Thursday, September 27, 2018

Hidden Park: Pearl Street Park

There are a number of compelling reasons to visit Pearl Street Park, hidden in plain sight on the edge of Uptown Charlotte. Reason number one is to acquaint yourself with a remarkable piece of Charlotte history.

Pearl Street Park, located across Kenilworth Ave. from the Metropolitan Shopping Center (the Trader Joe’s end), is easy to miss, but well worth a stop. A little bigger than eight acres, the park offers short walking trails, a full basketball court and open field space.

Within walking distance of the skyscrapers, it would be an excellent destination for a lunch-break stroll. And the paved paths that loop the park make for the perfect place for young ones to practice skating, scooting and bike-riding.
Whatever activities you decide to do there, the real draw for me is the opportunity to step into and appreciate the area’s rich historical significance.

Pearl Street Park was purchased by the City of Charlotte in 1943 and became the city’s first and only public recreation space for African American children and families. The land is in Charlotte’s Second Ward, which was home to the Brooklyn Neighborhood, Charlotte’s largest African American neighborhood – the center of black civic life – until the neighborhood was demolished in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal.

One of the park’s first uses was as a Victory Garden in World War II. During the war, the government rationed most food products and relied on citizens to provide their own fruits and vegetables, which were hard to harvest and deliver due to labor and transportation shortages.

Following the war and until the eventual (and slow!) park desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s, Pearl Street Park was an important social gathering space for African American families. It served as the athletic fields for the football and baseball teams at nearby Second Ward High School. At one time, in addition to playground equipment, trails and fields, there was a swimming pool on the grounds.

In 2005, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Heritage Committee dedicated Pearl Street Park as the first African American Park in Mecklenburg County, marked with a monument to memorialize its rich cultural heritage. Beside the monument is an audio history station where visitors can listen to and learn more about the park’s historical significance. To stand in the park space and realize what it represents is profoundly moving.

There are currently plans in the works to renovate Pearl Street Park as part of a larger redevelopment project on adjacent land.
Of note, Baxter Street Park is adjacent to Pearl Street Park and also offers walking trails and a community garden.

There are no restroom facilities at Pearl Street Park, though there is a porta-potty at one end of the soccer field.

Pearl Street Park is easy to miss, but I encourage you to be intentional about seeking it out for a visit. If for no other reason than to appreciate a piece of Charlotte history.

How to get there:
Pearl Street Park is located at 1200 Baxter St., Charlotte, NC, 28202. Parking is available on Baxter St. across from the Charlottetown Terrace apartment building. There is also a small lot off Kenilworth Ave.

Don’t forget to pack:
  • Comfy shoes: Take a stroll around the paved walking trail.
  • Soccer ball, basketball, bikes or skates: This is a great place to play or ride.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The park is partially shaded, but the recreation field is wide open.
  • Water: Bring as much as you think you’ll need; there are no restroom facilities to refill.

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