Hamburger Square

The last seedy hotel in Hamburger Square closed this week.

Hamburger Square was the closest thing to a skid row that Greensboro, North Carolina ever had. It got its name from two cheap diners, Jim’s Lunch and the California Sandwich Shop, which faced off on opposite sides of Elm and McGee for decades. This was the part of town where the few local drifters and winos lived. Until I was about 25, it was the only place in Greensboro I’d ever been panhandled.

I was always sort of drawn to the area, even as a kid. I liked the buildings and the seediness and the newsstand (with adult bookstore in the back) where I bought comic books and my dad bought the Washington Post. I liked the scary-looking people on the sidewalks and the railroad tracks and the old A&P. We lived in the suburbs, but I always begged to come along for rides downtown. I always wanted to eat in one of those divey old diners too. I never got the chance. This may be a good thing.

My great grandfather (who died about 20 years before I was born) had operated one of the hotels in the 1930s. It was pretty much a brothel, as its residents were largely prostitutes. I imagine my rather austere great grandmother was not amused at the thought of living there, but that’s how things were back then

My mom lived there for a few years as a little girl too. She used to be just a little embarrassed by it, but I think it now gives her just a little pride. We managed to get inside once when I was about 16 (with permission) and I took some great pictures.

My great grandfather’s old hotel is now a restaurant. The other buildings in Hamburger Square are being renovated one by one as expensive apartments, retail spaces, and restaurants. In Greensboro, a city which has bulldozed a disturbing amount of its past, this is probably a good thing, if only because it saves some great buildings.

But I sure do miss what Hamburger Square used to be. And I still find myself looking for it in just about every city I visit.