Lonely Planet just named Asheville the best place to visit for 2017! Asheville’s vibrant downtown is one of the factors that helped our city secure this #1 spot. One of the hallmarks of the bustling downtown area is the vibrant architecture. The Art Deco style is the prevalent aesthetic for many of Asheville’s historic downtown buildings. The notable thing about Asheville’s Art Deco buildings is that they are wonderfully preserved for us to enjoy today.
The reason that Asheville has so many Art Deco buildings, however, isn’t necessarily a positive one. Asheville was hit hard by the Great Depression in 1929 and shouldered the highest per capita debt burden of any city in the United States. The city spent the next 50 years paying of debt, until the last burden was paid in 1979. During this time, the city focused on making their payments, not on redevelopment.
While other cities bulldozed their Art Deco treasures in favor of new skyscrapers, Asheville’s Art Deco treasures remained standing. The $8 million debt ($111 million today) stifled the post depression development that was popular throughout the rest of the country. As a result, Asheville locals and visitors now enjoy the spectacular architecture throughout the downtown area.
Art Deco Architecture and Asheville
Asheville’s City Hall, picture above, is a perfect example of the Art Deco architectural style with its pink and green tile construction, octagonal roof, and tiered design. The eight-story building was designed by architect Douglas D. Ellington and was completed in 1928. The building materials were chosen to reflect the natural soil of the Asheville region, with terra cotta tiles and Georgia marble topping the design. Today, the Asheville City Hall building houses the Office of the Mayor and other city department and is open to the public during regular business hours.
In addition to the city hall, downtown Asheville boasts a rich collection of art deco buildings. Architect Douglas D. Ellington also designed the S&W Cafeteria building on Patton Avenue. The three-story building was completed in 1928 in the Art Deco style. The facade features a mix of materials including glazed terra cotta panels, slate, glass and wrought iron. The design is topped by a crenelated parapet of green and blue tiles. Today, the S&W Cafeteria building hosts weddings and parties.
Another downtown gem, the Woolworth Company Building, was crafted in the minimalist late art deco style. Today, Woolworth Walk holds an expansive art gallery and a real "old timey" soda fountain.
Hallmarks of the Art Deco Style
The art deco style gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, combining rich details with a modern aesthetic. The Chrysler Building in New York City is arguably the most famous art deco building in America. Art deco is a collection of styles that uses expensive materials and fine craftsmanship to express modern forms. The overarching appearance is linear, geometric, stylized, and sleek.
Stucco and metals are often used in art deco architecture for their smooth aesthetic. For art deco buildings, the emphasis is clearly vertical. To achieve this effect, vertical lines, geometric designs, and vertical projections are employed. Many of these characteristics can be seen in the architecture of downtown Asheville today!
Tours of Asheville
You can enjoy Asheville’s rich architectural offerings, including the fabulous art deco style, through a variety of tours. Walking tours, self-guided tours, and trolley tours allow you to learn about Asheville’s rich history and see the architectural sights. In addition to the downtown area, Asheville is well known for both the Biltmore Estate and the Grove Park Inn. Additional places of historical significance are scattered around town. Locals and visitors can make use of the visitor’s center in Montford to pick up a guide!