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Pressing Questions About Buildings And Elevators And Stuff
This week, the Rabbit Hole answers a question about the color of Charlotte's skyline, discovers a hidden Art Deco department store, and relays some hard news about the Elevator Queen.
When The Lights … Go Pink … In The City
From Rabbit Hole reader Michael Becker:
I have a question for you. Might not be that interesting but also my be worth a story. Who controls the lighting for the towers in Charlotte? I was at the Charlotte FC versus Miami FC soccer game this past Saturday and the Bank of America tower was lit up pink for Miami. We were in Bank of America stadium watching Charlotte as the home team, and their tower was lit pink. It seemed like an odd choice for me. Thanks for all the work you do on your articles.
Here’s the picture Michael sent me, showing those hater-ass buildings:
First off, sorry about your loss, Charlotte FC fans. Sure, you beat Messi’s Inter Miami squad 1-0 to make it into the playoffs, only to immediately exit the playoffs in the very next game. It’s hard being like the Hornets, but I’m guessing this will be a formative experience for you.
As for the buildings, yeah man, what gives?
Well, in this case, it was just an unfortunate coincidence. Per the Wells Fargo Lights website, the skyscraper at 550 South Tryon (the old Duke Energy Center, which has a convenient carrying handle at the top) was lit up pink on October 21 because it was “supporting Madelyn’s Fund Pink Bow gala being held this evening.” That fund was started by former Carolina Panther punter Andy Lee and his wife Rachel in memory of their daughter Madelyn, who died eight days after her birth. Lee changed his jersey number to 8 to honor Madelyn, and set up a fun to help other parents who struggle financially after their newborns have extended stays in a neonatal intensive care unit.
Pink, if you don’t know, is also the color of Inter Miami’s jerseys, a team that was sort of so-so until they signed the GREATEST SOCCER PLAYER OF ALL TIME to their squad. After Lionel Messi joined them this summer, Inter Miami went on a tear across Major League Soccer. So anyone who knows anything about MLS knows why having your entire skyline lit up pink is an issue when you’re facing a pink-clad team in the most consequential game in Charlotte FC history.
For what it’s worth, Charlotte’s skyscrapers have had the ability to change colors for a long time. The city’s tallest building, the Bank of America Corporate Center, would light up the top of its “crown” in, say, Panthers colors for a particularly important game. But in the old days, that was tough and expensive, since workers had to climb up on the roof to place colored gels over the lights. Then, in 2009, the Duke Energy Center opened at 550 South Tryon. It was illuminated by color-changing LED lights, which could be changed and controlled by a laptop. (It also costs a few dollars an hour to light the building’s 47,730 individual lights). Other buildings upgraded their lighting and followed suit, and now some 30 buildings can now shift their colors at will. Even the old Bank of America Corporate Center can show off:
But! Even though every building’s manager can control the lights on their skyscraper, it takes some coordination to get them all to light up in the same color at the same time. The person who make that happen is Moira Quinn, who’s been the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Communications for Charlotte Center City Partners FOREVER (Before that, she was an anchor at WBTV). Back in 2021, WFAE took a deep look at the actual logistics of controlling the lights for its excellent FAQ City series, but also asked Quinn about her great power TO CUE CHARLOTTE’S NIGHTTIME SUN. How does she do it? With, you guessed it, a spreadsheet:
Quinn said she can make suggestions but can’t require buildings to change their lights. She keeps “a running spreadsheet” that includes a list of event dates and suggested colors, including a hue-specific hexadecimal code, Pantone color or CMYK color. She emails an updated spreadsheet once every few weeks to the managers of about 30 different buildings.
The colored lights aren’t always coordinated, but when they are, they can have a huge impact, Quinn said. Like in 2019, when a gunman killed two students at UNC Charlotte, Quinn said the whole skyline was green.
“I said, 'We must be Charlotte Strong.' There was not a pushback,” Quinn said. “I have a picture of the entire skyline green. It is gorgeous. In fact, it’s my screen saver. I love that picture. And that is one of the reasons that I do this. Because it builds community. It reminds us that we have heart.”
An entire skyline gets a color when there’s an event of city-wide significance. “I have been asked before for a baby reveal, a gender reveal. Or a birthday. And yeah, no,” Quinn told WFAE.
Anyhow, she gets about 10 requests a month, and the actual requests are put out to property managers at least a month ahead of time. One exception: The building at 550 South Tryon can sparkle and color-shift after a Carolina Panthers touchdown, controlled by a Wells Fargo employee sitting in the press box.
So no, Lionel Messi does not have the power to change the buildings pink wherever he goes. That would require supernatural powers, and as we all know, only one soccer player truly had the hand of God.
Lookit This Extremely Art Deco Building
This picture from the North Carolina State Archives drifted across my feed earlier in the week and it’s, I don’t know, kind of amazing? This is the Belk’s Department Store on the southeastern corner of Market and Elm Streets in downtown Greensboro in 1939, right before its grand opening. It lasted there at its downtown location until January 1975, when Belk closed it and moved to the Four Seasons Mall. That location shut down in 2015.
Even so, good GAWD look at all of that Art Deco goodness. The building was originally white and green, and had electric streetcars out front. The King Cotton Hotel is in the background. It was built in 1926 and demolished in 1971 to eventually make way for the drab looking headquarters of the Greensboro News & Record. Eventually the newspaper moved out. The abandoned building is currently crumbling and some bad stuff has been happening inside.
Back to the Belk Building, though. Here’s what that exact spot looks like today:
Here’s the thing though: Technically, this is the same building. In 1984, the new owners gutted the inside and outside and made … this. “The only things that will remain are the structural steel and any supporting brick work,” a spokesman for the Bissell Companies told the News & Record at the time. So, in some weird way, this is a historic building. Not strip club historic, but still.
Fare Thee Well, Elevator Queens and Kings
From WRAL’s Travis Fain comes this shocking news: Before long, the smiling face you see in every North Carolina elevator will be going away. State labor commissioner Josh Dobson, who’s not running for re-election, is changing the certification certificates that are required to be posted in every lift in the state. His picture will no longer be on them.
This practice began around 2005 with the former labor commissioner, a woman named Cherie Berry, who was better known as The Elevator Queen. Fain reached her for comment:
Berry, who has moved to Ohio, took the news hard.
“Whaaaaaaat?” she said Monday, when reached by phone in a grocery store checkout line.
“I think it’s a mistake, but hey that’s just me,” Berry said.
Yes, the Elevator Queen now lives in Toledo.
In any event, the new labor commissioner could bring his or her picture back, but they still probably won’t have the cultural relevance of Cherie Berry, who inspired a snarky parody Twitter account, a song, and an academic paper that surmised that she won re-election in 2012 in part because people recognized her name and face from the elevator. If you come at the Elevator Queen, you best not miss.