Asheville's Historic Flatiron Building Tells Story of Economic Growth, Then and Now

May 6, 2019

Plans to turn Asheville’s historic Flatiron Building into an 80-room hotel are still on hold. City Council is expected to vote next week on the proposal.

The history and context of the building's construction echoes the current trend playing out today -- a shift toward urban development.

The Flatiron was constructed in 1926, and in those days, the eight-story building was considered a skyscraper.

The wedge-shaped structure is a snapshot of the trends playing out in Asheville at the time, and similarly in cities across the country.  That shift had its share of skeptics:

“These little Southern cities needed a skyscraper about as much as a hog needs a morning coat. Which is like a nice jacket,” Catherine W. Bishir, curator of Special Collections at North Carolina State University Libraries, said.  

The Roaring Twenties brought economic growth and a desire to be more urban, or “cityfied” as Birshir likes to say.

 

The iconic wedge-shaped structure was inspired by the Flatiron in New York City, Catherine Birchir, curator of Special Collections at North Carolina State University Libraries, said.
Credit North Carolina Collection at Pack Memorial Library

“At that time especially, people that were thinking about how to be urban were thinking ‘what are they doing in New York?’”

At that time, New York City’s flatiron building was more than 20 years old. But the desire to be more like the Big Apple was on the minds of many developers in Asheville.

While architect Albert Carl Worth got to work on his flatiron structure, several other architecturally significant buildings went up around time same time.  The Grove Arcade, The S&W Cafeteria, and First Baptist Church. As author Thomas Wolfe wrote about Asheville at the time: the “streets were foaming with a mad, exuberant life.”

Fast forward nearly a century, and Asheville similarly faces another period of growth and urban investment.

“I’m no economic analyst as to how many hotel rooms any place needs,” Birshir said. “The other thing is, whenever you reach it, it won’t be a static situation, things always change. What’s true of the hotel demand and supply right this minute is only true right this minute.”

Bishir says regardless of its future use, she just hopes the Flatiron building continues to be preserved and appreciated.