Who Stayed Downtown?

The Asheville Mall opened in 1972 pulling the large department stores with it. When the mall was in the works, the mall developer wrote letters to all of the merchants in Asheville inviting them to consider locating in the new mall. Sears opened first in 1972, with other stores following in late 1973-74: Belk’s, Ivey’s, Bon Marche, Woolworth’s,  Lerner’s, Dunham Music Store, Singer Machine Co., Lee’s Jewel Box and the S & W Cafeteria. J.C. Penny’s was the last to leave downtown in 1989. Also, the Biltmore Square Mall opened in 1988.

Who stayed downtown? Who were the long-standing established small businesses who  carried on and who then played a new role as the downtown’s “anchor stores?”


Interior of T.S. Morrison’s, 1980. K918-4C

T.S. Morrison’s Hardware store is one of the most familiar. The firm was founded in 1891 and stayed in the family until Louis and Peggy Millin bought it in 1980, pumping huge sums of money into a renovation, and adapting it into more of a gift store while keeping the store’s historic ambiance. Morrison’s closed in 2006 and the building was purchased by Lexington Avenue Brewery in 2008.


Interior of T.S. Morrison’s circa 1990. K920-4

The Star Store, Bootery and Dancer’s Place were three side-by-side family run businesses popular downtown. Barney Schochet founded The Star Store in 1916.


Photo of the Schochets from an “Asheville Citizen” article titled “Schochets Glad To Be Downtown,” Feb. 21, 1980.

Sluder Furniture was opened by Charles L. Sluder in 1905 and was purchased by Ray and Sarah Long in 1964. Wayne Caldwell and his sister-in-law Kathryn Long began operating the businesses in the mid 1970s.The business sold its downtown buildings in 2006.


Two buildings occupied by Sluder’s at 25 Broadway and also Ambiance Interiors 27-29 Broadway, 1979. N018-5

Harry L. Finkelstein opened the first pawnshop in Asheville and what is believed to be the first in North Carolina in 1903.


Finklestein’s Pawn Shop at 7 SW Pack Square, 1978. N098-5

Louis and Sylvia Resnikoff opened the Bargain Center in 1952, a discount clothing and general merchandise store at 69 N. Lexington Avenue the current site of Downtown Books and News.


Louis Resnikoff on left in front of The Bargain Center at 69 North Lexington Avenue, 1957. L807-DS

They found that the shoe department was more successful than other departments, so around 1960 the Resnikoffs opened Tops for Shoes, selling adult and children’s shoes at 27 N. Lexington Avenue. A year later they opened the Uniform Center in an adjacent store front. Around 1975 their daughter and son-in-law Ellen and Robert Carr returned to Asheville to help run the business.

L802-DSa copy

Wick & Greene Jewelers opened on Wall Street circa 1936 before moving to Patton Avenue in 1986. The store announced its closing in 2016.


Wick & Green on Patton Avenue circa 1989. N772-5

And the restaurant anchor businesses? T.F. Lee opened the Paradise Chinese Restaurant in 1947. It closed in 1999.

MS233_003B photo 8 008

The Paradise at 19 Broadway, 1977. MS233.003B Photo 8.

The Mediterranean Restaurant, where everyone in Asheville has always gone to find out what is what, was opened in 1973 by Pete and Paula Aposdolopoulos who still operate it today.

MS314.001 photo E

Inside view of the counter at the “Med,” Pete at right. MS314.001 photo E.

If you wonder why these businesses stayed downtown and what it was like to operate a business downtown in the 1970s and 1980s, join us this Wednesday for part 2 of our 6 part series.

Asheville in the 1980s:  A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It.

Wednesday’s program is “Businesses & Restaurants” with moderator Rob Pulleyn. Panelists will be Pete Apostolopoulos, Bob Carr, Paula Dawkins, Mark Rosenstein and Eugene Ellison. Additional guests will be present.

All programs are on the last Wednesday of the month, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm. Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, lower level.

Further programs in the series are:

June 29: Social Activism & Social Agencies, Moderators Ann Von Brock and Ellen Clarke
July 27: Arts, Theater & Music, Moderators Deborah Austin and Phyllis Lang
August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings, moderators Kevan Frazier and Erin Derham
September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement, moderators Leslie Anderson and Becky Anderson

The North Carolina Room staff is grateful to the business owners who have donated or loaned us photographs and filled out our questionnaire to help document their businesses. If you owned a business in downtown during the 1980s and would like to donate or loan us photographs, ephemera, menus, etc. or would like a copy of our questionnaire please call us at 250-4740 or email us at packnc@buncombecounty.org.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian.




Julian Price

Julian folded arms NICE2 %281%29

As the North Carolina Room looks at what things were happening in Asheville through local business, citizen and government involvement in the 1980s, friends and family have been working to celebrate the life and work of Asheville philanthropist, benefactor and liberal community activist Julian Price.

Julian Price


Julian moved to Asheville in 1989 because of its architecture and a feeling. “The moment I stepped into Asheville, I felt a connection. I can’t really explain it. . . Here I’ve met people and really feel part of it.” ( A C-T 10/13/1991)

Julian b&w hammock600

Through Julian Price’s development company, Public Interests Projects, Inc., he funneled money to local businesses and nonprofit organizations. He is well known for his financial assistance to the Grove Arcade Foundation during the building’s 2000-2002 renovation; for his extensive renovation following the fire at the Carolina Apartments, which then provided middle income apartments; as well as the renovation of the former Asheville Hotel building. He also gave a good leg-up to already existing businesses such as Malaprop’s Book Store, The Market Place, and Jewelry Design. His aid to area nonprofits is quite a long list. He also worked towards Asheville being a comfortable place, creating a group that worked with the city and state to modify intersections making them safe for walking. Price stated in a rare interview, “I have a pretty wide interest, but mainly I’m interested in things that concern the environment, scenic beauty, and the area of social and economic justice.”

Julian fix bench600

Julian Price fixing a bench on Battery Park.

Learn more about Julian’s passion for Asheville and how it is a different city because of him.

Here is a one minute promotion clip of the video “Julian Price A Documentary.”

Celebration takes place Thursday, May 26th at the Orange Peel, starting at 7:30. Tickets available at the Orange Peel box office. www.theorangepeel.net

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian




The Little Street with Big Ideas

Shop Wall St ad 72

Wall Street is without a doubt the most charming street in downtown Asheville. And to my mind it always has been.  Intimate, almost European in scale, a pleasure to stroll on, and free from the din of downtown traffic. In the mid-1970s and through the 80s Wall Street was a lively precursor of what a downtown without chain stores might look like. A few business that are still operating today got their start on “the little street with big ideas.”

When I was in high school (my fiftieth reunion is looming) I haunted Talman’s Bookstore at 46 Wall Street. I shopped in  the tiny Southern Appalachian Crafts at 18 Wall Street. In 1974 when I returned to Asheville after college I reconnected with someone I had met at UNC-A and discovered even more places to haunt on Wall Street.

N Serving photo byGary Fields CT 72

Nancy Orban serving outside of High Tea.

Nancy Orban and Molly Lay opened High Tea Cafe at 23 Wall Street in the fall of 1974. Asheville’s very first espresso was served there along with a delightful Cafe Borgia or Esau’s Red Lentil Soup. You could even dine al fresco at two choice tables outside, quite the continental style for downtown Asheville.  High Tea was the heart of Wall Street, the center of all news of what was happening in town. It was a smaller world then. High Tea closed in 1984 after 10 years. And many of us still get misty-eyed thinking about it or cooking something from The High Tea Cookbook to satisfy something in us that we miss.


Wall Street in 1978. Photo by David Black. N135-5

Ken Pitts started his Frugal Framer framing business at 37 Wall Street (now the home of  Overstrom Jewelry) before moving across the expressway in the 1980s to 95 Cherry Street in a building designed by John Reid. The Open Door Boutique (now at 35 Haywood St, #100) was opened by Gail Brady at 22 Wall Street.  Ralph Gate’s Friendswood Craft Shop and Double Eagle Leather Works (Doug McCubbins) were at 33 Wall Street along with Southern Appalachian Crafts at 18 Wall Street.  Yesterday’s Child Antiques (owned by Wynn and Stafford Anders) started in 1977 on Wall Street before it moved in 1985 to the newly renovated Lexington Park .

Wall St map 72

Wall Street advertisement designed by Jean Wall Penland, 1972.

Ralph and Brigid Burns first opened Iris Photographics on Wall Street before moving into a space on Walnut Street. The Humpty Dumpty Shoe Shop, W. Gaylean Jewelers, The Trophy Shop, the Ritz Beauty Shop, and Wick & Greene Jewelers were on Wall St.  Wick and Greene was at 10 Wall Street before it moved in 1986 to its present location on Patton Avenue when they renovated an art deco gas station that you see today.

Waechter’s Silk Shop at 6 Wall Street later moved to Charlotte St. and finally to Biltmore Village where it closed to the consternation of many Asheville fabric lovers. Bill Neal ran Snowbird Photographics in the Anderson Building at 4-1/2 Wall Street and later moved the shop to Durham in the 1980s. Asheville’s very first “health food” store–The Good Health Food Store was at 26 Wall  Street. Phil and Marion Kelton were the proprietors and it remained on the street until it closed sometime in the early 1980s as well.

In 1982-83 Craig Culbertson and Connie Bostic opened Craig’s (a “private club” ) at 46 Wall St. in the old Talman’s building.  In 1985 Connie and George Bostic opened the Asheville Music Hall. Later the same space would become Jubilee! a Community Church founded by Howard Hanger.


Craig preparing the bar for opening. MS233.003C photo 9


craigs interior-1

Interior Craig’s showing pool room to right. MS233.003C photo 7

In 1989 Mark Rosenstein’s restaurant The Market Place moved to Wall Street from its previous location on Market Street where Betsey Reiser’s Supernatural Cafe was once located after it moved from its first location on…..where else?…..Wall Street.

If you want to learn more about downtown businesses in Asheville during the 1980’s mark your calendar for Wednesday, May 25. Attend the program on Downtown Businesses and Restaurants moderated by Rob Pulleyn (Lark Books & Fiberarts Magazine). The panelists will be Pete Aposotolopoulos (The Mediterranean), Bob Carr (Tops for Shoes), Paula Dawkins (Jewels That Dance), Eugene Ellison, Kathryn Long (Ambiance Interiors), and Mark Rosenstein (The Market Place & Brenna’s).

Post by Terry Taylor board member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

Asheville in the 1980s:  A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It
These programs are comprised of panelists and a moderators, all of whom were involved in their subject area in Asheville during this decade.
All are on the last Wednesday of the month, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm, Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, lower level.

April 27: Save Downtown Asheville & the Wrap. Watch this program here!

Upcoming events.
May 25: Businesses, Restaurants and Food Stores
June 29: Social Activism & Social Agencies
July 27: Arts, Theater & Music
August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings
September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement

1980s Downtown Businesses & Restaurants

ohenry's ad

Early Businesses Paved the Way

Interesting things were going on in downtown Asheville in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s. Lower rents and sagging property values lured entrepreneurial/creative small businesses and restaurants to join long-standing small businesses to make downtown the vibrant and viable place we now see around us.

O.Henry’s Restaurant opened at 59 Haywood Street on October 13, 1976 by original owners Jay Bentley and his partner Tony DeRose. It began as a sandwich restaurant and served beer and wine. They used to have a line out the door at lunch time. They quickly gained a reputation as being gay friendly. Female mannequins in long silk dresses stood on the second floor balcony, along with large plants, antique lights and Greek statuary. O.Henry’s and Gatsby’s Bar and Restaurant were the (only?) places to hear live music unless you drove to McDibb’s in Black Mountain. College students were regular customers at O. Henry’s, as were residents of the Vanderbilt and Battery Park apartments. In 1988 the business went private in order to sell mixed drinks and the restaurant was phased out. In 2001 O. Henry’s moved to a free standing building, which they were able to buy, at 237 Haywood. Celebrating its 40th year in business in 2016, it is the longest running gay bar in North Carolina.

o.henry's anniversay3

Steve McKain, O. Henry bartender for 7 years, purchases the bar from previous owner James Web. Location at 59 Haywood Street. “Community Connections” November 1992.

In June of 1976 Chan and Miegan Gordon opened Captain’s Book Shelf at 61 Haywood, on the north side of O.Henry’s. The newspaper article announcing the opening said that the downtown business district was “showing signs of coming alive again. Not the same Asheville of decades past, a new type of business community is emerging.” The article pointed to “young people willing to take on the challenge, although insistent upon putting their own stamp on the district.”

Chan Gordon commented, “When we were looking around for a location we decided on downtown even though it’s suffering. We feel as though it will be resurrected. Downtown is the most centrally located area and the parking problem isn’t as great as many people say it is. The Civic Center and the library are here. It’s a good place for the future.”

Capts.2 books ad

Ad for Captain’s Bookshelf showing Chan and Miegan Gordon with Bonnie Butler out front of their earlier location at 61 Haywood Street.

Gordon also credited his landlord, Jack Woodcock who helped prepare the building for occupancy. “He extended himself financially to provide this place with good furnishings and décor. I hope other property owners will follow his example. Unity and cooperation will revitalize the downtown again.”


“Asheville Citizen” June 28, 1976

Captain’s moved to Battery Park Avenue in 1982 and later to their current location at 31 Page Avenue and are now celebrating their 38th year in business.

When Captain’s moved out of 61 Haywood, Emoke B’Racz and Pickett Huffines opened Malaprop’s Book Store and Café in its place on June 1, 1982. They chose Asheville because they wanted somewhere with a cultural center, even though their early experience of working downtown was that it was mostly abandoned. Emoke says, “You could walk 3 blocks in any direction before you found a door not nailed down.” But the low rent gave them the chance to invest all their money in inventory. They also chose to stay here after driving into town and hearing that the “level downtown” (Strouse, Greenberg & Co. mall proposal) was defeated.


Postcard of entrance to Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe, at 61 Haywood Street. AC154

Just 14 years later, with Malaprop’s securely anchored in the community, the store was among the top 13 independent bookstores in the country. They moved down the street in 1997 to their current location at 55 Haywood Street after that buildings’ renovation. They are celebrating their 34th year.

David L. Brown opened Gatsby’s Bar and Restaurant in 1978 at 13 West Walnut Street, current location of Scully’s Bar and Grill. Participants in the Wrap recall going to Gatsby’s afterward and “drinking lots of beer.” On November 4, 1981 proponents of “Save Downtown Asheville” who were against the Strouse, Greenberg & Co. mall complex that would have demolished 11 acres of downtown buildings, went to Gatsby’s to wait for the vote count to come in on the $40 million redevelopment bond needed to finance the project. David Brown stood above the crowd and hollered out the vote counts as they came in. When he was able to report the bond proposal was rejected, he took this photo from inside his restaurant.


“Asheville Citizen” November 4, 1981.

Can you imagine Asheville being what it is today without these early entrepreneurs? Come hear business leaders discuss the challenges and successes of starting and maintaining small businesses downtown during the 1980s.


The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library presents

Asheville in the 1980s: 

A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It

2nd Program: Downtown Businesses & Restaurants

The second program of the series is Wednesday May 25, 2016 from 6:00 to 7:30 in the Lord Auditorium, lower level. All events are free and open to the public. The program is sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

Moderator: Rob Pulleyn founder of Lark Books publishing house.

Panelists: Bob Carr of Tops for Shoes, Paula Dawkins of Jewels that Dance, Pete Apostolopoulos of the Mediterranean, Kathryn Long of Ambiance Interiors, Mark Rosenstein former owner of the Market Place Restaurant, and Attorney Eugene Ellison owner of the Ritz Building on The Block and former Asheville Vice Mayor.

Other guests also representing business in Asheville in the ’80s will be present.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian


People Flocked to “Save Downtown Asheville & The Wrap”

The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library kicked off with a full house the first of a six part series, “Asheville in the 1980s: A Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It” on Wednesday evening April 27. The series is sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room.


There was a current of excitement in the room as people gathered.


Barbara Sayer hugs Ellen Clarke, Patti Glazer in background.


Ann Von Brock, Ellen Clarke, and Benjamin Porter catch up. N.C. Room staff Ione Whitlock to right and Friends of NC Room board member Phyllis Lang in back.


Artist Jean Wall Penland, who designed one of the SDA buttons, and Nancy Orban, co-owner of High Tea on Wall Street in the late 70s early 80s.


The moderators for the program, Jan Schochet, Wayne Caldwell and Peggy Gardner, were joined by panelists Norma Price, and Larry Holt. The map on the screen shows the 11 acre area of downtown buildings that would have been demolished.





Norma Price served on Asheville City Council from 1977 through 1989. Larry Holt served as Deputy Director of the Housing Urban Development Office and inspected the buildings in the demolition area.

Guests who had first hand experience during this time were also on hand, especially to help answer questions from the audience. Special guests included Betty Lawrence, Leon Rocamora, Bob and Ellen Carr and Ed Hay.


Betty Lawrence


Leon Rockamora, Asheville Showcase



Ed Hay, Jr. later councilman and commissioner.

The panelists and special guests shared much history, insight (community and political), humor, and astute observations.



Panelist Larry Holt and Wayne Caldwell speaking with  Jack Thomson, Executive Director of the Preservation Society.


Jane Mathews and Pat Price


Dick Kowal, WCQS


Dana Irwin, John Quigley and Annette Brown talk; in the background, people enjoyed seeing the display of 1980s photographs and memorabilia on display.


Julie Niwinski, Head of Adult Services, Pack Memorial Library, talks with friends, Randee Goodstadt and Jo Hogan.


David Dry, Friends of the N.C. Room Board Member and instructor at A-B Tech., talking with Leslie McCrory.

 Many thanks to Buncombe County TV, for filming the event. A copy will be archived in the North Carolina Room, and within a few weeks we hope to have copies available to check out from the library’s local history video collection.

(BCTV at ttp://www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/public-relations/bctv.aspx,)



For more detail on “Save Downtown Asheville and The Wrap” see last week’s post by clicking on the link.

If anyone would like further historical information, the Save Downtown Asheville Collection, MS216 is housed in the North Carolina Room.  Photographs of The Wrap can be viewed on our database ncroom.buncombecounty.org.

W also have the Asheville Downtown Commercial Complex Redevelopment Plan by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville in Cooperation with City of Asheville, Division of Planning, September 8, 1981 which was the plan for this downtown mall complex. Ref. N.C. 307.34 ASH.

Photographs by Brenda Murphree.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian.

The dates for the following programs in the series are:

May 25: Businesses, Restaurants and Food Stores
June 29: Social Activism & Social Agencies
July 27: Arts, Theater & Music
August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings
September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement

The Fight to Save 11 Acres of Downtown

 The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library presents a six part series

Asheville in the 1980s: 

A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It

The first program of the series kicks off Wednesday April 27, 2016 from 6:00 to 7:30 in the Lord Auditorium, lower level. All events are free and open to the public. The program is sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

Save Downtown Asheville & the Wrap.

Moderators: Jan Schochet, Wayne Caldwell and Peggy Gardner

“Asheville’s scale is small enough that one duly diligent person can know it intimately. It’s a city with heart,” wrote Wayne Caldwell in his perspective of a small rag-tag bunch of Asheville citizens effort to stop city hall. (“Rattlesnakes,” published in 27 Views of Asheville, 2012.) “But ever since the train came in 1880, people from ‘off’ have been moving here, which means someone’s constantly trying to force their idea of ‘better’ on it.”


Asheville from the east. K246-5

Asheville was in sad shape following its decline from the prosperous fifties. And a lot of effort was put in to bettering it. Come to the North Carolina Room and read article after article, from one end of the 1960s straight through to the other end of the 1970s on Asheville’s redevelopment/revitalization efforts.


Chilton’s News Stand and Bargains, Inc. on north side of College Street, 1980. L806-DS

In 1977 Asheville City Council created its own Revitalization Commission. The commission–local residents and business volunteers–worked hard. They were charged by then Mayor Ochsenreiter to “get it done.” In 1978 the council adopted a revitalization plan based on historic preservation and incremental development.


“Asheville Times” Aug. 9, 1977

Things were improving, even if slowly. Until March 13, 1980, when the dust hadn’t even settled from the demolition of the block of buildings on Patton Avenue.

The Asheville Citizen headline that day read:

“Giant Downtown Complex Proposed: Plan Includes Hotel, Mall.”

Asheville City Council and its Revitalization Commission had reversed course. Everyone, just about, was for the mall–The Chamber of Commerce, the Housing Authority, the Asheville Citizen, WLOS TV, Mission Hospital, the “Committee of 36” a newly formed citizen study group, the Mid-City Merchants Association . . .



“Asheville Times” July 29, 1980



“Asheville Citizen” Sept. 9, 1980



“Asheville Citizen” Sept. 9, 1980



SDA.development plan

“Asheville Citizen” October 15, 1980



“Asheville Citizen” October13, 1981


Some people must have felt the ground beneath them was shaking.

A protest group formed within a week, calling themselves, Save Downtown Asheville. Wayne Caldwell was chairman.


SDA.startedAlong with it, native Peggy Gardner had the idea for an educational, art installation of wrapping the entire area in cloth to help give people a visual sense of the area to be demolished. Two hundred people volunteered.


Peggy Gardner’s project to “wrap” in strips of cloth tied together, all of the buildings in an 11 block area that would have been demolished under the Strouse Greenberg & Co. downtown mall complex proposal. Photo by Annie R. Martin, April 19, 1980.

Pressures were endless. Vanguard Management Corp. of Atlanta had recently purchased Coxe property on Patton and Wall Street and announced that if the city failed to give solid support to the mall proposal, the firm might withdraw their plans to renovate their new property.

Councilman Walter Boland then announced his solid support of the project siting the “opportunity to make Asheville a regional retail center, combined with plans for a convention hotel connected to the civic center and for an office complex in the area. This gives us an opportunity to do something that would really put Asheville on the map in a very favorable way.”

Vice mayor Ralph D. Morris Jr. said, “In my mind, this is the best thing to happen to Asheville in a long time. If it flies, we’re talking about three years of a torn-up downtown. But in the end, you’d have something super for the entire area.”

Councilman Harold F. Brownlee also said at this point that, he was “ready to solidly support it.” Mayor Roy Trantham and Councilmen Jack Cole, H.C. Wilkes and Norma Price had not given a statement at this announcement. (Asheville Citizen August 9, 1980.)

The first official step. After two official reports showed directly opposing conditions, the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission with a 5-1 vote (William Moore against) ruled the that 11-block area was blighted. That was 85 buildings and included buildings with current certificates of occupancy. As Wayne Caldwell put it, “Seventeen acres. Amazing.”

A town hall meeting was held at First Baptist church so the opposing sides could air their views.

SDA.town meeting

“Asheville Citizen” October 23, 1981


To float a $40 million bond, it had to pass a bond referendum–a general vote. The vote went to the citizens on November 3, 1981.

Caldwell says, “There was a time when this project would or would not have flown on the word of the city manger. It would simply have been announced. I really think that the folks at city hall thought they could ramrod one more project. Thank God they were wrong.” The bond proposal for the mall failed by  nearly 2 to 1.

If you were in Asheville at this time and voted for the mall, against it, or were undecided, please come to this program. We need more views on this complicated time in Asheville’s not so distant past. We need all views. All had hopes for the city. Many things got in the way–money, time, hopes for something different, good and bad politics and differing views. We just can’t forget about it.

Looking back now on a vibrant downtown, with restored historic buildings, it’s easy to be grateful that things went the way they did. But most Asheville residents even today don’t know how it was volunteers for Save Downtown Asheville who defeated city hall and saved 11 blocks of our current downtown. The mall proposal and “Save Down Asheville” both seem to have been forgotten.

Caldwell noted that “for nearly two years SDA attended every meeting of city council, the housing authority, planning and zoning, and the Asheville Redevelopment Commission. They made notes, spoke at public hearings and civic clubs, asked council for money (which they never got), talked, organized, wrote letters, etc..  People gave two years of their lives to defeating a dragon. They deserve better. A historical marker. A key to the city.”

If you worked  for Save Downtown Asheville or participated in The Wrap, come let us give you the thanks you deserve.

MS184_001E Comp L-3 Courtyard

Lexington Avenue Courtyard in the 1980s. Even though it was already renovated, it, too, would have been demolished. MS184.001E Comp L3.


The Save Downtown Asheville Collection is housed in the North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library, MS216.

**If you would like to record your memories, thoughts and recollections of Asheville in the 1980s, at the night of each program, we will be signing people up for appointments. WCQS has offered to record all who would like to do so at their station. The recordings will be archived in the North Carolina Collection.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

Asheville in the 1980s series continues with:

Wednesday May 25: Businesses, Restaurants and Food Stores. Moderator: Rob Pulleyn

Wednesday June 29: Social Activism & Social Agencies. Moderators: Ann Von Brock and Ellen Clarke

Wednesday July 27: Arts, Theater & Music. Moderators: Deborah Austin and Phyllis Lang

Wednesday August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings. Moderators: Kevan Frazier and Erin Derham

Wednesday September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement. Moderators: Leslie Anderson and Becky Anderson

February 1980: The Demoliton of an Entire City Block

As the North Carolina Room prepares to launch a 6 part series on Asheville in the 1980s with the first program April 27, 2016 on the fight to save 11 acres from being demolished for a mall, we wanted to take a look at what preceded that duel. Right before the Strouse, Greenberg and Co. mid-city mall proposal in March of 1980, there was the demolition of a full block of 1880s era historical buildings on Patton Avenue.

Below is a 1960s photo showing that block, usually referred to as the Imperial Theater block. It stretched from the Sondley Building at the corner of Patton and Church and included all the buildings down to the Man’s store at the corner of Patton and South Lexington.

Some Asheville residents tried to stop it, but most recall that it “happened so quickly–it seemed like a done deal.” Some people who were here at that time say they recall hearing a “theory that the block on Patton was a dry run for how fast the (Strouse-Greenberg) mall area could be torn down.”


Rainy day view, east along Patton Ave from at Church Street towards Pack Sq. On the right (R to L): Fields Inc. men’s clothing store in the Sondley AKA Bank Bldg. #44, Belk’s Department Store #36, Imperial Theater #32; Lee’s Jewelers #30, Efird’s Department Store #28, and the Man Store #22 before South Lexington Avenue. Photo by John Basba, 1963-64.

The buildings were purchased in 1979 by two Asheville banks, Asheville Federal Savings & Loan and the First Citizens Bank & Trust Company. They wanted the property for parking and announced the old store fronts were too old to renovate.

Michael Southern, Western Representative Archaeology and Historic Preservation, wrote on behalf of the newly established Historical Resourses Commission of Asheville, to the president of Asheville Federal Savings bank, William Prescott on November 16, 1979. “Many  citizens feel that these building are an integral part of the architectural and historic character of the downtown district, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and that care should be taken to consider every feasible alternative before the structures are removed forever.” Mr. Southern suggested federal funding available for historic preservation work including funding for evaluating costs of rehabilitation.

MS305_001A image 062

Site of the Imperial Theater block looking west towards the Drhumor Building. The dark brick Sondley building past the theater barely in view. Photograph taken February 1980 before demolition by Peggy Gardner.

The Sondley building was built for attorney and historian Foster A. Sondley and was the building that O. Henry had an office in during his short stay in Asheville after the turn of the century. Built in 1891 as a four-story building it was later expanded in 1900 to six. In 1980 it housed J. Pressley Ltd.

MS305_001A image 058

View looking up Church Street towards the Sondley building at the corner of Patton. Photo by Peggy Gardner, February 1980.



Architectural detail of the Sondley building. Photo by Peggy Gardner, February, 1980. [MS305.001 image 081]

 At the opposite end of the block was the Grand Central Hotel Annex built in 1880 by S.H. Chedester who owned the Grand Central Hotel on the opposite side of the street, where the Kress Building now stands. The Annex was connected to the original hotel by an iron bridge that spanned Patton Avenue.


Historic Resources Commission photograph by David Black of the Grand Central Hotel Annex building, 1977. [N115-5.]



Pen & ink drawing of the Grand Central Hotel, built by father and son, Newton Pearce Chedester and Samuel Hall Chedester. The iron bridge dates from 1888 to 1894. [A738-5]

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Architectural detail of the Grand Central Hotel Annex building. Photo by Peggy Gardner, February, 1980. [MS305.001 image 063]

Asheville architect and city planner Jim Samsel wrote an editorial that was published in both the morning and evening newspapers, giving harsh criticism to the Asheville Revitalization Committee and the city council for their inaction on this key issue. “Both the property owners and the ARC are extremely shortsighted in this action . . .of the wholesale destruction of an entire block of Patton Avenue for a single-level parking lot. Anymore “missing teeth” in our streetscape and downtown will end up looking like it needs dentures.” January 1, 1980.

Bob Terrell also wrote about the demolition of the block in the Asheville Citizen, “Destruction of History.”  “When the wrecking ball smashes into the Grand Central Annex within the next few days, a lot of history will tumble into rubble.” The irony was not lost on him either that the history was being lost for a parking lot.  2/1/1980.

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Demolition photo by Peggy Gardner, 1980. [MS305.001A image 072]

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Demolition photo by Peggy Gardner, 1980. [MS305.001A image 074]



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Demolition photo by Peggy Gardner, 1980. [MS305.001A image 087]

On Wednesday, March 5, 1980, as walls were tumbling down, The Asheville Citizen recorded bystanders watching a workman who had walked to the top of a crane stretched up to an open sided, second story of a building “as if they thought he was a superhero making a triumphant rescue atop a downtown building. But no superheroes intervened in the process these folks were watching. . . Even a superhero couldn’t have stopped the tide of progress.”

Parking lot

Google maps image of Asheville Savings parking lot between Church Street and South Lexington.

The North Carolina Room is grateful to Peggy Gardner for her recent donation (and her dogged determination at uncovering them) of these 1980 photographs, MS305.

Asheville in the 1980s:  A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It
These programs are comprised of panelists and two moderators, all of whom were involved in their subject area in Asheville during this decade.  All are on the last Wednesday of the month, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm. We hope you will join us. All events are free and open to the public. This series is sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

April 27: Save Downtown Asheville & the Wrap
May 25: Businesses, Restaurants and Food Stores
June 29: Social Activism & Social Agencies
July 27: Arts, Theater & Music
August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings
September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian