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Old Posted Jun 30, 2010, 6:30 AM
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Everything you always wanted to know about Pack Square Park (But were afraid to ask)

Surely you would enjoy appropriate theme music? Yes?

Video Link




Yes... Look. What is that over there?

A sign provides a clue.



Yes. Here we are at Pack Square, historic centerpiece and birthplace of the city of Asheville, North Carolina. It was here in the 1790's that a village originally called Buncombe Courthouse was established at the intersection of two Cherokee trading paths as county seat of Buncombe County. Buncombe Courthouse was later renamed Morristown, and later still, in 1797, named Asheville after the governor of the state at that time, Samuel Ashe.

Asheville diverged from the paths of a great many Appalachian towns, and especially that of many Southern Appalachian towns. It boomed from the 1880's to the 1930's as one of the most glamorous resort towns in America, and it attracted everyone who was anyone. In particular it attracted George Washington Vanderbilt, who arrived in 1888, purchased a couple of towns, and set about building himself a summer cottage -- a cottage with about four acres of floor space, but a cottage nonetheless. And, when the architects, artisans, and craftsmen who worked on that cottage were done, they were unleashed on the city of Asheville itself, and they transformed it into an architectural showplace, a gembox of clashing and contrasting styles, all of them beautiful in their way.

The result? Asheville is certainly North Carolina's most architecturally diverse city, and arguably its most beautiful. And back downtown Pack Square, in the center of it all, embodies those ideals the best. Take a look and see how many different styles of architecture you see.



(The answer, for those of you in the cheap seats, is: Post Modern, Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Art Deco, and one whose name escapes me but basically describes every nondescript but otherwise lovely commercial building built around the turn of the 20th Century)

Asheville has recently completed (for the most part -- a little work remains to be done) a grand renovation of the heart of the city into a coherent and flowing city park. Before, this part of town consisted of Pack Square itself, plus a series of large, grassy doormats bisected by streets and strewn with parking that were known as City-County Plaza.

To get a feel for the history of this area, stop first at Pack Place, a museum complex on the south side of the square.



Pack Place is home to several Asheville cultural institutions.







Of particular interest is the Asheville Art Museum, which can only display about three percent of its collection at any given time due to space constraints. A massive renovation and expansion of Pack Place, should money be found to fund it, should prove to remedy this situation.



Here's the lobby. Note the frieze, which once hung in a palace in the Vatican. How such a frieze came to Asheville from there is anyone's guess. My suspicion, however, is that the process involved rich people. Such processes usually do.

















Meanwhile, in the main lobby of Pack Place itself, note the history and evolution of Pack Square.



The man for whom the square is named, George Willis Pack. He donated the land for the square with the stipulation that it forever be used as a public park.



The man for whom that towering granite obelisk was erected, Zebulon Baird Vance, who was born near Asheville and served as governor of North Carolina during the Civil War. Later, he made a name for himself as an advocate of tolerance toward Jews, while somehow never compromising his virulent racism. I'm told such contradictions were not uncommon in America back in those good old days.



The man, here looking like a little girl, who for many years bedeviled many a high school student forced to read his wordy, interminable novels -- Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe, in whose novels Asheville was almost a main character in itself, fell out of fashion as high school teachers concluded he was just too darned difficult to teach.



Wolfe's father ran a gravestone shop in this building, which was located on the spot where that lovely, slender neo-gothic skyscraper you saw earlier now stands.



A lovely quote about Pack Square.



Now, behold the evolution...

Pack Square in the 1860's.



Pack Square, circa 1887...



...and circa 1927.



And now again in 2010.



Back outside, note that a fountain has always held a prominent place in Pack Square. Until the renovations, there was a large reflecting pool that, along with the Vance Monument, pretty much filled the entire square. It was replaced with...



...the raindrop fountain. Not its official name, but that's what people are calling it.

















Away from the fountain, the west side of Pack Square has always been known for its cluster of restaurants, all of which offer outdoor seating.







Separate from that renovation of the square, this year all these helpful tourist information signs went up all over town. They're emblazoned with finials created by local artists, and have quotes on the back from works of literature that feature local settings.

For some reason, fewer than half the buildings in downtown Asheville are featured on this map.







Day lilies are just so darned pretty.



Another dose of contrast. This is the west side of Pack Square.



And now the south side.



The exterior of the Asheville Art Museum, which is housed in the 1927 building that once held the Pack Memorial Library. Yes, in addition to building the public square, George Pack also built the city a library. And a hospital. And schools. And other stuff. He felt that the city loved him, and he should love it back.













Just below this plaque sits a plinth upon which a cannon brought back to the US from France in World War I once rested. The plaque describing this cannon remains but the cannon itself (which was aimed straight down Patton Avenue) does not. It was melted down for scrap during World War II.



In different times, different heroes were revered.



Whereas some heroes are timeless.



More of the art museum's facade.





Hooray -- pedestrians!







We now return you to your regularly scheduled architecture.





Surely you have noted that ghastly post-modern glass building that occupies the entire north side of the square, and which replaced a row of historic brick structures? It was originally known as the Akzona Building, after the company that commissioned I.M. Pei to build it. Now, it's called the Biltmore Building after the company that rules an empire from within the confines of its offices.



About the only nice thing to be said about the Biltmore Building is that it beautifully reflects the nicer buildings across the square.



Distressing. Let us view instead now, to calm our nerves, an artwork in the square at the base of the Vance Monument.



These sculptures honor the livestock drives that once filled the center of town with pigs and turkeys and cows being driven to market from Greeneville, Tennessee to Greenville, South Carolina and onward to the bustling cities of Columbia and Charleston. Asheville was a tourist destination even then, in the late 1700's and early 1800's, as it was halfway between Greeneville and Greenville and was thus a convenient stopping place for weary farmers to rest.

Note those rails and footprints also. Those streetcar rails, and bare foot prints and shoeprints, and the tracks of hooves and turkey claws represent all the people and animals and vehicles passing through the square over the years.



Elsewhere, surveying the scene, the Legal Building is a sober presence.



As well, the Commerce Building has been soberly surveying since 1904. Both the Legal Building and the Commerce Building were around to witness Asheville's worst mass murder, in 1906. In that year, a man named Will Harris shot his way down Eagle Street, up Biltmore Avenue, which was then called South Main Street, and finally through Pack Square itself. He screamed that he was the devil and didn't care if got sent back to hell, and he killed six people. One of the bullets from his gun ricocheted off the Vance Monument, leaving a small nick still visible to this day. It's near one of the V's.



The Jackson and Westall buildings are of newer vintage, dating from the 1920's.













Meanwhile, in the shadow of these grand buildings...



There used to be a cookie shop in the basement of the Jackson Building. Now it's a cafe.



Nearby, this statue of a little girl represents the spirit (perhaps the genius loci) of the City of Asheville.





Moving on, you pass from Pack Square into the Midpark area of Pack Square Park -- aka the Reuter Terrace, although no one calls it that. Before the renovation, this area consisted of two triangles of grass with a few trees, bisected by Patton Avenue as it arced up to join College Street. Now there's an overlook, several grassy terraces, and another fountain.

Nearby, a plaque honors what may in fact be the first African-American community center established in the United States.



And a last look up at the Jackson Building.



The railing of the Midpark overlook features stick figures playing with their balls.



In case you had forgotten where you were there for a moment.



And what can you look over from the overlook?





Terraces. The land slopes downward from Pack Square to the former City-County Plaza area.





Behold the Midpark fountain...

From afar...



...and from near at hand.







The entire park is drawing crowds, which is not only helping the businesses that endured the construction of the park, but is also generating new businesses.

Interesting story behind Pack's Tavern -- the developer who opened this popular bar and restaurant originally intended to tear this historic building down and replace it with a 9-story condo building. Outraged, Ashevillians, including descendants of George Pack, took him to court to stop him. Meanwhile, upon learning that a 150-year old magnolia tree beside the building would also fall in the construction, the wiccans and witch covens of Asheville -- of which there are a great many -- descended on the tree and cast spells on it to protect it from being cut down. For a while there you could go by the tree and see little prayers and spells written on slips of paper and tied to its branches. Also for a while, at least one witch was on guard at all times of the day and night, even sleeping there, to keep watch over the tree. Apparently the spells worked because the developer changed his mind, renovated the building, and opened a bar.



Of course Pack's Tavern offers outdoor seating.



And from that outdoor seating, you can enjoy the light, citrus scent of an enchanted magnolia...



...blooming upon an enchanted magnolia tree.



We're now in the Roger Maguire Green area of Pack Square Park. Originally, during Asheville's grand spasm of growth and renovation during the 1920's, this was designated a "Civic Center," where all the city's major institutions were to be located. This included the City Market, the county courthouse and the city hall.

The City Market eventually found itself renovated into the home of the police and fire department headquarters.









And what is it, aside from that purplish brick, that makes the old city market so noteworthy? This building, in 1925 in Southern Appalachia, mind you, was designed and built by a black man. A plaque in the sidewalk tells the tale, while his artistry endures today.



Elsewhere in Roger Maguire Green...













The Splasheville Fountain, a cheerful oasis of frivolity against all those lawyers and bureaucrats, defendants and witnesses, and people come to be eaten alive by the city development permitting process scuttling to and fro between the courthouse and the city building.



















Before...



...and after.







Vines have been trained to grow up the columns.











Here's a vision of what might have been. Art Deco overload!



The plaque explains...





Now, on a more sober note, off in one corner of Roger Maguire Green is the Western North Carolina Veterans Memorial. It may be the only one of its kind in the country, in that it honors not only the veterans, but also the people they left behind at home.





The woman, representative of everyone a veteran ever left behind, holds a letter in her hand.

The Homeland, Western North Carolina, USA..



Miss you always. Love...













To end on a lighter note, we head back up through the green, back behind the Jackson Building to this small courtyard in the Pack Place complex.

This rhinoceros once attacked and ate an SSP forumer visiting Asheville from Colorado.



Meanwhile, a fountain played merrily nearby.





The rhinoceros, its bloodlust never to be sated, eyes me hungrily.



The end.
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Last edited by hauntedheadnc; Jun 30, 2010 at 6:58 AM.
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Old Posted Jun 30, 2010, 7:04 AM
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Looks like the area turned out great. As I recall, when I was there in late 2008, only the pergola area in front of the courthouses was completed and opened. The rest of the area (including streets) was a total mess.
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Old Posted Jun 30, 2010, 11:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by plinko
Looks like the area turned out great. As I recall, when I was there in late 2008, only the pergola area in front of the courthouses was completed and opened. The rest of the area (including streets) was a total mess.
I'll be the first to agree it turned out great. On the downside, it also turned out to cost about three times the original estimates, and it took twice as long to build... and we still didn't get the pbulic restrooms originally planned. Fortunately, we also didn't get the park "pavilion" that was to have taken up about half the Midpark area, and which looked like a suburban dentist's office in the renderings. Currently, the pavilion plans are on hold. Hopefully that will be permanent. Nobody wanted it in the first place.
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Old Posted Jun 30, 2010, 3:26 PM
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Gorgeous.

I was quite inspired from this as to the borrowing of certain elements for our new downtown urban park.

cheers
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Old Posted Jun 30, 2010, 11:52 PM
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amazing collection of fine photos.....very interesting......thanks for sharing....
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Old Posted Jul 1, 2010, 2:00 PM
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Thanks for looking and leaving your thoughts. I had fun taking these pictures and I'm glad you enjoyed them.

Coldrsx, what elements from this park would you like to see in yours?
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Old Posted Jul 2, 2010, 4:03 AM
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I haven't visited my home town in several months. I love the park with the rhino. It is one of my favorite places in the city. During the summer, it is a quiet place to relax and look up at the Jackson Building through the trees. Usually, no one is there. I noticed you avoided showing any new buildings. I guess your opinion of the bank building, condos and hotel aren't good. I saw them a few months ago along with beautiful Arden and Mills River , but don't have any pictures. I'm guessing the Ellington model is no longer on display at City Hall?

It's always good to see Asheville, thank you for taking photos.
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Old Posted Jul 2, 2010, 12:51 PM
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It's not that I was avoiding showing anything, Matthew, more just that this was a Pack Square Park pictorial.
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Old Posted Jul 2, 2010, 2:44 PM
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Great photos and very informative!
I was in Asheville a few weeks ago and thought the renovations looked fantastic. As I starred in my own one man show on the stage (it was late), I can appreciate how great it will be for more respectable performances.
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Old Posted Jul 2, 2010, 5:12 PM
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great tour and pics. the renovation looks great, i can't wait to get back up there.

as far as all the diverse groups in Asheville...it's gotta be the ley lines.

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Old Posted Jul 3, 2010, 1:15 AM
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Pack Square is by far the best urban park in North Carolina. It does deserve its own thread and is a must see attraction, but I'm surprised none of the new buildings are visible in the photos. I saw the bank (Carolina First), but it was a few months ago, with no leaves on the trees. In the winter it is visible from the park. The scale-down is disappointing and suburban. I like the Hotel Indigo's height, as seen when driving around the city, but I'm not sure about the design. It is good to see new construction to compliment the historic. Every time I see photos of my home town, I miss it and want to return and when I'm there, I don't want to leave.
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Old Posted Apr 18, 2011, 10:05 PM
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Quote:
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Pack Square is by far the best urban park in North Carolina.
Pack Square looks great, but it looks like Center City Park in Greensboro might give it a run for its money, although it's smaller.
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Old Posted Apr 19, 2011, 3:36 AM
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Beautiful city.
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Old Posted Apr 19, 2011, 5:16 AM
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Thanks for leaving your comments.

I seem to recall that someone posted pictures of Greensboro's new park on here once upon a time.
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