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Douglas Ellington’s art deco influences

The architect helped shape the Asheville landscape with his distinct geometric designs.

First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church is one of Ellington’s most recognizable works.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Asheville’s mountain views are a sight to behold, but you’ll find equal beauty in its historical architecture. In the 1920s, business was booming, and Asheville became home to 65 new commercial buildings. Development slowed as the nation hurdled toward the Great Depression, but the city was left with sleek, geometric art deco buildings. And the man behind many of these iconic structures was Douglas Ellington.

Ellington was a native of Clayton, NC. He studied architecture at the Drexel Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, later studying in Paris after winning the 1911 Paris Prize from the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects. He developed his art deco style before opening an office in Asheville’s Flatiron Building.

Let’s dive in to some of his most well-known local works (and a few you may not know he designed):

Asheville City Hall

Asheville City Hall

The roof sits like a crown on top of the building.

Photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose

Finished in 1928, the building is capped with an elaborate, octagonal red + green-tiled roof, using influences from mountain imagery and Native American motifs.

Asheville High School

Asheville High School

Asheville High School looks straight out of the movies with its ornate design.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Very few high schools look this regal. Ellington was chosen out of a group of seven architects to complete the project — which he did while simultaneously working on the First Baptist Church and Asheville City Hall.

Another notable public building in Ellington’s portfolio is the S&W Cafeteria. Of course, today we know the space as a food hall — but that wasn’t always the case. Explore what businesses have occupied the space since 1929.

The architect also designed the Lewis Memorial Park Cemetery Office and the Merrimon Avenue Fire Station, again working on these smaller commissions while erecting many of our city’s most recognizable public structures.

Ellington’s own Asheville home is a testament to innovation. It was built completely by hand and sans blueprint — leftover materials from Ellington’s civic projects were used to construct the stone + brick cottage. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and now serves as an event venue.

Whether you’re an architecture buff or just want to know more about the history of our city’s structures, you can take a journey through the Asheville Architecture Trail. Use the interactive map, and delve into the history behind each building.

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