Why you should care
Because it’s a slice of Americana.
It shimmers in the morning light, a fresh paint job making the 36-foot structure feel more modern than the two-story brick building next to it. But the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers is distinctly from another time, back when an appearance in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” newspaper column could help give a Southern town a defining public relations boost.
The slate-gray structure rises from a one-way street in the middle of downtown High Point, North Carolina. It’s a draw for picture-takers and a must-see stop in roadside attraction guides. There are a few of these larger-than-life curiosities in North Carolina, in fact. Thomasville boasts a 30-foot chair. Rose Hill has the world’s largest frying pan, with a capacity for 365 chickens.
The chest originally sat in a park in the center of downtown and housed the local chamber of commerce.
High Point’s magnificent mahogany chest was built in 1925 and helped mark a city that would become known as the “furniture capital of the world” for its manufacturing prowess. The chest originally sat in a park in the center of downtown and housed the local chamber of commerce. It’s since been moved a few blocks, doubled in height, changed ownership a couple times and recently was painted over to more resemble something you’d see on HGTV. “If you find a chest like this [in retail stores], it’s been painted. They don’t want it to look like mahogany anymore,” owner Mark Milligan told the High Point Enterprise about last year’s face-lift.
But there are fewer and fewer human-size chests made here anymore. In some ways, the chest would be better suited for Lecong, China. Two pairs of socks, sea green and oriole orange, dangle from the chest’s middle drawer — an homage to a garment industry that has decamped for Bangladesh. What’s left is an incongruous monument, standing between a realty office and a triplex house. Fittingly, it backs up to a cemetery. There’s little traffic at morning rush hour on a recent Wednesday, and area signs indicate there’s plenty of good office space available.
From 2000 to 2009, furniture industry jobs in North Carolina plummeted from more than 80,000 to fewer than 40,000. But the manufacturing heyday fueled the High Point Market, now the city’s biggest draw. Twice a year, 75,000 people come to the furnishings industry trade show — featuring more than 2,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries. But the rest of the year, the furniture capital doesn’t necessarily feel like it. While bigger cities in the region like Greensboro and Winston-Salem have revitalized their downtowns, High Point lags. But they’re working on it.
“In order to get more foot traffic and things to do to make High Point a more year-round destination, we’re going to need to think a little differently,” Nancy Bowman, director of sales and marketing for the High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau, tells OZY. City leaders hope to rehabilitate blighted buildings and expand the greenway trail system to help lure millennials and businesses downtown. And a couple of blocks away from North Main Street, they’ll find a massive piece of art just dying to be Instagrammed.