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://,)



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

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. 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]

MS305_001A image 063

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.

MS305_001A image 072

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

MS305_001A image 074

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



MS305_001A image 087

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

Ever Wonder How Asheville Got To Be So Cool?

When did Asheville’s renaissance begin?” We are often asked that question in the North Carolina Room. It is also the topic of a lot of published articles. Most responses turn straight to the 1990s. But native Ashevillians and those who lived here in the 1970s and 1980s usually see it differently.


Asheville in 1983 after the addition of the Akzona Building (Biltmore Co. Offices.) Reverse reads “Asheville, N.C. still retains its resort atmosphere while also offering the ability to furnish many big city conveniences.”  

In just a few weeks, Pack Memorial Library’s North Carolina Room will launch a new monthly series looking at exactly that question. Asheville In The 1980sA Formative Decade As Told By Those Who Shaped It will kick off on Wednesday, April 27, with a look at a critical moment in 1980 when we almost lost 11 acres of downtown Asheville to a huge shopping mall. The six-part series will look at the renaissance chartered by citizens, social activists, businesses, and artists during this time. The series runs April through September on the last Wednesday of the month from 6:00 to 7:30 pm.

“We hope to dispel the myth that Asheville was all boarded up,” says Julie Niwinski, Head of Adult Services at Pack.


Building at corner of College and N. Lexington. Photo by Rachel Stein circa 1980.

Far from being boarded up, at the beginning of that decade Asheville was rated by Rand McNally’s Places Rated Almanac in 1981 the number 1 place to live among 125 small metro areas (under 125,000 population) and number 41 among 277 metro areas of all sizes. The Places Rated authors David Savageau and Rick Boyer (who moved here a couple of years afterwards) stated that they based their ratings on “nine equally weighted standards—climate and terrain, housing, health care and environment, crime, transportation, education, recreation, culture and the arts, and economics.”


Southwest Pack Square in 1982. Photo by Alan Butterworth.

So what was going on here in the 1980s to rate so well? Each of the six programs in this series delves into that question from a different perspective, including the arts, business, architecture, downtown housing, social activism and civic engagement.

We’ll soon be publishing more details on each program, but for starters here are some comments from some of the program moderators and an overview of the whole series:

(April 27) Save Downtown Asheville & The Wrap: Moderators Wayne Caldwell, Peggy Gardner and Jan Schochet

Jan Schochet, Asheville native and proprietor of A Dancer’s Place on Patton Avenue that was next to her parents’ Star Bootery store, says, “Asheville has always, always had a vibrant art and cultural scene. The question that we faced was what to do when we lost the city’s center—when the big stores relocated to the malls.”


J.C. Penny’s was the last department store to leave downtown in 1989.

(May 25) Business and Restaurants: Moderator Rob Pulleyn

Rob Pulleyn, founder of Fiberarts Magazine in 1975 and, later, Lark Books, recalls, “Lower rents and sagging property values in the mid-seventies lured entrepreneurial and pioneering small businesses and made downtown the vibrant and viable place we now see around us.”


Wall Street from the corner of Battery Park Avenue intersection reveals the remodeled rear entrances of the buildings forming a boutique district. Photo by David Black, 1975.

(June 29) Social Activism and Social Agencies: Moderators Ann Von Brock and Ellen Clarke

Ann Von Brock, early director of Helpmate and later with United Way, participated in and watched social agencies grow out of social activism. “Asheville was on the cutting edge in so many ways,” she says. “We had a strong legal aid society, food bank, women’s services, an AIDS project, and more, supported by local businesses, city and county government, United Way funding and Community Foundation funding.”

Ellen Clark, former Executive Director of Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice, sees this part of Asheville’s history as “looking at the homegrown efforts that took off, and how they have influenced who Asheville is today.”


Haywood St during Asheville’s first Bele Chere celebration, 1979.

(July 27) The Arts: Performing, Visual, and Literary: Moderators Deborah Austin and Phyllis Lang

Deborah Austin, Director of the Arts Council in the 1980s, says, “The partnerships that were unique in the eighties were connected with the arts and outdoor celebrations. We had activity from the City, the Chamber of Commerce, The Arts Council, and Quality Forward.”


Hazel Robinson, director of the Montford Park Players, helping Bill Underwood with his costume. Photo by Mary Jo Brezny.

(August 31) New Housing and Old Buildings: Moderators Kevan Frazier and Erin Derham

Asheville native and historian Kevan Frazier believes that you can’t have a vibrant downtown without housing. “The conversion of abandoned office and warehouse space in the Central Business District during the eighties,” he says, “would come to be one of the key elements of Asheville’s Renaissance.”


Sixty Haywood renovation by Roger McGuire in 1987 creating residential and retail space. Photo by David Black.


(September 28) Politics & Civic Engagement: Moderators Leslie Anderson and Becky Anderson

Leslie Anderson, Asheville’s first director of Downtown Development, agrees about the effects of activism and sums it up like this: “Asheville today may be so prosperous and so vital because there is a history of something behind that, a history of activism and engagement that I think is a hallmark of our community and I believe is a key reason for our success.”


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. Two hundred people participated. Photo by Annie R. Martin, April 19, 1980.

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. Each program will also include guests in the front row to enlarge the stage and to help answer questions from the audience. These programs will be held on the last Wednesday of the month, 6:00—7:30 p.m. We hope to see you there!

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, North Carolina Room.

1980s Asheville Revisited

Asheville in the 1980s is the theme for a series of summer-long evening programs beginning in April. Each program covers a unique aspect of Asheville’s history from arts to business to architecture, and includes the “Save Asheville’s Downtown” grassroots campaign.

The 1980s were a time of uncertainty for many.  A May 25, 1980 article in the Asheville Citizen Times by AP Special Correspondent Saul Pett compared Asheville residents with other Americans.   Asheville residents were unsure about the direction their city leaders should take,  confused by changes going on at home and in the larger world.  “Turned off” was the phrase the writer used to describe the local attitude toward the 1980 presidential election. He notes that ambivalence: “Most people here seem to think that the identity of the next president won’t make much difference.” Yet decisions were made, and they helped shape the city we know today.

The accompanying image was selected to illustrate Pett’s article.  It shows the Thomas Wolfe Memorial positioned beside the 12-story Inn on the Plaza, contrasting the sureties of history with the discomfort of the new.


Opened in 1977, Smoky Mountain Inn on the Plaza was changed to Quality Inn on the Plaza in the 1980s. Today, it is the Renaissance Hotel Asheville.



Pre-Inn on the Plaza construction view of intersection of College Street and Court Plaza, looking west from the roof of Asheville City Courthouse, which fills the right side of the picture. In the center, beside the Charlotte Street Gulf Service (140 College St.), is the municipal parking lot (146 Charlotte St.). In the distance on the left is the Thomas Wolfe House (48 Spruce St.)


This image shows the 2007 construction underway on a 9-story, 75-condo project by a Fairview developer. The address is 60 N. Market St., with the Thomas Wolfe Visitors Center (52 N. Market St.) to its right and the Asheville Biltmore Hotel building to its left.

Spring 2016 brings some of the same challenges Asheville has seen historically, short and long term. Pett notes, “Beauty here … brings mixed blessings. So does change.” Make plans to join your 21st century neighbors as the Friends of the NC Room hosts a look back at Asheville in the 1980’s and, if history is any indicator, a look into the future.


Post by Tammy Young

The Mikado Room – An Asheville Original

This year the North Carolina Room is featuring a series of programs on the 1980’s – a time that helped define what Asheville was to become. But, 100 years prior to that, Asheville was in the midst of an earlier Renaissance. The train had arrived in 1880 and Asheville became a true destination and was thoroughly enjoying its new found popularity. On what may have been a crisp January evening in 1886, four young men returned from seeing the Mikado at the Asheville Opera House. With music and lyrics by Gilbert and Sullivan, the Mikado opened in London in March of 1885. It was an immediate success and by the end of 1885 some 150 companies in Europe and America were producing the opera.  Less than a year after its London debut it had arrived in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The Mikado, and all things, Japanese became a craze.  Although we sometimes think of the 1920’s as the height of the interest in Japan – with women wearing kimonos and playing Mahjongg – it was actually a much earlier fad.  In the late 19th century Americans and Europeans were captivated by the customs and arts of the Japanese.  Aestheticism, which leaned heavily upon the Orient for design motifs, was all the rage in furniture and home wares.  Once the Arts and Crafts Movement had taken hold in the early 20th century many artists became enamored with the Japanese woodblock print.

Our four young men, J. Taylor Amiss, Fred Jacobs, Edwin Gatchell and Roger Davis were fascinated by the Mikado and on their return to the flat of Amiss and Jacobs, which was located above Lyon’s drug store, they discussed the production.

B096-5 copy

View from the frozen fountain in Pack Square looking west on Patton Avenue. H. H. Lyon’s drug store is the building on the right corner and the apartment would have been on the second or third floor overlooking Pack Square or Patton Avenue. (The BB&T building occupies this space today.) B096-5

At some point in the evening’s conversations one of them suggested turning the flat into a Mikado room. In an article published in Dixie, an illustrated magazine from Atlanta is this quote:  “Boys, why don’t you make of this a Mikado room?  They all heartily fell in with the idea saying:  Just the thing, by Jove!  By all means have a Mikado room.”

With alacrity and creativity the young men, led by Roger Davis the artist of the group (whose nickname was Crayon), began their project. When asked if it was necessary that everything in the room need be of Japanese design Crayon replied “By no means, it is mainly in the decorations that we must adhere as closely as may be to the Orient.  We shall leave the furniture…; but everything we add should be as characteristic of Japan as possible.”  He continued “I would suggest you have the floor painted in imitation walnut and oak marquetry, have the ceiling tinted and the walls papered.  I would have a paper of neutral tint, and the ceiling a light blue.”

Not having much money they gathered material they felt gave the sense of the Far East from local sources adding paper lanterns and parasols, brackets, scarves, easels, picture frames, and fringing. The Mikado room became a reality and the darling of Asheville and beyond.  Once completed the young men gave recitals and dinner parties and enjoyed showing their space to visitors.  Several local and further distant newspapers picked up the story calling it “The Southern Mikado Room.”


Drawing of a corner of the finished room from the Dixie article. Note the paper lanterns and parasols. MS291 010a


Same corner as above with slightly different decorations. MS291.018


Another corner of the Mikado Room. MS291.019a


The finished room with piano at the ready. MS291.001


Another view of the room –probably Roger Davis, aka Crayon at the easel MS291.020

The young men moved on with their lives and the Mikado room became a distant memory.  J. Amiss Taylor married in the summer of 1886 and we can thank his wife who put together a scrapbook on the room.  The North Carolina Collection now has documentation on this small and charming piece of Asheville history.


Post by Lynne Poirier-Wilson


South Slope: The Demolition, 1926

Image #1: Demolition site. (#O095-DS, from MS285, Mundy Collection. North Carolina Collection at Pack Memorial Library.)

Image 1: Demolition site. (#O095-DS, from MS285, Mundy Collection. North Carolina Collection at Pack Memorial Library.)

At first glance, the photograph (Image 1) gave few clues as to precisely where or what this was, other than it appeared to be a massive construction site in Asheville. The automobiles and old construction equipment hinted at the 1920s, but where and when was this photograph taken?

We searched the Asheville City Directories. There, in the 1926 edition, was the listing for the four businesses in view (Image 2): Asheville Machine Company, Orange Crush Bottling Co., Blue Ridge Machinery and Auto Paint Shop – all on Southside Avenue. The City Directory listed Asheville Machine Company at 51-53 Southside. With a magnifying glass, we looked closely at the numbers on the building. Sure enough, the numbers 51 and 53 appear by the door of Asheville Machine Company.

Detail from O095-DS. Note "51" and "53" on the rightmost building. Also notice the phone numbers on the buildings.

Image 2: Detail from O095-DS. Note “51” and “53” on the rightmost building. (click to view close-up)

So this was Southside Avenue, circa 1926. But what was the demolition? Could this have been continuing the construction of Coxe Avenue?

We ran the digital image through a few Photoshop filters and zoomed in, hunting for another clue.  We found it.

Image 3

Image 3: In the distance, in photo O095-DS, is the 1926 location of J. Gorham Low, Exide Batteries retailer, near the corner of Coxe and Hilliard. (click photo to enlarge)

On the horizon, below the Battery Park Hotel, we spotted a building marked “J. Gorham Low.”  Bingo!  The City Directory indicates that in 1926 Mr. Low, who owned an Exide car battery shop on Biltmore Avenue, opened an additional shop on the newly created Coxe Avenue, near the corner of Hilliard. (Image 3)

That told us that the street in view, in the upper left corner, was Coxe Avenue; that it had traffic and had already been completed.  So the demolition was not for Coxe Avenue.

Searching our database for photos of Coxe Avenue in the ‘20s, we found an aerial view of Asheville shortly after the avenue was built (Image 4; photo #A019-8).  And there, just east of Coxe Avenue and north of Southside, was a hillside of woods and farmland.

Image 4

Image 4: Aerial view of Asheville circa 1925. Image A019-8 from the North Carolina Collection at Pack Library.

Zooming in on the buildings in the lower right-hand corner, we see that in fact they are the same shops that appear in the photo from the Mundy collection. (Image 5) The buildings match, right down to the large sign on top of the Asheville Machine Company.

Image 5

Image 5: Top: Aerial view of Southside Avenue buildings circa 1925 (photo A019-8). Bottom: the same buildings in 1926 (from photo O095-DS).

So what we see in the construction photo (O095-DS) is the creation of what we now call South Slope:  Millard, Buxton, and Banks Avenues were all carved out of that hillside.

We asked historian and architectural designer Dale Slusser, “Did the hillside have a name?”  The answer:  Buxton Hill, of Thomas Wolfe fame.

Dale, who has written extensively on the history of Ravenscroft and environs, filled in some detail for us:

The hillside to be demolished was the old Rev. Buxton Estate (Image 6), which also became the North State Fitting School of Thomas Wolfe acclaim. The hill was demolished in 1926 for the Buxton Hill development and was turned into Banks Avenue and Buxton Avenue, now called the South Slope, known for enterprises such as the Green Man Brewery.”

Dale referred to the “Bird’s-Eye View of the City of Asheville” (MAP202) which shows the hillside and the Buxton Estate (South Slope) as it appeared in the late 1800s (Image 6). Southside Avenue is in view in the lower right-hand corner.  Rev. Buxton’s home, which was demolished, was just above the avenue.

Image 6

Image 6: The hillside as it appeared in 1891.  Street in the lower right-hand corner is Southside Avenue; just above it was Rev. Buxton’s home. [Map202 from the North Carolina Collection at Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, NC]

Dale points out that in the demolition photo (Image 7), on the hill and barely visible through trees and clouds of dust, one can see the old Shoenberger Hall which had been at 60 Ravenscroft Drive.  The hall survived the demolition.   He says the building to the left of Shoenberger, mostly obscured, was the Arizona Apartment building which is also visible in the aerial view.  He sent us a photo of Shoenberger Hall (Image 8), with a note that “In your photo you can make out the end of the porch on the right end of the building.”

Image 7

Image 7: Detail from photo O095-DS shows Shoenberger Hall, which survived this demolition, but was razed in the 1970s. On the left is Arizona Apartments which was at 43 Ravenscroft Dr.

This, then, was a photograph of the demolition of the “hill wooded by magnificent trees” mentioned in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel.  Dale describes the hill’s history in his book “The Ravenscroft School in Asheville:”

Image 8

Image 8: West front of Shoenberger Hall. One end of the porch on the right is in view in photo #O095-DS. (Image #C762-8 from the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library.)

[D]uring the first half of the twentieth century, while Ravenscroft was being used as a boarding house and in the hands of successive owners and managers, Shoenberger Hall remained in the hands of the [Episcopal Church’s] Missionary District of Asheville. [It was the home of Bishop Junius Horner and family, and of Rev. A. H. Stubbs.]

. . . Just south of Shoenberger Hall, though not technically on missionary district land, was Buxton Place, the former home of the Rev. Jarvis Buxton, founder of the Ravenscroft schools. (Image 9) The Rev. Buxton’s daughter, Mary R. Buxton, had inherited the home following the death of her father in 1902.  Mary, not surprisingly, opened a portion of her home as a boarding house named ‘Buxton Place.’ The other portion of the home was leased to the ‘North State Fitting School.’

Image 9

Image 9: The old Buxton home, at the end of Church Street, was part of the demolition. Photo taken circa 1912. (#F741-5 from the North Carolina Collection at Pack Library.)

Image 10

Image 10: Photo A019-8, taken prior to the demolition.  Annotation added by library staff. (click photo to enlarge)

. . . The award-winning hometown author Thomas Wolfe was not only one of the first students of the school (1912-1916), but he also immortalized the school and the nearby Shoenberger Hall in his 1929 novel, “Look Homeward, Angel,” when he wrote, ‘Mr. Leonard had leased an old pre-war house, set on a hill wooded by magnificent trees.  It faced west and south, looking toward Biltburn, and abruptly down on South End. . . .’

Dale goes on to describe the fate of the estate and the hillside:

Image 11

Image 11: 1926 plans for the “Buxton Hill Subdivision.” (Image courtesy of Dale Slusser.)

Unfortunately the North State Fitting School and Buxton Place did not survive the real-estate frenzy of 1920s Asheville.  In 1926, the “Buxton Hill Investment Company” was organized to develop the ‘Buxton Hill Subdivision’ on the former site of the Rev. Buxton’s property. (Image 11) Not only was the house demolished, but the entire hill was also removed and lowered about 20 feet, leaving a cliff-faced dirt bank along the south property of Shoenberger Hall.  [The dirt bank] remains to this day.” (Slusser, 2014)



Today the region that was once Buxton Hill is a mix of old-fashioned shops and trendy new businesses.

Buxton Hall Bar-B-Cue, Catawba Brewing Co., and Vortex Doughnuts on Banks Avenue look north to a ragged cliffside steeped in history.

Buxton Hall Barbecue, Catawba Brewing Co., and Vortex Doughnuts on Banks Avenue look north to a ragged cliffside steeped in history.


Looking south from Banks Avenue, over the shoulder of Vortex Doughnuts (left), is a view from what was once Buxton Hill.

Looking south from Banks Avenue, over the shoulder of Vortex Doughnuts (left), is a view from what was once Buxton Hill.

The “cliff-faced dirt bank” — the gash in the hillside that is visible in the demolition photo — is still there (Image 12), and is a backdrop to the parking lot facing Buxton Hall Barbecue, Catawba Brewing Company, and Vortex Doughnuts.

Image 12

Image 12: The steep bank, visible in the demolition photo, is now the embankment overlooking the Banks Avenue parking lot. (click to enlarge)

On Southside Avenue, where the machine and automotive shops stood, City Transmission Service stands with its whimsical mural of gears. (Image 13)

Image 13: 51 Southside, where Asheville Machine Company once stood, is now the whimsically painted City Transmission Service.

Image 13: 51 Southside Avenue, where Asheville Machine Company once stood, is now the whimsically painted City Transmission Service.

Below is a map showing the locations of the buildings in view in the photograph, along with what we think might have been the location of the photographer [click on the stars in the map for more information]:

–Post by Ione Whitlock, library staff.

[3/18/2016 3:06pm:  Updated to include additional names and photo of Banks Avenue establishments facing the cliff.]