Rediscovering Charlotte as an adult

I lived in Charlotte during most of my elementary school years, when my leisure time mainly involved Chuck E. Cheese and the ice skating rink at the old Eastland Mall.

North Carolina’s largest city (but not its capitol city; that’s Raleigh) claims a number of other top-drawer cultural amenities, including the Mint Museum, where my younger sister Jessica used to dance on the last nerves of the nice ladies who had to ask her repeatedly to stop touching stuff; Discovery Place, a neato science museum where we used to make our hair stand on end by grabbing the big electric silver ball; and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, where our mom used to take us to see kid-friendly plays.

“What was that word the magic turtle used to say?” Jessica called up and asked me the other day.

“Ooowangalama,” I said. Duh.

My husband and I get back up to Charlotte fairly often, but never for long, since my family is now in Raleigh. To break up the dull drive from Atlanta we like to stop overnight in the Queen City. Traffic both here and in the Great State of Mecklenburg, as we Tar Heels say, can be dreadful, and one city’s rush hour per day is enough.

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Charlotte’s entertainment options for all ages include the Blumenthal Performing Arts complex and the Time Warner Cable Arena, a venue for touring acts and the town’s NBA team, now mercifully rechristened the Hornets. (So long, Bobcats.) One of these days we’ll stick around long enough to enjoy all that but a quick overnight jaunt can be edifying too. Charlotte’s Uptown district offers the brief visitor a feast for the eyes in a compact area. Here’s a look at what you can see just by walking around.

Tryon Plaza, at Trade and Tryon streets: This glorious art deco building opened in 1927 as the First National Bank Building, “largely the result” of industrialist and bank president Henry M. McAden and architect Louis Asbury, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

Tryon Plaza is now owned by the Atlanta-based Simpson Organization and home to a SunTrust location. Nothing will make you feel like a railroad baron or oil tycoon, or at least an adult, like checking your bank balance at the ATM parked inside the sandstone arch that leads into a huge cast-iron entrance by way of massive cast-bronze doors, under the protective gaze of gargoyles.

Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.: This former First Baptist Church building dates to 1909. A daring architectural marvel in its day, the building designed by James Mackson McMichael has no steeple. No one seemed to mind; “1,400 people packed the sanctuary for the dedication service on May 2, 1909,” according to the landmarks commission. The structure became a performing arts center in 1976 and became part of the Blumenthal Performing Arts complex in 1997. It houses the 730-seat McGlohon Theatre, “named in honor of the late legendary jazz pianist Loonis McGlohon of Charlotte,” according to Blumenthal Performing Arts.

The Sculptures at Independence Square: Giant bronze figures titled “Commerce,” “Industry” “Transportation” and “The Future” were erected in 1995. Created by sculptor Raymond Kaskey, who also created the statue of Queen Charlotte at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, they “were a gift to the city of Charlotte by the Queens Table, a private philanthropic group,” according to charlottetour.org.

The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, 201 East Trade St.: We stay here on visits to Charlotte as it’s conveniently located and the service is impeccable. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) hotel strikes a modern tone with contemporary paintings and wood artistry in the lobby. At Christmastime, hotel guests and pass-through visitors young and old alike can marvel at the “tree” made of 8,000 handmade French macarons. And nothing says “Well maybe you can go home again” like the guy holding a tray of champagne flutes who greets you at the check-in desk.

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