“It is generally conceded that the Arcade Building would do justice to a city many times the size of Asheville. It is by far the finest structure in the South and there are few, if any, finer in the entire country.”
— E.W. Grove, 1927
The Grove Arcade was the grand dream of E.W. Grove, a self-made millionaire who moved to Asheville in 1910. By 1915, he had completed the Grove Park Inn and become involved in other civic projects. Grove understood that a successful city needed a vibrant downtown. In the early 1920′s, he began plans to build an elegant new building to enliven the downtown of the city he had come to love. He conceived of the Arcade as “the most elegant building in America”—and as a new kind of retail center. Architect Charles N. Parker designed the Arcade, which was originally envisioned as a 5-story base with a 14-story tower, filled with shops, offices, and living spaces.
Grove died in 1927, two years before the building was completed. Only the base was built, yet at 269,000 square-feet, it was by far, the largest building in the region. When the Arcade opened in 1929, it quickly became home to a fine collection of local shops and services. Tenants included candy and cigar stores, a haberdashery, a public stenography office, fruit stands, millinery shops, beauty parlors and barbershops, a photography center, bookstalls and specialty groceries. Offices filled the upper floors. For 13 years, the Arcade was the center of commercial and civic life in Western North Carolina.
The Arcade was closed when the Federal Government took over the building as part of the effort to win World War II. Officials chose the building because it was large and located in a safe, remote place—important considerations in the war effort. Seventy-four shops and 127 offices were evicted with less than one month’s notice.
Following the war, the Arcade continued under Federal ownership and eventually became the headquarters for the National Climatic Data Center. Public support began to grow for a plan to return the Arcade to its original use. In the 1980’s, the government announced plans to enlarge and remodel the Arcade building.
The Grove Arcade was placed on the National Register of Historical Places during this time. In response to public demand that the Arcade’s historic architecture remain intact and the building be returned to its original function, a Mayor’s Task Force was established in 1985.
In the years that followed, more than a dozen private developers considered renovating the building. Both prospective developers and Task Force members discovered that the public space, which made the Arcade so appealing, rendered it impractical for a conventionally-financed private development.
A group of community leaders and concerned citizens formed the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation. This not-for-profit, 501(c)3 corporation, had the mission of restoring the Grove Arcade to its original form and function. The Federal Government announced plans to build a new facility for the Climatic Data Center. The new Federal Building was completed in 1995, and plans for the Arcade to become Asheville’s new Public Market were refined. In 1997, the City of Asheville acquired title to the building under the National Monument Act and signed a 198 year lease with the Foundation.
Since then, the Foundation has seen to the restoration of the Grove Arcade Building and its spirit. The restored Grove Arcade opened in late 2002 and includes shops, restaurants, offices and 42 luxury apartments. The Arcade remains Western North Carolina’s largest commercial building and has become a wonderful new downtown resource for residents and visitors.