Asheville Architecture and History Walk
Stroll along the streets of Asheville and you'll pass building after elegant building decorated with ornate gargoyles, fancy cornices, stone friezes and brilliantly glazed terra-cotta tiles. For a small city, downtown Asheville architecture is incredible! In this walkable urban setting you can explore one of the most remarkable collections of beautifully preserved buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s to be found anywhere in America.
Asheville architecture is justifiably famous for its collection of Art Deco masterpieces, but here too are glorious examples of Romanesque Revival, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Georgian and Classical Revival structures that reflect not only Asheville history, but the history of the country itself.
This walking tour of downtown Asheville architecture leads to many of these stunning buildings, and we'll also take you inside some of them so you can admire the interior details and sense the graceful ambiance of another era. During the walk we will also share some Asheville history.
Wealthy lumberman George Pack came to Asheville in 1884 and before long he engaged in an extensive effort to modernize the city center. In 1901 Pack donated land to expand the Public Square, and later the square was named in his honor. Today, Pack Square is surrounded by a delightful collection of some of the best remaining Asheville architecture and the city's most prominent buildings. Together they provide a crash course in Asheville architecture and history.
How has Asheville managed to retain so many architectural treasures? The answer is that is several momentous events, a little luck and the accomplishments of a few farsighted men are largely responsible for the tremendous number of richly detailed and expertly designed Asheville architecture and the fnely crafted historic buildings still standing downtown.
We'll begin our Asheville architecture walk at downtown's cultural and political heart, the park-like space known today as Pack Square at the intersection of Patton Avenue, Broadway and Biltmore Avenue. This is Asheville's historic center around which the city grew. Long before Asheville was settled, ancient native Cherokee trading paths intersected here, at a natural clearing well-situated for camping and trade in the vast and verdant forest wilderness. White hunters arrived in the late 1600s, and the first wave of settlers came in the mid 1700s. By 1793 a small wooden courthouse stood nearby, and in 1797, shortly after the town was incorporated, this area was officially designated as a Public Square. About this time, drovers began to walk the historic trading routes, prodding thousands of hogs, turkeys and geese through the mountains to the markets far south of Asheville.
By the 1830s a few early roads, little more than rough dirt tracks, were in place and wagons loaded with supplies and food made their way into the town center. Stores were built and by the 1850s the Public Square was lined with commercial and government buildings. Over the years successive waves of development created ever larger buildings to house the public and commercial buildings vital to the city's growth. But civic growth and the development of Asheville architecture really accelerated after the railroad arrived in 1880.
Rising needle-like from the square is the Vance Memorial, named for native son Zebulon B. Vance who was a forward thinking politician and a staunch supporter of justice, individual rights and local government. He was North Carolina's governor during the Civil War and a U.S. senator for many years until his death in 1894. Local architect Richard Sharp Smith, who designed many of the buildings in Biltmore Village, designed this obelisk built with local Henderson County granite in 1896.
If you stand near the Vance Memorial and look across Biltmore Avenue to the southwest you will see the oldest buildings on the square. Their foundations date to the 1890s, but the buildings were damaged by fire in 1895 and then later rebuilt and expanded. Today they house a row of cafes offering street-side dining that provides an excellent place to sit and admire the handsome buildings surrounding Pack Square.
Still standing near the Vance Memorial, turn and look at the two modern buildings to the north for just a moment. The BB&T Building, 1 W Pack Square, is Asheville's tallest building. Constructed in 1964-65 it was one of the first new downtown buildings following the economic collapse of 1930. This 18-story glass, steel and concrete skyscraper was built for Northwestern Bank by architect Whittington & Associates.
Along the north side of Pack Square, 1 N Pack Square, is the Akzona / Biltmore Building designed in 1978-80 by internationally renowned architect I. M. Pei, designer of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Pyramids of the Louvre in Paris. Designed as the headquarters of the Akzona Corporation, this gleaming ultra-modern office building replaced an entire block of 1890s buildings along the north side of Pack Square, and was a major component in the late twentieth century revitalization of downtown Asheville architecture. It is possible that in a nod to the charm of an earlier era, the architect intentionally designed the building so that on sunny days the mirror-like walls of glass create spectacular reflections of the lovely historic buildings and Asheville architecture along the south side of Pack Square.
Walk to the south of the Vance Memorial and turn left to walk along South Pack Square. On the corner, 2 S Pack Square, the original Pack Memorial Library, is a lovely Renaissance Revival building faced with white Georgian marble and featuring a dramatic two story arched entry with matching banks of arched windows. Built in 1925-26, the architect was Edward L. Tilton of New York. Today this striking example of Asheville Architecture houses the Asheville Art Museum which is part of Pack Place, a cultural center with museums, science center and theatre.
Continue east to the Legal Building, an imposing 5-story building at 10-14 S Pack Square. Built in 1909 in the Renaissance Revival style by architects Smith & Carrier, this was one of the first structures in the city built with reinforced concrete. The building was the scene of a major event in Asheville history, as it originally housed the venerable Central Bank and Trust Company. This was the one of the city's leading financial institutions until its dramatic collapse in 1930, which helped catapult Asheville into the Great Depression.
The tall slender building on the corner, 22 S Pack Square, is the Jackson Building, a notable gem of Asheville architecture. Built in 1923-24, this unique structure was the first skyscraper in Western North Carolina, and was constructed on an amazingly tiny 27 by 60 foot lot that many believed to be too small to build on. Designed by architect Ronald Greene, this steel-framed Neo Gothic brick and terra-cotta structure is adorned with dramatic stone gargoyles near the top. In its early days, one of the buildings most unusual uses was as a "clean-air lookout". Many of Asheville's buildings were heated with coal, and every morning the city inspector stood at the top of the Jackson Building to watch for excessive smoke as building furnaces started up. If heavy smoke persisted for more than 5 minutes a citation to clean the furnace was issued.
On the east side of the square the Art Deco masterpiece, Asheville City Hall, is topped with an ornate octagonal red and green tiled ziggurat roof. The nation's first Art Deco city hall was designed by noted architect Douglas D. Ellington and built from 1926 - 28. It is one of the finest examples of Asheville architecture and Art Deco buildings downtown. The eight story building sits on a solid base of pink Georgia marble. The graduated colors, tapered shape and building contours were designed to reflect the scenic mountains that surround Asheville. Of particular note are the classic Art Deco lanterns that adorn either side of the main entrance at 70 Court Plaza. Inside, the lobby has an elegant high ceiling with marble floors, and to the left there is an exhibit honoring the USS Asheville PG-21 and its crew who were killed in action on the open seas in 1942.
The Buncombe County Courthouse stands next to the Asheville City Hall at 60 Court Square. Originally this building was designed to be a matching Art Deco structure by Douglas D. Ellington, but the politics of the day intervened when the county commissioners dissented and commissioned an intentionally more conservative building. This conventional 17-floor Neo Classical steel frame structure with a brick and limestone surface was designed by Milburn and Heister of Washington DC and built from 1927 - 28. Although not as extravagant as the Art Deco City Hall, the courthouse's distinctive complex setbacks, window groupings and Neo Classical Revival ornamentation were still considered opulent in a time when many public buildings were much more conservative. Take time to walk inside to admire the lobby with its impressive mosaic floor, sweeping marble staircase and ornate plasterwork on the coffered ceiling.
Our Asheville Architecture walk continues north along Spruce Pine Street, and when you cross Walnut Street you can step back in time and stroll along the narrow brick walkway which was Spruce Pine Street in the early 1900s. The yellow frame house on the left is the Thomas Wolfe House. This is a fine example of the boarding houses that were once a prominent feature of Asheville architecture. Boarding houses were popular with traveling businessmen and visitors, and were an important part of Asheville history and the early tourism economy.
Originally built in 1883, this rambling 29 room Queen Anne style frame boarding house received a painstaking museum quality restoration inside and out following a fire in 2004. The restoration returned the building to its 1916 appearance in honor of noted author and native son Thomas Wolfe who left his boyhood family home in the boarding house that year to study at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The house tour (enter from the Visitor Center behind the house at 52 N Market St) is excellent, and the rooms are filled with period furnishings and antiques. Of particular interest is the 1937 room. It was to this room that Thomas Wolfe returned in 1937 (just a year before his death) after a self-imposed exile following the publication of his celebrated masterwork, Look Homeward Angel in 1929. His autobiographical book had gained him fame and fortune, but his thinly disguised and colorful portrayal of Asheville history and citizens made him unpopular here. By 1937, things had cooled down a bit and he returned to Asheville, staying in this room and writing several pieces including an article for the local paper, a copy of which still is displayed on a desk near the bed.
Continue south along Broadway St to the intersection with Patton Avenue and turn right to the intersection with Lexington Avenue. On the northwest corner, the classic Kress Building at 21 Patton Ave was constructed in 1926-27. The Asheville architecture style is an early design that preceded the better known Art Deco Kress stores built in other cities. Notice the Neo Classic motifs and cream color glazed terra-cotta tile bordered with distinctive blue and orange rosette tiles on the upper floors of the building. Today the first floor of the Kress is home to an arts and crafts emporium. If you walk inside you can admire the architectural details and peruse the offerings of more than 80 regional artists.
Walk west through the grounds and past the Visitor Center to N Market Street and turn right to Woodfin Street. Turn left and walk one block to Broadway Street and turn left again. On the southeast corner, 80 Broadway St is the striking Scottish Rite Cathedral and Masonic Temple which was built in 1913. Designed by Smith & Carrier, this handsome temple of pressed brick is trimmed with limestone and gray brick, and has a granite foundation. Note the tall limestone portico with a pair of ionic columns on either side that can be seen from Broadway St.
Farther along Patton Ave, at the corner of Church St, is the Drhumor Building at 48 Patton Ave, a splendid example of Asheville architecture in the Romanesque Revival style. Built in 1895, and designed by A. L. Melton, this boldly detailed building is the oldest standing commercial building downtown. It features an elaborate exterior limestone frieze carved by English sculptor Frederick Miles who also worked on the Biltmore House. Some of the allegorical stone images are believed to represent local residents of the era, including at least one local sidewalk superintendent, and the bearded face of florist Cyrus T.C. Deake (on the east side). Named for an Irish Island, Drhumor is pronounced "Drummer", but locals often fondly refer to it as the "Doctor Humor" building.
A little farther along Patton Ave is the S&W Cafeteria at 56 Patton Ave, widely acclaimed as downtown's most flamboyant Art Deco presentation of Asheville architecture in the Art Deco style. Designed as a cafeteria by Douglas D. Ellington in 1929, it was constructed at the height of Asheville's historic building boom. The ornate façade of this 2-story structure is festive and cheerful, displaying a profusion of exuberant stylistic details that include colorful repeating geometric designs of cream, green, blue, black and gilt glazed terra-cotta tiles, all of which come together in a harmonious whole. The Art Deco theme continues inside in the elegant large dining space whose two story open interior is decorated with a refined geometrically patterned ceiling, wall panels and glittering chandeliers. Today the S&W is home to a fine dining restaurant specializing in Steak and Wine, and you should definitely walk inside to admire the décor. Head upstairs to the bar for an exceptional view down Haywood Street.
Continue along Patton Ave to the corner of College St and turn right, walk to the corner of Haywood St and turn left again. The Miles Building, 14-20 Haywood St, was built in 1901 as the Asheville Club, a male-only social club that originally looked more like a mansion with columns flanking the main entrance. It was Herbert Delahaye Miles who transformed the 3-story building in 1925 into this unique and ornate Italianate example of Asheville architecture. The striking exterior of this handsome office and retail building is of dark red brick with white terra-cotta tile details. If you walk around the building along Battery Park Ave and then Wall St, enter the building by walking up the stairs into the office area where the wide hallways designed for the 1901 Asheville Club still remain.
As you exit the Miles Building, the Flatiron Building at 10-20 Battery Park Ave is just across the street. One of the most famous and popular of the remaining Asheville architecture buildings, it was designed by Albert C. Wirth and constructed in 1925-26. An elegant Beaux Arts styled 8-story office building faced with limestone, the term "Flatiron" refers to its triangular wedge shape that was created to fit the irregular lot. Indeed, its eastern side is just barely wide enough to accommodate an entry door. Photographers love to capture images of this unique building along with the sculpture of a traditional flat iron that stands just across Wall Street. Street musicians often perform in front of the sculpture, adding a festive air to this entrance of Wall St, which is one of the city's prettiest and most popular thoroughfares for shopping and dining.
Return east to Haywood St and turn left to the Woolworth Company Store at 25 Haywood St. This post-depression example of Asheville architecture was part of the well-known Woolworth national store chain, the building was designed by Henry I. Gaines in the late Art Deco minimalist style and built in 1939. Downtown Asheville was a popular family shopping and dining destination at that time, and Woolworth's Soda Fountain was especially popular with kids. Completely renovated and restored in 2001, the building was returned to its original splendor, including the decorations above the exterior windows and the red sign over the entrance. Inside the grand staircase and terrazzo floors are original, and a 50's style soda fountain has been rebuilt in its original location, so you can once again sit at the long counter to enjoy a burger, malted milkshake or an old-fashioned ice-cream soda.
Continue north to 97 Haywood St., where the lovely Basilica of St. Lawrence offers a radical departure from other Asheville architecture styles. This impressive Spanish Baroque Revival Roman Catholic Church is the masterpiece created by internationally renowned Spanish architect/engineer Rafael Guastavino with the help of architect Richard Sharp Smith from 1905-09. Guastavino worked on the Biltmore Estate when he first came to Asheville, but soon decided that the town required a larger Catholic Church. He enlisted the support of his friend Smith, and they planned this spacious and ornate building. The magnificent exterior of red brick stands atop a stone foundation and is built entirely without wood or steel, relying solely on masonry and tile for the floors, ceiling and pillars. The dome is believed to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. You can enter a side door that opens into the church, where the ornate interior is adorned with exceptional tile work and religious art. Be sure to take time to admire the tile elliptical dome, brilliant stained glass windows made in Munich, Germany and the 17th century Spanish altar with its carved wood Crucifixion scene.
Backtrack for a short distance and turn south on Page Avenue to Battle Square and turn right to stand in front of the Battery Park Hotel designed by William L. Stoddart and built in 1923-24. Commissioned by prominent citizen Edwin Wiley Grove, this was the first commercial hotel in Asheville built for businessmen and tourists as an affordable alternative to the luxury hotels already in Asheville. It replaced the original luxury Battery Park Hotel owned by entrepreneur and railroad mogul Frank Coxe, which was an ornate, rambling frame Victorian hotel where Vanderbilt stayed when he first visited Asheville. The original Battery Park Hotel also stood some eighty feet above the current one, as it was placed on a hill that Grove later removed in its entirety to make room for more construction in the downtown area. Grove's T-plan Neo-Georgian hotel is reinforced concrete faced in red brick with limestone and terra-cotta details. Today this example of Asheville architecture is used as an apartment house for the elderly, but the lobby still retains the original classic lines that Grove envisioned many decades ago.
Turn around and look directly across the street at the north entrance to The Grove Arcade. Often acclaimed as one of downtown Asheville's most beautiful buildings, the Grove Arcade covers an entire city block. Commissioned by Grove and designed by Charles N. Parker it was built in 1926-29 as one of America's last classic indoor shopping arcades (before the modern era of malls). Both massive and lovely, this Neo-Gothic example of Asheville architecture is sheathed in ivory hued terra-cotta tile, which is softened and embellished with rich detailing around the roof line and windows. Enter from the north side, along Battle Square, to admire the pair of winged lion sculptures flanking the dramatic entrance. Inside, the grand central corridor of this elegant structure is a striking and spacious two-story arcade ornately decorated with medieval style grotesques, shields tucked in Roman style niches, Venetian Gothic pointed arches and spiraling wrought-iron staircases. Overhead, a peaked glass ceiling fills the space with diffused, warm sunlight and offers a view of the mountain skies. The arcade's main purpose is to house a fine collection of boutiques, galleries and restaurants that offer great shopping opportunities and places to rest and refresh yourself before continuing. As grand as this building is, it was originally envisioned as an even grander edifice. After you exit the arcade, stand at the corner of Page Ave and Battery Park Ave where a city plaque will help you imagine the building with the addition of a central 14-story office tower which was never built.
Walk west along Battery Park Ave and turn left to 100 Otis St to view the former United States Post Office and Courthouse, a fine Depression era Federal Building with Art Deco detailing that was designed by James A. Wetmore of the Federal Architect's Office and built in 1929-30. This massive presentation of Asheville architecture is sheathed in limestone with low relief panels and metal doors. Inside, the classic lobby has a stenciled ceiling.
Continue along Otis St to Patton Ave and turn left. Take a close look at the jewelry store at 121 Patton Ave. This charming white tile-covered Art Deco building was once a Shell Gas Station. Designed by W. Stewart Rogers and built in 1928 the building is now part of a larger retail building. Just for fun, walk through the fine jewelry showrooms inside and into the hallway to see the perfectly preserved rear wall of the original gas station.
Farther along, at 89-93 Patton Avenue, the Public Service Building is a 1929 8-story office skyscraper designed by architects Beacham & LeGrand. The upper and lower floors of this attractive bold red brick building are richly decorated with Romanesque and Spanish polychrome terra-cotta designs. Note the Leda and Swan motif at the second floor windows, and the gargoyles near the roofline of this stunning gem of Asheville architecture.
This is a good place to pause and consider how to end your downtown Asheville walk. If you are ready for dining or shopping you can enter the Public Service Building, walk upstairs and out onto charming Wall St where you will find quality restaurants and shops. Or, you can continue down Patton Ave back to Pack Square where this Asheville walk started. But if you'd like to see more Asheville architecture, including the oldest structure in the city and some pretty historic churches, then you should walk farther along Patton Avenue to Church Street and turn right.
Another fine example of Asheville architecture, the Central United Methodist Church, at 27 Church St, has two pinnacle towers and a 5-bay loggia. Designed by Richard H. Hunt it was built from 1902-05. This powerful limestone church is of Romanesque Revival form with Gothic Revival detailing. Inside the sanctuary, the fine Art Glass windows are especially notable.
Down the street, the First Presbyterian Church at 40 Church St is one of the oldest church buildings in the city. The Gothic Revival church was constructed in 1884 with numerous later additions. The brick nave and tower have deep corbelled cornices and hood-molded windows with blind arcading at the eaves.
Across the street, Trinity Episcopal Church at 60 Church St was designed by Bertram Goodhue in 1912 in the Tudor Gothic Revival style. The red brick exterior is trimmed with granite and the corner tower is topped with a gabled belfry. Inside, the sanctuary features a fine hammer-beamed ceiling.
Turn right on Ravenscroft Drive and continue to Number 29. The Ravenscroft School was built in the 1840s and is believed to be the oldest Asheville architecture structure downtown. The towered brick Greek Revival villa features Academic Greek Revival details. From 1856 until the Civil War the building housed the Ravenscroft Episcopal Boys' Classical and Theological School. Today it houses professional offices.
This ends the Asheville architecture adn history walk. To return to Pack Square where the tour began, you should retrace your steps back along Ravenscroft Dr to Church St, and then walk north to Patton Ave where you will turn right.
Take Me To: