Friday, February 17, 2023

A Short Visit to Asheville North Carolina (I)

In late September…actually at the very end of September…we decided to drive over to Asheville North Carolina to explore the city itself.  We’d been to Biltmore, just outside Asheville, but we’d never taken a good look at the center of town.



Laurie’s sister, Bonnie, found a deal at The Loft Hotel in downtown Asheville North Carolina and she booked the rooms for both couples.  This is a Marriot property that, as the website states, “Different. By design”.  The Loft Hotel is located at 51 Biltmore Avenue, a great spot for anyone wanting to explore downtown Asheville.  As you can see from the photos, the building is hardly traditional, nor is the lobby area.  There is even a snack bar/coffee bar available for guests.

As with most hotels, room rates bounce all over the place depending on what’s happening around town.  When I wrote this I checked and room rates went from a low of $141.00 a night on 2/26 and 2/27 up to a high of $$379.00 for 3/4/23.  Website: https://www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/avlal-aloft-asheville-downtown/overview/.

This double decker bus is a popular local landmark in Asheville.  Located at 41 Biltmore Avenue, it is very close to The Loft Hotel where we stayed.  Double D’s Coffee and Desserts definitely stands out on its corner…and they had plenty of business too.

Double D’s offers coffees, tea, iced drinks, smoothies, milkshakes, special drinks and locally baked goods and desserts.  You can check out their website at https://www.doubledscoffee.com/#.

Let me start with the fact that the Downtown Asheville Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Asheville’s historic district is extensive…encompassing about 280 contributing structures.  Commercial, governmental and residential buildings in the district include several architectural styles including Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and Art Deco.

By way of example, the Fine Arts Theatre began life in 1947 as a mainstream, first-run movie house.  During the 1960’s it declined significantly, becoming an “Adult XXX Theater”.  VHS tapes killed off that business and by 1986, the theater was closed.  The theatre was reopened in its current reincarnation in 1996, by the same local entrepreneur that opened the Blue Spiral 1, shown above on the right side of the theater.  The old theatre is now a venue for first-run art and independent films as well as special events.  The “colored entrance” box office window has been restored and is not used for group ticketing.  In the early days, nonwhite patrons could only sit in the theater’s balcony.  To learn more about the theatre, go to http://www.fineartstheatre.com/.

The Blue Spiral 1 fine art gallery opened on New Year’s Eve of 1990.  The vision was to create a home for the many artists who’d settled in the area in the latter portion of the 1900s.  At the time that Blue Spiral 1 opened, Asheville had been in a serious decline…partially due to the post-industry depression that impacted so many southern cities.  The founder of both the revamped theatre and the fine art gallery replaced an adult theater, a closed radio supply shop and a plumbing supply store with 2 anchors upon which Asheville could reinvent itself.

Blue Spiral 1 presents more than 25 shows/artist’s exhibits every year and its upper level features works for sale by over 100 artists.  To learn more about this art gallery, go to https://bluespiral1.com/.


While Asheville is home to many artists and expert craftsmen, it is also the enemy of anyone who doesn’t like to shop…myself and Bill included.  The ladies were as happy as clams though, a plus for us guys, given truth that ‘Happy Wives mean Happy Lives’ for the men in their orbit.

I’ve included this little store packed with goodies as an example of the plethora of stores and shops available for the addicted shoppers out there.  Modern Home Goods and Accessories promotes itself as a place to find carefully curated gifts and goods/accessories for a “Peaceful Home”.  Learn more at https://www.handlmoderngoods.com/.


This is the Kress Building in downtown Asheville.  Samuel Henry Kress (1863 – 1955) opened his first store in 1887.  His company grew quickly and his chain of retail stores, known as the S.H. Kress Company, was a type of ‘dollar store’ that, in the early 1900s were also called “Five and Dime” stores.  FYI, Kress stores and Kmart stores are not related in any way.  Kress built his stores in smaller cities which didn’t have big retail outlets.  The fact that Kress stores provided customers with variety and quality at the lowest possible price made for a winning combination.  Kress expanded his chain nationwide with over 200 stores in 29 states.  In the end, the advent of shopping malls brought about the end of downtown stores, with the last Kress store being closed when their new owner, McCrory Stores, another five and dime retailer went out of business in 2001.

Enough background… What made the Kress stores stand out was their eye-catching architecture.  Samuel Kress had his own in-house architectural division.  E.J.T. Hoffman designed Asheville’s neoclassical Kress Building in 1927.  The glazed terra cotta on the front fa├žade combined with the orange and blue rosettes around the window bays…plus the curved Kress emblem at the parapet all combined to make this structure really stand out.

Today, the Kress Emporium Gift Shop occupies this handsome building along with condominiums in the upper levels.  The main floor is packed with individual booths or small stores full of objects of every kind.  Even I found it interesting as there was so much to look at and it wasn’t all “the usual” stuff found in gift shops.  To learn more, just go to https://www.thekressemporium.com/.

I took this photo of the old S&W Cafeteria in the Downtown Asheville Historic District.  This 3-story brick building is a stunning example of the Art Deco style.  The polychrome ornamentation and exotic motifs really make it stand out!  After undergoing renovation for about 2 years, the S and W Market, a food hall, taproom and event center opened here in 2021.

The revamped cafeteria building features the Highland Brewing Company’s downtown taproom and it showcases Asheville’s local independent restaurants.  With 10,000 square feet, 5 food stalls and the taproom, plus 170 seats inside plus an outdoor patio, it looks like a great gathering place.  To learn more, go to https://swmarketavl.com/.



How many of us remember Woolworth Stores?  The last Woolworth stores were closed in July of 1997.  However, the old Woolworth building in downtown Asheville North Carolina is alive and well.  Now called “Woolworth Walk”, it was built in 1938 and the store was closed in 1989. (That first photo was 'borrowed' from the Internet)

In 2001 the building was restored to showcase a piece of the past…and it has received awards for the historic accuracy of the restoration.  The Woolworth Walk includes a unique art gallery/shops and a fully operational old time soda fountain built to resemble the original Woolworth Luncheonette.  The luncheonette serves many of the items from the original menu including egg creams, club sandwiches and old fashioned ice cream sodas.  The building has been restored to feature the original colors and floors and today if supports the work of more than 170 local artisans.  The 20,000 square foot space features 2 floors full of their works.

To learn more, just go to https://www.woolworthwalk.com/.

The Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence the Deacon and Martyr is a major and very impressive structure despite it ‘just’ being a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church.  This ornate church was designed and built by a Spanish architect in the Spanish Renaissance style, along with an American architect and the Roman Catholic community of Asheville.  It was completed in 1909.

Pope John Paul II elevated the status of this parish church to minor basilica in 1993.  The church’s dome was inspired by the Basilica do los Desampardos of Valencia Spain.  With a span of 58 feet by 82 feet, it is reputed to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America.

Located at 97 Haywood Street, the basilica is open for visits on a daily visits on weekdays from 7:30 AM until 5 PM.  If you visit the basilica’s website, you can take an on-line self-guided tour of this impressive and beautiful church.  Go to https://www.romanticasheville.com/basilica.htm.




This very large structure is known as the Grove Arcade, the Arcade Building or the Asheville Federal Building.  It was completed in 1929 in the Tudor Revival and Late Gothic Revival style…basically consisting of 2 stacked blocks.  It was designed to serve as a base for a skyscraper that was never built.  The Grove Arcade occupies a full city block, 269,000 square feet, and it housed one of America’s first indoor shopping malls.  It was home for candy and cigar stores, a haberdashery, a public stenography office, fruit stands, millinery shops, beauty and barber shops, a photography center, bookstalls and specialty grocers.

As part of the war effort in WWII, the Grove Arcade was closed by the Federal Government and it was used by the military for the duration of the war.  It was chosen because it was large and it was located in a relatively safe area away from the Atlantic coast.  At some point after the war, the building became the headquarters for the National Weather Records Center…housing millions of paper records or punch cards in filing cabinets.

So…who built what is now referred to as the Grove Arcade?  In the 1800s malaria struck residents of the southern USA with deadly effect.  There wasn’t any cure at the time.  E.W. Grove, who had a little drug business in Paris Tennessee, lost his youngest daughter and his wife to the disease.  He became determined to find a remedy for malaria.  It was well known that quinine would reduce the symptoms of the disease although it would never be a cure.  In 1878, Grove came up with a method of creating a tonic that contained quinine…that was called Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic.  He became a self-made millionaire.  When he permanently moved to Asheville in 1910, he built a resort and began construction of the Grove Arcade, but he died 2 years before the skyscraper portion of the structure was built...

The National Weather Service moved out of the building in 1995 and in 1997, the city of Asheville became the new owner.  The building was restored and reopened in 2002.  Today, the Grove Arcade features shops and no less than 11 restaurants/places to dine on the first floor, offices on the second and residential apartments above that.  For more information, go to https://grovearcade.com/. 

Two other buildings in downtown Asheville are so dominant on the skyline that I couldn’t avoid checking them out.  The 17-story steel frame skyscraper that is The Buncombe County Courthouse was completed in 1928.  This 17-story brick sheathed steel frame skyscraper with its Neo-Classical Revival ornamentation was designed by Frank Pierce Milburn.  Milburn was a prolific architect, involved in the design and construction of at least 24 courthouses and 9 railroad depots along with a number of other structures.  The interior of the courthouse features a sweeping marble staircase, a coffered ceiling and a mosaic tile floor.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

This striking structure also occupies the City-County Plaza in Asheville North Carolina.  This historic Art Deco brick and stone governmental office building is Asheville’s City Hall.  The structure’s unique shape and colorful exterior have made it into an iconic Asheville landmark, as well as a symbol for the city.  It is featured on the city’s seal… This city hall has been part of the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

This Art Deco masterpiece was the result of the architect’s imagination and his desire to reflect the contours and textures of the city’s mountain backdrop.  That ziggurat roof is covered with red tiles that are split into layers by the use of interrupting green and gold feather motifs.  Originally intended to be a twin to the Courthouse, the latter was built in a more conservative and classic style.  A wing connecting the 2 buildings was planned but never built.

FYI…The city of Asheville North Carolina has 94,589 residents while the greater Asheville Metropolitan area has a population of 469,000 plus.

Note: The 2012 movie, “The Hunger Games”, was filmed near Asheville as was a 2017 film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”.

Just click on any of the photographs to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

3 comments:

  1. One can always tell Catholic church from Evangelic church from the architecture style. Catholic church could sometimes look incredibly intimidating..that's how I felt when I first visited Cologne cathedral. So good that you and Laurie are always on the road and have such an active life.

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  2. Thanks for this great collection of photos and info on my nearby city. I need to spend more time window shopping there...have been going much farther afield on my day trips, while just look what's right under my nose! I haven't done the Arcade in years (a good place to take visitors).

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  3. We are hosting an RV rally in June and this info will come in handy.

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