HeardTell: The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library

Where Research is a Delight!

Restoring Our Memory of Southside

Wednesday, February 26th, 6:00 until 7:30 PM

Pack Library Lord Auditorium

Rich Mathews, historian and researcher for Mathews Architecture,

will present a slide presentation about the Southside Neighborhood in Asheville

Here Rich gives us a preview of his talk. Join us on Wednesday night for MORE!

Southside

Photo of the Nantahala Hotel on Depot Street, circa 1968, from the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA) archives in the Special Collections, Ramsey Library, UNC-Asheville

I’m a preservationist. I love old buildings and historic neighborhoods.

The common refrain is that old buildings tell the stories of the people who  lived in them.

But what do we do when there aren’t any buildings left?

This is the conundrum we face when we consider the Southside neighborhood, just  south of downtown Asheville.

Composite of the 1925-1951 Sanborn Insurance Company maps with the demolished buildings highlighted.

Composite of the 1925-1951 Sanborn Insurance Company maps with the demolished buildings highlighted.

Southside Avenue was as vital a business center for the African-American community in Asheville as The Block, the Eagle-Market Streets area downtown. During the East Riverside Redevelopment Project, an urban renewal effort targeting 425 acres from Hilliard Avenue south to Oakland Road, it was completely demolished.

A few facts about the target area:

– 4,800 residents

– 98% “Negro”, ½ of the City’s African-American population

– 8% of City population

– 14% of City’s tuberculosis cases

– 50% of rapes and assaults

– 26% of venereal diseases

– High risk of fire damage

Southside Avenue in the mid-1960s, looking east from South French Broad Avenue. (Photo from the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville archives in the Special Collections, Ramsey Library, UNC-Asheville)

Southside Avenue in the mid-1960s, looking east from South French Broad Avenue. (Photo from the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville archives in the Special Collections, Ramsey Library, UNC-Asheville)

Some of the conditions listed in “A Program for Renewal: Neighborhood Analysis Study” published in 1966 [HACA archives, Ramsey Library]:
* Lack of adequate recreation space including sub-standard conditions at Murray Hill Park, Asheland  Avenue Community Center and the Livingston School playground.
* The Metropolitan Area’s highest incidence of social conditions reflecting blight.
* Inappropriately located commercial uses along the major thoroughfares.
* Scattered clusters of overcrowded conditions and high residential densities. Inadequate off-street parking in the residential sections.
* Uncontrolled outside storage in the residential sections and particularly in the northwest industrial sections.
* General obsolescence and ugliness throughout the Study Area.

The general area today - Choctaw Street near South French Broad Avenue.

The general area today – Choctaw Street near South French Broad Avenue.

Sadly, the approach chosen to solve the many problems plaguing Southside resulted in the almost complete demolition of the neighborhood and the emotional and cultural “root shock” suffered by the people there.

“Everyone needs to know their heritage. Everyone needs to know their roots. After all, you cannot fulfill your future unless you honor your past.” ― Chirlane McCray, new First Lady of New York City

Since there are no buildings left to tell the stories of the people, we need to do the obverse and invite the people to tell the stories of the buildings.

A young man leaning on the railing over Nasty Branch at South French Broad Avenue in the mid-1960s. ((From the HACA archives in the Special Collections, Ramsey Library, UNC-Asheville)

A young man leaning on the railing over Nasty Branch at South French Broad Avenue in the mid-1960s. (From the HACA archives in the Special Collections, Ramsey Library, UNC-Asheville)

Post prepared by Rich Mathews, preservationist and historian; Posted by Betsy Murray

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