The Ivy Building auditorium on the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College campus is the last remaining structure from St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines, a school for girls started in1908 by nuns from a French order known as “The Religious of Christian Education.”
Gibbons Hall, a school for boys, opened in 1949. The Gothic Revival auditorium also served as the campus gymnasium where dances were held as nuns supervised from the bleachers above.
AB Tech’s history notes that the Ivy Building witnessed graduations until the schools closed in 1987 due to declining enrollment and rising costs. The building was also home to an inspirational lineup of speakers.
“Helen Keller shared her story of courage and determination. Basque separatists made the students aware of the struggles for freedom in Franco’s Spain. Missionaries continuing the work of Father Damien came from Molokai, Hawaii came to teach the students about his work with lepers. Also, the students had a chance to meet Dr. Tom Dooley, the humanitarian doctor whose work in Southeast Asia became the model for President Kennedy’s Peace Corps.”
When plans to demolish the Ivy Building for a parking lot were announced by AB Tech in 2010, Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County executive director Jack Thomson initiated the “Save the Ivy” project.
Biltmore Forest resident Stuart Camblos and Keita Osteen-Cochran co-chaired the steering committee to restore the Ivy Building under Thomson’s guidance.
“Once AB Tech realized its importance, it was not only removed from demolition, but is now a priority to renovate and bring up to code,” Thomson said.
“This building is the last remnant of a bygone era, not to mention that it’s a beautiful building. I think it represents both the past of education here, and the future,” Osteen-Cochran said. “We refer to it as the jewel on the hill.”
Camblos was a student at St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines, and Willis Irvin, her great uncle, was the architect of the Ivy Building. Irvin, a noted architect out of Aiken, South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, was a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was known regionally as the designer of elegant early to mid-twentieth century low country rural estates for wealthy northern clients.
“He designed homes all around North and South Carolina,” Camblos said. She remembers visiting Irvin Court, now known as the Chancellor James P. Carroll House, on Gregg Avenue in Aiken, South Carolina when Irvin still lived there. “I have an album with a picture of his daughter getting married in the courtyard. I was the flower girl.”
The Ivy Building exterior and main level will be restored to Irvin’s original 1936 design. The main level will be an event and teaching site for meetings, music, lectures, plays, and AB Tech Continuing Education classes. The lower level will be the new permanent location for the college’s Foundation Offices.
Worked into the pattern of the forged iron strap hinges on the Ivy Building’s enormous Victorian styled oak doors are the initials of Camblos’ grandmother and great aunt, HS for Helen Stuart (Hensley) and WS for Willye Stuart (Irvin), respectively. Clark Nexsen architects are restoring the doors’ ironwork and refinishing the wood, which will be stained in its original rich, dark mahogany color.
AB Tech’s webpage about the “Ivy Restoration Project” promises the restored and renovated Ivy Building will allow it to be alive once again and relive it’s past as an intimate space for lectures, choral productions, and pop-up art classes, as well as film, theater, and other Continuing Education Community Enrichment classes. “It can even host dances once again as Continuing Education dance classes practice their moves with evening ‘dress up’ soirees. Ivy will bring to the AB Tech campus, and the community as a whole, much needed multi-use space to energize, rejuvenate and stimulate both body and spirit.”