Art / Happy / Places & Travel / Society & Culture / Vintage

It’s Not Dead Yet: Christmas With Asheville’s Architectural Gems

As I sit here in the midst of the winter’s biggest storm so far for the Midwest, with several inches of snow and plummeting temperatures, I’m thinking about all the fun I had roaming around Asheville, North Carolina with my mom and husband a few days after Christmas. I was impressed by all the art deco buildings, one after another, block after block. I couldn’t stop taking photos.

A little research over lunch at the Jack of the Wood (great burgers and their own brews), next to one of the architectural gems, lead me to the National Park Service website on Asheville’s National Register status as a “historic place.”  I also found Asheville’s city website which explained that the reason these buildings were saved is the past economic hardship of the town. In the 1970s when other cities were demolishing old structures to build modern (and in my opinion, ugly) high-rises, Asheville was depressed and not developing. By the time people came to their senses that some buildings are worth saving for their beauty, Asheville was ahead of the game.

Take this gem, the art deco S&W Cafeteria Building, by the architect Douglas Ellington, trained at the École des Beaux Arts.

s&w-cafeteria-asheville

The blue and yellow tiles reminded me of a birthday cake. Older photos don’t show the colors around the arched windows, but they compliment the roof nicely. Built in 1929, this looks like it would have been a swanky place for lunch, no? I’d like a table by the window, please!

s&w-cafeteria-asheville-detail

Around the corner from this art deco gem is a bench dedicated to Elizabeth Blackwell, a pioneer in women’s medicine. I was thinking that it was an old bench, given that it looks like it came straight from the same sculptor as Paris’ Metro stations, Hector Guimard, an Art Nouveau master. However, it was made in modern times by Joe Miller. Blackwell’s face was sculpted by James Barnhill.

blackwell-bench-asheville

Directly across the street from the bench is another lovely building, the Drhumor Building. Designed by Allen Melton and built in 1895, it’s an example of Romanesque Revival.

dhrumor-building-asheville

I loved the stone carvings around the perimeter of the facade, which further research showed was done by the same man who did the stone carvings at Biltmore Estate, Frederic Miles.

dhrumor-building-asheville-detail

drhumor-building-angels

Around another corner, you’ll see an old Woolworth’s built in 1938. Again, saved by the economic downturn, it boasts a restored soda fountain, original floors, and is now a shop full of local art and crafts.

woolworth-building-asheville

Last on my little tour, was this gem of a building, the Public Service Building, circa 1929. I loved the red brick and limestone, and the carvings along the facade.

public-service-building-asheville

public-service-building-tall-asheville

public-service-building-detail-asheville

I’ll have to go back, as it has a Leda and Swan motif on the second story that I missed. It’s another Romanesque style building, but from more than 30 years after the Drhumor building was finished.

The most popular, and probably most well-known, building is the Grove Arcade, built just as the Depression was starting. One of the country’s first indoor shopping malls, it’s a beauty that rivals those I’ve visited in Europe built during the late 1800s. The outside was undergoing renovations, but the inside was decked out for the holidays and was truly festive.

grove-arcade-interior-christmas

Plus, it was displaying winning entries to the annual gingerbread house competition, so there were fun edibles to look at. We had to stop in a coffee place to satisfy our real hunger.

That brings me back to the Jack of the Wood. If you’re ever tired of rambling through Asheville’s twisty streets, and the hot spots on Yelp and TripAdvisor have a 90 minute wait, head on over. My short rib burger, and my hubby’s bison burger were so good we went there two days in a row. The second lunch, with a pork belly sammy was even better. And the porter was divine. Damn. I’m stuck in 2′ of snow. I’m hoping I can scrounge a beer out of the fridge.

Kristin LaTour’s life is like a small Victorian boarding house of familiar guests. Some may only visit occasionally; some never leave, and all are welcome. Find out more at her website.

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