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Interview with Elizabeth Labouisse Wright, November 19, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Elizabeth Labouisse Wright, November 19, 2004
November 19, 2004
In this interview, Wilmington notable Elizabeth Wright discusses her and her husband's roles in the preservation of the historic district, including the renovation of the Hogg-Anderson house, the construction of Chandler's Wharf, and the reconstruction of Thalian Hall.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Wright, Elizabeth Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman / Seapker, Janet Date of Interview: 11/19/2004 Series: SENC Notables Length 1 hour, 28 minutes


Q: Okay. I'm Janet Seapker with Sherman Hayes, who's the university librarian. And we're here on Acacia Drive (crew noise), Elizabeth Labouisse.

Elizabeth Wright: Labouisse.

Q: I would not be able to spell that, so I'll have to let you do that.

Elizabeth Wright: It's very simple. It's like the O-U-I in French. Oiu. Labouisse; L-A-B-O-U-I-double-S-E.

Q: And that's your first name?

Elizabeth Wright: No. No. No.

Q: That's her maiden name.

Elizabeth Wright: Maiden name.

Q: So why don't we go over the whole name again? Okay. Elizabeth Labouisse Wright. Right. Okay. Good. And what was your middle middle name?

Elizabeth Wright: Devereux. D-E-V-E-R-E-U-X.

Q: Wow.

Elizabeth Wright: Comes from New Orleans.

Q: Interesting. French background.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. My father was from New Orleans. Mother was a North Carolinian.

Q: That's great. Could you give a brief bio of yourself?

Elizabeth Wright: I was born in Charlotte in 19-- March 4, 1933, same day Roosevelt was inaugurated.

Q: That's interesting.

Elizabeth Wright: All the banks closed. My father said it was a bad omen. And I proved him wrong. And uh.. mamma's family had a big place outside of Durham. And we moved there in '55.

Q: That was Fairntosh?

Elizabeth Wright: Fairntosh. And then Tommy and I got married in '59. So I moved to Wilmington then. And I'd always been interested in historic preservation, what have you purely through momma and living in that place, which was wonderful. 1799 it started; 1804. And uh.. mother was big into preservation, so I kind of came by it naturally.

Q: Was she involved with the antiquities society? The state antiquities?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then she was also the vice regent from North Carolina to Mount Vernon of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Q: Wow. The one up in...

Elizabeth Wright: Washington that does Mount Vernon. So I did come by it kind of...

Q: Did they have one...

Elizabeth Wright: One from each...

Q: ...per state? Now, your father was from New Orleans.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. He came to Charlotte to open a cotton business for Anderson Clayton, and then he went into business for himself.

Q: Did you ever track back to New Orleans then, over time? Or did you...

Elizabeth Wright: I have been on two or three occasions.

Q: All I'm saying is that they were early leaders in...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, they were fabulous.

Q: ...recognizing their history.

Elizabeth Wright: Well, a cousin of-- one of father's first cousins was one of the big knocks in the-- his wife particularly, in New Orleans.

Q: I've often wondered if Tom had been interested, Tom Connes Wright Junior, your...

Elizabeth Wright: My husband.

Q: ...your husband, had been interested in preservation before you two got married?

Elizabeth Wright: I think he adored Wilmington and the past, but I don't think he was as interested as he became.

Q: I always had the sense that you were probably the catalyst for...

Elizabeth Wright: Kind of the needle behind...


Q: ...his interest. Uhm.. what do you remember of the preservation efforts in the early days? Before we do early days, just, okay, so you got married when?

Elizabeth Wright: '59.

Q: And moved here at that point?

Elizabeth Wright: Moved here.

Q: Okay. So you know, maybe some context of 1959; what was Wilmington then?

Elizabeth Wright: It was...

Q: I mean, you were moving from a pretty big place.

Elizabeth Wright: A whole lot different than it is now, I might add.

Q: How did you feel about it?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, I adored Wilmington. I used to come as a child to the beach.

Q: Okay.

Elizabeth Wright: And kind of here or ____, of the mountains. And-- but I remember before Alley [ph?] was torn down, which was a sad thing. And uh.. well, I mean, it-- not-- where the Kenan House; where the Presbyterian church parking lot is. And that's kind of how I got myself into getting on the historic district commission. I sailed off for something new and different. And next thing I knew, I was put on the board of this direct district commission.

Q: Were you in the first class?

Elizabeth Wright: I was there with Ms. Ida...

Q: Original members?

Elizabeth Wright: ...early on. Early on.

Q: It started as the board of architectural review in, I believe in 1966, or was it '62?

Elizabeth Wright: I think it was '62.

Q: I think you're right.

Elizabeth Wright: I think it was '62, because the foundation wasn't started until '66.

Q: So before this there was nothing as far as trying to keep-- who was carrying the torch in the '50s?

Elizabeth Wright: Colonial James had the Burgwin-Wright House and I don't even-- had the lower Cape Fear started-- had they bought the Latimer?

Q: No. I think they bought it in '50-- I mean, in '62.

Elizabeth Wright: I think so.

Q: Was Bellamy Mansion historic at that point?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, it was very historic, but it was going to wrack and ruin. And it was still in private hands.

Q: Really?

Elizabeth Wright: One of the funniest parties I ever went to was a wedding party for Jane and Vic Vanders that Miss Alma had. And I mean, there was no electricity, no nothing. It was fascinating. And she had men, it was in the wintertime, standing outside in the yard with hoses in case the house caught on fire with all the fireplaces going.

Q: Oh my goodness.

Elizabeth Wright: So I mean it was that-- no, it was not even thought of being restored by any shape of the imagination. I was lying in the bathtub one night and heard this thing that Mr. Thomas H. Wright had been elected to the board of architectural review. Nobody asked me, nobody did anything. That's when things were very simple.

Q: They never even asked you?

Elizabeth Wright: I don't think so. I'm sure.

Q: Those were the days, well, it's still true today, cities and counties can't do anything unless the state specifically mandates that they are allowed to do it.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: And there were historic district commissions established in Edenton and Salisbury and other places; not in Wilmington. We were not authorized to have a historic district commission or board of architectural review, but in point of fact, Wilmington just decided, and I think it was probably RV just getting something up his nose and deciding yeah, we're going to have one too. So we had an illegal one for a while until they finally got the state to...

Elizabeth Wright: To mandate it. Yeah.

Q: Well, I also noticed that they announced your husband's name and not yours. That was 1962, right? There was Mrs...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Q: That's what I'm saying. I hope...

Elizabeth Wright: Well, it's so funny, because I see this evolution of things, you know, Mrs. Thomas H. Wright Junior, and now it's Elizabeth L. Wright. You know, in donations or what have you.

Q: It's a change.

Elizabeth Wright: It's a major change. But I was Mrs. Thomas H. Wright Junior. That's how I was brought up. Now I'm Elizabeth L. Wright.

Q: How did you two get into the preservation?

Elizabeth Wright: I think the first bit was I was fascinated with the Hashagen, that whole stretch on Orange Street. And Tom Evenly had a great love affair with that house for some unknown reason. And we bought it. And I'd forgotten what we paid for it, something perfectly ridiculous. And it was going to wrack and ruin. And Tom said the ink wasn't even dry on the deed before the uh.. vice squad and the fire department and everybody else came. Because it had been a thriving house of ill repute at one stage. And interestingly enough, somebody wanted to buy it to tear it down for the brick to go to Charleston or to Savannah. Because that's that wonderful Flemish Bond.

Q: Now, which house is this? Is there anyway we can tell a listener to get some perspective?

Elizabeth Wright: It's on the corner front in Orange Street.

Q: Okay. I know that one; yeah.

Elizabeth Wright: And uh...

Q: And opposite is the McCatharine [ph?]...

Elizabeth Wright: McCatharine...

Q: Okay. That place is out there still.

Elizabeth Wright: And uh.. well, it was a fabulous house. Just, you know, and we got Bob Cupper, who was a decorator, a designer. And he was working for Sutton Council downtown. And we prevailed upon him to move and so he opened the shop-- his shop in that house. And then he subsequently bought the house on-- between the Presbyterian church and McCatherine Canady [ph?]. The green-- the kind of yellow house on the corner. And I can't remember whose it is now. But he went on to do a lot, which was great. But we bought that, and then we bought-- let's say we got-- Dr. Anderson's house was behind, but originally it faced Orange Street. And we tore it down, probably something that we would think of very fine now, but it wasn't so fine. And tore that down and moved Dr. Anderson's little house next door where it had been originally.

Q: Right. But now, when you were doing preservation, you were doing this for an investment purpose, right? No?

Elizabeth Wright: No. It wasn't really investment at that point, because it was all outgoing; no income.

Q: It really was a salvage mission?

Elizabeth Wright: Exactly. It was a salvage mission. And that's how we got mixed up with Leroy Hooks [ph?], who was a demolition expert. He was house wrecker and the side of his truck had R-E-C-K-E-R; house "recker". And he looked like Yogi Bear.


Elizabeth Wright: Time when he went and did something to tear down something at Wright Corporation, but Tom made him wear a hardhat; well, he thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And he put this hardhat on and this jowl-y face hanging out and I mean it was a hoot. And he would call up and say "Captain Tom. This Leroy Hooks; is this a private line?" I don't know who he thought I-- like it was the mafia or something. But he-- we got him to be our procurer. Because it went uhm.. people started thinking, "Okay, Wright; they gonna buy this old house," and the price went up. When Leroy bought the house, it was normal. And we-- several of these, because we got him mixed up-- when we bought the Hogg-Anderson, that's when I had-- you remember Miss Ida, who was so wonderful and who had all the-- I vowed and declared that the house was older than it was. And she said oh no, the_______ map and la-da-da. You know; all those. I can see it with those little index cards right now. Unreal. Anyway she said, "Look, that's wrong." I said, "Miss Ida," I said, "two _______ windows, and I swear their value's earlier than you say."

Q: And this is Ida (inaudible)?

Elizabeth Wright: Miss Kellam.

Q: Ida Kellam.

Elizabeth Wright: Kellam.

Q: Right. I wanted to get that on the record, because see we have so many books and things that she did.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, she was so wonderful. I adore her.

Q: Well, she was an earlier generation that kind of committed to this, right?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, she was very committed, and she had the world of knowledge.

Q: She always said-- she would say, and Billy Kellam would have said the same thing, you know, "You do the buildings and I'll do the history." She was a genealogist. Okay. So that was driving-- who was in the house was what was interesting to her. That's right. But then she would do the research on who owned the house.

Elizabeth Wright: And also big on the insurance records.

Q: Yes.

Elizabeth Wright: Because she was talking about, well, it's not because it's such and such. She'd looked it up. And I said Miss Ida, well, I'll never forget, she called me, she said "Elizabeth, you're right. I was wrong." And I thought, "Bingo!"


Elizabeth Wright: "I have arrived." And that house turned out to be 1814.

Q: 1814. Okay. But, now, when you did that corner house, you restored it, right?

Elizabeth Wright: We preserved it.

Q: Preserved it.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Because it had gone through so many changes and...

Q: But then did you find a tenant to live in it?

Elizabeth Wright: Yes. That's one we got Bob Cupper [ph?] to move into.

Q: Right. But you retained ownership?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah. We still own it. That is the three that we still own.

Q: Can I-- let me ask the less sensitive question. This isn't what you and your husband did to make a living?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh no. We would be-- you'd see us down at the welfare department.

Q: So I mean, let's put some context in, because we're concentrating so much on that. Could we step back and say what did you-- what did your husband do, or what did you do?

Elizabeth Wright: Tom uh.. started a-- Acme Fertilizer Company, which was an outgrowth of his grandfather's Acme Manufacturing Company up in Acme. And actually I think they made mattresses; straw-- uh.. pine straw mattresses. That's right, because they had did that bed on it. And that was the Gilchrist [ph?] family, which his-- Tom's mother was a Gilchrist. And they had the houses still standing on Market Street is where the Domestic Violence-- it's between 7th and 8th, I think. Yeah.

Q: So he was in the fertilizer? Is that what...

Elizabeth Wright: And that became the fertilizer business, which my father-in-law started. And Tom went in about-- and Mr. Wright Senior had a lot of property, you know, downtown in various-- he was kind of in the real estate business.

Q: He was really a developer. One of the...

Elizabeth Wright: Well, he actually did this.

Q: Winoca Terrace and Carolina House.

Elizabeth Wright: Yes. Well, that's Winoca Terrace, which that house was 15th in...

Q: Now, this is your father-in-law?

Elizabeth Wright: Father-in-law, whom I did not know. He died before we were married. I think he died...

Q: So he was active in the '20s and '30s as a developer, probably? The teens? And what was his name?

Elizabeth Wright: Thomas H. Wright-- Thomas Henry Wright Senior.

Q: Senior.

Elizabeth Wright: And he lived on the corner of 15th and Princess-- no.

Q: Chestnut?

Elizabeth Wright: Chestnut. (inaudible)

Q: Yes. Chestnut.

Elizabeth Wright: Chestnut.

Q: So did your husband continue, then, as a businessperson?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah. He did. But one of the things that I loved; Winoca Terrace, do you know the history behind that? Mr. Wright decided he didn't know what to call it, and he had a contest. And it was some child came up with it. And it was Winoca Terrace, Wilmington North Carolina. So that's how that name came about.

Q: He added the "Terrace" to make it sound classy?

Elizabeth Wright: Classy. Yeah. Exactly. Oh, he might have thought, I know. But they built that house. And it was kind of in the 'burbs at that point. And then, back to Tom, and then he ran the fertilizer company and then he started putting sulfuric acid _______ and a couple of other things. And then it became Wright Corporation. Wright Chemical Corporation. They got out of the fertilizer business, you know, kind of saw the handwriting on the wall and they were always-- they had two or three around here. So that was-- and he did-- I mean, it was a nice little company. Still is. And yes, that was-- preservation was not his livelihood. (laughs) I'll put it that way.

Q: Now, are you associated-- I've heard-- are there restaurants down there? Is that in the family?

Elizabeth Wright: Yes. That's another aspect further down the line. We had this gorgeous property. And as Tom said, nobody ever knew the river ever existed.

Q: Really? What does that mean?

Elizabeth Wright: Well, I mean, everybody was in the 'burbs or went to the beach. But uh.. and nobody did downtown. Well, Tom's office originally was in the Acme building; his father had that, which was the corner of Princess and-- Front. Front and Princess and...

Q: Chestnut.

Elizabeth Wright: Chestnut? Of course, yeah, Princess is "Lawyer Street," and this is Chestnut. Okay.

Q: But when you got here in '59, wasn't downtown...

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Downtown was downtown, but nobody-- but they had all of that area was warehouse, kind of mess and it was all industrial. I know we had the big deal of the urban removal. Huge. I remember having a fierce fight with, I think RV, and I went trying to save the Bayer warehouse. And then...

Q: It was on the _______?

Elizabeth Wright: Uh huh. Oh, said it wasn't noteworthy. Wasn't of architectural significance. I said okay. Then the uhm.. and that was somebody from Atlanta.

Q: Who had come up and...

Elizabeth Wright: Been told he was the great sage. He...

Q: What was his name?

Elizabeth Wright: Could not possibly tell you, nor do I care.

Q: So they brought somebody in to...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah. This thing from the urban removal as we used to call it, telling, you know, just...

Q: It's pretty ironic to have somebody from Atlanta, which was not the-- in fact, I shouldn't put this on the record, but...

Elizabeth Wright: You can edit it.

Q: Well, I lived in Atlanta for a few years, and I was always worried with my name being Sherman.

Elizabeth Wright: (laughter) Justifiably.

Q: So I would tell them my middle name was Lee, which it is. So it would be S. Lee Hayes. But then they would say to me; "Don't worry. We've gotten over Sherman. We consider him the father of urban renewal because he burned what was a pretty lousy town and they got to start over." Well, when you think about it, they started over in 1860 something, and Wilmington had been on the map for a long time. So I mean, I'm just saying that it's ironic...

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: ...that somebody from Atlanta.

Elizabeth Wright: Come tell us-- well, they were the gurus; they knew everything.

Q: Yeah. But they're a very, very young city in a sense, because Sherman...

Elizabeth Wright: Decimated everything.

Q: Leveled it. You know, and it wasn't high-brow, it was just a crossroads.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: Where Wilmington-- what do you date it, Janet? I mean, weren't we talking about 17 whatever, right? Established in 1740. Yeah. So I mean, we should be proud of that. So I'm sorry...

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. What's the date on the Cameron-Dixon House? It's...

Q: 1770, I think.

Elizabeth Wright: '70. Yeah. Because it was part of the revolution.

Q: Yeah. But the date on your house...

Elizabeth Wright: 1740.

Q: (inaudible) 1738 it was last...

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Last go around.

Q: One of your houses is 1738.

Elizabeth Wright: The Anderson House.

Q: She owns the oldest house in Wilmington. Wow. She owns the building now. Wow. (inaudible)

Elizabeth Wright: That's the one that we started with.

Q: The corner one. Now, I do think that at the time you were talking in the preservation movement, the warehouses, the commercial wasn't held up as a-- as something you should always keep. That's a more recent, wouldn't you say?

Elizabeth Wright: No. Well, I think Joe Reeves [ph?] and that, which I was going to get into...

Q: Go ahead.

Elizabeth Wright: My mind's gone.

Q: Malmary? [ph?]

Elizabeth Wright: Malmary. Uh.. they had the foresight to do uh.. and of course I adore that building with the round, with Beurs brick. Uh.. they had the foresight to take what is now the Cotton Exchange and they put all those pieces together. And started that, which was...

Q: Snatched it from the jaws of the demolition people.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah. Of the wrecking ball; of the house wrecker; R-E-C-K-E-R.


Elizabeth Wright: And then uh.. Tom and I were interested in obviously the river and started Chandler's Wharf. And, well, there wasn't really anything down there. And we moved in two houses and built what is now Elijah's as a warehouse. And it had originally been kind of naval stores and... what do you call barrel people?

Q: Coopers?

Elizabeth Wright: Coopers. Uhm.. and actually, the house that The Pilot House is in, he-- the person-- that was on...I can't remember. No. Either Dawson or-- anyway, the Craig House. He has actually been a cooper.

Q: So you physically moved those two buildings now?

Elizabeth Wright: We moved three.

Q: And how-- tell us-- when you say move it, what was the mechanics of that? I mean, I...

Elizabeth Wright: Major.

Q: Yeah. Major.

Elizabeth Wright: Really the main one that was such ado was one that came from Orange, which is now that Scott Rose [ph?] is in, and Rosanna Price's office. The two-story. Because they had to cut that in two.

Q: Well, I can't even visualize going down that hill.

Elizabeth Wright: It was a major undertaking.

Q: This was with a big truck?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: A big dump truck and chains and all that?

Elizabeth Wright: All that-- men moving all the stoplights and the whole to-do.

Q: Now, Chandler's Wharf was already existing or was that new?

Elizabeth Wright: No.

Q: You built that new or...?

Elizabeth Wright: It was-- that's what I'm saying. We moved in three houses and we actually physically built what is now Elijah's Restaurant. It started out as being the ships museum, and we had brought in a Nova Scotia schooner, which, poor baby, I mean, that kind of went into disrepair. And uh..

Q: John Taxes [ph?].

Elizabeth Wright: The Taxes.

Q: There was another vessel I can't remember.

Elizabeth Wright: There were two, because there was a oyster boat from Chesapeake.

Q: Now, was the brick on that drive there original or did you create that?

Elizabeth Wright: Thereby hangs a tale.

Q: Okay. Let's hear that tale.

Elizabeth Wright: A long tale.


Elizabeth Wright: The railroad tracks were there, that had been a dreadful old tin trailer that was there. I mean, it was a wreck. It was horrible, that property. And uh.. but the railroad tracks were there. And uh.. up at Almont Shipping, there were these wonderful cobblestones, or ballasts as the case may be. Stones that-- William Bean Tom's [ph?] brother-in-law owned Almont at that point and gave us these wonderful ballast stones when we were doing Chandler's Wharf. And we had them all laid down. Well, the city, in their infinite wisdom, decided it was theirs. We had dug them up from somewhere, according to them. And it was a major fight. So I mean, they were all laid. So Tom...

Q: What do you mean, it was theirs? They were going to take claim to the street now?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah. Yeah. They're gonna-- no, no. We had dug up some of the city's due. Well, we hadn't done it at all. And they were so busy covering up everything anyway, you come up with _______ man up there with a shotgun on the call of dark in a second.


Elizabeth Wright: They were paving over the ballast stones and the brick streets, the heap was having a fit. But the city claimed these were theirs. So Tom said to heck with it, and dug them all up and had them dumped at the city. And then they decided, in their infinite wisdom that no, wasn't. So we had to go reverse the process and put them all back.

Q: With no compensation?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh heavens no. Heaven knows, no.

Q: Well, what was that about?

Elizabeth Wright: Bureaucracy. Who knows what it was about. And so then we did warehouse B, the thing across the street. Longley Supply, and you talk about awful. That parking lot was nothing but a storage place for Longley's pipes and mess. But that warehouse, when we were working on it, you dig down and the turpentine, the smell was unreal. And big rosined things like this. Because it had been naval stores.

Q: So that was sort of their dumping ground.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. When they were, you know, doing.

Q: For the remnants, I guess.

Elizabeth Wright: Remnants. So that was that. And so then we had two anchors.

Q: Well, they had some trouble in that whole area with uh.., you know, that embankment. Did you have to do a lot? I mean, yours has that too. Did you have to do a lot of uhm.. anchoring and buildup?

Elizabeth Wright: Just don't get started on that; who owns what and why. That's a big-- just-- that's...

Q: Okay. And this was very stable, I mean, that's what I'm saying.

Elizabeth Wright: That was as it was, and it had been for hundreds of years. And-- especially behind Mark River's [ph?] house, that whole area. _______ and then that-- the people who bought Thomas' house after one of the hurricanes they collected the money because the floor was damaged, but it was their property. And then they had a little problem later on, and then it miraculously became our property. So it's very-- you don't want to get into that.

Q: Alright.


Q: It's an ongoing story.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, it's a never-ending saga. But anyway, so Tom and I did that.

Q: When did you do Chandler's Wharf?

Elizabeth Wright: Let's see; Ellie, poor Elle went up to St. Tim's [ph?], because that's when I opened the shop; the year before that she graduated. And, I have to stop to count-- she's 30 years. I had her when I was 30. Let me see. I grad-- she graduated in '85 from high school. And she was there. So it must have been the '80s; early '80s. '79...

Q: And then, between Chandler's Wharf-- so you made this into a wonderful destination, right? But that next two or three blocks was still pretty raw up to the city, right? There hadn't been any...

Elizabeth Wright: No. Because Wilmington Ironworks was there. And then they had that great explosion where that huge thing took off and launched itself up on Front Street. And then we ended up getting that and bought the old office building. And then recreated it right behind, well, actually kind of behind Elijah's. And then when all that wall fell, it fell, and so it's not really built. But it was nothing. And you could shoot a gun off and not hit anybody. Except uh.. those dumpster people and, you know, the...

Q: Did you do the restaurants fairly early then, as kind of the traffic generator, or...

Elizabeth Wright: The Pilot House was the first. And I-- _______ was _______ and got in business over a martini one night. I told Tom, I said, well, it's great we got all these buildings, but what are you going to put in them? I said I think what you need is a first-class shop. And that started the Brass Lighter [ph?] and I had as much idea about doing a shop as I would about having-- doing nuclear fission, you know. Just hopeless. So fools rush in where angels have tread, and start-- but we started the Pilot House and kind of modeled it on a wonderful sandwich place and kind of quick lunch place at Hilton Head called Sydney's [ph?]. And where you went in and got a sandwich, you went from-- and then the back porch. We had that all laid, which is now part of the dining room. And there was a little bar.

Q: So it wasn't high-end? I mean, now I would consider it a high-end restaurant.

Elizabeth Wright: Well, it became...

Q: Fairly quickly?

Elizabeth Wright: No. That's-- that kind of evolved.

Q: Okay.

Elizabeth Wright: And the museum was a bust, and...

Q: What was this? What was the museum?

Elizabeth Wright: Where Elijah's is. That started as a kind of...

Q: Private museum?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Naval thing. We had ships and...

Q: Maritime.

Elizabeth Wright: Maritime, thank you. I couldn't come up with...

Q: What happened to the stuff when it...

Elizabeth Wright: Part of it has been given to different places.

Q: Oh, good. So it still was collected, I mean, still useful.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: And some of it is still in the restaurant. Well, that's good. I don't know, did you bring some home? I mean, Tom was such a collector of maritime...

Elizabeth Wright: No. Paintings... no. Those I had, I mean, was-- that wasn't a part of that.

Q: And the building right across from Elijah's; was that one of the ones you brought in? That two-- that's the two-story?

Elizabeth Wright: The two-story one, yes.

Q: That's a dental building. What date; what do you think that dates out of? Post-Civil War a little bit or? Some Civil-- it could be from 1840 to 1880.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. I mean, it's in that area. It was on Orange, I think. Seven-- in a terrible neighborhood and it was going to wrack and ruin.

Q: That's great.

Elizabeth Wright: And we bought that and moved it.

Q: And then the question I always wondered, and it does well is; why two restaurants?

Elizabeth Wright: One is good, two are better.


Q: Because they both do well.

Elizabeth Wright: They're two totally different entities. One is more, say, far more-- I would say the Pilot House is kind of ladies' lunch, whereas I think Elijah's is more swinging too, at night. I think it's more of a bar scene.

Q: Okay.

Elizabeth Wright: But good, family food and what have you. And I think the greatest thing has been to have them on the river walk.

Q: Oh yes. Well, let's talk about that a little bit. Do you feel good about that? That extra dock and all of the things...

Elizabeth Wright: I was a little leery of-- well, you know, how it was done. You know, how it was going to be done.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: But I think it's a wonderful asset.

Q: Yeah. It really ties it together. It amazes me that through 20 years of various city administrations, the river walk has been a focus, and that they've added on to it and continued the thing. I mean, nothing around here lasts that long.

Elizabeth Wright: No. No. No.

Q: No city project lasts that long.

Elizabeth Wright: No. It really hasn't.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: And it's uh...

Q: It's good, I think.

Elizabeth Wright: It really has been good.

Q: And I think it helps your properties. I don't know if they're still your properties or not.

Elizabeth Wright: It belongs-- no, to my children.

Q: To your children, okay. Because...

Elizabeth Wright: Our children, I should say.

Q: ...there are people who would come down there for the walk who wouldn't realize the interesting things that were down at that end. If you have to drive through that maze of streets and so forth. But they might wander down there. So...

Elizabeth Wright: You know, I think the greatest thing that happened was uh.. what-- Riverfest. Because it brought people down. Nobody ever knew the river existed. Really. And you had the Azalea Festival and you had all the hordes, but that was two blocks away from the river.

Q: Much further down, yeah.

Elizabeth Wright: And in the early days, we had those wonderful raft races, which were a hoot.

Q: The what races?

Elizabeth Wright: Raft races. People from all over would-- Catawba [ph?] was the big winner. Oh yeah. Big time. On several occasions. But they would have different rafts, and they-- of course, they have to predicate it all on the tide of the river.

Q: Right. So they were homemade boats of sort. And there was no uhm.. mechanical involved?

Elizabeth Wright: No. It all-- I mean, no motor.

Q: Could it have a sail or not? Yeah. You could have a sail, but you had to have the human power.

Elizabeth Wright: You could have paddles or what have you. There were some of the most remarkable craft you've ever seen.


Q: Was it just an excuse to drink? No.

Elizabeth Wright: The whole raison d'etre for the Riverfest was, no, not to drink, but I think the raft race got a little involved in that, truth be known.


Q: You know, at one time there was a-- to buttress what you said about people basically turning their backs on the river, there was a plan to run a high-speed highway...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yes.

Q: ...between-- on the riverfront parallel to the river. On the other side. On the parkway; on the Wilmington side. On the Wilmington side. And that's the degree to which, at least some of these planners had no regard for the river, unfortunately. Well, right now, they're talking about, you know, increasing the boat traffic and so forth. Was there any recreational boat traffic at all down to your place? Nobody was coming in?

Elizabeth Wright: Mm-hmm. Now, we did have a dock. And we did occasionally have somebody come, you know, would come, you know, tie up and have lunch or have dinner.

Q: The exception, not the rule. Because at Southport, that is it Provision restaurant or something like that? It's right on the edge. And literally has 10, 15, 20, 30 people pulling up.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, it's like the docks out at the beach.

Q: Yeah. And I don't know, I guess the river isn't really a recreational place.

Elizabeth Wright: Well, it is really, truly a far-- well, there are, number one, no marinas to start out with, which there are going to be, I understand. But it's a long haul from Wrightsville Beach or Carolina Beach to go to-- you have to go through Snow's Cut and then up the river. That's a big, long...

Q: Six, seven miles. Yeah. That's-- people...

Elizabeth Wright: It's a little bit longer than that.

Q: Is that even-- didn't Thomas have some sort of rowing club?

Elizabeth Wright: It was a rowing club. It wasn't-- I mean, we let them have it.

Q: I see.

Elizabeth Wright: Put their clubhouse on that property.

Q: How long was the museum at Chandler's Wharf?

Elizabeth Wright: God, I knew you were going to ask me that; I could not possibly tell you.

Q: It wasn't all that long. I mean, maybe five years.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: Now, what about your shop, though? How long did it go?

Elizabeth Wright: It went for a while. Then I opened another shop in warehouse B, which was the Saucepan. And I sold the Brass Lantern to Ernie, who was the manager. And it kind of-- then he in turn sold it. And it kind of went down. And when-- after Tom died and I started having grandchildren, I decided time for me to get out of business. So I ceased and desist.

Q: But that sounds like you were in there for what, 20 years doing everything?

Elizabeth Wright: I guess. It was a right long time.

Q: It wasn't-- you weren't dabbling if it was that long. That's what I'm saying.

Elizabeth Wright: Well, let's see; Thomas is seven. So I ceased and desisted and that's seven years ago. So that would be, what? '97 I guess. And uh.. but I guess I've had those for-- what would it be? '80 something; '81?

Q: Yeah. 16 years.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: And you were the day-to-day manager type person?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh lord no. I had managers. No. I just got in their hair.


Elizabeth Wright: Did the buying and worked and got in their hair.

Q: I want to go back to some of the buildings that you had saved-- the two of you had saved. Uhm.. I mean, I can remember RV Asbury, the director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, I think probably even before he had that position would tell me that certain buildings-- some building had been condemned. And he took the condemnation slip off and put it to Tom and said, "You got to buy this building." And, I mean, you had your own personal revolving fund.

Elizabeth Wright: Fund. We did. We did.

Q: Do you have any idea how many buildings?

Elizabeth Wright: I'm just looking at this list. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20-some-odd, I think, buildings.

Q: And you have three left...

Elizabeth Wright: Yes. Yes.

Q: this venue of older houses?

Elizabeth Wright: Yes.

Q: Not the property that we're talking about your kids have, which is a-- you would consider more of a commercial.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But no, of this...

Q: And all of these are the type that have the, now, the plaque on the side and...

Elizabeth Wright: Pretty much.

Q: So that...

Elizabeth Wright: 206 Orange was the Fanning [ph?] House, and I remember that.

Q: (inaudible)

Elizabeth Wright: Okay.

Q: That great tall, white...

Elizabeth Wright: I had forgotten we ever bought that.

Q: Well, you were surrounded a lot by Saint John's. Did you ever get pulled into any of that?

Elizabeth Wright: We were like right here from the beginning on that.

Q: Yeah. To help with the-- was it the art folks? Because it was an active...

Elizabeth Wright: Active gallery. Used to be, it was at Post Office Alley, which was a building that Tom owned. And it really was right between the post office and Woolworth's or whatever it was in that cute little thing. And it went from the _______ and what have you, moved from there into Saint John's. And uh.., the McCoys.

Q: I think there was some-- Henry Bacon McCoy bought the...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, he had that for years.

Q: And what was-- was Saint John's, was it a Masonic...

Elizabeth Wright: Masonic temple.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: It wasn't really a church. I mean, we need to make that clear...

Elizabeth Wright: No. No.

Q: ...because Saint John's implies, you know...

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. It does sound as though...

Q: Yeah. It's a Masonic lodge building. A person that I don't know anything about and maybe you had crossed paths with was an art teacher-- history teacher named Emma Lawson [ph?]. Do you know her at all? No? She was, I think, one of the lesser ones. Okay.

Elizabeth Wright: (inaudible)

Q: Well, no, she taught high school, and they give her credit as introducing art for the first time. And in that period was involved in Saint John's. That was all I was saying. I mean, she was a painter, teacher.

Elizabeth Wright: I don't remember her as being such a guiding light in that movement.

Q: Okay.

Elizabeth Wright: No.

Q: Well, Claude Howell's history had her as active, is all. That's where I was coming from. He must have been feeling very generous.


Elizabeth Wright: Oh, speaking of Claude Howell made me think of: Tom's father built with William Clive, I think, one of the Clive-- William Ryan Kenan, _______. Uhm.. the Carolina Apartments on the corner of Fifth and Market.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: So that goes back...

Q: Next to the fountain.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Yeah. And one of the funniest stories, I promise you, and you can tell that this might be edited out, telephone rang about 2 am one morning and this unmistakable voice, "Is Tom there?" I said "Claude, yeah he is, but he's asleep. May I take a message?" "No. I would like to speak to him." So I put Tom on. And there was a character who had a slight drinking problem, and she would get in the sauce and periodically overflow her bathtub. And it would drip down and Claude and his mother lived below. And he says "Minnie is at it again."


Elizabeth Wright: So I told him, I said "Well what am I supposed to do about it at 2 am or 3 am or whatever?"

Q: And you were the landlord, is that it?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, and we did have 'em, anyway. So first we got Minnie Payne [ph?] moved to the first floor.


Q: Go to the root of the problem.

Elizabeth Wright: She was triple-A lady. So I mean-- there's some hysterical things that go on.


Q: But Saint John's; Tom was president of that?

Elizabeth Wright: Yes, President. And I was on the board for, gosh it was for-- and we used to sweep the floors and hang the exhibits and do the whole thing. And they got big time and got the Cowen [ph?] House. And then the-- well, it was a Greek church that was on the corner.

Q: That's right. Well, another one that uh.. I didn't know because I've been so recently was a character there was Hester Donald [ph?].

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, Hester was wonderful.

Q: Yeah.

Elizabeth Wright: Now, she kept-- she was one of the ones that came from Post Office Alley.

Q: Right. Right. And was education director for years and years, that kind of-- she taught painting.

Elizabeth Wright: She taught painting, and she was a character.

Q: Yeah. That's what I've heard. Gravelly voice.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah, very deep. And she never was without a cigarette.

Q: Which explains the voice, perhaps.

Elizabeth Wright: Exactly. And a hat. Always had a hat of some variety.

Q: Beret or something.

Elizabeth Wright: Mm-hmm.

Q: Well, that's great. We have several of her artworks, which we are really pleased, because we feel like she's historic in that development. You know, now, you see the accomplished, finished museum.

Elizabeth Wright: I know.

Q: And you act as if it just happened, but it doesn't happen.

Elizabeth Wright: It didn't just happen. I was fascinated. It took me back a long way when I went to the dedication of the _______ wing, and seeing Hester and the paintings that Hester gave to the museum; to Saint John's, which was-- that was a fond era. Really and truly; that whole...

Q: So you were on the board, and your husband was chairman of the...

Elizabeth Wright: Well, I mean, off and on. I mean, I was on...

Q: And that was just a volunteer group trying to keep art going, right? I mean, that's all it was?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah.

Q: It wasn't making any money? It wasn't...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh lord no. Money? What was that?

Q: So did you work with Minnie Evans [ph?], I mean, that whole era?

Elizabeth Wright: No. Minnie Evans came...

Q: Later? A little later?

Elizabeth Wright: Later. And she came to _______. Anne Bell [ph?] came, remember? And Betty Lowe [ph?]. I mean, there were a lot of us. And Edie Merrill [ph?]. Made some great plans...

Q: Eloise Bethel? Did you ever know Eloise? That name?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. I knew that name. Yeah.

Q: She left in the '40s; fascinating lady. She was an artist. And became a runway model in New York. And lived all over. And then moved back here towards the end of her life for 20 years. So she had left, so I think it was a little before that time. But I did...

Elizabeth Wright: Tom knew her.

Q: Did he? Yeah. She just recently, I think just recently died. But we-- interesting period of art, because it's a very small town. I mean, a small town in the sense of art, right? And you guys felt like you were trying to build it up. So it wasn't like now, when there's-- it seems like there's thousands of you.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, I know it. I know it.

Q: For the-- I've lost my thought. Houses; you're back to houses. Well, I was thinking you-- off in my context. And maybe you can tell us something about what downtown was like when you were buying these places. Yeah. That's good to see. I mean, I think my impression is...

Elizabeth Wright: Yes. There was Front street. There was Princess Street. There was Chestnut Street. I mean, we had La Mode there, and _______ was on Front. And these were the clothes, I mean where ladies went to buy clothes. The Wonder Shoppe [ph?] was down there, and uh.. all the law offices. And from Front Street to Third Street, and there was Poor, pitiful Thalian Hall, which was back to-- nobody really went downtown unless you had to go see your lawyer or you went...

Q: And this is, you're saying, in the 1960s even?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: So because...

Elizabeth Wright: And you didn't go downtown to eat.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: There was that lovely _______ run, which was...

Q: So the deterioration really started in the mid-50s, then, when the railroad went out. Was that when the...

Elizabeth Wright: The railroad went out in the '60s.

Q: The '60s, okay.

Elizabeth Wright: Because it was-- we still had Santa Claus coming to town on the train.

Q: I was thinking of the headquarters moving...

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Well, that's what I meant. And it was-- I remember taking the children, so I'm going to say it was in the '60s when they moved.

Q: Well, I think the first nail in the coffin was after World War II, when people were fleeing to the suburbs in terms of their living quarters. And then the railroad headquarters leaving town for Jacksonville was sort of the final blow.

Elizabeth Wright: That was the end of the-- blow.

Q: The interview today, and oh by the way, I never did mention my name is Sherman Hayes, I don't think we have that on here. Did you get that? Okay. Uh.. you're-- this house is situated on the...

Elizabeth Wright: Cape Fear.

Q: ...Wilmington Country Club...

Elizabeth Wright: Cape Fear Country Club.

Q: Cape Fear Country Club. Was this here in 1960?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh lord, yes.

Q: Okay. So this is a...

Elizabeth Wright: Well, actually, Cape Fear Country Club Golf Course went across Oleander Drive. And there was, of course, continued over there.

Q: Okay. So it's even bigger?

Elizabeth Wright: Well, it was different format.

Q: This house; what time period would this be?

Elizabeth Wright: Built in '56. '50s; late '50s.

Q: This was considered still kind of out from town, right? I mean, was this a-- or was this starting to be considered you know, part of the main body of Wilmington?

Elizabeth Wright: Well, it's kind of main body, because you had Forest Hills, which was...

Q: Forest Hills, that's right.

Elizabeth Wright: ...there. And then _______ Parkway, that part of thing was fairly. I mean, that was pretty much established.

Q: Right. And then just up the road is the big mall, so what's that...

Elizabeth Wright: I remember when that got done I nearly died. We used to have Howard Johnson's where the, as my children call it-- grandchildren call it, "Chick-De-Lay."


Q: Howard Johnson?

Elizabeth Wright: And I remember when all these trees got cut down it just broke my heart. On where the shopping center is.

Q: You know, just before and during World War II, there was a small, private airfield right there.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Q: Isn't that interesting? That just-- and this road was just a two- two-lane.

Elizabeth Wright: Two-lane.

Q: But a pretty busy road there with Forest Hills and this development in the '60s.

Elizabeth Wright: I-- it was four-lane. I had a basset hound, or we had a basset hound named Columbus, hence the name for this up here; Columbus Circle. Because the dog wandered all over the hillside...


Elizabeth Wright: Started-- he'd get across three lanes of Oleander and just get tired. And just plop.

Q: Oh my goodness.

Elizabeth Wright: So that was in the early '60s. So I mean, he wouldn't make it across the first lane now.


Elizabeth Wright: And I-- some friend of mine came, said she was going to the hairdresser, said "Did you let Columbus out?" And I said, "Why?" She said, "He's sitting in the middle of Oleander." And thought "Oh God." So I had to go get him. Oh, he was sitting over there at the country club.

Q: That's funny.

Elizabeth Wright: That's...

Q: And you moved here fairly early then?

Elizabeth Wright: '59.

Q: '59. You had mentioned Thalian Hall, and I remember you being on the board of Thalian Hall when it sort of had it's first...

Elizabeth Wright: First.

Q: ...revival of the late 20th century in, what was it? '76?

Elizabeth Wright: '76 was the fine one. The-- that's the one-- no, not when the Grand-- then was-- yeah. '76. But it was started prior to that. And it was when we had the fire.

Q: The fire. Right.

Elizabeth Wright: And that was fascinating. Then we got into a big fracas about-- I thought, what is it? You know, looking out the blinds and then something didn't seem right. And that's-- and my friend Al Honeycutt up at-- I said, "Al, I think you better get down here." And he said "Why?" And I said "I think we're going to have a concrete floor in Thalian Hall." And he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Get down here." And it was. It was going to be redone. And the beauty of Thalian Hall its acoustics and of course, if you start monkeying around with...

Q: Concrete is terrible.

Elizabeth Wright: ...concrete and things. So we had a little ado about that.

Q: Of course, the WPA had...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, they...

Q: Concrete stage.

Elizabeth Wright: That was horrible. Well, you know something interesting. We're talking about interest in preservation. Mr. Wright Senior uh.. during that era, I think the WPA, they decided that Thalian Hall was unsound. And that it should be torn down.

Q: Oh my goodness.

Elizabeth Wright: And Mr. Wright paid out of his own pocket, Perry, Shaw and Hepburn to come down here and do a structural survey.

Q: They were the architects for Williamsburg. Oh, good. And they said it was solid and it was good.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yes. Oh yes. A little bit more so. But it think it was so fascinating that-- when they were doing Ford's Theater, which had been totally gutted, they came down here and did measured drawings and what have you, of Thalian Hall.

Q: Really?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah.

Q: Because it was based on...

Elizabeth Wright: Well, it was the same era, and was-- Post...

Q: Post was the supervising architect, but James Trimble was the theater architect.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: I don't know that he had anything to do with the Ford Theater.

Elizabeth Wright: That's what I couldn't remember.

Q: Ford once managed Thalian Hall.

Elizabeth Wright: Okay. Okay.

Q: So there was that sort of connection. You go to Ford's Theater now, and you just-- you feel right at home. You feel like you're sitting in Thalian Hall. That's interesting. That's good. I don't think people know that. That would be a-- now, they didn't have anything to do with John Wilkes Booth at all.

Elizabeth Wright: No, no. No, no. But it's just the...

Q: Era.

Elizabeth Wright: Era, and the uh.. well, it was all, you know, the balcony-- the slave balcony, the next balcony and the proscenium arch and the boxes. And it's all similar.

Q: That's great.

Elizabeth Wright: But I did not-- I had forgot being I did know it, but had not realized it at the time that that had been completely gutted. I mean, it wasn't even a theater. It made no pretense of being a theater.

Q: Actually, I believe they made it into an office building. The floor collapsed and killed some people in the process.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: They really were working with virtually nothing.

Elizabeth Wright: Shale.

Q: What's fascinating is that the fight for preservation is always there and we should be grateful for every generation that saves some good things, because where would we be without Thalian Hall? I mean, just...

Elizabeth Wright: Well, I know. And it's such a part of-- the integral part of...

Q: And it makes a huge difference to the inflow of immigrants and retirees and so forth. All the events and wonderful things. But it's the Hall. You could have some big monster popular thing down there and it's not the same thing. Not the same thing.

Elizabeth Wright: Doesn't have the ambiance, doesn't have the feel, nothing. But uh.. the Junior League did get in on that, I'll have to admit. Because they paid for uh.. a lot of the study and the what have you. And it was during that time when we had the fire and that's what gave us the big impetus to do-- I know we had the Follies on several occasions, which was a stage of star, screen and what have you. But that I consider as one of the major coups of getting that done.

(tape change)

(crew talk)

Q: I'm interviewing Elizabeth Labouisse Wright, Mrs. Thomas Wright, Jr. I am Janet Seapker and Sherman Hayes is operating the camera. He's the librarian for UNCW.

Q: UNCW. Where do you do now, are you saying preservation consultant, is that kind of what you're--

Q: Oh, it depends what I'm up to.

Q: Okay.

Q: I can be a museum consultant, a historian, a preservation consultant, architectural consultant...

Q: And you also are doing the-- helping groups that come through.

Q: I do receptive tour services.

Q: Receptive tour services.

Q: Uh huh, we receive people who are coming in groups and find their itineraries.

Q: Interesting. And I would guess that the work that Elizabeth has done with houses is making your life easier that you have some product to show and some things to--

Q: Well, that's-- that's what got me on this track because I mentioned yesterday I like to send people to the Cotton Exchange because it's close to bus parking. You know, if you've got a bus group, you've got a choice of three or four restaurants where the bus parks, and then find out the other preservation records in town, and certainly the Wrights were lynchpins in the residential especially, the residential area.

Q: Do a lot of your groups still-- Pilot House and that area is probably a popular area to go to.

Q: Some of them do, uh huh.

Q: Now that was a question I was going to ask you, Elizabeth is the--

Elizabeth Wright: Excuse me, go ahead.

Q: We're back so you're-- when did you feel that tourism became, you know, a major, major factor in your restaurants and so forth and so on? When they started up it sounded like it was more local. When I see that now that's a destination. I mean the tourists really walk to that area.

Elizabeth Wright: Not too long after-- Well, when it first happened, it was so funny because we had uhm...I don't know if I even ought to tell the top of this story but anyway--

Q: Be careful.

Elizabeth Wright: Had the county fathers and city fathers down when we were opening the Pilot House and we were on the uh...deck and it was almost as though we had punched a button and this huge tanker went up. It wasn't a tanker but a freighter went up, brother just on key. But uh...I don't think half the city fathers knew uh...or county fathers knew what was going on. But back to what your question was, we had Carl Humelsine came down who was a great friend of uh...subsequently became a great friend of ours. He was head of uh...Colonial Williamsburg.

Q: Oh.

Elizabeth Wright: And, but it was all as a result of David Brinkley, who had been here and then David-- RV had gotten him down to speak the Historic Wilmington Foundation and that started a friendship between the Brinkleys and us. And through David who was on the board at Williamsburg we would go up to some of the-- they had kind of very posh kind of meetings and they asked us to go be their guests and we got to know Carl. And Carl came down and stayed at the beach and what have you and we went-- we went through the museum and he was kind of doing a study about tourism in it and that was in the-- shortly after uh...after it opened up, I'll say a year or two. And then I would say that's when it really kind of became a destination.

Q: Well you also were involved with establishing the Historic Wilmington tour.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah.

Q: Which was the Erwin-Wright House, Thalian Hall, the GovDud...

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, uh, the GovDud...the uh...Latimer, Latimer--

Q: Wait. GovDud?

Elizabeth Wright: Governor Dudley.

Q: Thank you. Governor Dudley Mansion. I knew what it was, but anyone listening is going to go (inaudible) what was-- and what was the last one?

Elizabeth Wright: The Latimer.

Q: Oh, Latimer.

Q: And at some point St. John's was on it, but I think they dropped out fairly early on, but this was sort of a combination ticket.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: I'm trying to remember the year we did that. I mean it was a major undertaking and I remember we got the signs all up, you remember, the sailboat with the (inaudible).

Q: It was the mid-- I think it was the mid-'70s and I believe Tom may have paid-- or you and Tom may have paid for a study that was done, and every once in a while I come across it but it was a tourism study and it recommended that these kinds of things be put in place. I cannot remember that man's name.

Elizabeth Wright: I can't either.

Q: McCaskey, Tom McCaskey.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah, McCaskey, I remember that.

Q: And I think he was from Williamsburg.

Elizabeth Wright: He was from Williamsburg and he sat on the front porch, sitting in that house rocking and watching the people, and it was through Carl that we got Tom McCaskey. Thank you for coming up with that name.

Q: So you actually did serious work to try to see if that made sense?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: And now look at the foundation. I mean historic touring is pivotal to us. I mean why else, you know, I think to come here.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, it is. It's a whole raison d'etre for a lot of the businesses that have opened up.

Q: Right.

Q: We were told, I guess shortly after I came here as a museum director they had a tourism study funded by the state, and the woman said, "Hype the historic district and the beach. You've got those two."

Q: Yeah.

Q: Not competing forces but complementary forces.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah, in fact, in business we always laughed and said, "Please pray for rain..."

Q: Exactly.

Elizabeth Wright: "...during the beach season," so it would bring people in.

Q: I'm afraid you're right though. But if you think of a tourist coming in uh...every place has a mall. Every place has suburbia. It doesn't mean that ours isn't good and that those attract a certain vein.

Elizabeth Wright: But it's a different-- it may not be--

Q: How many people have a city that started in 1740 and then, of course---

Elizabeth Wright: Of course the ambiance, and...

Q: Yeah. I mean it was definitely a factor when I moved here. Uh...I could say to my wife, "We'd be very happy to have, you know, a Wal-Mart but also we have a downtown." I mean, you know, I knew I could get to Wal-Mart but I was excited that we had a downtown. And when visitors come that's another thing you know how that-- you must have that as people over the years came to visit, you know. You can only go to the mall so often. There's a--

Elizabeth Wright: I'm not exactly going to take my good buddies to the mall, thank you. I've been to one Wal-Mart, you've been to them all.

Q: That's right.

Elizabeth Wright: You don't need to do it.

Q: Yeah.

Elizabeth Wright: Uh...I think I've seen, well I think there were three or four of us that left, got dis-- I don't know, disenchanted with the shop business and we kind of, three of us, and it kind of changed the raison d'etre or the ambiance of Chandler's Wharf, I think.

Q: Yeah, and it's a hard business to be a small shop owner isn't it?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh Lord, today would you look where I'm thinking about the kitchen shop _______ when you look at that Williams-Sonoma. You've got this. You've got that. And it's--

Q: It's difficult.

Elizabeth Wright: Well and you've got Bed, Bath & Beyond and they buy, you know, in such huge quantities.

Q: Now do you know any of the, I mean I was going to tell you about one of the shops in Chandler's Wharf that I really like but it just shows you how hard it is. The lady who is from Hawaii is doing a great job but I mean that's just all day long and she can't hire too many workers because then your, you know, your profits are gone and so forth and very dependent on the tourist traffic and Christmas, right?

Elizabeth Wright: Overhead. Oh, yeah.

Q: Was that always the case, Christmas was always...?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah, oh yeah. We had a lot of business then.

Q: Yeah. I think that's everywhere.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah.

Q: Yeah. And what about the festival, you mentioned Riverfest?

Elizabeth Wright: Riverfest.

Q: Is that a fairly recent phenomena?

Elizabeth Wright: No. No, that was DARE. It started out as DARE, Downtown Area Revitalization Effort.

Q: Yeah.

Elizabeth Wright: Is that correct?

Q: Yes.

Elizabeth Wright: Now it is--

Q: Wilmington Downtown.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah, but it really tried to get people to come down and then, as we spoke earlier, making people aware.

Q: Now did you ever work with Dane Carpenter [ph?] and uh...Hugh MacRae with the know ships from England coming in and all that because that would have been a traffic pattern.

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah. Well, I didn't work for them. We did a matter of fact, that very attractive Brit who rings me on the telephone periodically after hurricanes, but not (inaudible). He wasn't with me. I haven't been urged recently to partake of any of that. But they did come and we used to uh...have a group of them to come down to the beach, spend the day and whatever, and became great friends.

Q: That's great.

Elizabeth Wright: When Bristol came and there was this delightful ______. I don't know how many times he's been married but ooh, I can understand why. But anyway, after was Fran, I guess it was, telephone line and it was just kind of (inaudible).

Q: Interesting.

Elizabeth Wright: Who rang up to see if uh...we managed to stay alive and we're still here. And then he called me not too long ago after this last bit, but came and stayed with me.

Q: That's great.

Elizabeth Wright: So I mean--


Q: Bristol was that--

Elizabeth Wright: The Bristol was it.

Q: The one that was such a favorite.

Elizabeth Wright: Uh huh, uh huh.

Q: And I'm trying-- oh, the ship was called the--

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah, the Bristol.

Q: Bristol. Well I'm just thinking of other techniques to try to keep the river and the waterfront alive. I mean you all must have brainstormed about that all the time, right, trying to come up with something that would help that area?

Elizabeth Wright: Not so much we brainstormed on that, it was more kind of saving the bricks and the mortar and that, well the overall ambience I would say, wouldn't you say?

Q: Yeah, in other words get the infrastructure, save the buildings and--

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah to have some truth. Oh, I remember there was a great to-do, one of about 4,975 million studies when they had this brilliant idea, instead of having the grid where the streets were laid out from time immemorial, that they would come and put these cul-de-sacs in the middle of the thing. I thought that was the dumbest thing I have ever heard, you know, one of these urban planners.

Q: Well that's certainly a hallmark of modern suburbia with cul-de-sacs.

Elizabeth Wright: Certainly, I mean but doing it in the downtown area.

Q: No place in the downtown.

Elizabeth Wright: Wrong.

Q: Now what about, which of the buildings did you enjoy the most? Was there one of the ones that you worked with that you just really liked?

Elizabeth Wright: Hogg-Anderson. That was my real love, and uh...Miss Ida and I went and (inaudible), uh...because it had a whole lot of uhm...extra mess and it was uh...I'm trying to come up with the name.

Q: It's been added on.

Elizabeth Wright: Added on, been added but I'm trying to say renovated.

Q: Which was the house, tell me?

Elizabeth Wright: The Hogg-Anderson on Orange Street next to uh...St. John's.

Q: That first, that really oldest, oldest?

Elizabeth Wright: No that was the-- that was the Smith Anderson, then Dr. Anderson's office, then the Hogg-Anderson.

Q: They're all Andersons?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: A white frame building.

Q: Oh, okay, so not the one on the corner.

Elizabeth Wright: And it had been ninety-fied. It had, you know, the porches and the windows had been elongated.

Q: Bay windows and things.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, and a whole lot of extra to-do. Then it became a boarding house and all this to-do and it was dreadful. But like many things today they fixed up, and they modernized from the outside, and they did the first floor and you had a Victorian, major Victorian stairway from the second floor to the first, you know, with the big, heavy banister and the newer posts where you went upstairs and here was this lovely, very delicate _______, so we got in there an started scratching around. And I found, up in the eaves, that fence, a piece of that fence, you know that we've done and so we replicated that. But oh I had a fine time. I was digging and doing in the back.

Q: So you were--

Q: You never had a shop in there, did you?

Elizabeth Wright: No. Betty Lowe [ph?], Betty Lowe did.

Q: So you really physically even helped with all of these things?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah.

Q: Yeah, interesting.

Elizabeth Wright: Because they said--

Q: That's the real fun of it.

Q: It's almost like archaeology isn't it?

Elizabeth Wright: Well it was and that's part of the thing. I had a sieve, you know, one of these great things, and I was digging and throwing the mess up like I knew what I was doing but I did find some, you know, things and I think there was, you know, the ________.

Q: Little bottles and all that kind of thing.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah.

Q: Telling you a lot about the time period.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah, and shards of uh...pottery and china.

Q: The sad part is you hope to find a dump, right.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, I know it. Well speaking of that one of the first things that Leroy Hooks rang up the telephone, "This is Leroy Hooks." And I said, "Well, he's not here right now. May I take a message?" "This is Ms. Wright?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Private line?" I said "Yes." And he said, "There's a bomb at the Anderson House." I said, "A bum?" He said, "Yes, you better get down here." Well I thought, what in the Lord's name am I going to do, and encounter this bum, you know, obviously one of the winos or something, so I went down there. It was a cannonball he found in the back of the Anderson house.

Q: For heaven's sakes.

Elizabeth Wright: That was the "bum."

Q: He called it a bum?

Elizabeth Wright: Bomb.

Q: Oh, B-O-M-B.

Elizabeth Wright: It was a B-O-M-B, a cannonball, and he called it a "bum," and I thought-- and I had visions of a wino sitting down by Ander-- and I didn't know what I was supposed to do.

Q: And this is from a southerner hearing this accent.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Q: I mean this guy-- "a bum."

Elizabeth Wright: "There's a bum." He was a hoot. We could write a whole lot of-- a book about him.

Q: He had--

Q: Now-- oh, go ahead.

Q: He had a place on Second Street, South Second Street where he lived and the uhm...sort of corporate image of that house was this enormous wrecking ball that he had built into the wall in front of the house.

Q: Oh, my goodness.

Q: That was his--

Elizabeth Wright: I think there's white stuff that high.

Q: Uh huh.

Q: And he put a wrecking ball in the middle?

Elizabeth Wright: Uh huh, uh huh.

Q: Right on the--

Q: Well wrecking was his life.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah, r-e-c-k. He had an ongoing battle with Haywood Rowine [ph?].

Q: The building code...

Elizabeth Wright: The building code inspector, I mean I thought they were going to kill each other.

Q: Everybody had an ongoing--

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, we did. We had a major, major do about that because I mean the building code is thus, when you have such a thing like that in the 18th Century. Remember it was crawlspace, a hole, you know, uh...he was just hopeless.

Q: Well he seemed to have a particular disdain for old buildings.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, a major disdain.

Q: So was he trying to force you then up to the 20th Century, was that it?

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah. You have to have-- what am I trying to say, vents or something, you know you have to-- the code says you have them every so many feet. Well these houses didn't have them.

Q: No.

Elizabeth Wright: And you have this pretty brick do, case in point the Hogg-Anderson, and he wanted to put these vents and all this mess in.

Q: Well when did that change because now it seems like it's switched to the other direction meaning that somebody wants to do something inside a little modern and the commission goes "Wait a minute, you've got to go back." When did that shift?

Elizabeth Wright: Well, it's the exterior that the commission did that, you don't have any control over the interior, at least you didn't in my day.

Q: I see.

Elizabeth Wright: I got shaken, physically shaken by an aluminum siding salesman when I was on that board, never forget it if I live to be a million, (inaudible) pulled him up, doesn't deny it, said no and ________ was not appropriate in the district.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: And uhm...

Q: So it's just exterior. I think people don't realize that. It's mainly the exterior.

Elizabeth Wright: The use. Now if you do an extraneous, I don't know what the bit is now, they had so many designated uses and whether you were in a central business or if you were XYZ did have what you could do, I mean whether it could be a bed and breakfast or whether it could be thus and so. But as far as the exterior was concerned that was only--

Q: So he was killing, this inspector was killing you on the interior more than the exterior?

Elizabeth Wright: No, anything.

Q: Anything.

Q: He-- he actually I think would like to have just leveled the entire residential area and the commercial area too probably and start it again because he was just-- just rage around and slap demolition, I mean condemnation notices on--

Elizabeth Wright: Anything.

Q: And that's I think how the Wrights came to own so much property in downtown Wilmington because they were trying to run behind the building code inspector's condemnation notices.

Q: Okay.

Q: It wasn't easy.

Q: Was there-- who were some other-- you know did you spark some other friends to come in with this too?

Elizabeth Wright: I-- my friends, so-called (inaudible) thought we'd lost our fool minds. True story. I would say our immediate crowd was not real-- thought we weren't so smart.

Q: But by the same token, though, I think you and they were most of those friends into becoming members of the Historical Wilmington Foundation and supporting preservation in that aspect.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh yeah, we did.

Q: Yeah and I think you and Tom were critical to the development of that organization.

Elizabeth Wright: But I'll tell you what I thought was so funny and I have tried to get them to do something of this the way we had had it. I don't know if we-- the (inaudible) because I thought that was such a wonderful family and it brought all ages in and it was just fun. He used to have in the back of the Governor Dudley had something called May Fair, and it was during preservation week which is May, yeah. Well nobody on earth is going to do what Mavis Small [ph?] did with those attic treasures, but we had moved.

Q: The boutique and--

Elizabeth Wright: Booths in the back garden. I think we had (whispering) what we did I don't know. We'd have a cocktail cruise on the river on Friday night and then Saturday it would be May Fair and we--

Q: Sunday we'd recuperate.

Elizabeth Wright: It seems to me we had that dumb auction (inaudible).

Q: Well that was the gala, though.

Elizabeth Wright: The gala, but did we do that all in-- or was that another weekend?

Q: I think it was the same.

Q: So what were the booths, were they--

Elizabeth Wright: Well we had food and we'd have face painting for the children and we, you know throw in the ball and dunking somebody and then they had attic treasures which was, I mean they had some good stuff. You had people lined up around the block to come in.

Q: Wow!

Elizabeth Wright: And they had, you know, you could get a really good lunch and then they had a kind of, as she said, Betty's boutique. She had a group of very creative ladies who did painting or did sewing.

Q: Napkins.

Elizabeth Wright: I've got the finest linen naps right now that somebody did.

Q: Uh huh.

Q: And this was all in support of?

Elizabeth Wright: Of the Historic Wilmington Foundation.

Q: That's great.

Elizabeth Wright: But it did two-- it was a two-pronged thing. It brought people down into the area.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: Who wouldn't have come otherwise.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: And we made it-- it's a family thing. Of course there was, you know, they had beer and they had this and they had that but-- and it really was a wonderful, I thought, experience.

Q: Oh (inaudible) longs for May Fair.

Elizabeth Wright: I mean how we did what we did I don't know, but we about killed ourselves. I can see him presiding over those books right now and you sit up there and pray, "Dear God, don't let it rain." I think we only had rain ______ once.

Q: I think so.

Q: How many years did it go on then?

Elizabeth Wright: About eight.

Q: Oh, and art.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, God, I forgot about the art. Yeah, we did that. Now here again with these artists and I've got several, well not any anymore, but elsewhere. Uhm...different artists would have paintings and what have you.

Q: Good.

Q: Sam did some kind of birds-eye view of Nun Street, actually, took it back to Raleigh, hung it up and I think the painting was just simply unhappy, and ultimately we moved to Wilmington and it's now back--

Elizabeth Wright: It's back where it is, back home.

Q: Perfectly content.

Q: That's interesting.

Elizabeth Wright: But it was-- that was a funny-- it was fascinating looking down here-- in '75 foundation membership rose to a new high of over 1,000 members. I don't know what it is now.

Q: I don't either.

Elizabeth Wright: But I don't think it's much beyond that.

Q: Huh huh.

Q: So you really hit a chord there. You really got people excited about uh...preservation.

Q: Well and in '72 the Historic Wilmington Foundation hired an executive director, which was R.V. Asbury, and you know he was downtown all the time. The headquarters was in the Governor Dudley Mansion. And if there wasn't enough money in the checking account to pay (inaudible) the secretary.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, gosh, I cannot remember.

Q: I can't remember his name. Anyway, Dot's [ph?] salary, then R.V. would hit the streets with a membership card and say, "Well, so and so hasn't contributed in a year and a half," so he'd go visit so and so.

Elizabeth Wright: That was true.

Q: And dig up enough money to pay--

Elizabeth Wright: I was just looking at this. Approximately $7,000 was raised from May Fair.

Q: Uh huh.

Q: That's pretty good though back in that time period.

Q: That was big money then.

Q: Fundraiser you could do a lot of things with that.

Q: Uh huh.

Elizabeth Wright: I mean that--

Q: So what about the evolution of uh...a highly successful series of house tours and so forth was that your group getting some of that started because that has been a-- both an Azalea festival, that is a wonderful one, the Latimer House has one now, and the foundation does one, right?

Elizabeth Wright: No, the Latimer House had the Christmas tour.

Q: Right.

Elizabeth Wright: Now that has been their baby and we, oh God, I remember Tatie Robinson [ph?] and I ate on the highway putting out signs and that was for St. John's. But then when we did the uhm...the that we did during the Azalea festival, now that was foundation's bit.

Q: And that has been extremely successful hasn't it as far as a fundraiser.

Q: I think the foundation also did a variety of bus tours didn't they Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Wright: Yeah.

Q: I remember R.V. talking about getting on a bus.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Q: Taking people somewhere.

Elizabeth Wright: We did, oh we went to-- oh that was fine. We went to Charleston. We did that and went... did we go to Savannah? But, yeah, we did do that.

Q: Yeah, you mentioned David Brinkley. You probably were the lynchpin that got Brinkley to narrate the intro for the Historic Wilmington tour.

Elizabeth Wright: Yes, we did.

Q: So, did you hear that sonorous voice and at the very end he says something about, "I hope you enjoyed my town, because I certainly do," David Brinkley.

Q: Oh, wow!

Q: Nice touch.

Elizabeth Wright: That voice was so unmistakable.

Q: Yeah.

Q: Exactly.

Elizabeth Wright: He gave us a big, big plug when-- it was '76, you know when they did-- he did a round of the United States and they did Wilmington and he was up on top of Solomon Towers.

Q: Huh.

Elizabeth Wright: And did uh...his hometown.

Q: Yeah. He was very faithful. I think that was good, didn't run away from it.

Elizabeth Wright: Huh uh, huh uh.

Q: His career couldn't stay here in the type of business he was in but uh...recently one of his last interviews was in that magazine that went for a while and Billy Harris had that magazine and spoke very fondly about--

Elizabeth Wright: I got that done. Brownie Harris came to me and wanted to get hold of David and I said "Well, I don't know if he'll pay any attention to it or what have you." I said "I'm going out there to visit. Give it to me and I'll see what I can do." And I said, "David, you might be interested in this." And so then Brownie and Billy.

Q: Yeah, that was a good interview.

Elizabeth Wright: And it was wonderful.

Q: Yeah and I--

Elizabeth Wright: And it worked, but I think if he'd hit it cold--

Q: No, no. I mean famous people have to have an intermediary just to protect themselves and I understand that.

Elizabeth Wright: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. But he uh...that's the first time I-- no it wasn't, hell, I was the sacrificial lamb when he came and spoke to the uh...chamber of commerce and one of our characters had him in tow, I mean just yapping at him (inaudible). I said I have no idea of that. And he said, "Well you got to go save him from the powers that be." So, I said, "I am the sacrificial lamb and now you've spoken to me. You don't have to talk to him." But then we got him down here to uhm...give that talk at the foundation and uh...that was starting a great friendship and he is continuing to come to the beach.

Q: That's great. That's great.

Elizabeth Wright: And we've become great friends; his widow was here with me in September.

Q: Oh, good.

Q: I need (inaudible) myself. I have another appointment.

Q: Well I think we're about done anyway. This is wonderful and thank you very much. Closing remarks, kind of a long, long career as a preservationist, look back on it fondly?

Elizabeth Wright: I do and I uh... very fondly, and this chat has been very nostalgic. It brought back memories that I had long since forgotten but I hope it continues, the good works that have been going on downtown.

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