A traveling gala revisits Asheville’s past

TONIGHT WE'RE GONNA PARTY LIKE IT'S 1929: The traveling gala, "Look Homeward, Asheville," will transport guests back to former times. photo courtesy of The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County

On Saturday, June 4, music from the roaring ’20s will echo down the halls of the Grove Arcade as guests enter for an evening’s toast. Jack Thomson, the director of The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County, will be leading the way. With glass in hand, Thomson will salute the city of Asheville, as well as celebrate the Preservation’s 40th anniversary.

“When we started out planning this event, we knew we didn’t want your run-of-the-mill, rubber chicken, black tie gala that everybody gets invited to all the time,” Thomson says. “We wanted something that would be much more interesting, engaging, and help tell the story of how important preservation is in Asheville.”

The result is the traveling gala, “Look Homeward, Asheville.” Trolleys will pick guests up from the Grove Arcade and usher them around town, delivering them to three separate parties throughout the evening. Each location is associated with a specific time in Asheville’s history, with corresponding food, drink and entertainment.

The first stop will be at the Jones House, located on the Vanderbilt Estate. The site is not regularly open to the public. Named for occupant and estate worker Walter Jones, the construct predates the Biltmore house. In 2015, the Preservation Society awarded Biltmore a Griffin award for its restoration of the home.

That location will transport visitors back to the 1890s. “It’s about celebrating early mountain culture,” says Thomson. The festivities include moonshine from Troy & Sons and music on the front porch, courtesy of Slim Chance & the Can’t Hardly Playboys.

The trolley will then bring guests to another Griffin award-winning site, Gan Shan Station on Charlotte Street. The former 1950s-era service station (turned 1990s eyesore) was rehabilitated by Patrick O’Cain in 2014 and is now a restaurant. “We are taking the pump boys and dinettes theme at the old service station,” says Thomson. O’Cain will provide an exclusive menu for the event, and an Elvis sighting is likely — “This will be the Elvis of the comeback tour,” notes Thomson, “wearing his black leather suit.”

The event’s final stop will be at the Manor Inn. Thomson calls it a “fabulous, historic wooden hotel,” adding that the Preservation Society helped save it two decades ago. The Manor Inn will have a broader theme, bridging the gap between the 1890s and 1950s. “We’ll have ’20s and ’30s jazz there as our entertainment and a menu to match,” says Thomson.

Once the last of the drinks are served and the band hits its final note, guests will be shuttled back to the Grove Arcade.

“We’ve been really overwhelmed with the response form folks who want to be a part of this event,” says Thomson. “We’re not sold out. We’d love for folks to join us. Even if they don’t know anything about us and they want to learn more and have a great time at the same time. But really we want to have fun. It’s going to be a blast. At the end of the day it’s a fundraiser for an important nonprofit for Asheville and Buncombe County [that allows us to] continue our work in saving the places that are important to our community.”

“Look Homeward, Asheville,” takes place 6-9 p.m. Saturday, June 4. To purchase tickets and learn more, visit psabc.org/look-homeward.

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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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