Blog :: 11-2007

Miami Herald Features Asheville



11/25/2007 - Miami Herald Features Asheville

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Cornelius Vanderbilt, known as ''the commodore'' because of his investments in shipping and railroads, made $100 million before he died in 1877.

In 10 years his son, William Henry, doubled the family fortune.

His son, George W., inherited that $200 million, which in today's dollars would be a hefty $96 billion.

And that's before there were income taxes.

All that information is in the audio tour of the baronial Biltmore Estate and explains why young George could afford to walk away from the stuffy world of industry to devote his life to building the estate's 250-room French Renaissance chateau and filling it with art and furniture from around the world.

When it opened in 1895, Biltmore House was the country's largest private residence, with 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms, at a time when most people used an outhouse. The home is still the largest in America, although no one lives there. The curious are welcome to tour for $38 a ticket, and a million or so do each year, which helps pay the bills.

William Cecil Jr., the family member now running the place, has a goal. He says in the audio, ``If George Vanderbilt came back tomorrow and asked for the keys to the house, we're sure he'd be very happy with how we've maintained Biltmore while he was gone.''

No doubt. The place was spotless during my two-hour walk through, not a dust bunny or cobweb in sight.

Vanderbilt, who began the project in 1889 when he was a 27-year-old bachelor, originally purchased some 125,000 acres, and that has shrunk to a mere 8,000 today. But the forests and gardens created by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park, are intact, complementing the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the French Broad River flowing through.

The cool, clean mountain air of western North Carolina was thought to have healing qualities, and Asheville attracted more than billionaires. Sufferers of tuberculosis and other respiratory ailments flocked to the region after the railroad arrived in 1880. Health retreats were set up to treat the patients. Resorts and luxury inns were built to house the healthy.

Edwin Wiley Grove, owner of a pharmaceutical company that made Bromo-Quinine, came in 1900 and purchased a large tract of land on Sunset Mountain to build a magnificent lodge, using native uncut boulders. The Grove Park Inn is still magnificent, with wings added in 1958 and 1963, and a spa created in 2001.

A more modest dwelling for the budget conscious was at 48 Spruce Street, where Julia Wolfe operated the Old Kentucky Home, a 17-bedroom boarding house that charged $7 a week for a room and two daily meals. The youngest of her eight children, Thomas, lived and worked in the house.

One of the boy's jobs was to pass out cards advertising the home at the train station. The cards said, ''No Sick People.'' Later Thomas Wolfe gained his own fame as an author and alienated a lot of folks in town with his most famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel, published in 1929.

''Some people didn't appreciate what he had to say about Asheville,'' said Barbara Mueller, who gives tours of the home for $1. ``So, he stayed away for about eight years.''

Asheville is enjoying a resurgence today. Locals in this town of 69,000 people have pet names for two groups of new arrivals, who are boosting real estate prices and driving the spread of galleries and craft shops in recycled buildings of the historic district. Even the old Woolworth's is divided into artists' booths.

''Halfbacks'' are transplants from the North who moved to South Florida and are now leaving that congestion behind to re-settle in the moderate climate of Asheville, halfway back to their roots. ''Trustafarians'' are the dread-locked droves of young artists found on the park benches and in the coffee houses and brew pubs. Most are struggling in Asheville's crowded art scene, but they're not quite starving, thanks to a little parental support.

This corner of the Appalachian Mountains always has been a hotbed for arts and crafts, with potters, quilters and woodworkers in abundance. There are at least three dozen galleries in downtown Asheville. The Folk Art Center, which features the work of the more than 900 members of the prestigious Southern Highland Craft Guild, is at Milepost 382 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, 15 minutes outside of town.

While the lively arts-and-crafts scene is a boon to buyers and browsers, it's something of a bane to the region's overflow of artists. A front-page story that ran in the Asheville Citizen-Times during my four-day stay had this headline, ''More artists than galleries,'' and quoted several gallery owners as saying they no longer welcomed ''walk-ins'' carrying their portfolios.

Getting displayed in the Folk Art Center is even harder. Spokeswoman Ada Dudenhoffer said more than 100 artists from nine states applied last year. A jury viewed their slides, then invited 30 to bring in their work for inspection.

''Eight were accepted,'' she said. ``They're a pretty tough crowd.''

You can't stay in the lavishly appointed rooms of the Biltmore House, but there was room at the inn.

The Inn on Biltmore Estate opened in 2001 with 213 rooms for guests. Mine was lavish enough, and had a window that looked out over the wooded hills to the estate house perched on a ridge.

The inn has a gourmet restaurant that offers formal dining. I strolled down the pathway through the vineyard to the Biltmore Estate Winery below, where the Bistro restaurant was casual. Thanks to the throngs that tour the estate each year, the winery is said to be the most visited in the country with 600,000 guests.

There are several ways to see the entire estate -- drive the winding roads, hike the trails, bike the paths, ride on horseback or carriage, or float the gentle stretch of the French Broad River. The estate has a fly-fishing school and an outdoor center where you can sign up for an off-road ride in a Land Rover.

There are gift shops at the gate house, main house and winery. And if you're really inspired by Biltmore's design, you can go to and see a whole line of indoor and outdoor furnishings inspired by George's worldwide collecting.

Biltmore Estate is an experience for all seasons. The Azalea Garden contains one of the country's largest selections of native azaleas, 15 acres that glow each spring. By summer, the 250 acres of gardens are in their full glory, and the surrounding hills add to the color show in autumn. Beginning in November, the chateau is decorated for Christmas, and open for candlelight tours.

George Vanderbilt, who had booked passage on the Titanic but canceled the trip at the last minute, died in 1914 of complications following an appendectomy. He and his wife, Edith, had one child, Cornelia, who was born in the house. Cornelia and her husband, John Cecil, opened Biltmore to the public in 1930 at the request of city officials, who hoped it would boost tourism during the Depression.

Today, the estate employs some 1,600 people, and is said to contribute $350 million annually into the Asheville economy.

All those Asheville artists, starving and otherwise, need studio space, and a lot of them are setting up shop in the old warehouses along the riverfront in a burgeoning area known as the River Arts District. Some of the studios are open daily to visitors, some are open only by appointment. Most are open to the public during scheduled ''studio strolls,'' which are advertised at

''People can go into the buildings and walk around,'' said Barbara Lepak Perez, a sculptor and president of the district. ``Knock on a door if you hear a radio.''

During a whirlwind tour, we visited:

The Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, which holds nine-week workshops with national artists.

Pattiy Torno, who makes quilts that sell for up to $10,000.

Mark Olson, who was using a 1936 letterpress to emboss wedding invitations with a delicate dogwood blossom.

Marty and Eileen Black, who fire pottery with the difficult ''copper-red'' glaze.

Genie Maples, who does large, colorful abstract oils that she calls ``visual poetry.''

Painter Skip Rohde, whose political satires included a painting of conservative commentator Ann Coulter wearing only a Gestapo jacket and knee-high black boots.

I also saw some of nature's art at Chimney Rock Park at the end of a 25-mile drive through twisting Hickory Nut Gorge. The park's main feature is a towering rock spire, which was reached by a 26-story ride inside an elevator shaft blasted into the mountainside. The rugged landscape has been featured in several movies, including Last of the Mohicans.

The 1,000 acres had been owned by the Morse family of Missouri for 104 years, but the state of North Carolina in January announced it was buying the land for $24 million, which appeared to be a deal. ''It was appraised by Sotheby's auction house at $55 million,'' said Megan Rogers, who led me on a short hike to the park's 404-foot-tall waterfall.

All that touring and hiking made me weary, so I finished the evening in a white van with Mark Lyons at the wheel and his wife, Trish, sitting shotgun. The couple takes small groups on ''brews cruises,'' and we visited three of Asheville's five microbreweries, where we learned the art of turning barley, hops, yeast and water into beer.

Our first stop was Highland Brewing Co., which Mark said was owned by Oscar Wong. ''He's a Chinese gentleman, born and raised in Jamaica, now selling a Scottish-style ale in North Carolina,'' he explained.

An American success story.


BILTMORE ESTATE: The estate is open year-round. Admission starts at $45 online, $55 at the gate, then drops to $25 and $29 Jan. 2, higher prices on Saturdays. Guided and behind-the-scenes tours are available. For tickets -- or room rates at the Inn on Biltmore Estate: 800-624-1575,

WHERE TO STAY: The Princess Anne Hotel is a lovingly restored boutique hotel with 16 rooms, in a residential area a mile from downtown Asheville. Room rates start at $129. 828-258-0986, The Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa has 510 rooms, with room rates starting at $199. 800-438-5800, The Asheville Renaissance Hotel is next to the Thomas Wolfe House. Room rates start at $159. 828-252-8211,

CHIMNEY ROCK PARK: The park is 25 miles southeast of Asheville, near the intersection of U.S. 64 and Route 74A in Chimney Rock, N.C. 800-277-9611,

GREAT GALLERIES: Grovewood Gallery, behind Grove Park Inn, at 877-622-7238, New Morning Gallery, in historic Biltmore Village, at 828-274-2831, Mountain Made, Morning Star Galleries and the Arts & Heritage Gallery, all in Grove Arcade,, in downtown Asheville. Blue Spiral 1 at 38 Biltmore Avenue, 828-251-0202,

ASHEVILLE BREWS CRUISE: The cruise is $37 a single, $70 a couple, with stops to sample beers at taprooms. 828-545-5181,

FOLK ARTS CENTER: The center is at Milepost 382 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 15 minutes from Asheville; 828-298-7928,

INFORMATION: The Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau is at


BY TOM UHLENBROCK St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Mission Hospital Named Top 100 Heart Hospitals



11/20/2007 - Mission Hospital Named Top 100 Heart Hospitals

ASHEVILLE For the sixth year in a row, Mission Hospitals has been named one of the nations top 100 heart hospitals, becoming the only hospital in the Carolinas to make the list.

Were excited about it, said Dr. William Hathaway, a cardiologist with Asheville Cardiology. It proves that you dont have to go anywhere else for the best care.

The study, 2007 Thomson 100 Top Hospitals: Cardiovascular Benchmarks for Success, examined nearly 1,000 U.S. hospitals by analyzing outcomes for measures related to congestive heart failure, heart attacks, coronary artery bypass grafts and percutaneous coronary interventions, such as angioplasties.

If all cardiovascular hospitals achieved the same results as the 100 Top Hospitals award winners, according to the study, more than 7,000 lives would be saved and nearly 750 medical complications would be avoided annually.

This years study found the 100 Top Hospitals award winners had hospital stays that were 12 percent shorter, on average, than peer hospitals and costs that averaged 13 percent less per case.

Mission uses a team approach to heart health care, Hathaway said.

This is a very prestigious award in terms of what it represents in the clinical results that we deliver for our patients, said Merrell F. Gregory, Mission Hospitals spokeswoman.

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Neighborhood: Malvern Hills



11/19/2007 - Neighborhood: Malvern Hills

ASHEVILLE The Malvern Hills community, now a shady residential area, was part of Ashevilles resort scene in the 19th century.

The Sulphur Springs Hotel opened there in 1830 as the first health resort in the area. Later, it boasted the first electric passenger elevator in the South. After the hotel burned down in 1884, it was never rebuilt. The hotels property was later purchased by the Asheville School.

A railway ran between Asheville and the springs from 1889-94. But with the development of Haywood Road and the rise of the automobile, it became easier for people to commute to work downtown from the neighborhoods surrounding West Asheville.

Malvern Hills was developed in 1925 by N.M. Anderson, founder of Asheville School.

The area was named by Anderson, said Karen Loughmiller, of the West Asheville Library. It was probably named for the famous Malvern Hills district of England, known for its beauty.

Thomas Wolfe, a real estate investor, currently has a home listed for sale on Sulphur Springs Road. I like it very much, Wolfe said of the area. Its fabulous. For the most part its fairly low traffic and a mature neighborhood shady lots, big trees. It always seemed real quiet to me.

Wolfe says that a lot of the older residents in Malvern Hills are natives of the area, but as those homes begin to turn over, younger families from different areas are taking their places. If I lived in West Asheville, this would be the area I would live in, Wolfe said.

As you turn off busy Patton Avenue onto School Road, you enter an area that feels more like an estate than an urban neighborhood, with shady streets and a private feel. Malvern Hills recreation park and pool is a popular gathering spot, offering swimming and tennis. And Vance Elementary School holds a fall festival and puts on other activities throughout the year for children and the community.

Asheville Citizen Times

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The new downtowners:' More choose to live, play and cocoon in center of Asheville



11/5/2007 - The new downtowners:' More choose to live, play and cocoon in center of Asheville

ASHEVILLE Living between two grocery stores and amid a banquet of good restaurants, Susan Griffin has about everything her family needs to live downtown.

A resident of The Aston, a 14-condominium building on Church Street, she can walk to the French Broad Food Co-op on Biltmore Avenue or to the Grove Corner Market at the Grove Arcade. She takes her dry cleaning to Swannanoa Cleaners, not far away on Coxe Avenue.

I just rarely get in the car, she said.

The Griffins, who moved into their new home from Minneapolis three-and-a-half years ago, are one of the many new downtowners, recent transplants who have driven the surge in condo building in the central business district over the past few years.

Developers have built, begun or proposed at least 774 condo units in the last three to four years, according to a tally of the largest individual projects. The new and under-construction units range in price from the $100,000s to more than $1 million.

Urban energy

Ashevilles vibrant downtown life, which attracted the Griffins, was one reason why readers of Southern Living magazine named the city the Southeasts top mountain destination. Outside magazine this year called Asheville the best Southern city of its size.

Arts, food and a rich culture of people-watching make downtown attractive to retirees, baby boomers and young professionals looking for low-stress, high-excitement places to live.

By the end of 2001, 95 condominium units and 48 apartments were under development, heralding the beginning of a building boom that has likely added hundreds of part- and full-time residents to downtown, said Alan Glines, an Asheville city urban planner. The 2000 census revealed that 1,351 people lived in and around downtown, but it also included inmates at the Buncombe County Jail.

Since 2001, several projects have been completed (such as 66-unit Lexington Station), approved (the 23-story Ellington) or discussed (Ravenscroft, with 250 condos and 100 hotel rooms).

Downtowns real estate market remains hot despite the slump in housing prices nationwide, said Chuck Tessier of Tessier and Associates, a development service company that specializes in downtown properties.

With much of the interior of downtown built out, developers are beginning to look toward the southern end of downtown, buying property down Coxe Avenue that is home to warehouses and large open spaces.

If youre seeing a parking lot downtown, youre seeing an endangered species, Glines said.

Childless couples, young parents

Most of the new downtowners are childless, either retirees or younger couples and singles, Tessier said. Theyve primarily moved here from out of the area and, if they work, work in professions such as graphic design that require only a fat Internet connection.

When you see terrorism in the Northeast or wildfires in the Southwest, it fuels migration to places like Asheville, Tessier said. Were the high ground.

Rick Townley, 57, is typical of the new downtowners. Last summer, he moved into a one-bedroom, 950-square-foot unit at the Sawyer Motors building that he bought for under $300,000, he said. A single dad whose son had grown up, Townley, a business technology manager for a company in Florida, likes Asheville much better than Tampa, where he was living.

This is one of the most beautiful small cities Ive ever seen, and the people are phenomenal, Townley said. I truly hope that the influx of people like myself, I guess wont ruin whats here. I can walk almost everywhere. Close proximity to other people is to me more desirable than living alone on a mountaintop.

Though thousands of people work downtown, and hundreds visit the area each night, not all the new residents live there full-time.

Second homes

About a year ago, Stephanie Monson, in the city economic development office, looked at tax records and compared the addresses of the properties billed to the addresses of the people to be billed. She found that a third of the people who own residences downtown live somewhere else, making many of the downtown residences second homes.

When Public Interest Projects sold 18 units in the renovated Penneys building several years ago, eight went to people who wanted them as second homes, said Harry Weiss, Public Interest Projectss urban projects director.

Nathan Bests family is one of only six who live full-time in the 18-unit Oxford Place, near Barleys Taproom on Biltmore Avenue.

Weve got a young professional who lives in Spruce Pine and comes to Asheville on weekends, Best said. Weve got a coup le that operates an inn in the Bahamas and spends summers here. We have several baby boomer couples that are still working elsewhere.

Dashing to the store

Best, a commercial broker and developer, and his wife, Joan, arent typical of the new downtowners. Residents since February, theyre young parents. Every day that little Jackson has preschool, Joan Best takes him down the elevator and strolls him over to Central United Methodist Church, where hes enrolled.

Then, if need be, shell walk uptown to the Grove Corner Market for groceries. If its Wednesday or Saturday (and summer), shell walk down Biltmore Avenue for flowers and vegetables at the farmers market outside the French Broad Food Co-op.

Maybe shell walk to Pack Library to rent some movies for the family to watch at home. Every morning, she and her husband get coffee at City Bakery, not a block away from their front door. And at night, they get take-out from Mamacitas or Limones, nearby restaurants where they know the owners by name.

Its nice to see some businesses that cater to people that live downtown, Nathan Best said. The Eagles Market convenience store, right around the corner from Oxford Place and open late, means Best has a place to go if theres no beer in the fridge.

Words getting around, J. Neal Jackson said inside the Eagle Street store. He and his mother opened the store right before Bele Chere in summer 2006.

After a while, you recognize faces, Jackson said of his downtown regulars.

Across Eagle Street, Mamadou Gaye opened The Spot Convenience Store in 2006, and now most of his regular customers are downtown denizens who stop in for cigarettes and sundries.

Big city feel, small town appeal

Asheville looks pretty good to people in Atlanta, said Collin Ellingson, senior vice president of sales for Coldwell Banker The Condo Store, which is selling 75 or so units at 60 North Market.

Asheville has always enjoyed a pre-eminent place as a second-home market, Ellingson said. And that combined with the popularity of mountain communities right now, as far as national real estate, makes Asheville a very popular place to relocate.

Judy and Bob Swan were among the first wave of downtown dwellers when, 14 years ago, they moved into one of the eight condos at 21 Haywood St., one of the first significant condo projects downtown. She welcomes the influx of new neighbors and all the amenities that go along with having so many people, she said, such as the excellent restaurants, the grocery stores, all the interesting bars such as Vigne and the balcony bars at the Flat Iron building, which have the best view in town.

Community group

Shes a member of Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors (, a community group that lists 25 different downtown addresses for members. Noise is about the biggest complaint association members talk about, Swan said. Otherwise, they love living in an energizing place.

You cant leave your door without seeing a merchant you know by name or another resident that you recognize, Swan said.

Identifying residents isnt hard, Swan said. Theyre the ones not carrying maps.

The Griffins are big music fans, and at least once a week theyll go somewhere downtown to hear it.

I just like the energy here, Susan Griffin said, and the fact that there are very good restaurants for a city this size, amazingly good restaurants. Asheville lives bigger than the actual size of the city. If you head out downtown almost any night, theres something going on.

by Paul Clark, PCLARK@CITIZEN-TIMES.COM published November 4, 2007 12:15 am

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