After the stock market crash of 1929, Asheville carried such a huge burden of debt for a town so small that for decades, it couldn't afford urban renewal. While other cities were tearing down old buildings, Asheville hung onto its architectural relics. It had no choice.
Today those buildings are treasured. You can learn their history on an architectural walking tour of downtown. When I visited this fall, my friend Gail had filled my days with other activities, so I didn't take the tour, but Gail had, and she filled me in.
I was most intrigued by Asheville's City Hall, a flamboyant Art Deco building with a base of pink Georgia marble and an ornate octagonal roof of red and green tiles that looked decidedly ungovernment-like. It was designed by Douglas D. Ellington and built in the late 1920s.
Other distinctive structures we stopped to admire: The Kress Building, now an arts and crafts emporium, with Neo Classic motifs; the Art Deco S&W Cafeteria, also designed by Ellington; the Vance Memorial, an obelisk built of local granite to honor Zebulon Vance, North Carolina's governor during the Civil War; the Neo-Gothic Grove Arcade; and the Baroque Basilica of St. Lawrence, created by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, which claims to have the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America.
In a bigger city, these buildings would have disappeared in a canyon of modern skyscrapers, but in Asheville, they are the city's signature.
This is one in a series of postcards by Marjie Lambert, assistant Travel editor, who has been to all 50 states. Read her other postcards at www.MiamiHerald.com/travel.