Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County (PSABC) executive director Jack Thomson gave a presentation titled Saved Asheville, illustrated with archival photographs from Pack Memorial Library’s special collections.
It was the flip side of a presentation Thomson gave last year titled Lost Asheville, about historic properties that have sadly been demolished.
PSABC is celebrating its 42nd anniversary this year. Since it was formed in 1976, almost 400 properties have been recognized for preservation efforts in our community with annually presented Griffin Awards. Their easement and deed restricted inventory has more than doubled in the past three years. “We’ve got to be vigilant. We’ve got over 20 properties under deed restriction, but there’s constantly going to be a threat to them,” Thomson said.
“The Gudger House at 89 Montford Avenue was really our first success,” he said. “You might remember it as the headquarters of Pisgah Legal Services for a number of years, now home to Jacob Ehrmann at Montford Family Law. It is protected in perpetuity by a preservation easement that we hold,” Thomson said.
Former NC superior court judge Bob Orr, a founding member of the Preservation Society and its first board president was in attendance at the presentation, and told the audience about the nonprofit’s genesis. “We were sitting around a card table figuring out how to save old houses with maybe $1,000 in the bank. When First Federal in Hendersonville foreclosed on the Gudger property for $7,000, the bank said they would sell it to us for the same price. Betty [Lawrence], Mike Cox and I burrowed $10,000 from Clyde Savings & Loan. I tell folks it was the most secured loan in the history of Asheville. Not only did the property secure the Gudger House, but every board member was required to co-sign the note,” Orr said.
Two of the preserved historic properties Thomson highlighted in addition to the Gudger House were Richmond Hill and The Manor in Albermarle Park on Charlotte Street. Richmond Hill was saved, and has since been tragically lost to arson. Thomson said he included it in “Saved Asheville” because the year the Preservation Society moved it from its original location to save it, it was the largest structure ever moved in the state of North Carolina. “It illustrates the spunk and tenacity our non-profit organization embodies,” Thomson said.
Orr recalled when the Western North Carolina Baptist Home owned the Victorian Queen Anne Richmond Hill property, but had no interest in restoring the Pearson House on itself. “They said, ‘You can have it if you can move it.’” Orr said. “But you don’t just pick up a 10,000 square foot house and put it just anywhere. We actually found ten acres adjacent to the property. We had three or four thousand dollars in the treasury. I can remember going to the board meeting and saying that we needed to borrow $40,000 to buy this land so we have someplace to move the Pearson House.” Orr convinced them to buy the property, and the house was successfully moved.
Jeanne Warner remembered the PSABC’s efforts to save The Manor Inn, which was empty and critically endangered at the time. “The first thing I had to do was meet the chief of the Asheville Fire Department because the city was threatening to condemn the building. Rich Matthews went to that meeting with me, and he can attest that the chief said, ‘We consider that building a threat to the neighborhood. We see it as a vertical lumberyard, and will do nothing to save it if it catches fire. We will just protect the neighborhood, so get the sprinkler system going.’” Warner said it was Matthews that then had the sprinklers installed.
“Betty [Lawrence] and Robert Griffin had the unenviable task of going to dinner with the Canadian who owned the property. They convinced this rather disagreeable fellow to let us have it for $3,000 a month so we could try to market it. Four years later we finally sold it,” Warner said. A contract with the producers of the movie The Last of the Mohicans that used it as a set provided that the production company would pay for the aluminum siding to be removed from the building and have the inn repainted.
Other saved easement properties celebrated at the event included the Sallie Lee Cottage, Ravenscroft School, Reynolds Mansion, Patton Parker House, Fain’s Thrift Store (now the Mast General Store), Asheville Supply and Foundry, George A. Mears House, Carmichael-Leonard House, Snider-Sawyer-Leonard House, and the B & B Motor Company Building.
All of the saved historic buildings, many of which were slated for demolition, have escalated considerably in value. “Let’s just be very clear about this folks, preservation is economic development,” Thomson said. To learn more about these and other saved properties, and to find out more about the Preservation Society, visit their website at www.psabc.org.