If you go back far enough in Asheville to remember Biltmore Lanes and the Skateland Rollerdome and local R&B bands such as Bite Chew Spit and the Innersouls, then walking into the front gallery of the Orange Peel will feel like a nostalgia trip.
A new permanent exhibition of photos, newspaper clippings and other artifacts traces the history of the building, from its groundbreaking in 1946 and its varied incarnations over the subsequent decades until its branding in 1974 as the Orange Peel, primarily a home for R&B and soul club and a bridge to its renovation in 2002 into the club people know today.
“It’s a history piece,” said Jeff Santiago, the club’s general manager and part of the team that researched the Orange Peel’s history and curated this exhibition.
“Prior to the Orange Peel, in the late ‘60s, was the Jade Club. They were bringing in artists like the Dixie Cups and Ronnie Milsap, when he was still soul in the beginning of his career, and Percy Sledge,” he said. “Moving on from there to the Orange Peel, which had the Commodores and the Chi-Lites, and even from there, a short stint in ‘69, it was called the Country Palace, and Jerry Lee Lewis played here. That’s a really rich history of music already before we ever show up.”
The building served at different times as a roller-skating rink and bowling alley. A coffeeshop operated from there. So, too, did the headquarters for the 1980 federal census. But the exhibition is anchored in the Orange Peel’s founding as a home for black musical artists and their audiences. That’s all the more surprising because the owner was Dick Plemmons, a white race car driver who owned grocery and television stores in Asheville.
Santiago and others with the club learned this history by sifting through boxes and bins inside the club and interviewing musicians who performed here 45 years ago and still live in the area.
“Obviously it was a huge pillar of the black community and black music community in Asheville,” said Liz Tallent, marketing director for the Orange Peel and one of the exhibition’s curators.
“We didn’t have physical space to tell all we discovered, but we haven’t prioritized through our leadership telling the story of African-American community in Asheville,” she said. “This building was a really important place for black people and black teenagers to come hang out on the weekends.”
You can view the exhibition during the Orange Club’s show evenings and as part of the free public tours offered twice daily every Wednesday through Friday.