Our Home in the Grinnell Water Works Building

GrinnellBuilding_SparkGraphic

Before finding our sunlit studio space I did all my teaching at client locations or hotel meeting rooms. I dreamt about having my own space so I could create the kind of open environment that is so important to the overall learning experience. For one thing, I wanted natural light, which is in short supply in commercial offices.  I also wanted a location near downtown with ample, free parking for class participants–also in short supply.

I wanted the space to help my client-friends relax into their authentic communication style for public speaking; the “right” place would go a long way to that end.

After scouting Charlotte for two weeks in January 2006 I was becoming discouraged. My commercial broker called one afternoon and said he had another location he wanted me to see—a restored factory building on the historic warehouse corridor on West Morehead Street.

With nothing left to lose but time, I headed out to meet him at the Grinnell Water Works Building. At first, I could only sigh in disbelief at the old building that was under renovation. How could this place with the funny roof possibly meet my clients’ needs?

But when I entered the lobby I sensed something very different. Something wonderful. This factory had been restored with care to leave the soul of the building intact.

Then I stepped into the studio my broker had in mind for me. I was mesmerized by the natural light flooding in from the giant windows. “This is it,” I thought.  We moved in two months later.

After nearly ten years I am still amazed at the impact the building has people. As clients walk through out door they say, “Wow. What’s the story behind this place?”  I decided to find out.

The story of the Grinnell Water Works Building

Frederick Grinnell, whose namesake building is home to Interact Authentic Communications

In 1881, engineer Frederick Grinnell patented the automatic sprinkling system, which no longer required manual activation. In the many decades that followed, the Grinnell Company was the leading manufacturer of sprinkler systems in the world.  Grinnell sprinklers were installed in thousands of buildings and were credited with saving thousands of lives. In his prime, Grinnell took out some 40 patents for improvements to the sprinkler system, and also invented the automatic fire-alarm system.

When Grinnell considered sites for expansion beyond New England, he settled on Charlotte. Located in the heart of the region’s textile corridor, Charlotte was emerging as a southern manufacturing center.  Within a radius of one hundred miles around Charlotte were nearly 300 cotton mills.  In Mecklenburg County there were already 181 factories.

In Charlotte, the best location for heavy industry was the newly developing corridor along West Morehead Street, served by railroad spur lines to the Piedmont and Northern Rail Road, and connected by that rail line to the Southern Railway.

The Grinnell Water Works factory was completed in 1929 and its employees were among the few lucky enough to have a job during the Great Depression. The factory stood behind the new Grinnell office building, which faced Morehead Street. The Morehead address was given to both the office and the factory.

The unique ”bat-head” style roof of the factory was state of the art in the day, designed for ventilation, which was important in a building that originally had no air conditioning.

Grinnell Complex and Coca-Cola Bottling

Charlotte Chamber 1930

The Grinnell complex and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company took up the entire 1400 block and served as the western boundary of the district that was home to manufacturers such as Allied Van Lines and Crane Supply Company.

During the 1960s, urban industrial locations languished as companies exploited sites on the city periphery that were easily accessible by interstate, rather than by rail. Between 1971 and 2000, the number of business addresses on West Morehead Street declined steadily.

The Grinnell factory was closed in 1996 and restoration began in the new Millennium.

Retaining architectural integrity with all the modern conveniences

What used to be the recessed loading dock on the back of the building is the front entrance, which has been fitted with large glass doors.

The lobby area showcases the former factory with 30′ ceilings of tongue-and-groove beaded wood flanked by tall windows, sliding metal barn doors, steel beams that support the tall roof structure and slate floors in natural tones.

The factory retains its architectural integrity. The original factory features have been maintained, including banks of continuous, steel sash windows, and large, saw-tooth monitors. Sunroofs flood the building with light.

The Grinnell Building is home to a dozen creative businesses, attracting creative firms such as architects, marketing firms and apparel designers. I’m proud to report that the oldest tenants are GMR Sports Marketing and Interact Authentic Communication.

Many tenants bring in their dogs, and we have the comforting pleasure of hearing an occasional bark. We look forward to greeting you in this terrific space when you come to our studio for a class or coaching.

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Avatar for Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.