Enter the Arcade
With all that development behind him, Grove turned his attention to the highest point in the city: Battery Hill. He purchased the decaying wooden Battery Park Hotel in 1923, then tore it down. On the northernmost edge of the property, Grove built a new and improved brick version of the Battery Park Hotel, which still stands today.
From a suite in his new building, Grove managed construction of his pièce de resistance: the Grove Arcade.
[quote]“I will locate stores of every kind of merchandising business in Asheville…so that a lady can park her car anywhere in this place and can let [it] remain just as long as she pleases, and do all of her trading in that one vicinity, so that she will not have to run around in the narrow streets of the old part of the business section to do her trading.” —E.W. Grove[/quote]
Charles Parker, a one-time assistant in Richard Sharp Smith’s architectural firm, was hired as the architect for the arcade. Grove’s choice of Parker is curious, as his only solo architectural experience was the Tudor style residences he designed in the Grove Park development near the Inn. Parker had never taken on a commission of this magnitude.
Grove’s project would be constructed in steel, covered by decorative (and fireproof) terra cotta and marble, fashioned in the neo-Gothic style. Easily cut, shaped and molded, terra cotta was used extensively to decorate English buildings in the 1860s and began being used in the United States in 1870.
Neo-Gothic architecture was in vogue during 1920s America, with both the Woolworth skyscraper in New York and Chicago’s Tribune Tower embracing the style.
The arcade would be a large rectangle with retail shops placed around the perimeter. Inside, a wide promenade would run down the north-south centerline, flanked on both sides by more store fronts. Light for the interior would come largely from atrium skylights high above the walkway.
What was genius about the design is the pitch. The site was graded with a 15’ elevation change from the north to south. The streets and sidewalks flow toward the south, as do the outer storefronts. Inside, the pedestrian promenade follows the same contour of the land.
When viewed from the long side, the pitch change is almost imperceivable, everything looks horizontal…until you notice that the building has three stories on the southernmost end and only two on the north. The second floor begins as a low ceilinged office at mid span, becoming a full sized floor on the south end, a remarkable design trick.
Sloping the lower level of the building was a challenging design detail, but one that works to the Grove Arcade’s appeal. Additionally, people in wheelchairs can shop anywhere without having to negotiate one stair. This was the Roaring Twenties, long before ADA building requirements were instituted.
We know that Grove and Parker removed a considerable volume of earth where the arcade now stands. The hilltop they removed was pushed into the valley to form the basis for what is now the south slope neighborhood, so we assume that this elevation change had to be intentional.
Work on the arcade began in 1926, but Asheville’s medically touted curative powers failed to reach Grove. He suffered from bronchitis, anxiety, hiccoughs, and insomnia. He died the following year. Construction paused while William P. Taylor purchased the arcade project from Grove’s estate.
Grove’s arcade was completed in 1929. The stock market crash, and ensuing depression, caused Taylor to abandon Grove’s original plan of a fifteen story tower rising out of the center of the arcade. Leases were granted for retail as well as office and apartment space. The Grove Arcade was up and running.
The Tough Years
The depression hit Asheville hard. According to a statement he made in 1993, Walter Taylor’s son said his father lost several other properties he owned while trying to keep the arcade afloat during that period. Tenants had difficulty paying their rent and attempted to exchange shelf merchandise as payment. Perhaps what happened next was a godsend for Taylor.
In 1942, the rapidly expanding federal government, under the law of eminent domain, appropriated the building to house 1,000 employees of the Postal Accounts Division of the General Accounting Office. Taylor was paid $275,000 and the 140 small business owners who were making a living in the Grove Arcade were given less than 30 days to vacate the premises.
Grove’s grand arcade was open for a scant thirteen years when, without regard for exterior appearance, the new owner bricked over the elegant storefronts ringing the arcade. Using a hideous bright-yellow brick, masons capped the noisome closure with a course of glass block.
The visual effect was devastating. Glass block and modern brick kept the passerby’s eye toward the lower level and the wonderfully varied neo-Gothic décor appeared to vanish into the gray winter sky.