Downtown Modern Tour – The Civic Center

One of my favorite buildings in downtown is The Civic Center.  It was one of my first memories of Asheville when I drove here for the first time over four years ago.  It draws a strong defining line on the city’s northern edge created by a dramatic overhang mixing rustic stone and modern poured concrete and glass.  The scale of the stone, cantilevers and the overhang impressively floats off of the hillside balancing the scale and anchored by the entrance positioned further uphill.

The Civic Center opened June 22, 1974 with Bob Hope performing.  Architect John Cort drew up the Civic Center plans; he was of the firm Baber & Wood.  An original committee called the “Best for Asheville Committee” organized the plans for the Civic Center and most of the building was paid for by a special bond voted on by the residents of Asheville.

Below, these illustrated snapshots were published in the Asheville Citizen in 1971 and give a great description of what the Civic Center was to become.

One of modern features of the Civic Center at the time was the facilities “Bargain Basement” as staff writer Peggy Bier described it in 1970.   Here is a portion of her article:

Architect John Cort with Civic Center Model

“When the circus comes to downtown Asheville, where do you park the elephants?  No, elephant lovers, not in the Jell-o.  You park them in the bargain basement of the proposed new Civic Center, along with the lions, the tigers, the aerialists and everything else that is not performing upstairs in the arena at the time.  The bargain basement is one of the little goodies architects Baber & Wood felt they’ve put into the design that other civic centers don’t have.  Architect John Cort stated it holds the boilers and air conditioners permanently, and would hold air compressors and ice makers temporarily if an ice show came to town.”

“The bargain part is because it would cost less to rent than the plusher main arena.  It would be the only part of the Civic Center that would not be air conditioned.  The mockup for the center reminds one of that song about bones.  Everything seems to be connected with everything else.”

This past year the Civic Center went through some extensive renovations on the auditorium.  I was glad to see that they preserved the original design of the exterior.  I know given time more people will come to appreciate the 70’s landmark and its place within the urban fabric of downtown Asheville.   Fifty years from now it won’t be only the deco style buildings that are admired, but the rich environment woven together from all decades of architecture represented in our downtown.

History courtesy of the Downtown Public Library, Article and Photos by Troy Winterrowd

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