Lee, Praise Connor (1929-1977)
Grimesland, North Carolina, USA
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Raleigh, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
International style; Modernist
Praise Connor Lee (1929-1977), a native of North Carolina, was a modernist architect trained at the School of Design at present North Carolina State University. Despite the brevity of his career, he gained a strong reputation and won recognition for his modernist designs, which were representative of the 1960s and 1970s.
Lee was born in Grimesland, North Carolina, the son of Annie Carraway Lee and Praise Liberty Lee. He graduated from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in 1951, then joined the US Air Force and served in Korea and Japan from 1951 until 1955. After completing his military service Lee decided to return to school and enrolled in the School of Design at North Carolina State, which was then known for its commitment to modernist architecture. According to NC Modernist Homes, in 1959 Lee won the top prize in the Edison Electric Light for Living Home Design Competition. Upon graduating in 1960, Lee moved to Charlotte and joined J.N. Pease Associates, a major regional firm.
During Lee’s time with J.N. Pease, the firm designed a series of innovative branch banks for First Citizen Bank and Trust in Charlotte, which won the Pease firm a 1963 AIA Merit Award. Lee’s involvement in the design remains somewhat of a mystery. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, the design was actually Lee’s; a primary source for this statement has yet to be ascertained. (This attribution is made in Emily and Lara Ramsey, Survey and Research Report for the Praise Connor and Harriett Lee House and may be based on the authors’ 2002 interview with Harriett Lee. Further documentation or a confirmed oral history is sought for Lee’s role in these designs.)
First Citizens was at that time building its first branch banks, and seven banks of identical or similar design were constructed. Each one featured four blocks of brick flanking open and glazed spaces. Of these, two have been identified as still standing, though altered to serve new purposes. The most intact of the two is the former First Citizens Branch Bank at 2907 Freedom Drive, which, at the time of this writing, serves as a cell-phone store and is not drastically changed. The former First Citizens Branch Bank at 5133 South Boulevard, currently a Dunkin’ Donuts shop, is more extensively altered but still recognizable.
Lee adhered to a modernist philosophy throughout his career. In 1963, he designed his own residence at 3714 Country Ridge Road, a modernist house with a slanted roof and large rear windows. The large windows became a hallmark of Lee’s residential work. Lee soon resigned from J.N. Pease to become a partner with the firm of Brackett, Sadri and Lee. In 1965, Lee sold his Charlotte home and moved to Raleigh to assist in establishing a branch of Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle and Wolfe. The firm was among the Southeast’s largest. Just a year later Lee was back in Charlotte, this time working for Cameron, Little and Associates. The name was changed to Little, Lee and Associates after Cameron’s death in 1967. Albert B. Cameron (1925-1967), the principal architect of the firm until his death, designed the towering Wachovia Building in Winston-Salem and numerous other buildings. William “Bill” Little (1935-2013) ran the firm after Cameron’s death. Both men, like Lee, used modernist styles and techniques. The firm operates today as Little Diversified Architectural Consulting.
In the late 1960s Lee designed the Federal Home Loan Bank of Greensboro in Greensboro, NC. According to his wife, Harriett Lee, it was among his favorite projects. Lee apparently had creative control over the design. The building opened in 1970 and stands today at 444 North Elm Street. The three-story building features a stone-clad first story that serves a pedestal and an atrium. The expansive second story contains all the offices, with large windows on all sides. The third story contains electrical and service space.
Lee designed a second modernist house for himself and his family in 1970, which is located at 4242 Town and Country Drive. He left Little, Lee and Associates in 1971 and established his own firm, Connor Lee Associates. Newspaper articles indicate that Lee based his new firm in his home.
In his final years Lee designed the new Rowan Memorial Hospital (now Novant Health Rowan Regional Medical Center) in Salisbury, N. C. in 1974; it replaced the original hospital that opened in 1936. He also designed a classroom and shop building on the Polkton, N. C. campus of Akron Technical Institute (now South Piedmont Community College) in 1975 and a branch of Wachovia Bank in downtown Rocky Mount, N.C. in 1976. He also designed a few buildings in Greenwood, South Carolina, including a branch bank and a retirement community expansion. Lee was in active practice until he died of a heart attack in 1977.
- “Bank Building To Be Started Prior To 1977,” Rocky Mount Telegram, Oct. 5, 1976.
- Benjamin Briggs, “Greensboro and the Concrete Jungle”, Preservation Greensboro, https://preservationgreensboro.org/greensboro-and-the-concrete-jungle/.
- “County Bank Announces New Branch,” Index-Journal, May 17, 1974.
- “Death Notice-Classified: William Little,” Charlotte Observer, July 21, 2013.
- “Death Notices: Praise Connor Lee,” Charlotte Observer, May 17, 1977.
- “History of the College.” South Piedmont Community College, https://spcc.edu/about/history-of-the-college-2/.
- C. David Jackson and Charlotte V. Brown, History of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1913-1998 (1998).
- “Legal Notices: Advertisement for Bids,” Charlotte Observer, Oct. 25, 1975.
- Charles Moore, “Methodist Home Will Begin Work Soon On New Complex,” Index-Journal, Dec. 5, 1975.
- “Notice to Bidders,” Charlotte Observer, Jul. 14, 1974.
- Laura A. W. Phillips, “Wachovia Building,” National Register of Historic Places nomination (1990).
- “Praise Connor Lee (1929-1977)”, NC Modernist Houses, http://www.ncmodernist.org/lee.htm.
- Emily and Lara Ramsey, Survey and Research Report for the Praise Connor and Harriett Lee House (2002).
- “The Master of Madness,” CLT.biz, http://clt.biz/bizprofile/the-master-of-madness/.
- Dates:1975Location:Polkton, Anson CountyStreet Address:Akron Technical Institute (now South Piedmont Community College), 680 US-74, Polkton, NCStatus:UnknownType:EducationalNote:The SPCC website lists completion of a 20,000 square foot building on the Polkton campus in 1977. It is unknown if this was the building Lee designed.
- Dates:Ca. 1968; 1970Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:444 North Elm St., Greensboro, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialNote:No longer a bank, the building is currently owned and operated by VF Corporation; employees refer it to as the "Mushroom Building".
- Dates:1963Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:2907 Freedom Dr., Charlotte, NCStatus:AlteredType:CommercialNote:This is the most intact of the two surviving examples of the modernist branch banks Lee is thought to have designed for First Citizens.
- Dates:1963Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:5133 South Blvd., Charlotte, NCStatus:AlteredType:CommercialNote:This is one of two surviving examples of the modernist branch banks Lee is thought to have designed for First Citizens; it serves as a Dunkin' Donuts shop.
- Dates:1963Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:3714 Country Ridge Rd., Charlotte, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Designed by Lee as his family residence, the modernist residence has been designated as a local historic landmark.
- Dates:1974Location:Salisbury, Rowan CountyStreet Address:612 Mocksville Ave., Salisbury, NCStatus:UnknownType:Health CareNote:Because this building is part of a larger complex, its present condition has not been ascertained.
- Dates:1976Location:Rocky Mount, Nash CountyStreet Address:Sunset Ave., Rocky Mount, NCStatus:No longer standingType:CommercialNote:The Rocky Mount Telegram reported that the bank stood on the northeast corner of Franklin St. and Sunset Ave., but if so, it has been destroyed.