Philanthropist Julian Price passed away in 2001, but his legacy continues to impact Asheville. Price’s contribution to a number of local initiatives, as well as his creation of Public Interest Projects, Inc. (a for-profit development company founded in 1990) significantly marked the revitalization of Asheville’s downtown. Read more about Price’s work here and here.
Several years ago, Price’s widow, Meg MacLeod, and daughter, Rachel Price, had the idea to document the philanthropist’s legacy. While UNC Asheville’s D.H. Ramsey Library holds Julian’s archives, and an oral history may be completed in the future, Rachel and MacLeod are currently focused on The Julian Price Project, which will include a short introductory video and a longer documentary film. This week Erin Derham, the filmmaker behind Buskin’ Blues, signed on as director and oral historian.
“We are in pre-production, researching and collecting materials for the film, so if you have any information, letters, or images that would be wonderful,” Derham says on a Facebook post. She tells Xpress that filming will begin in a couple of weeks.
“Julian was so unlike the average city father who tries to bolster institutions already in place,” says Xpress publisher Jeff Fobes. “You can’t build a grassroots community from the top down.” Instead, Julian — who grew up in Greensboro and wanted to return to the Southeast after years spent in Southern California — sought out those who Fobes describes as “wounded heroes.”
“Teaming up with his wife, Meg McLeod, Price helped Quality Forward add a significant quality and beauty to Asheville’s downtown through the planting of trees and flower,” says a story at Asheville.com. “When Price heard that the Asheville Parks and Recreation did not have the funds to purchase the park benches and shrubs for the new Pritchard Park located in downtown Asheville, he immediately authorized Public Interest Projects, Inc. to pay for the park benches and shrubs so they would be in place for the opening ceremony.”
It’s rumored that he fell in love with Asheville in the early 1990s while gazing down Walnut Street toward Beaucatcher Mountain. It was then that he decided he could make an impact on the city.
“He was a vegetarian and wanted a vegetarian restaurant,” says Fobes. Julian met Joe and Joan Eckert, who were running a lunch counter out of the YMCA. According to the Public Interest Projects website, “Many meals and conversations later, Julian introduced the Eckerts to Pat Whalen, the president of Public Interest Projects, to work out the financing for a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Asheville, preferably in easy walking distance from Julian’s apartment.” Laughing Seed was born.
Julian and Public Interest Projects helped to develop the Carolina Apartments, the Asheville Hotel Apartments, Pack Place, Salsa, Zambra and many other downtown mainstays. He donated a building so that Self-Help Credit Union could set up offices in Asheville and lend to startups. He invested in the French Broad Co-op, Asheville Urban Trail and RiverLink, among others, and started the Dogwood Fund.
“He walked into my office and said, ‘I like what you’re doing. Would $20,000 help you?'” Fobes says. That was how the relationship between Julian and Mountain Xpress began.
In an essay outlining the Julian Price Project, the philanthropist is described as “quirky, but not what you would call a ‘character’; hilarious but not a joke-teller; impulsively generous but also thoughtful and measured; shy and very private but opinionated.” He “lived downtown himself, walking the streets he was helping to improve, planting trees, and looking out for the small things that make a huge difference in how a person experiences a place.”
Xpress will follow the progress of the Julian Price Project. Check back for updates.