Bolich built it…

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Lon Bolich’s senior picture in the Trinity Archive, 1918

In 1916, during his sophomore year at Trinity College, Lon Bolich and his friend Robert Few, the nephew of Trinity president William Preston Few, approached the president about opening a store on campus to provide students with snacks and sodas. President Few was doubtful about the idea, but after Lon and his partner enlisted the aid of Dr. Few’s wife Mary and O.T. Graham, the campus policeman, Dr. Few gave his permission.  Their shop opened in a room in Aycock Hall, stocked with products bought on credit from Nabisco and Coca-Cola, which even lent them a refrigerator. Since soft drinks were then known as “dopes”, they called it “The Dope Shop”. It was an immediate success. Soon they added sandwiches, tobacco products, magazines, shoestrings and polish, and a punchboard for gambling. If you needed an insurance policy, Lon could provide that as well. The Dope Shop flourished for decades after Lon and Robert graduated, operated for the benefit of the Athletic Association. In the 1920s, it was moved to the basement of West Duke Hall and pool tables were added. Eventually there were several “Dope Shops” on campus, enjoyed by genrations of Duke students. Senator John F. Kennedy visited the one on West Campus in 1959 as he was preparing to run for president.

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The Dope Shop, Duke University, c. 1930

John Alonzo Bolich, Sr. worked all his life for the Southern Railway. When he was appointed trainmaster of the Winston-Salem district in 1914, he moved his family to the Twin City. His son Bryan graduated from Trinity College in 1916, then finished the law school and became the first Twin Citizen to win a Rhodes Scholarship. He had a long career as a Duke law professor and represented Forsyth County in the NC General Assmbly for several terms. The other son, James Alonzo, Jr. graduated from Trinity in 1918. Lon, as he was called, was a huge baseball fan, and a pretty decent player, but not quite good enough to make the Trinity team. The same year he founded the “Dope Shop”, he was elected an assistant manager of the baseball team. His senior year, he was elected manager.

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Tombs was an honorary athletic association…Lon second from left in front row…

In those days, a college team had a paid coach, who ran things on the field. The manager ran it off the field. He was responsible for scheduling games, transportation to and from games, ticket promotion and sales and overseeing finances, a far more important job than a “manager” of today. That paid off for Lon when he returned to Winston-Salem after his sophomore year. The secretary of the local Twins professional team suddenly resigned. Some thought Lon might be a bit young for the job, but he won the appointment and became a huge success. And that gave him access to the local business community.

But when Lon graduated in 1918, he first joined the U.S. Navy serving for two years before his separation as an ensign. Shortly thereafter he was named the commanding officer of the first local U.S. Navy Reserve unit, which included future Forsyth County sheriff Ernie Shore.

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Soon after his return from service he had his own real estate company and was also working in association with the newly established Pilot insurance and real estate company. Through that association and others, in the early 1920s he was involved in much of the development of Buena Vista and Westview, around Forsyth Country Club. His own company became involved in the movement to widen and develop Fourth Street from Cherry west to Broad Street. In September, 1926, Lon announced that 220 feet of that development would be his, a mixed use building of stores, offices and an automobile agency. Stanhope Johnson & R. O. Brannon of Lynchburg were the architects and actually moved their offices to the Twin City in anticipation of occupying space in the building, which, at a cost of $175,000, became one of the most expensive buildings erected in the city to that time. The building opened in early 1927. A year later, Lon opened the first Tom Thumb miniature golf course in NC on a vacant lot east of the Bolich Building. But Lon had his sights set on bigger game.

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The Auto Repair & Sales Company, 1927. New Nash cars were displayed at sidewalk level…offices were on the mezzanine at the rear.

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In 1928, Garnet Carter created the first Tom Thumb miniature golf course at his resort, “Fairyland”, on Lookout Mountain. He made huge sums of money by manufacturing and selling the components of the course to others. By 1930, there were hundreds of Tom Thumb courses across the nation. Garnet used the proceeds to build another tourist attraction, Rock City.

The year before, in 1925, he had suggested erecting an eleven story building that would house luxury apartments and the grandest movie theater in the South. Most dismissed that as pie in the sky. But Lon went to New York on his own and returned with a firm commitment from one of the largest theater chains in the country. He had drawing prepared of the proposed theater.

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That led to an association with the entrepreneural owner of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, Owen Moon. In 1926, Lon began planning by selecting the site at Fourth and Marshall Streets. They drew in other investors, including Will Reynolds, and in 1927, Lon led the negotiations with the Saenger Theaters which resulted in Saenger signing a 25 year, $1.25 million lease for the theater space. The total cost of the project, including the latest motion picture and climate control equipment, would be a cool million dollars, a first for Winston-Salem. By the time that the Carolina Theater and apartments opened in early 1929, Lon himself had become a self-made millionaire.

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The Carolina Theater was the grandest in the South. The proscenium was demolished in 1983.

But even at that early moment, long before Black Friday in the fall of 1929, the storm clouds were gathering. As the Clyde Bolling American Legion Post band led off the Memorial Day parade past Lon’s new building on Fourth Street in May, 1929, the Winston-Salem city treasurer sat down at his desk in City Hall a few blocks away and shot himself in the head. He had been speculating with city funds, assuming easy replacement, and had lost it all.

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The Clyde Bolling American Legion Post band marches past the Bolich Building leading off the 1929 Memorial Day parade.

Lon had been speculating as well, with his own money, especially in real estate in and around the booming city of Sarasota, FL. When all that collapsed, his personal net worth plunged from a million to minus numbers. As he later told a reporter “I couldn’t even pay my phone bill.”

Although the roots of the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression went much farther back, at least to the Great War of 1914-1918, everyone blamed poor Herbert Hoover. Using his many contacts, Lon formed a statewide club of young Democrats with the idea of “repealing” the Hoover administration. Older folks laughed, but Lon saw a ray of light. Forget Hoover. Instead find a solution to the problem. In early 1932 he raised enough money to hire a private plane and pilot, local man John “Red” Harmon, and go on a whirlwind tour of 43 states. The result was the formation of the national Young Democrats of America, which later in the year played an important part in the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt. For the next decade and a half Lon focused on politics, playing important behind the scenes roles at both the state and national levels, especially at every Democratic Party national convention from 1932 through 1948.

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College Village

And finally, thanks to the acute housing shortage at the end of World War II, he got back into real estate, involving himself in a number of apartment developments, the best known being Columbia Terrace and College Village. He built a new office building on West Second Street which was widely known as the Bolich Arcade. Many thought it was gaming site, but it simply housed his offices and others. I think he called it an arcade because he knew just how much of life is a crap shoot.

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The Bolich Arcade, c. 1950, on West Second Street. The Salvation Army Citadel is directly across Second Street. The building at the left was originally built in 1925 by the Barber Printing Company. In 1932 it became the Carolina Boxing Arena and Skating Rink. It was, briefly, the home of the Sun Printing Company in the early 1940s before becoming the headquarters of the Blue Bird cab company around 1945.

Lon had many other interests and became known for being something of a character. In the 1930s, he worked for a New York company selling property around Lake Mattamuskeet, which led to his association with the Atlantic and East North Carolina Railroad. When he became vice-president of the Atlantic & East Carolina, known as “The Mullet”, one of the last independent railways in the 1950s, he created his “jazz mobile”, a normal station wagon fitted with railway wheels, in which he took his friend Bill Sharpe, the legendary newspaper columnist and editor of “The State” magazine, on some exciting trips through the Carolina backwoods. Below is one of Sharpe’s “Bolich tales” reprinted elsewhere:

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It is not clear whether Lon ever made it back to millionaire status for a second time, but what is clear is that when he died in 1957, he left an indelible stamp on Duke University, the City of Winston-Salem, the state of North Carolina and the nation. Not many can say that.

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A few weeks ago, the T.W. Garner Food Company moved their administrative offices downtown. In doing so, they became just the latest to connect with Lon Bolich’s legacy.

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Garner built a modern addition to the 1927 Bolich Building, about where the Tom Thumb golf course was. Their offices extend into part of the second floor of the original building. To see David Rolfe’s pictures of the new headquarters, click the image below.

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In 1929, Susan Crossman opened a new restaurant, the Dixie Pig barbecue, in the area that we now know as Ogburn Station. Within months, a 16 year old named Thad Garner had bought her out. The Dixie Pig lasted for many years, with one of its last owners being Paul Myers, who eventually opened a well known barbecue joint under his own name. Thad Garner’s interest in the Dixie Pig didn’t last more than a year or two, but the popular barbecue sauce became the first product bottled by Thad’s family business. Soon, people were clamoring for more heat, which led to the second product, Texas Pete hot sauce. Not long afterward, jellies and jams were added to the product list. They were among the best, but had trouble competing for shelf space in supermarkets against much bigger competitors.

Eventually, the T.W. Garner company acquired the Green Mountain Gringo line of salsa products which were originally created in Vermont, and developed a number of new Texas Pete flavor varieties. In 2007, they discontinued their jam and jelly line. Last year, they dropped their hot dog chili sauce.

Garner’s move downtown is significant, as it adds to their sponsorship of the Texas Pete Culinary festival. But without Lon Bolich, they would have had to find another downtown location.

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A few of the Texas Pete styles

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The Green Mountain line

Filed under: Genealogy, Local History

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