North Wing: Past, Present + Future

The Asheville Art Museum’s construction and expansion project has officially launched, and work this spring is focusing on the renovation and preservation of the Museum’s North Wing. The building has a fascinating history, impressive architectural features and serves as a unique symbol of Asheville’s heritage.

History

The building that houses the Museum’s North Wing was built in 1925 as Pack Memorial Library and served the community as a library from its opening until a new library was built at 67 Haywood Street in 1978. The building remained mostly vacant until it was renovated for the Asheville Art Museum in 1992 as part of the Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center.

Designed by architect Edward L. Tilton (1861-1933), the North Wing building is an excellent rendition of the Second Renaissance Revival style, perhaps the most articulate example of a neo-classical institutional building in Western North Carolina. Architectural features include symmetrically-arranged elevations with a three-story entrance arch. The building is faced in white Georgia marble and ornamented with a low-relief classical cornice.  Tilton was a New York architect of national renown, specializing in designing libraries, museums and educational buildings. He designed more than 100 libraries across the nation and he was a key adviser to the Carnegie Foundation. Asheville had its own version of Andrew Carnegie in George W. Pack, Asheville’s foremost civic benefactor who donated both the site and the previous building on Pack Square to the city for use as a public library. The choice of Tilton as the architect reflected the importance attached by the city to building a public library of national stature.

The building was typical of libraries of its era, constructed around a core of steel book stack. The bookshelves were part of the building’s structure and this design element allowed most of the building to remain open, facilitating the creation of high-ceilinged and naturally lit reading rooms highlighted by the massive arched windows. Those same elements doomed the structure’s future as a library — the design was inherently inflexible, but for 50 years it served Asheville’s readers well and its preservation is not only testament to the beauty of its design but to the affection of generations of Ashevillians. Some of the building’s original furniture remains in use today in the North Carolina Room of the “new” Pack Memorial Library on Haywood Street.

The building is included as a contributing building in the downtown Asheville Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is also designated as a local landmark.

Restoration & Renovation

As the Museum undergoes construction and moves toward a vibrant future, honoring the past is an essential part of the process. The Museum cares for the building, as it does its collection of American Art of the 20th and 21st century, which is held in the public trust. Because of the North Wing building’s historical status, it’s important that the architectural elements are preserved. To complete this critical work, the Museum is working with a team of restoration experts: David Hoggard and Saundra Kenney of Double Hung LLC and Jim Bacon and Tony Williams of Carolina Restoration and Waterproofing. In April 2016, this team and their crews are completing exterior renovation of the North Wing, as well as the preservation and reopening of the historic windows that look out onto Pack Square.

Leading the Museum’s overall construction and renovation project is a team comprised of local, state and national experts in the design/build industry: ARCA Design, an Asheville firm, is the project’s Architect of Record, leading the effort to bring the vision of Ennead Architects design to fruition; Clearscapes Architecture + Art, based in Raleigh, is working in collaboration with ARCA on final design elements; and Beverly-Grant, WNC’s largest builder, is an award-winning general contractor overseeing the Museum’s construction project.

The New North Wing

When the Museum’s construction and expansion project is complete in 2018, the North Wing will not only be renovated and restored with respect to its architectural history, the building will also have a function that honors its previous role as a library. The new North Wing will house the Museum’s library, education studio, board room and administrative offices ­– creating a community gathering space that fosters learning and growth.