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Historic Photos of downtown Asheville


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Found This photo collection on UNCA's web page showing downtown Asheville in a period of full decline, 1976-1978.

The town hadn't hit rock bottom at this point (That would be about 1985) but downtown retail was becoming marginalized, stores were closing down all over the place, and vacancy was on the rise. You can see the chilling impact of the Wachovia building's blank walls, and the way that many multi-story buildings had their upper floors sealed off by tack-on facades. Of particular note is the photo marked "Haywood at Walnut" - the building marked "Jack Schulman's" in the foreground is now Malaprop's Bookstore!

Downtown would continue to slide for another decade after these photos were taken, as the Beaucatcher Cut and Asheville Mall began to make their presence known. Things didn't start to turn around in ashevulle until the late 1980s. But turn around they have!

You'll need an image viewer capable of opening .djvu files. I recommend IrfanView. You will need the viewer and the plugins.

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I remember driving through there in 1979 or 1980, don't quite remember now. I remember the downtown area was quite desolate and dangerous looking at night. The only thing going on were workers at the ugly 60's bank buildings downtown who departed to the suburbs once business had concluded. From then on, trips to Asheville were limited to the mall and Biltmore Village with the very occasional drive down the interstate in downtown. Even as late as 1990, I can remember there not being anywhere decent to eat in the downtown.

The transformation has been quite remarkable since then. I am always surprised at the number of tourists that I know who go to Asheville and only go to Biltmore. I urge them to try going into downtown, and those who do are plesantly surprised. The revitalized downtown reminds me of Charleston of the 1980s (pre-Hugo) with the mix of the eclectic and interesting local retail. I hope Asheville doesn't follow Charleston into its over gentrification stages that have removed much of the "real" character that used to be there. (post-Hugo)

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Here's a few more pictures from the UNCA archives, mostly from the 1920s. Taken from:

E.M. Ball Photographic Collection (1918-1969), D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804 (link)

The Grove Arcade, just completed:


Downtown from the top of the Vanderbilt Hotel. Note the large, light-colored, 8-story building just right of center. This is the Langren Hotel, demolished in the 60s for a three-level parking garage.


Haywood Street, from the top of the Vanderbilt Hotel


Biltmore Avenue looking north towards Pack Square. The first 4-story building on the left is the Swannanoa Hotel, demolished or lost to fire decades ago. The first 4-story building on the right is currently being restored as "The Oxford" with retail & condos.


The Bon Marche Department Store on Haywood, later Ivey's, later Haywood Park Hotel


Haywood Street from Patton Avenue in the 1920s. Note the closest building on the left is gone and replaced with Pritchard Park; the closest building on the right was demolished to make room for Wachovia's fortress.


The Jackson Building under construction viewed from Pack Square


A close-up of the Langren Hotel (again, demolished for a parking garage)


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Was the Langren diagonal from the current BB&T building?
Yes, the Langren was diagonal from where the BB&T building is now. I do not know if the two buildings were ever standing at the same time, but I doubt it - I think the parking deck was built to accommodate workers at the BB&T (then NW Bank) tower.

It's really a shame, that was a nice looking building.
Evidently people didn't think so in the 1960s when they tore it down. It was old-fashioned, ugly, and probably in rough shape. I'd like to read about it someday in old newspapers, but there were probably people calling for the eyesore to come down back then.

This is an example of how architectural styles change in cycles, and how demolishing what seems ugly at one point in time is a mistake. Even if you swear up and down that the BB&T or Akzona buildings are ugly, they need to stay. Even for their flaws from an urban standpoint, both of these buildings will eventually be cherished as valuable parts of Asheville's architectural heritage.

Demolition is not something to be taken likely or done haphazardly. But then again, there is some real architectural crap out there. Like the Wachovia building. Man that thing's awful. :lol:

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On the topic of history and pictures... does anyone know why the original battery park hotel was called "battery park"? Was it on "battery hill"? I have some thought's but I thought I'd ask and see what folks thought before I made any presumptions.

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I am not certain of the original reason for calling the hotel "Battery Park."

There was originally a hill on the present site of the Grove Arcade, and at one point it was called Battery Hill, but I have no idea of the original reason for the name.

Before the original Battery Park Hotel, some internet sources say the ground was 100 feet higher than it is today, and was called River Hill. 30 or so feet of the hill may have been lopped off around 1886, when the original Battery Park Hotel was built. In 1922, after the original hotel burned down, Edwin W. Grove took 70 or so more feet off the hill and built the current Battery Park Hotel and the Grove Arcade in its place. He used the enormous amount of dirt from the hill to fill in a valley south of downtown, making the Coxe Avenue raodbed and the"South Slope."

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From what I've been able to find out, Battery Hill is called such because a battery of cannons were placed there during the Civil War to protect the town.

That is kind of what I had figured. At some point I had come across an account of the Battle of Asheville (i think) where they described watching the battle from the top of a hill in downtown. I began to think about the fact that that hill would likely be a strategic place for a battery and ... well the fact that the hill was called battery hill. I had never heard of or seen any reference to a battery though... I'm sure any remenants would be somewhere beneath Coxe Ave by now.

I wonder what happened to the battery... was it incorporated into the foundations of the hotel? was it made into a park (hence "battery park")

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It was probably scraped away with the rest of the hill upon which the original Battery Park Hotel stood, to make room for E.W. Grove's New (and improved!) Battery Park Hotel and the Grove Arcade. Then again, not much of it likely survived the construction of the original hotel. Most of Asheville's Civil War legacy is long gone, although you can still see the remnants of trenches from the Battle of Asheville preserved at the botanical gardens up near UNC-A.

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  • 4 months later...

Not really sure where to post this, so perhaps this will be an okay thread:)

One of the first gay bars I ever went to was in Asheville in 1972--the Flaming Embers Lounge.

If I am remembering correctly it was downtown, in a building painted black. At the time N.C. only had 6 gay bars.

I'm sure it is defunct, but I am curious if anyone here remembers it:)

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  • 1 month later...

I am always surprised at the number of tourists that I know who go to Asheville and only go to Biltmore. I urge them to try going into downtown, and those who do are plesantly surprised.

Last time I went to Asheville, we actually spent more time downtown than anywhere else. It was practically a tourist destination in of itself! I loved it.

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  • 8 months later...


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