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VOICES: Ali McGhee // The history + future of Jake Rusher Park

The Royal Pines pool and casino in 1927 | Postcard image courtesy of NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

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Ali McGhee is a member of the City of Asheville’s Public Art and Cultural Commission and is 6AM City’s Culture and Team Development Leader. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.

If you don’t live in Skyland (about 10 minutes south of downtown), you might have driven past 5.5-acre Jake Rusher Park (160 Sycamore Dr.) without even knowing it was there. But this municipal playground + park is getting a makeover from the city — including an interactive piece of public art.

The new pavilion + restroom area at Jake Rusher Park, with playground in the background | Photo via City of Asheville

As this historic park prepares for big changes, we think it’s an apt time to look back on its evolution since 1925 (when the Royal Pines neighborhood, one of the largest and most prominent areas south of downtown) was formally established.

Pining for Royal Pines

The Royal Pines residential subdevelopment — named after the white pine trees that grew in the area — broke ground in 1925 and was promoted as the “largest and finest” in southern Buncombe County, offering amenities like electric power and lights, paved roads, telephone service, a water and sewage system, and recreational options for residents. Prospective homeowners were even bused in from Florida and SC to enjoy the cool mountain breezes (and that swimming pool).

When the Great Depression hit, lot sales dropped. The reality of Royal Pines lagged behind the vision until after WWII, when the population boomed and development took off.

Who was Jake Rusher?

Jake Rusher managed + owned the Royal Pines Club, Recreation Center, Pool + Skateboard Park, for over five decades. DYK: The park + rec center also included a dance hall and casino, and was a popular teen hangout from the 1940s through the ‘80s.

In the early 2000s, the city replaced the pool and casino with Jake Rusher Park, after Rusher himself donated the land.

Present-day play

Last year, City Council approved a $975,274 construction contract for improvements at the park, including a pavilion + restrooms, new parking, a basketball court, and landscaping + lighting. Funds from the City’s Percent for Public Art program are being used for a “Playful Art” project, an interactive public art piece that will be an addition to the existing playground. We’ll give you more details on that soon.