has deteriorated over the last four decades.

"You hear the quote a lot in development circles, that no one builds a used car," said Mark Ethridge, a partner with LCRE Capital who has consulted for the city on affordable housing. "New units are always nicer."

A time lapse tour of Charlotte locations. John D.

Villa East apartments, built in 1973 near Independence Boulevard, was a "refreshing adult community," built for a "go-getter who looks until he finds the way of life he really wants." It had putting greens, volleyball and badminton courts, a swimming pool and an observation tower "overlooking everything."

The observation tower is long gone. The pool was closed three years ago, with a new chain link fence built to keep people out. Rents for a one-bedroom apartment range from $560 to $590.

The swimming pool at Villa East apartments closed three years ago.

Steve Harrison/

"I have people who used to live here come by and tell me about all the wild parties they used to have here," said the property manager Louise Bentel.

She said most of today’s residents are seniors, not young singles, since there are no two-bedroom apartments.

"I’d like for the city to help us out," Bentel said. "It would be nice to fix this up a little."

Read More

Then and now: Photos show just how dramatically Charlotte has changed in 40 years

There have been three Charlotte apartment booms since World War II: the early 1970s, early 1980s and today.

Immediately after the war, developers focused almost entirely on building single-family homes. From 1952 to 1958, there are no records of new apartments being built in the city. Apartment-building picked up in the early 1960s, though only a few hundred units were built, mostly in Briarcreek and Windsor Park.

From 1970 to 1975, as baby boomers moved out of their parents’ homes, 75 new apartment complexes were built, adding 11,566 units to the city.

The Spanish Quarter apartments were built in 1974 off Sharon Amity Road, near Eastland Mall. "Celebrate the sun any way you like. Every way you like….At sunny LaManca it’s all yours for the taking."

Today, they have been renamed the Greenbrye Apartments, and only the name of the road inside complex is a reminder of the complex’s history: Spanish Quarter Circle.

Though the name Spanish Quarter is gone, the complex’s assistant manager, Lorena Izzard, said 95 percent of residents are Spanish-speaking. Rents start at $695.

"We have a few people from Somalia, a few people from India," she said. "But everyone else is Spanish-speaking."

The Spanish Quarter apartments are now the Greenbryre Apartments.

Though the name of the apartment complex has changed, the name of the private street inside the complex is a reminder of its first incarnation.

Satellite dishes are now clustered on the ground of the Greenbryre Apartments.

Steve Harrison/

Most of apartments in the 1970s were built in Hidden Valley, Briarcreek, Windsor Park and East Forest. But in the late 1980s, people began moving south. and west. By the 2000s, east Charlotte’s retail base — specifically Eastland Mall — was suffering.

Some complexes are already being bought.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership said it recently tried to buy Arcadian Village, a 348-unit complex built in 1970 near Independence Boulevard and Idlewild Road. The partnership wanted to renovate the units and keep them affordable.

But a Miami-based private investor recently bought the complex.

"Two years ago it really started heating up in Charlotte," said Julie Porter, president of the Charlotte Housing Partnership, which builds low-income housing. "It’s a national trend. There needs to be a discipline around this, of how we start purchasing these naturally occurring units. If we don’t, we will be losing more units than we will be creating."

The Aztec Apartments were built in 1970 off Eastway Drive. They were sold last year to a Georgia company, which said it’s renovating the units. There are still wood panels covering broken windows.

The 266-unit Foxfire Apartments were built in 1971 off Idlewild Road.Today, the name of the street remains, Foxfire Apartment Drive. But the complex is now the Ashley Park Apartments.

The Aztec Apartments were built in 1970 on Eastway Drive.

The Aztec Apartments were sold last year to a Georgia company.

Steve Harrison/

The condo market in Charlotte has now almost non-existent. But some early 1970s-era apartment complexes were changed to condos years ago, like Woodmere on Central Avenue. The Woodmere may not be as glamorous as when it was built, but it’s still well maintained. There is a rose garden in the complex’s main courtyard The swimming pool is clean. The grass has been cut.

The Woodmere apartments are now condos.

The Woodmere condominium pool today – and from the early 1970s.

Steve Harrison/

Staff writer Maria David contributed.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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