You may have visited the popular Uptown park that bears his name, but do you know who Romare Bearden is? Mark Hames mhames@charlotteobserver.com
You may have visited the popular Uptown park that bears his name, but do you know who Romare Bearden is? Mark Hames mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Living Here Guide

You’ll find these names all over town, but who are they? Get to know these Charlotte icons

By ColAlvino

August 25, 2017 12:24 PM

You see their names on buildings, streets and more all over Charlotte. But do you the person behind the name? Here are 11 Charlotte icons and what they’re known for.

(1) Blumenthal

Where you’ll see it: Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Herman and Anita Blumenthal, and I.D. and Madolyn Blumenthal formed the Blumenthal Foundation in 1953. Herman and I.D. were Charlotte businessmen who owned Radiator Specialty Co. and Herman has been called “the father of philanthropy in Charlotte.” In the 1980s, Herman gave a landmark $3.5 million gift for the Uptown arts center that now bears the Blumenthal name.

Herman and Anita Blumenthal in one of the boxes in the Belk Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
Mark B. Sluder

(2) Levine

Where you’ll see it: Levine Children's Hospital, Levine Center for the Arts, Levine Museum of the New South, and Levine Jewish Community Center.

As an ambitious 21-year-old, Leon Levine wanted to offer customers good quality merchandise for less than $2, so he opened the first Family Dollar in 1959 in Charlotte. He started the Leon Levine Foundation in 1980, who focuses on healthcare, education, Jewish values and human services. The foundation, which Levine still leads, has made numerous donations to organizations throughout Charlotte.

Leon Levine, right, jokes with Larry Sprinkle after the Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont's 50th Cornerstone Celebration at the Charlotte Convention Center in 2015.
David T. Foster, III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
(3) Jerry Richardson

Where you’ll find it: Jerry Richardson Stadium at UNC Charlotte; On the statue outside of Bank of America Stadium.

We all have this man to thank for the Carolina Panthers. As a former NFL player himself, Jerry Richardson's dream was to bring the NFL to the Queen City. And he did just that in 1993, when the NFL awarded a franchise to Charlotte and Richardson became owner. After his football playing days ended in 1961, Richardson helped open the first Hardee’s franchise in Spartanburg, S.C., and also ran other restaurant chains during his business career. He was also the first person to be inducted into both the North Carolina and South Carolina business and athletic halls of fame.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

(4) Bechtler

Regine and Andreas Bechtler pose in front of a multicolored sculpture of a chicken that stands about 25 feet tall in their Charlotte front yard.
John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Where you’ll find it: The Becthler Museum of Modern Art.

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art would not be around today if it weren't for the inspiration of Andreas Bechtler’s parents, Hans and Bessie. The Swiss-born Andreas grew up around artists and became an artist himself as his parents’ collection of modern art grew and grew. Andreas moved to Charlotte in 1979 to work in one of his family’s manufacturing businesses. When his parents died, he inherited half of the family’s art collection. He decided to donate it, and some of his own collection, to the city of Charlotte.

(5) Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden in 1980.
Marvin E. Newman Marvin E. Newman

Where you’ll find it: Romare Bearden Park, 300 S. Church St., Charlotte.

Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte in 1911 and became one of the foremost African-American artists of the 20th century. The 5-acre park in Uptown that bears his name is a tribute to Bearden and his art, incorporating themes from his life and work.

(6) Gantt

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, right, greets former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt.
David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Where you’ll find it: Harvey B. Gantt Center, 551 S. Tryon St., Charlotte.

Harvey B. Gantt was the first African-American mayor of Charlotte and the first African American to be admitted to Clemson University. He created his own architecture firm in Charlotte in the mid-1970s and was elected to Charlotte City Council before becoming mayor in 1983. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture opened Uptown in 2009.

(7) McColl

Where you’ll find it: McColl Center for Art + Innovation, 721 N. Tryon St.

Hugh McColl grew regional North Carolina National Bank into the behemoth Bank of America, and was the bank’s chairman and CEO before retiring in 2001. In 1995, the bank bought the former Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in uptown for the purpose of establishing an urban artists community. It became the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, which opened in 1999.

Former Bank of America Chairman and CEO Hugh McColl Jr.
David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

(8) Belk

Belk founder William Henry Belk opened the first store in Monroe in 1888.
COURTESY OF BELK Photo courtesy of Belk

Where to find it: Belk stores; Belk Bowl college football game; John Belk Freeway; Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

If you have ever visited SouthPark Mall, then you have heard of Belk. Founder William Henry Belk opened a small shop in Monroe in 1888, which grew into the biggest department store chain in America. The company stayed in the family for 128 years, and Belk’s son, John Belk, served four terms as Charlotte mayor.

(9) Johnson C. Smith

Where you’ll find it: Johnson C. Smith University, 100 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte.

Biddle University opened in the late 1800s just outside of uptown Charlotte. In 1921, the late Jane Berry Smith made a generous donation to the institution in order to build a theological dormitory, science hall, teachers' cottage and memorial gate in memory of her late husband, Johnson C. Smith. In recognition of the gifts, the board of trustees changed the name of the institution to Johnson C. Smith University. The private liberal arts university now enrolls about 1,600 students.

Johnson C. Smith University President Ronald L. Carter celebrates the school’s 150th anniversary in 2016.
Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

(11) Billy Graham

Billy Graham
HANDOUT Courtesy photo

Where you’ll find it: Billy Graham Parkway; Billy Graham Library, 4330 Westmont Drive, Charlotte.

Evangelist Billy Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950 and has preached to more than 215 million people in more than 185 countries. He has also counseled presidents and other world leaders. His library – located off Billy Graham Parkway – is styled after the dairy barn he grew up on in the outskirts of Charlotte.