The Southern “Empire State Building”

Take a drive through Winston-Salem, NC. Do my eyes deceive me? Is that a mini Empire State building? Not quite. In 1929 completion was done on the Reynolds Building, home of Reynolds Tobacco Company. The building stood 314 feet tall with 21 floors. Built with Art Deco design, the building was a true marvel.

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Three types of marble, from Missouri, Belgium and France cover the floors and walls. Gold leaf adorns the ceiling, and the elevator doors are polished brass. The exterior is limestone. At the time it was the tallest building south of Baltimore, Md. Surpassing the Nissen Building, also in Winston-Salem. It retained that status until 1965, when Winston Tower (right next door) was completed. It seems Winston-Salem was an important town of the times.

imageThe Reynolds Building was the prototype for the Empire State building. The architects submitted the plans in only a few weeks, based on their plans from the Reynolds Building. And in 1931 New York saw completion of the Reynolds Buildings baby. In fact, the caretakers, to this day, send a father’s day card to papa in Winston-Salem.

I recall my first time in the building as a child. The massive (for the era) lobby, big shiny elevators that went up so fast!! It was overwhelming. And I guess it still is, it’s a local icon of sorts, although new comers to the area and younger people aren’t aware of the history.

The building has gone through some tough times. Reynolds Tobacco (now Reynolds American) no longer owns the building. A recent attempt to convert the grand lady to a hotel and retail complex fell through. While she stands empty, there is little doubt in my mind that some way, somehow, the people of Winston-Salem will find a way to keep this great building going.