Asheville Archives: Citizens Hotel Corp. pushes for community buy-in, 1922-23

HONORING GEORGE: The George Vanderbilt Hotel was completed in 1924. This photo appears to have been taken near the end of its construction. The hotel’s name was selected by citizens in honor of the late owner of the Biltmore House. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville

On Nov. 22, 1922, The Asheville Citizen revealed a sketch of the city’s latest proposed hostelry, the George Vanderbilt Hotel on Haywood Street. Construction costs were estimated at $1 million (about $15.4 million in today’s dollar). Upon its completion, the paper declared, the new hotel would be “among the finest in the South.”

Within days of the announcement, residents were solicited to invest in the new project. “The citizens … must show their faith by subscribing for stock,” one editorial declared. A subsequent advertisement, featured in the Dec. 10 issue of The Sunday Citizen, promoted the available $100 shares as “a remarkable opportunity” that combined “every element of civic pride with every prospect of assured profit to the stockholders.”

The pitch intensified a few days later, when yet another editorial qualified the previous advertisement’s claim. “It is not merely an opportunity,” the piece read, “but, we respectfully submit, a duty which none should shirk.”

Shortly thereafter, on Dec. 17, the Citizens Hotel Corp. (which managed the campaign) continued its push, offering readers 10 reasons why they should subscribe. Above all, the catalog reiterated that shares were a sound investment. “Nothing could make it fail but the entire failure of Asheville, which is impossible,” the list’s penultimate point read.

Despite this barrage of notices and calls, community response appeared lackluster. On Dec. 21, 1922, The Asheville Citizen featured a letter to the editor imploring citizens to buy in. “If all the shares are not sold, then there will be no George Vanderbilt Hotel,” the letter writer, Archibald Nichols, declared. “Some property owners affected are subscribing liberally, but they cannot do it all.”

Nichols went on to remind residents that they only had until Dec. 31 to invest. “Let me urge that they wait no longer,” he wrote.

But wait they did, forcing the Citizens Hotel Corp. to extend the deadline to Jan. 8, 1923.

Two days before the campaign closed, and with shares still available, The Asheville Citizen ran a piece about former resident Blair Taylor. Taylor, who had relocated to Cuba, still answered the call and invested in the Vanderbilt Hotel. “There can certainly be no doubt of the need of a hotel of this type in Asheville,” Blair states in the piece, “and I am surprised that the subscription lists are not already filled.”

Despite its best efforts, the campaign fell $70,000 short of its $450,000 goal. Nevertheless, the project moved forward.

The following January, Herbert D. Miles, president of the Citizens Hotel Corp., addressed a crowd at the organization’s inaugural stockholders meeting. In his speech, Miles reported that “with the single exception of the uncompleted sales of our necessary stock issues … [the project] has proceeded in a most successful and orderly manner[.]”

Seven months later, on July 24, 1924, The George Vanderbilt Hotel opened. It remained operational for over 40 years. But in 1969, it was converted into the Vanderbilt Apartments, which continues to offer low-income housing to senior citizens.

During his 1924 inaugural stockholders address, Miles praised the hotel’s design, telling the crowd:

“The quality and the beauty of the building has come up to our most sanguine expectations, and will continue to do so; it is a quality which, regardless of changing fashions, will still be a credit to our city and state, long after we who build it shall have disappeared from the scene.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.

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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.

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