While not the tallest in downtown Winston-Salem, the Reynolds Building towers over others in the vicinity, and casts a shadow of history over city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Located at 51 E 4th St Winston-Salem, NC 27101, it was completed in 1929 and has 21 floors. When it was completed it was the tallest building in the United States south of Baltimore, Maryland, and it was the winner of a national architecture award (Craver, 2009). As many know, it was the inspiration for the Empire State Building and receives a card from it every Mother’s Day. Even though it was built for the sole purpose of being the RJR Tobacco company’s headquarters, it was also leased out to many other industries including doctors, dentists, and tobacco related companies. The stock market crash of 1929 hurt the ability for the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company to lease the building out to other businesses, but that soon changed. The building’s main occupants were offices of railroad companies, attorneys, and insurance companies (Bisher, 2005).
In 2009, due to the downturn of the economy, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company moved all the remaining offices in the building next door to the Plaza building, resulting in the Reynolds Building to be almost vacant. They soon put the building up for sale, and it was valued at a little over $12 million. In 2013, a San-Francisco based company purchased the building for $7.8 million with the intention of turning it into a hotel, a restaurant, and apartments. The company that purchased the building decided to name the restaurant on the ground floor after the wife of RJ Reynolds, Katharine.
The style of architecture can be described as an Art Deco skyscraper. The architects, Shreve and Lamb, were asked to design it with conservatism and attractiveness, but to avoid flashiness. Due to the time it was built, there is no thirteenth floor because superstitions were high in the early 1900s. When the architects finished the building, it had gray-brown marble from Missouri, black marble from Belgium, and buff colored marble from France. According to sources, the inside of the building is magnificent (Bishir, 2005). In an interview with Nicholas Meares, someone who has never been inside the building, he told me he had always heard about it, but had never known what the inside looked like. This is something many individuals have not had the opportunity to do. Unfortunately, the building is temporarily closed to the public due to construction repairs since the first six floors are to be opened in 2016 as the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel.
As a History major, I identify heavily with both the historical community of anywhere I go, but also my own personal historical community meaning my ancestry. After studying ancestry and genealogy for some time, I discovered that when Richard Joshua Reynolds started his tobacco company in 1875, the Allred family in nearby Randolph County invested lots of money. I am a direct descendant of the Allreds that invested the said money into RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, something I take great pride in.
William M. Allred (1826-1913), born in Randolph County, invested $500 ($10,869 in today’s world) of what his father left him into RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company after meeting Richard Joshua Reynolds in a local “watering hole”, according to an interview with Bell McDaniel. Bell McDaniel is my third cousin, and is a part of the fourth generation descended from William. She remembers the exact amount because she used to be the owner of a letter written from RJR to William Allred, but it unfortunately burned in a fire in 1989. Since the Reynolds building was built for the sole purpose of acting as a headquarters for the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, it is important to note how the company came about. Reynolds was the son of a tobacco farmer in Virginia. After college, he sold his shares of the family farm and set out to create his own business. He went to the nearest railroad hub for his business, Winston, NC. After investing his own money and that of several people he met (William Allred included), he was able to start his business. He soon became the wealthiest person in North Carolina (Tursl, 1994).
After William invested the money, he moved to Pickens County, Georgia, another place I identify with heavily because it is where I was born, raised, and my family lives. He took a risk investing in RJ Reynolds Tobacco because RJR had mentioned it in a drunken state.
All of these histories connect to me due to my understanding of who I am and where I came from. I believe where a person comes from has a lot to do with their identities and who they will become. Due to the influence my ancestor had on RJ Reynolds’ tobacco company, I feel a connection when I look at the Reynolds Building because there is a possibility without the investment from William Allred, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company may never have succeeded.
Bishir, Catherine, 2005, “North Carolina Architecture,” UNC Press.
Craver, Richard, 2009, “Home of RJR on the market,” Winston Salem Journal.
Tursl, Frank, 1994, “Winston-Salem: A History,” John F. Blair Publisher.
** How is William Allred related to me?
William Allred- Elias Allred- David Miranda Allred-Mary Caroline Allred-
Jesse David Boling- Felix Boling- William Boling-Christina Joiner- Richlan Hutchins (ME!)