Thursday, July 23, 2009

Twin sentinels

Asheville’s appeal to folks with money from far away is not new. Since at least the turn of the last century, the city has wooed people with means from places like Charleston, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Miami – Vanderbilt among them.

Consequently there have been old tensions between outsiders and insiders. Newcomers brought new ideas about public policies. Old timers didn’t think much of them. You see the same story played out today in gentrifying neighborhoods, where young professionals elbow their way into neighborhood associations, and community veterans elect to stay at home.

Nowhere is this tension between old and new, inside and outside, “placed” more vividly than at the city-county plaza.

Back in the mid-1920s, city council approached the county commission with the idea of having Douglas Ellington, who designed the art deco city hall, design the county courthouse as well. The county would have none of it and went its own way with an equally prestigious though less flamboyant architect, the Washington, D.C., firm of Milburn, Heister & Company.

I have to believe that some of that decision was based in the county’s desire to be independent of the city and its affluent flatlander leadership.

City hall, on the left above, with its curves, tiers, and tiles, resembles a ceramic jug. The courthouse by contrast is gray and drab. The irony of course is that the city building, for all its modernity, looks indigenous, as if it rose from a Penland potter's wheel, while the courthouse looks classical and thus generic.

For an interesting discussion read the paper by Kim Angelon & Summer Whitson.

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