Thursday, January 22, 2009

F. W. Woolworth (Danville, Virginia)

(click on photograph for larger image)

Above are images of Main Street in Danville, Virginia, and a 1950s menu from the F. W. Woolworth "Lunch Counter" in Danville. Many who lived in northern Caswell County shopped frequently in Danville. A stop at "Woolworth's" was always a treat.


Gradually through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Danville's business community replaced older frame buildings with fireproof masonry construction, motivated by the perennial threat of fire. Most fireproof construction was brick. In the twentieth century, steel and reinforced concrete frames came into use in buildings such as the 1921 James A. Rorer Memorial Building at 125 South Union, the 1917 Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company at 560 Patton, and the city's two 1920s skyscrapers, the Masonic Building at 105 South Union and the Hotel Danville at 600 Main. Concrete block was advertised as a building material as early as 1908 in city directories, but its first significant use in the downtown appears to be the white limestone-faced 1937 Woolworth's Building at 501 Main. Brick tile block was used in the construction of the 1923 F. W. Townes & Son Funeral Parlor at 635 Main and is exposed at the rear of 627 Main, a 1920s automobile dealership and repair shop.

In the early 1930s, Heard [architect J. Bryant Heard] began to design in a somber monumental version of the Art Deco style. The Danville Post Office at 700 Main was the principal product of Heard's new approach. The 1930s American National Bank at 336 Main and the 1937 Woolworth's Building at 501 Main are other Heard designs that feature white limestone facing and discrete Art Deco ornament. At least ten extant downtown buildings in Danville were designed by Heard during the period 1915 to 1940 or are attributable to him on stylistic grounds. Of all Danville's architects and builders, Heard made the greatest contribution to the built environment of the downtown.

24. 501 Main St. Woolworth's Building. 1937. 108-0111-024. CB. This two-story limestone-faced concrete-block building has a severe facade with a second story formed by alternating pier-like elements and metal windows and aluminum display windows and inset entries with plain surrounds. In the parapet is ornamentation such as fluting and faceted bosses. At the second-story window-sill level is a scalloped band. The rear of the building, extending along Union Street, is one story in height and has a plain limestone facing. The eastern section of the building was apparently built in 1941 as a separate establishment, and acquired and remodeled by Woolworth's in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

501 Main Street-Woolworth's--was designed by Danville architect J. Bryant Heard in 1937 and built by R. E. Clarson. The building is characteristic of Heard's commercial work of the 1930s, with simplified Art Deco massing and decorative motifs. Before the Civil Rights movement, Woolworth's had separate lunch counters for white and black patrons, and the store was the scene of sit-ins. Woolworth's closed in 1992 and vacated the building. The eastern section of the building was apparently built in 1941 as Diana Shops, a women's clothing store, and was based on a design by the Garric Construction Company of Chicago. The section originally featured a stuccoed facade with an arched parapet and large letters spelling "DIANA SHOPS."
Source: 1993 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Downtown Danville Historic District

Prior to 1963, Danville, Virginia, was a small quiet mill town. Dan River, Inc. and the tobacco industry were the main focus of the local economy and provided the main employment opportunities within the community. Downtown Danville was a thriving business entity. Located on the North Carolina line in the “black belt” region of Virginia, Danville also operated as a segregated society. The lunch counter at Woolworth’s had separate sections for blacks and whites. In the basement at Belk-Legget’s, there were water fountains that were marked “For Blacks Only” Or “For Whites Only.” The main branch of the public library on Main Street was off limits to the black citizens of the community.

On June 3, 1985 the Danville Fire Department suffered a fatality. Captain G. Herman Knight died of a heart attack while fighting a fire at F.W. Woolworth’s on Main Street. He was a 29-year veteran of the department and had been captain for 12 years.

In 1880, Woolworth's department store was first to put manufactured Christmas tree ornaments on sale. They were immediately popular.