Asheville’s Historic Art Deco
and Other Architecture
“Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic Makes Children and Adults as Fat as Pigs.”
--Early 20th Century Advertisement for E.W. Grove’s Health Tonic
If you’re interested in the history of architecture, or just in seeing beautiful and historic buildings, you’ve come to the right place. Asheville has an amazing collection of 19th and 20th century homes and commercial buildings that rivals any other city in the South, including even Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta and Miami. Especially notable examples of architecture are tagged in RED. Unless otherwise noted, the buildings below are in Downtown Asheville.
Downtown Asheville and Environs
Downtown Asheville is perhaps best known for its Art Deco architecture. It has more Art Deco buildings than any other city in the South except for Miami Beach. However, the Asheville area also has impressive examples of other commercial and residential architectural styles, including Beaux Arts, Gothic, Greek Revival, Renaissance, Romanesque, Arts and Crafts, Queen Anne and others.
Altogether, the Downtown Asheville Historic District comprises about 170 buildings, mostly from the 1890s to 1940s.
Art Deco is a visual arts style that first appeared in Paris after the end of World War I and made an impact around the world during the 1920s and 1930s on the design of consumer products and on the exterior and interiors of buildings, fading away after World War II. Its name, not coined until the 1960s, came from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925.
Bold, colorful geometric shapes –chevrons, spheres, trapezoids and rectangles -- often with a crafts-related theme -- characterize Art Deco. The Chrysler Building and RCA Building (now the GE Building) in New York and the Bullocks Wilshire Building in Los Angeles are classic Art Deco. The 1934 Chrysler Airflow and 1937 Cord automobiles were influenced by Art Deco design.
New York, Detroit, Chicago and most famously Miami Beach and Los Angeles have large collections of Art Deco buildings. Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, with hundreds buildings in the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne (a late stage of Art Deco featuring curved forms) styles in the South Beach Art Deco District.
Outside of Miami, the largest number of Art Deco buildings is in Mumbai, India.
In architecture Art Deco isn’t so much a building style as a style of ornamentation to the structures. Art Deco buildings may be designed in any style, from Beaux Arts to Gothic to Romanesque, and sometimes a combination of several styles; it is the striking ornamentation that makes the Art Deco style easy to recognize.
That Asheville has Art Deco architecture is a result both of the building boom in the city in the 1920s and the bust beginning in the Great Depression that stopped development and kept the old Art Deco structures extant.
Asheville City Building (338 Hilliard Ave. at Pack Square Park), completed in 1928, the eight-story masterpiece by Douglas Ellington is literally the symbol of Asheville, its abstracted form appearing as a logo on city graphics. Ellington blended Beaux Arts design with Art Deco motifs, with a mass of orange-pink brick rising from a base of pink Georgia marble to the octagonal roof, tiled in green and pink terra cotta. The design uses feather motifs inspired by Native Americans.
Asheville High School (419 McDowell Ave.), completed in 1929, with later additions, was designed by Douglas Ellington. The hexagonal main building, of North Carolina pink granite, with three wings in a Y pattern radiating from it, sits elegantly on a terraced low hill just south of Downtown. Originally known as Asheville Senior High before being renamed Lee Edwards High in 1935, the school was merged in 1969 with the local African-American high school (called Stephens-Lee and then South French Broad High) and given its present name of Asheville High. The 20-acre campus has suffered from a number of ungainly additions in recent years.
Biltmore Hospital (8 Village Lane, now Festiva Biltmore Village) was completed and opened in 1900 as Clarence Barker Memorial Hospital from designs by Richard Sharp Smith, with additions in 1902 and 1916 by local architect William Henry Lord. Then, after a fire, a four-story, stone and brick 65-bed wing, in the Gothic Revival style with some Art Deco detailing including the entrance and the tile with concrete coping at the top of the building, was designed by Douglas Ellington. It was completed in 1930 and renamed Biltmore Hospital. For four years beginning in the mid-1940s, it served as the maternal unit of Memorial Mission Hospital, although it was still called Biltmore Hospital. The old Biltmore Hospital was purchased by Imperial Life Insurance Company in 1951 and since has been used for insurance company offices and as a nursing home. It is now part of an international vacation rental and timeshare company, Festiva Travel, which is based in Asheville. The author was born in this hospital.
Coca-Cola Building (345 Biltmore Ave.), completed in 1940, was designed by local architect Henry I. Gaines, a founder of Six Associates. With its glass-block tchotchkes it was a fine example of late Art Deco and Art Moderne design. In its two-story lobby it had a curving staircase of stainless steel and aluminum. A remodel by new owner Mission Hospitals did not improve the building.
Federal Courthouse and U.S. Post Office (100 Otis St.), completed in 1930 as a U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse, and now used only as the Federal District Courthouse and U.S. Bankruptcy Court, was designed by Washington supervising architect James A. Wetmore in a Classical style but with Art Deco touches, especially over the front entrance. The exterior is limestone with a granite base. The main Asheville Post Office moved to a pathetically undistinguished building on Coxe Avenue.
First Baptist Church (5 Oak St.), completed in 1927, with later additions, is the building that brought Douglas Ellington to Asheville. Ellington designed the church in Beaux Arts and Renaissance styles with distinctive Art Deco ornamentation. The octagonal building of marble and brick has a massive two-story entrance with six brick columns, topped by a large tiled dome with a copper cupola. The sanctuary is a large, circular auditorium seating 2,000 on two levels.
Kress Building (now Kress Emporium, 19 Patton Ave.), completed in 1927, technically according to some architectural historians is not Art Deco, but the tan brick and cream terra cotta four-story, Renaissance-style building, with floral rosettes, definitely has an Art Deco feel. It is now occupied by a large craft shop with a number of vendors’ stalls.
Pearlman’s Furniture Building (25 Page Ave.), completed in 1940, is an Art Moderne structure opposite the Grove Arcade. Now housing an executive search firm, Kimmel and Associates, and renovated by Glazer Architecture, the front of the building features yellow brick, glass blocks, glass windows and stainless steel panels.
S&W Cafeteria (60 Patton Ave. at Haywood St.), completed in 1929, is another extraordinary work of Douglas Ellington. The design employs gold, black, blue and cream terra cotta facing, capped by blue terra cotta chevrons. The S&W Cafeteria, part of a regional chain owned by Frank Sherrill and Fred Webber, stayed in the building until it moved to the Asheville Mall in 1974. It has since been occupied by various businesses, including a steak house. We hope better things are ahead for this jewel.
Shell Service Station (now Wick and Greene Jewelers, 121 Patton Ave.), completed in 1928, was designed by architect W. Stewart Rogers, one of the founders of Six Associates architectural firm. Later an Exxon station, the little Art Deco building, with a two-story central cube and one-story side wings, all of creamy limestone, was beautifully restored in the mid-1980s by the owners of Wick and Greene jewelry store.
Tench and Francis Coxe Building (20-22 College St.), a minor Art Deco building designed by local architect Henry I. Gaines and completed in the 1930s, has a terra cotta facade with fountain and pyramid decorative elements.
Woolworth Building (now Woolworth Walk, 25 Haywood St.), completed in 1939, was designed by Henry I. Gaines. Now used as a collection of craft shops and galleries, it has a facade of cream and orange terra cotta with plant and fountain designs over the upper-story windows.
In addition to the buildings in Downtown and nearby, there are several Art Deco buildings in West Asheville, notably two old service stations (see below). Also, Boyd Chapel (360 School Rd., completed 1928) on the campus of The Asheville School near West Asheville is a Gothic stone building with Art Deco details.
Other Notable Buildings
All Souls Episcopal Cathedral (9 Swan St., Biltmore Village), completed in 1896 (with a 1954 addition) is one of the most striking church buildings in the South. It was designed by Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt in the Romanesque Revival style, inspired by abbey churches in Northern England. It features the short nave of the Greek cross rather than the long nave of the Latin cross. Hunt used the rough pebbledash (small stones imbedded in stucco) exterior he had used in other Biltmore Estate buildings, but here he set it off with dark red brick quoins and buttresses below dominating red-tile roofs.
Asheville Art Museum (2 S. Pack Square), completed in 1926, originally as Pack Memorial Library, was designed by New York architect Edward L. Tilton, who specialized in libraries. The three-story Renaissance Revival building with graceful arched windows on the second level and an arched two-story entrance has an exterior clad in Georgia marble. It is now the Asheville Art Museum, a part of the Pack Place complex. The library moved to a new building on Haywood Street in 1978.
Asheville Savings Bank Building (11 Church St.), combined into one V-shaped building from three separate building by Ronald Greene in 1922, is a fine example of Neo-Classical architecture. A misguided renovation in the mid-1960s hid the good points of the building, but Classical details were restored in 2005. The main part of the building exterior is concrete made to resemble stone; a part at the south end is brick. Two-story Tuscan columns flank the dramatic corner entrance, with a clock and a pair of windows above the door, with a Doric entablature between the columns and the roof. James M. Westall, a lawyer who was president of what was then Asheville Federal Savings and Loan in the 1960s and 70s, was the grandson of builder J. M. Westall, brother of Julia Westall Wolfe, mother of Thomas Wolfe. An Asheville advertising agency co-owned by the author represented the bank beginning in the early 1970s.
Basilica of St. Lawrence (97 Haywood St.), completed in 1909, is a masterpiece of Spanish Baroque Revival architecture. It is the creation of engineer-architect Rafael Guastavino (1842-1908), who came to the U.S. from Barcelona in 1881. He developed and enhanced a Catalonian style of fireproof construction with self-supporting vaulted dome roofs using courses of lightweight tiles fastened with Portland cement. His company constructed more than 1,000 buildings in the U.S., including Grand Central Terminal, Grant’s Tomb and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and the Boston Public Library. In the 1890s, Guastavino worked briefly on the Biltmore Estate and then, in association with Richard Sharp Smith, designed and built the St. Lawrence Basilica. No wood or steel is used in building. The Basilica has a granite base and walls of brick with terra cotta inserts, topped by a self-supporting 58-by-82-foot oval dome. Floors are tile. Twin towers at the front, originally roofed with tile, are now covered in copper. Guastavino is buried in the church. Self-guided and guided tours of the Basilica are available – see the website for details. Note that there are plans for a new hotel across the street from the Basilica.
Battery Park Hotel (1 Battle Square, now Battery Park Senior Apartments,), completed in 1924, stands on the site of the 1886 Queen Anne-style hotel by the same name. The original hotel was the first hotel in the South with an elevator. It suffered a fire the early 1920s and was razed. E. W. Grove, who had built the Grove Park Inn and before his death in 1927 had planned and started building the Grove Arcade, just to the south of the Battery Park, hired W. L. Stoddart of New York to design the 14-story, 220-room hotel. Stoddart designed a number of other hotels in North Carolina including the Sir Walter Hotel in Raleigh. Grove had the hill on which the original Battery Park Hotel leveled, a massive undertaking that required almost two years of work. The Neoclassical building, faced with brick with limestone and terra cotta highlighting, is relatively undistinguished. In his novel Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe called the Battery Park the work of a “gigantic biscuit-cutter.” It was in the Battery Park Hotel where Tony Buttitta in the mid-1930s owned a bookshop and in the summer of 1935 met F. Scott Fitzgerald, writing about him in his memoir After the Good Gay Times. The hotel operated until 1972; in the 1980s it was converted to 122 apartments for seniors and remains so today.
BB&T Building (1 W. Pack Square), completed in 1965, at 18 stories (depending on how you count the stories it also is listed as 17 or 19 stories) was for many years the tallest building in Western North Carolina. Tower 3 of the Harrah’s complex in Cherokee, completed in 2012, at 22 stories is now the tallest. Originally named the Northwestern Bank Building, the BB&T Building is a stark, rectilinear concrete, steel and glass form typical of skyscrapers built in the 1950s and 1960s in the International style. It was designed by the Charlotte architectural firm of Whittington & Associates and in some ways is a bad copy of the famous Seagram Building in New York designed by Mies van der Rohe. A big difference is the way the two buildings treat the ground floor and the space around the building. The Seagram Building is distinctive because it has a large plaza with fountains at the base and is set back from the street, with expansive public space, whereas the BB&T building has only a small setback, just a tiny plaza and very little public space on the ground floor. The glass and exterior finishings of the BB&T Building were done on the cheap, unlike the Seagram Building. The proportions are also grossly different, in that the BB&T looks squat and the Seagram Building at 35 stories is elegantly tall. Today, the interior and exterior of the building are overdue for renovation and upgrading, although an advanced new elevator system has been stalled. The higher floors, including the one where the author’s wife has an office, have dramatic views of Asheville and the surrounding area, but at present there are no public areas in the building from which to view the city. In mid-2013 the owner of the building, Tower Associates, announced it was going into a partnership with a Charlotte hotel firm to redevelop the property into a mixed-use building including a boutique hotel but as of this writing has not released further plans.
Biltmore Building (1 N. Pack Square, now headquarters for the Biltmore Companies and the local offices of Merrill Lunch), completed in 1980, was originally built for Akzona, a textile company that then owned American Enka, and named the Akzona Building. It was acquired by the Biltmore Company in 1986 and renamed. The prominent I.M. Pei & Partners firm of New York, which was also responsible for the glass Pyramids at the Louvre in Paris, the John Hancock Tower in Boston and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, designed the seven-story Modernist building, but there is little evidence Pei himself worked on the design. The coated-glass windows reflect the Vance Monument obelisk, the Jackson Building and the Pack Park scene. The building is now signed as the Merrill Lynch building.
Buncombe County Courthouse (60 Courthouse Plaza), completed in 1928, isn’t actually ugly, but the 17-story Neoclassical structure, clad in limestone and brick, sits next to the elegant and stylish Asheville City Building, making it appear chunky and pedestrian like an overweight car salesman escorting a stylish young model. It was designed by the Washington, DC, firm of Milburn & Heister after Buncombe County commissioners rejected the Art Deco ideas of Douglas Ellington. Milburn & Heister specialized in courthouses and had designed at least a dozen in North Carolina alone. One of the principals of the firm, Frank Milburn, had retired to Asheville in 1926.
Citizen-Times Building (14 O. Henry Ave.,), completed in 1939, was designed in the International style by Asheville architect Anthony Lord, a founder of Six Associates. The ink-stained wretches of Asheville’s only remaining daily newspaper (now owned by Gannett) work in this four-story building, with limestone relieved by small glass-block windows. Printing and production of the paper was moved a plant near Enka and then to Greenville, S.C.
Central United Methodist Church (27 Church St.,), completed in 1905, is of Gothic Revival design, with some Romanesque Revival elements. The architect was Reuben H. Hunt of Chattanooga. Central’s builder J. M. Westall was a brother of Julia Westall Wolfe, mother of Thomas Wolfe. Built on the site of Asheville’s first church, constructed in 1837, Central United Methodist is the oldest continuously operating church in Asheville. It has some 3,000 members.
Drhumor Building (48 Patton Ave.), completed in 1895, is a four-story brick building with limestone accents designed by Allen L. Melton in the Romanesque Rival style popularized by Henry Hobson Richardson. Note especially the frieze at the top of the first floor, with carved British lions, human faces and other designs by sculptor Fred Miles, who worked on the Biltmore House. The charming, restored building is now offices for what is claimed to be the oldest continuously practicing law firm in Asheville, McGuire, Wood & Bissette. Drhumor is pronounced either Drummer or Dru-MORE, depending on whom you believe, but it is not pronounced Doctor Humor.
Eagles Building (73 Broadway St., now WCQS Radio), completed in 1914, is a three-story brick and limestone building designed in a Neo-Classical style by Richard Sharp Smith for the Fraternal Order of Eagles. It was rehabbed and the original facade restored by Patti Glazer of Glazer Architects of Asheville. Local public radio station WCQS occupies the first floor, with offices and apartments on upper levels.
Flatiron Building (10-20 Battery Park Ave.), completed in 1926, gets our vote as one of the most charming buildings in Asheville, though it’s hardly the most original, as most cities have a wedge-shaped building similar to this one. Designed by Asheville architect Albert C. Wirth in the Neoclassical style, the eight-story building has long been home to local physicians and dentists (the author’s pediatrician had offices here). The elevator in the Flatiron Building still has a real, live operator. Also look for the flatiron sculpture nearby on Asheville’s Urban Trail.
Grove Arcade (1 Page Ave.), opened in 1929, is the creation of the drive and imagination of Edwin Wiley Grove, a Tennessee-born health tonic magnate who also built the Grove Park Inn. Grove’s vision was for a large city arcade, similar to those in Europe, that would have stores and shops in an enclosed, sky-lit mall, with rooftop gardens and offices in a 14-story skyscraper rising above the arcade. Beside it would be a large hotel. Grove hired Asheville architect Charles N. Parker to help him execute his vision. The Battery Park Hotel (architect William L. Stoddart) was completed in 1924, and the massive three-story arcade, under construction from 1926 to 1929, covering 257,000 square feet, or around 6 acres, was completed, along with the first two stories of the planned office tower. Grove, however, did not live to see his project come completely to fruition. He died in 1927, and the main part of the tower was never built, due to the Depression.
The Grove Arcade was occupied by shops and offices until 1942, when the U.S. government took over the building for a division of the General Accounting Office. From 1951 to 1995 the Arcade was home to the National Weather Records Center, now the National Climatic Data Center located in the Veach-Bailey Federal Building on Patton Avenue. The government bureaucrats bricked in the windows of the building. In 1994, the Feds transferred the Grove Arcade back to the City of Asheville for one dollar. It was renovated and reopened in 2002 as a city market patterned after Pike Place Market in Seattle. While never as successful as the Seattle market, the building, leased to the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation, now is nearly fully occupied, with shops on the first floor, a number of restaurants with outdoor seating on the Page Avenue side, and offices and 42 luxury apartments on upper levels. The number of visitors to the Arcade isn’t known, but about half a million people annually pass by the south end of the Arcade on Battery Park Avenue.
The Arcade stretches over an entire city block. The exterior is covered in cream-colored terra cotta and granite. The style is an amalgam of mostly Palladian, Renaissance, Gothic and Tudor elements. The interior has marble floors, beautifully lit by skylights, and the floor slopes downward from north to south, with a total of 16 feet drop. The north end of the Arcade (near what is now the Battery Park Senior Apartments) is guarded by plaster-winged lions, sometimes incorrectly referred to as griffins. The mythological griffins have the body of a lion but the wings and head of an eagle, usually with front legs with eagle talons. The Arcade has many gargoyles, 88 on the exterior and 50 inside. In addition there four cherubim-like grotesques and eight rams’ heads.
Grove Park Inn (290 Macon Ave., North Asheville), completed in 1913, with later additions, is one of the country’s great resort hotel buildings. It was designed by E.W. Grove, who also built the Grove Arcade and the second Battery Park Hotel, and his son-in-law, Fred Seely, with some consultation with New York architect Henry Ives Cobb. Seely, however, was mostly responsible for the design.
The idea for the six-story, 150-room hotel owed much to the New Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone Park (opened in 1911 and demolished in 1962) and to other national park lodges in the West. Like the Canyon Lodge, the original part of Grove Park Inn used local natural materials – in the case of the Grove Park huge uncut granite boulders from Sunset Mountain, chestnut, oak and other local wood timbers and a roof of red clay tile – and features a large, rustic lobby. The Grove Park’s 80 by 120-foot (9,600 square feet) lobby, a victim in some ways of later renovations, retains the original large fireplaces bookending the room. The fireplace openings are each 10 feet wide and 6 feet high. An elevator runs up the back of one fireplace chimney. The Sunset Terrace off the lobby offers views of downtown Asheville and of the golf course designed by Donald Ross. The furnishings in the lobby and in the rooms of the original section are by Roycrofters, the famous Arts and Crafts collective in East Aurora, N.Y., near Buffalo. The lobby has paddle arm sofas and chairs of wormy chestnut. The Grove Park Inn has the largest collection of Arts and Crafts furniture in the world.
On the grounds of the inn is the Biltmore Industries complex, a group of pebbledash cottages completed in 1917, now housing shops and weaving and antique auto museums. Ten United States presidents (Taft, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush, Clinton and Obama) have stayed at the inn, along with many famous entertainers and writers. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the summers of 1935-36 at the inn, staying in rooms 451 and 453. After the U.S. entered World War II, several hundred foreign diplomats were interned at the inn until they could be sent to a neutral country. In 1942, Philippine president Manuel Quezon, forced to flee his country due to the Japanese invasion, established the government of the Philippines in exile in the Anne Hathaway Cottage at the Grove Park.
A self-guided walking tour of the hotel and grounds takes at least two hours.
The Grove Park has gone through a series of owners since E. W. Grove’s day. The longest-tenured owner was Charles Sammon, an insurance multi-millionaire, who bought the inn in 1955 and whose company owned it until 2012. Sammons added the 202-room Sammons Wing in 1984 and the 166-room Vanderbilt Wing in 1988. The current number of rooms and suites totals 551. The additions, along with the purchase of the Asheville Country Club golf course in 1976 and the opening of a large spa in 2001, has made the resort much more viable as a business, but the new wings are architecturally inferior to the original section, bad modern imitations of the classic original construction. In 2012, the Grove Park Inn was sold by the Sammons company to KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Denver that also operates The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., and Squaw Valley ski resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif., along with other hotels and hospitality businesses. About a year later, in mid-2013, KSL sold the Grove Park Inn and some other resorts to Omni Hotels & Resorts, a luxury chain with properties in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Hotel Asheville Building (55 Haywood St. at Walnut St., now Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café), completed in 1914, was originally built for the BPO Elks. The four-story brick building then became the Jenkins Hotel and from 1932 until 1965 the Hotel Asheville. It is now home to the best bookstore in the region, Malaprop’s, with apartments on higher floors. Note the second floor with its arcaded veranda.
Jackson Building (22 S. Pack Square) completed in 1924, at 13 stories is usually considered the first skyscraper in Western North Carolina. With its thin profile (the front is on Pack Square is only 27 feet wide) it remains the most stylish. It was designed in the Gothic style by local architect Ronald Greene for real estate developer L.B. Jackson, using terra cotta and brick over a steel frame. Gargoyles near the top guard the building. It was built on the site of the monument shop of W.O. Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe’s father, where, it is said, the angel of Look Homeward, Angel was displayed. Over the years, it has been the home of several local banks, including in the 1970s Western Carolina Bank. It shares elevators with the Westall Building next door.
Legal Building (10-14 S. Pack Square), completed in 1909, is five-story Renaissance design by Smith & Currier. It was originally the headquarters of the Central Bank & Trust, which collapsed during the Depression.
Lewis Memorial Park Office (415 Beaverdam Rd., North Asheville) is a small but striking work by Douglas Ellington. The stone Art Deco office at the entrance to the cemetery uses Ellington’s trademarked octagonal design for its cupola and roof. There’s now also a pet cemetery here, for dogs and cats with good taste.
Log Cabin Motor Court (330 Weaverville Hwy./U.S. Hwy. 25, North Asheville), about 6 miles north of Downtown Asheville, opened around 1930. This well-preserved collection of log cabins -- now 21 one- and two-bedroom cabins made from round logs with prominent white-painted chinking between logs -- is a classic from the early days of automotive tourism. Scenes from the 1958 movie Thunder Road starring Robert Mitchum were filmed in one of the cabins, Goldview. It rents for $130 a night.
The Manor (265 Charlotte St., North Asheville), completed in 1898 with additions in 1903 and 1913, is a notable example of an Asheville tourist resort from the late 19th century. The rambling old hotel, designed in the Queen Anne and Shingle styles by New York architect Bradford Gilbert, was originally marketed as an English inn in America. There is a Tudor Revival gatehouse at the entrance and a group of cottages in several styles, including Craftsman, Shingle and Tudor on the grounds. At one time, the author’s office was in a Georgian Revival house adjoining the Manor grounds.
Ravenscroft (29 Ravenscroft Dr.), completed in the late 1840s, with addition in the early 1900s, is thought to be the oldest building in Downtown Asheville, and the second-oldest brick house in Asheville after the Smith McDowell House (see below). It has a three-story center tower with two-story wings, all in brick with entablatures on the wings and tower, in the Greek Revival style. Originally Ravenscroft was a school, later a boarding house and now it houses offices. Except for its age (Asheville isn’t an old city), Ravenscroft is undistinguished.
Scottish Rite Cathedral and Masonic Temple (80 Broadway St.), completed in 1913 and designed by Smith & Carrier, who must have been on laudanum at the time, is one of the ugliest and most awkward buildings in Asheville. The four-story brick fortress, with limestone trim, has an astonishingly monstrous portico over the entrance with a brace of Ionic columns on each side. This building is so grotesque and unappealing that it is almost worth seeing.
Vance Monument (Pack Square), completed in 1896, is a 65-feet high granite obelisk -- the granite was quarried in nearby Henderson County -- designed by Richard Sharp Smith. It honors the Buncombe-born Zebulon Baird Vance (1830-1894), who was governor of North Carolina during the Civil War and afterwards, and later also a U.S. Senator. The legacy of Vance, a Democrat, is now somewhat controversial because he was a slaveholder and a segregationist, though he also reached out to Jewish residents and spoke out against the anti-Semitism of the time.
Veach-Bailey Federal Building (151 Patton Ave. at Otis St.), completed in 1995, is home to the National Climatic Data Center (828-271-4800), the largest depository of weather and climate information in the United States. In front of the six-story, Post-Modern building is a controversial iron sculpture, “Passages,” by Albert Paley. Some artistically illiterate Asheville residents think it should be called “Junkyard.”
West Asheville Aycock School Historic District (400 block of Haywood Rd. on both sides of I-240, West Asheville) consists mostly of low-rise commercial buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s. Among the notable structures here are the McGeachy Filling Station (405 Haywood Rd., completed in 1936), a one-story Art Deco-style building with stucco exterior, now operating as a convenience store and alternative fuel station – unfortunately this property is in poor condition and badly needs some TLC; West Asheville Bank & Trust Building (414 Haywood Rd., completed in 1927), a Neoclassical building of light-colored brick – the bank closed in 1932 during the Depression and now is used as offices; West Asheville Fire Station (421-423 Haywood Rd., completed in 1922), a two-story Mission Revival brick building; and Universal Motors (428 Haywood Rd., completed in 1928), a one-story brick building with a parapet (a low wall on the roof) with concrete coping and circular cast stone medallion, originally built as a Ford and Lincoln dealership and in the early 1940s home to a Willys Americar dealership co-owned by the author’s father – the Americar, produced from 1937 to 1942, sold new for around $600. The Charles B. Aycock School (441 Haywood Rd.) after which the Historic District is named, a 1953 one-story, flat-roofed building designed by Six Associates, the fourth school at this site, is of little architectural interest.
West Asheville End of the Car Line Historic District (700 and 800 blocks of Haywood Rd., West asheville) features a collection of mostly early 20th century low-rise brick commercial buildings. It is designated by the National Register of Historic Places as the West Asheville End of Car Line Historic District. From 1911 to 1934, the Asheville street car line ended at a turn-around point at the intersection of Haywood and Brevard roads. Among the more interesting buildings in this area are the Bledsoe Building (771-783 Haywood Rd., completed in 1927), the largest commercial building on Haywood Road; the Art Deco Isis Theater (743 Haywood Rd., completed in 1937), renovated and reopened in 2012 as the Isis Restaurant & Music Hall; and Pure Oil Gas Station (784 Haywood Rd., completed in 1947) with a steeply pitched and gabled roof covered in blue terra cotta tile, now the Universal Joint restaurant.
YMI Building (39 S. Market St., corner of Eagle and Market Sts.) was completed in 1893, under the direction of Richard Sharp Smith. George W. Vanderbilt funded the construction of the Young Men’s Institute as a community center for Asheville’s African-American community. It is located in the heart of what was the Eagle-Market Streets African-American business district. However, far from reflecting any African-American tradition, the three-story building is in Richard Morris Hunt’s English vernacular style used in Biltmore Village and for auxiliary buildings on the Biltmore Estate, with pebbledash exterior walls and brick window and door trim. After serving for a time as a YMCA branch, it sat idle until becoming the home in 1988 of the YMI Cultural Center, now a part of the Pack Place complex. However, in recent years its future as a repository of black culture has been put in doubt.
For information on the Biltmore House buildings, see the Biltmore Estate section; for information on buildings in the River Arts District, see the Arts in Asheville section; for information on architecture in towns near Asheville, including Black Mountain, Brevard, Highlands and Hendersonville, see the Nearby Small Towns and Villages section.
Notable Houses and Residential Historic Districts
Biltmore Forest In 1920, Edith Vanderbilt sold 1,500 acres on the south side of the Biltmore Estate to a company set up to develop a residential area for “persons of moderate means” (by Vanderbilt standards, one supposes.) Several local developers began building houses, mostly in Tudor and Colonial Revival styles. Edith Vanderbilt herself in 1925 moved into one called The Firth on Firth Drive. Donald Ross designed the golf course for the Biltmore Forest Country Club. A number of beautiful homes were built around the golf course, including the Judge Junius Adams House (11 Stuyvesant Rd., 1921) and the William Dodge-designed William Knight House (15 E. Forest Rd., 1927). Biltmore Forest remains one of Asheville’s most elite neighborhoods. Some homes in Biltmore Forest are valued at $2 million to $4 million or more. Actress Andie MacDowell had a home here for many years, before moving back to Los Angeles. She still owns property near Asheville.
Chestnut-Hill Historic District This historic neighborhood just north of Downtown Asheville is centered around East Chestnut and North Liberty streets. Most of the buildings in this area were built from 1880 to 1930, in the Craftsman, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Beaufort House Inn (61 N. Liberty St., 828-254-8334, completed 1895), a Queen Anne style home built for North Carolina attorney general and Asheville mayor Theodore Davidson and for a short time in the 1940s the home of actor Charlton Heston, is the most striking building in the district. The architect was Allen L. Melton, who also designed the Drhumor Building Downtown. Beaufort, by the way, is pronounced BO-fort, as with the North Carolina coastal town, not pronounced like the South Carolina town. Princess Anne Hotel (301 E. Chestnut, 828-258-0986, completed in 1924) opened as a hotel for the families of tuberculosis patients but went through several owners and uses until the three-story Shingle-style building was renovated in 2003-2005 by local preservationist Howard Stafford and returned to being a 16-suite hotel. The Tennant-Pritchard House (223 E. Chestnut, completed 1895) was designed in the Queen Anne style by architect James A. Tennant as his own home. U.S. Senator Jeter Pritchard also lived in the house. Chestnut Street Inn (176 E. Chestnut, 828-285-0705, completed 1905) is a restored Colonial Revival style house now used as a B&B.
Grove Park Historic District (See also the Grove Park Inn above.) The jewel of the Grove Park and Proximity Park area is the Dr. Carl V. Reynolds House, now the Albemarle Inn (86 Edgemont Rd., 828-255-0027, completed in 1909). The two-story Neoclassical building is a charmingly restored B&B. The most famous resident of the house was Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, who spent the winter of 1943-44 in Asheville and completed his “Third Concerto for Piano,” also known as the “Asheville Concerto,” here. The William Jennings Bryan House (107 Evelyn Place, completed in 1917) was designed in the Colonial Revival style by Smith & Carrier as a retirement home for the populist presidential candidate, who lived here for several years before moving to Florida. The Reuben Robertson House (1 Evelyn Place, completed in 1922) was designed by New York architect James Gamble Rogers for Robertson, the president of Champion, the paper mill in Canton (naturally the president wouldn’t live near his odiferous factory). Richard Sharp Smith designed St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (337 Charlotte St. at Macon Ave.). Smith also designed the adjoining English cottage style rectory, completed in 1925 after Smith’s death.
Kenilworth This neighborhood in southeast Asheville was established in the late 19th century and early 20th century. It was named for the original Kenilworth Inn -- completed in 1891 and destroyed by fire in 1909 -- that stood nearby. The “new” Kenilworth Inn (60 Caledonia Rd.) was completed in 1918 in the Tudor Revival style, under the direction of architect Ronald Greene. It later became a psychiatric hospital, Appalachian Hall, and then Charter Hospital, another psychiatric institution. It is now an apartment building, Kenilworth Inn Apartments. Many of the older homes in Kenilworth are in the Tudor Revival style, although the area also has Prairie, Bungalow and even Spanish Colonial homes, along with some homes built in the mid-20th century. The Annie Reed House (68 Kenilworth Rd., completed 1948) is a notable example of International style, by Ronald Greene.
Lakeview Park This 1920s subdivision in North Asheville curves around man-made Beaver Lake and the Donald Ross golf course, now operated by the Asheville Country Club. Most of the original 100 or so homes, as in Biltmore Forest, are in pretentious Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival styles. Lakeview Park was planned by noted landscape architect John Nolen (1869-1937), a student of Frederick Law Olmsted. Nolen also designed Myers Park in Charlotte and worked on plans for a number of cities in Florida including Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Among the grander homes in Lakeview Park are the Campbell House (144 Marlborough Rd., completed 1925) and Stratford Towers (193 Stratford Rd., completed 1925), originally the residence of the president of Central Bank & Trust, which failed in 1930 after making too many bad real estate loans. Less ambitious homes were built in Lakeview Park after World War II. The Dixie Highway (now U.S. Highway 25), a collection of paved roads constructed and expanded from 1915 to 1927 connecting the Carolinas with Florida and the Midwest, passed through the Lakeview Park community. Beaver Lake is owned collectively by the residents of Lakeview Park, not by the City of Asheville. The area around the lake is a bird sanctuary.
Montford Historic District, just north of Downtown Asheville, is a 300-acre neighborhood that dates from 1893. It has some 600 homes, including a number designed by Richard Sharp Smith. Nearly all of the homes in the district were built before 1930. Architectural styles of homes in Montford range from Queen Anne to Craftsman to Neoclassical and Colonial Revival. The 87-acre Riverside Cemetery, where Thomas Wolfe, O. Henry, Richard Sharp Smith and Zebulon Vance are buried, is within the Montford Historic District. Montford is also Asheville’s “B&B District,” with more than a dozen licensed bed and breakfast inns. Near the north end of Montford is the new Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce building, with its excellent Asheville Visitor Center (36 Montford Ave., www.exploreasheville.com, 828-258-6129). The Visitor Center can provide information on a walking tour of Montford and other areas and a free map guide to the architecture of the district.
The main streets in Montford are Montford Avenue, the spine of the neighborhood, along with Cumberland Avenue and Flint Street, all running more or less north-south.
Among the many exceptional residential buildings in the district are: Carolina B&B (177 Cumberland Ave., completed in 1901) is a simple but pleasant pebbledash stucco house by Richard Sharp Smith, in the English vernacular style, with what the owner calls an Arts and Crafts front porch. Inside, the rooms have heart pine floors. Lion and Rose B&B (276 Montford Ave.,828-255-7673, completed 1896) is an elegant rose-colored house, beautifully restored and maintained and with extensive landscaping. It combines Colonial Revival, Neoclassical and Queen Anne elements. A special detail is the large stained glass Palladian window at the top of the oak stairs. Tommy French, one of the characters in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, was said to live in this house.
Black Walnut B&B (288 Montford Ave., completed 1899) was designed by Richard Sharp Smith in the English vernacular style, with half-timbered pebbledash exterior. It also has elements of Queen Anne architecture. Also known as the Ottis Green House (Green was a mayor of Asheville), it has been graciously restored and superbly maintained. 1900 Inn on Montford (296 Montford Ave., completed 1900), another Richard Sharp Smith work in the same area of Montford Avenue, features pebbledash and shingled walls. It has been lovingly restored and furnished in style. A cottage in the back is a later addition.
Abbington Green B&B (46 Cumberland Circle, completed in 1908) is a Colonial Revival house designed by Richard Sharp Smith. Wright Inn (235 Pearson Dr.,completed in 1899) is an excellent example of Queen Anne style by architect George Barber. It has multiple gables and a charming side gazebo with conical roof. It has been completely restored.
Homewood at Highland Hospital (19 Zillicoa St., completed in 1922, with later additions) is part of the original Highland Hospital complex. The large stone house was built in the pretentious Gothic style similar to that of parts of Duke University in Durham. Homewood was the home of Zelda Fitzgerald’s psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Carroll, founder of what was then called a mental hospital and tuberculosis sanatorium. Zelda died in a 1948 fire that destroyed the main building at the hospital. Homewood is now used as an event venue. Also in this area, Rumbough House (49 Zillicoa St., completed in 1892) is an impressive example of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. On the second floor is a five-sided central bay with windows. The house was purchased by Duke University in the 1950s to serve as an administrative building for Highland Hospital. Duke closed and sold Highland Hospital in 1981.
Frances Apartments (333 Cumberland Ave., completed 1926) is a charming, gabled three-story apartment building with an unusual rough brick and concrete exterior. The author’s favorite high school English teacher lived here. Small studio apartments in the building start at around $600.
Smith-McDowell House (283 Victoria Rd., completed c. 1840 with a 1913 renovation) is believed to be the oldest surviving house in Asheville and the oldest brick house in Buncombe County. Bricks for the walls, which are up to 20 inches thick, are thought to have been made locally. It’s a two-story Federal style house, with Greek Revival interiors, although the early 20th century renovation by Richard Sharp Smith added Neoclassical elements. Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm did the landscaping around 1900. The house was restored in the late 20th century under the direction of architect Henry I. Gaines and is now operated as a museum by the WNC Historical Society. It is especially known for its Christmas decorations.
Enka Village (off Sand Hill Rd. and Lake Drive in the Enka-Candler area), built 1928-30, was a company town developed by American Enka. Enka (the “e” is pronounced as in pen, not like Inca, as many locals think it is) was owned by a Dutch company that in 1928 began constructing the largest rayon plant in the U.S. Eventually the Enka plant would become one of the largest employers in the region, with some 3,500 workers. Enka Village was a planned residential community, part of the European garden city movement that was meant to provide attractive housing near the workplace for workers and managers. For the managers, large red brick homes with tile roofs in Tudor and Colonial Revival styles were built along a road overlooking 62-acre Enka Lake -- now Biltmore Lake -- by local architect William Waldo Dodge, who designed many homes in Biltmore Forest. For workers, one- and two-story homes, in brick and frame, were built off Sand Hill Road across from the Enka plant by Lockwood, Green Engineers. By 1930, about 100 homes had been constructed. While the factory continued to produce rayon and then nylon the village was never completed due to the impact of the Depression. In 1958 the homes were sold to individual owners. In 1985, American Enka was purchased by what is now BASF. Limited manufacturing continues at the Enka plant. Some 1,300 acres of Enka land was sold to Biltmore Farms, a development and hotel company owned by a branch of the Vanderbilt family, but not now directly affiliated with Biltmore Estate. In 2002, the company began building the upscale Biltmore Lake development, with some homes in the $1 to $2 million-range and with a total of more than 550 homes sold and occupied.
Asheville’s Famous Architects
The most prominent exponent of Art Deco in Asheville was architect Douglas Ellington (1886-1960), who arrived in Asheville from Pittsburgh in 1926. He had trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During the next six years after his arrival in Asheville, Ellington designed several of the most striking buildings in the city, including the Asheville City Building, S&W Cafeteria, First Baptist Church and Asheville High School. Several of his buildings use octagonal shapes, with decorative elements from Native American culture.
Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895), the first American to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, designed the Biltmore House, then as now the largest private home in America, along with a number of buildings in Biltmore Village including All Souls Episcopal Cathedral. Following the wishes of George Vanderbilt, a long-time client, Hunt based Biltmore on the Renaissance chateaux of France. Among other Hunt designs are the Fifth Avenue facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Fogg Museum at Harvard.
At the Biltmore Estate, Hunt worked closely with pioneering landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). By the time Olmsted came to Asheville to design the Biltmore Estate, he was already world-famous for his designs of Central Park in New York (along with Riverside Park, Prospect Park, Forest Park and Morningside Park in that city), the Emerald Necklace parks in Boston, the 1893 Chicago World Exposition and parts of the campuses of Auburn University, Bryn Mawr College, Cornell University, Oregon State University, Smith College, Stanford University, Washington University, Yale University and others. Olmsted had 125,000 acres to work with at Biltmore, including the formal gardens around the main house, along with miles of roads to the house and tens of thousands of acres of forestland. Olmsted recommended that George Vanderbilt hire Gifford Pinchot, who with Dr. Carl Schenck would establish the first forestry school in the United States and help develop what would become the Pisgah National Forest. Pinchot later served as the first chief of the USDA Forest Service.
Six Associates was established in 1942 by six prominent Asheville architects, who until then each had their own practices. The motivation behind the founding of the collective practice was to achieve a size large enough to qualify for bidding on wartime architectural commissions. The six architects were William Waldo Dodge Jr., Henry Irvin Gaines, Anthony Lord, William Stewart Rodgers, Erle G. Stillwell and Charles Waddell. Individually and as a firm they designed dozens of well-known Western North Carolina commercial and residential buildings, mostly in the International style. Among the buildings are the Asheville Citizen-Times Building, American Enka Administration Building, UNC-A’s Ramsey Library, Woolworth Walk and many of the buildings at Mars Hill College (now Mars Hill University) and Western Carolina University. None of the founders is still alive, but Six Associates remained in business under that name until the mid-1990s. The firm was bought by Ellis/Naeyaert/Genheimer Associates and eventually became a part of what is now CJMW Architecture, but that firm no longer has an Asheville office.
Yorkshire-born Richard Sharp Smith (1852-1924) came to Asheville from New York in 1890 at age 37 to be the Biltmore House on-site supervising architect for chief architect Richard Morris Hunt. Smith designed several outbuildings on the Biltmore Estate and a number of buildings in Biltmore Village. He stayed in Asheville after the completion of Biltmore House and opened an architecture office. Before his death here in 1924, Smith designed more than 700 homes and commercial buildings in the Asheville area, some as sole architect and after 1906 in partnership with Albert Heath Carrier, operating as Smith & Carrier. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the impact Smith had on the look of Asheville. Many of the commercial buildings constructed in Asheville between 1900 and 1920 were designed by Smith or by Smith & Carrier. Among Smith’s works are the Vance Monument on Pack Square and the Masonic Temple and Legal Building Downtown. He also designed distinctive homes in the Montford, Biltmore Village, Grove Park and Chestnut-Liberty areas of Asheville.
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