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Historic Asheville S&W Update



5/29/2007 - Historic Asheville S&W Update

ASHEVILLE A developers plan would have meals served once again inside the old S&W Cafeteria building, with people living in condominiums on top of the downtown landmark.

The plans by Steve Moberg have backing from some preservationists, but not without concerns about adding another floor to the structure on Patton Avenue near Pritchard Park.

An upscale restaurant and a coffeehouse would occupy the first two floors with about 10 condominiums above.

The S&W is one of the citys best-known Art Deco structures but has been empty for years. Architect Douglas Ellington, who was also responsible for the design of the City Building, First Baptist Church and Asheville High School, designed it.

The building served as one of the most popular places to gather downtown for decades in the middle of the 20th century.

Part of a chain of cafeterias in Southern cities founded in Charlotte by two men who served as mess sergeants together in World War I, the building was completed in 1929 after the stock market crash.

The building was about

five-sixths finished and we didnt know anything to do but go ahead, chain co-founder Frank Sherrill told a reporter in 1973.

The S&W closed downtown in 1974, and, like much of the citys downtown retail trade at the time, moved to the Asheville Mall. The building has seen several uses since but has been vacant for some time. Saplings can be seen growing from niches in its front wall.

Moberg developed the Lexington Station condominium and retail complex nearing completion on South Lexington Avenue and said he has had his eye on the S&W.

I drive by that building every day. I love that building, he said. Its a shame to see it sit there every day and nobody doing anything with it.

The additional space is needed before a renovation of the building makes economic sense, Moberg said.

The numbers dont work to pay what were paying for the building and not add on, he said.

Moberg would not say how much the project will cost. The work does not need approval from the city Planning and Zoning Commission or the City Council.

Plans call for having the restaurant done in September.

Moberg said he plans to remove some light fixtures added more recently inside the building. The main dining area and balcony will be used for an upscale chophouse or something similar with a coffeehouse next door that would serve breakfast and lunch, he said.

Condominiums would go in the existing third floor and the addition.

The Historic Resources Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County approved plans earlier this month that show a floor of condominiums added to the roof of the building with a raised roof on top of that designed to hide heating and air conditioning units.

The addition would be set back more than 16 feet from the front of the building, and much of it would be hidden by the existing blue-green parapet wall that rises about nine feet from roof level.

That means the addition wouldnt be visible on the sidewalk in front of the building, said HRC Executive Director Stacy Merten, but it could be seen from farther away.

Rough simulations submitted to the HRC show the addition clearly visible from the intersection of Haywood and College streets and farther back on Haywood. The Central United Methodist Church tower can also be seen behind it.

HRC Chairman Jay Winer said HRC members simply followed federal guidelines for historic renovations when considering the plans.

But HRC member John Cram, who was on the short end of an 8-2 vote to approve the project, said hes not happy with what he sees so far.

The S&W is definitely a crown jewel for Asheville architectural history and I think there are numerous ways to handle an addition that would be better, he said.

Curtis Walk, an architect and former HRC member, had a similar assessment. And, John Horton, a Brevard architect who was formerly restoration specialist for the State Historic Preservation Office, said he is skeptical (that) the plans as shown would qualify for tax credits given to renovations of historic buildings that follow the same guidelines the HRC is supposed to use.

Its not as bad as it could be, Horton said, but federal and state regulators would want more information before approving plans.

Merten said Moberg has committed to working with the HRC to make final choices on materials for the addition. The idea is that the addition will appear to the eye to be a separate building between the S&W and the church tower looming behind it, Merten said.

Moberg said columns and piers to support more stories protrude out of th e building roof and original plans show more floors. His plans, he said, are very tasteful and a better solution than letting the building continue to deteriorate.

Its a beautiful building, but were not going to do anything to take away from that, he said.


by Mark Barnett Asheville Citizen Times

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