A Dance Through Time: The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County hosts its second traveling gala

TIME TRAVEL: At last year's inaugural traveling gala, Dr. Tim Gillespie entertained guests with his trumpet. This year's gathering will include three live bands at three historic sites.
TIME TRAVEL: At last year's inaugural traveling gala, Dr. Tim Gillespie entertained guests with his trumpet. This year's gathering will include three live bands at three historic sites. Photo by Wendy Newman

On Saturday, Sept. 23, The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County will host its second traveling gala, part of the nonprofit’s ongoing fundraising efforts. Jack Thomson, the organization’s director, says the event offers guests an opportunity to experience some of the area’s lesser-known historic sites. At the same time, it highlights The Preservation Society’s mission. “That’s where the nexus is between throwing a fundraiser, but also showing the community where our work is impactful,” he explains.

This year’s gala, “A Dance Through Time,” will transport guests back in time to three local historic sites: the YMI Cultural Center, Zealandia Castle and Sondley Estate. Live music will greet attendees at each location, along with dance instructors courtesy of Richard Cicchetti’s Dance For Life company.

The evening will begin at the YMI Cultural Center with a live performance by a hot vintage jazz band, The House Hoppers. Hors d’oeuvres and drinks will be served. The building, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, was completed in 1893.  “It was really ground zero for the African-American community,” Thomson says. “And we feel like it’s a good opportunity to lend our support to that venue, by highlighting its history,” as well as its current function as an event center.

OLD ZEALANDIA: Guests at this year's gala will get the chance to dance inside Zealandia Castle, first built in 1889.
OLD ZEALANDIA: Guests at this year’s gala will get the chance to dance inside Zealandia Castle, first built in 1889. Photo courtesy of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County

After the evening’s launch at the YMI, trolleys from Gray Line Asheville will whisk guests up Beaucatcher Mountain to Zealandia Castle. First built in 1889 by John Evans Brown, the property was frequented by the Vanderbilt family. The current structure, a Tudor-style mansion, was completed in 1920, with renovations designed by Smith. Party-goers will be served champagne in the mansion’s ballroom, where the Lew Gelfond Trio will provide live chamber music.

The trolleys will transport guests to the final stop of the evening, the Sondley Estate. Another Richard Sharp Smith design, it was completed in 1902 for Foster Sondley. An attorney and scholar, Sondley wrote a pair of local history books: Asheville and Buncombe County (1922) and History of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1924). Live bluegrass by Ben Scales and the Can’t Hardly Playboys will round out the gala’s musical entertainment.

Both Zealandia Castle and the Sondley Estate are privately owned, notes Thomson. “We’re really lucky and honored and grateful that these private owners … were willing to open their doors to this kind of experience,” he says. Because of the properties’ historic value and age, Thomson asks that attendees choose footwear appropriate to floors that have passed the century mark (that is, shoes with soft, non-marking soles). Thomson also encourages guests to pack light, noting that photographers will be at all three locations. “We are putting people in transit into various sites,” he says. “We want them to be able to enjoy their experience without having to lug a bunch of stuff around.”

Along with the evening’s music and dance, Thomson hopes participants will leave with a greater appreciation for historic architecture, its importance to the community and the role that The Preservation Society plays in Asheville and Buncombe County. “Seeing what we do and experiencing that in a historic place really lends itself to generating greater awareness and hopefully greater support for historic preservation in general, whether it’s through the Preservation Society or through their own efforts,” Thomson says.

WHAT: The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County’s gala, “A Dance Through Time”

WHERE: The gala begins at the YMI Culture Center, 39 S. Market St., Asheville

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 23, 6-10 p.m. Tickets begin at $100. avl.mx/43n

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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