BB&T Building at Christmas in 1967

Up on the rooftop in Raleigh

A recent downtown rezoning case was rife with controversy about whether or not to allow the property to have a rooftop amenity. After much debate, it was ultimately approved and we should expect to enjoy an elevated view of Raleigh from 615 W. Peace St. in the future.

As it turns out, rooftops in Raleigh have been the talk of the town long before the Millennial generation was even born. We thought this would be the perfect time to share a classic Raleigh story from almost exactly 54 years ago!

Aerial view of downtown Raleigh in 166
Aerial View of Downtown Raleigh 1966, State Archives

This story begins in 1964 when the BB&T Building (today’s Capital Bank Plaza) was erected at 333 Fayetteville Street. Designed by Emory Roth in association with local architect, Milton Small, the sleek grid of granite, steel, and glass exemplifies a very Mies Van der Rohe-inspired style. At the time it was built, this modernist look was very appealing and well, modern.

Quickly gaining critical acclaim and national attention, something big had to happen in order to celebrate the grandeur of Raleigh’s newest and tallest skyscraper. What better time to do some celebrating than at Christmastime? Building owners, Albert G. McCarthy Jr. and Albert G. McCarthy III decided that a lavish party was in order.

And lavish it was.

On November 13th, 1967, children from one to 92 to were invited to see a 50-foot North Carolina Fraser fir be gingerly dropped on top of the BB&T building. The block from Cabarrus to Lenoir Streets was reserved for public spectators and furnished with Pepsi Cola and Jessie Jones Hot Dogs on Holsum Rolls for refreshment. According to the children’s book The Christmas Tree that Flew to Fayetteville Street by Irene Chesire (c. 1971), the giant Christmas tree “flew there just as a cardinal flies to a favorite perch.” But in the eyes of adults, it was a helicopter that delivered the tree.

For the Christmas tree lighting, Raleigh’s finest were invited to the BB&T Building’s magnificent lobby to enjoy a ritzy affair on November 15th. The party was catered by Raleigh City Club and attended by the governor, Dan Moore and of course Santa Claus. Party-goers gathered round closed circuit television to watch the lighting that was happening 15 floors above. If that wasn’t enough of a spectacle, guests ogled at the ice sculpture replica of the BB&T Building complete with a Christmas tree on top made out of strawberries.

Christmas tree on top of BB&T building
Photo Courtesy of Don Carter

We developed a strong case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when we read The Raleigh Times article recapping the event.

“The cocktail buffet was gorgeous. Anyone who loves seafood got a glimpse of heaven…hot trays of barbecued shrimp, chicken drumettes, oysters casino, deviled crab and lobster thermidor.

The dinner buffet…featured roast standing rib, peppercorn round roast, stuffed cabbage, lobster thermidor, ham, turkey, ox tongue, roast pheasant, salami cones, smoked whitefish, chicken liver pate, pommes Parisienne, corn on the cob, salads, fruits and cheeses, all beautifully decorated with fruits, flowers and relishes.

A delectable anjou rose was poured during dinner, followed by the king of champagnes Don Perignon…The evening was topped off with Irish coffee prepared in flaming brilliance.” 

-“It was a Smash of a Tree Lighting Party” by Lucy Coulbourn, Times Woman’s Editor, November 16th 1967

Photo courtesy of Don Carter

There hadn’t been a party as exquisite as this one since the early days of the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel.

Now, what do you think about airdropping a giant Christmas tree on top of the PNC Building this year? Wouldn’t that be something to see! [Pending City Council approval ;)]

One thought on “Up on the rooftop in Raleigh

  1. Fact re the BB&T Building: it was the site of downtown Raleigh’s first cellular cell site (activated 9/16/1985). At the time, all wireless telecom was analog, so line of site transmission capability was key. Today’s Two Hannover Square and Wells Fargo towers had yet to rise, so the BB&T tower was a prime (tall) location. This was the only ITB cell site for some time to come. The closest cell sites included a tower on Hwy 54 between Raleigh and Cary and another on Strickland Road near today’s intersection with Lead Mine Road. So, for most of the 1980s, virtually anyone in a business or government role in Raleigh who had access to a cell phone relied on wireless access to the tower located on the BB&T rooftop. And while many other sites have since been added by multiple wireless operators p, and several iterations of digital service have come over the years, key telecom gear still transmits from that same rooftop to this day.

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