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The Former George Vanderbilt Hotel is Showing Some of Its Old Form.


The former George Vanderbilt Hotel, located in downtown Asheville, NC, is beginning to show some of its former beauty thanks to a renovation effort spearheaded by Public Interest Projects, Inc. and the Vanderbilt Apartments, Inc. The George Vanderbilt Hotel was converted to apartments in 1969 by a nonprofit organization to provide housing for the elderly.

The policy of the U. S. Government in the 1960's and 1970's was to provide modest housing for the elderly in either new buildings or in renovated buildings. If an ornate building was approved for a federal grant for retrofitting for apartments, it was the policy of the U. S. Government to have all of the decorative fašade removed by the developer during the retrofit. The thought behind this policy was to demonstrate to the public that public funds were not being lavishly spent on public housing units. Such was the fate of the ornate fašade of the George Vanderbilt Hotel.

The George Vanderbilt Hotel's fašade was stripped down to the metal frame and rebuilt with an interior concrete block wall and an exterior wall of tan brick. A major engineering error was committed during the retrofit; the interior block wall was not connected to the metal frame structure. The block wall and the exterior brick walls were connected to each other, but they were not attached to the metal frame structure. After 28 years, this construction defect became evident due to bricks falling from the exterior wall.

Pat Whalen, president of Public Interest Projects, Inc., heard about the structural problems of the Vanderbilt Apartments and offered his assistance.

Public Interest Projects, Inc. has been involved with several major downtown renovation projects that include the Asheville Hotel building and the Carolina Apartments. Public Interest Projects, Inc. has spearheaded the effort to develop residential living space in downtown Asheville. Pubic Interest Projects, Inc. is about to complete the conversion and restorations of the Smith Carrier Building located at 43 Haywood Street. The Smith Carrier Building, formerly the J. C. Penny's department store building, is being converted to luxury condominiums on the upper levels and retail and office space on the lower levels.

With the help of Bill Wescott, a local restoration engineer, a plan was devised to repair the structural problem, while at the same time, restoring some of the George Vanderbilt Hotel's original fašade. Jerry Stockbridge, the structural engineer who orchestrated the moving of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, was hired to devise a plan to connect the block and brick walls to the building's metal frame. Wescott helped to develop a restoration plan that includes staining the bricks to the original dark red color and adding some of the original decorative fašade.

The work is progressing and the results are a significant improvement, both structurally and decoratively, for the former George Vanderbilt Hotel. The dark red stain is a close match to the nearby Battery Park Apartments and the decorative cornice being added to the top border of the building is attractive and gives some hint to the original decorative fašade of the George Vanderbilt Hotel. The cooperation between the various individuals who made this project possible also speaks volumes about the spirit of cooperation and service found within the Asheville community.

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