Charlotte: An Arts District Emerges

Not so many years ago, the North Davidson area of Charlotte was a struggling community, anchored by an abandoned textile mill and vacant storefronts.Centered on the intersection of North Davidson and 36th Streets, it was an area to drive through, not a place to drive to.

Today, “NoDa,” as its been recently acronymnized, is filled with galleries, boutiques, eclectic eateries and some of the hippest music venues in the city.

It’s a destination for Charlotteans and visitors beyond.

Art and its expression is what started this whole neighborhood revival. In 1986, Paul Sires and Ruth Ava Lyons, two young artists, happened upon the dilapidated and neglected mill village — just two miles from Center City — and became captivated by the area’s character.

The couple bought and renovated the Lowder Building as well as several other store fronts and a mill house, starting a transformation into a community for the arts. In fact, Lyons and Sires even won a preservation award from Historic Charlotte, Inc.

Other artists followed, and in order to gain an audience for artwork, the budding community started opening its doors for a monthly gallery crawl.

Today, those twice-monthly Friday night crawls are a great way to experience NODA’s unique street scene.

Galleries stay open later and admission is free. Art openings are scheduled around the Fridays, and artists are often on hand to discuss their work with patrons.

Great food is also part of the neighborhood experience, and not just during gallery crawls. Boudreaux’s, located adjacent to The Neighborhood Theater, gets packed for pre-show dinners, so it’s best to make a reservation for those nights to ensure your own personal shrimp po’ boy, one of the menu’s many Cajun treats.

Cabo Fish Taco offers up fresh Baja cuisine and one of the most relaxing, inviting decors you’ll find in the city, with an original tin ceiling, brightly painted chairs and tropical-hued walls providing a beachy, laid back atmosphere to the eatery.

For a quick bite or a relaxing coffee, a neighborhood favorite is Amelie’s, a little off the beaten path at North Davidson and 28th Streets. This bakery serves up French classics, such as eclairs and tartines in a shabby-chic décor.

When it comes to music, NODA really delivers. Venues such as The Evening Muse and The Neighborhood Theater have hosted an impressive list of musicians, from folk singer Clare Burson to Doc Watson, George Clinton, Band of Horses and The Marshall Tucker Band.

Music drifts out of many corners of NODA, and from street musicians to an acoustic duo playing in the corner of a restaurant, the neighborhood destination seems to have a soundtrack of its own, seven nights a week. And with all the great shopping within a few blocks, its easy to dance to a personal beat while finding that perfect funky accessory.

Photos by Stephanie Burt

Closer to Center City, the McGill Rose Garden has been opened to the public since Mother’s Day of 1962. Ever since, visiting the the garden on that holiday has become a tradition in Charlotte, attracting hundreds of guests to this charming two-acre oasis of more than 1,000 roses, plants and herbs on North Davidson Street.

“It really is a very special day, to see so many families bringing their mothers to this beautiful place,” says Garrett Ladue, owner of the Garden Shoppe & Gallery, which offers local art, sculpture, pottery, statuary and fountains throughout the year.

The garden and gallery are a site for many community programs, including pruning workshops by the Charlotte Rose Society and educational outreach and horti-therapy for many area schools, making it a worthwhile NODA destination all year.