Asheville Archives: The Tyler Building’s earliest occupants, 1928

AROUND THE BLOCK: The Tyler Building was constructed in 1928. The three-story structure, which totals 90,000 square feet, cost $175,000 to build. It stands on Walnut Street, Rankin and North Lexington avenues. This is the oldest available image of the property, taken in 1978. If anyone has photographs that date further back, please contact Xpress. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

In 1928, a number of construction projects were underway inside city limits. A survey by The Asheville Citizen estimated that total project costs exceeded $7 million (over $104 million in today’s dollars). This included the development of new business structures, municipal buildings, apartments and homes.

“Seldom in the city’s history has new construction reached such an amazing figure,” The Sunday Citizen proclaimed in its Sept. 30, 1928, edition. “It is probably the best record of any city in North Carolina, certainly in the western section.”

At the time, several commercial buildings were in various states of completion in the downtown business district. The Public Service Building (today’s Self-Help) and the Grove Arcade are among the better known. But also in the mix was the Tyler Building, named after its builder E.J. Tyler.

The property still stands today on Walnut Street, Rankin and North Lexington avenues (housing such businesses as Moonlight Makers, Lexington Park Antiques and more recently Noble Cider’s The Greenhouse). The three-story structure, which totals 90,000 square feet, took five months to construct, costing $175,000.

On Nov. 11, 1928, The Sunday Citizen announced its formal opening. According to the paper, S.W. White was the Tyler Building’s first tenant. He operated Whites Service Inc., an automobile service and storage station on the ground floor (facing North Lexington Avenue); he also leased the top floor (facing Rankin Avenue), which he ran as a garage.

“Owing to its central location, this station will serve a splendid purpose in storage of automobiles either for short periods of time or monthly,” The Sunday Citizen declared. “Safety is guaranteed to the owner through the modernity of the equipment and materials used in the buildings construction which is concrete and steel with brick veneer.”

Meanwhile, the second floor was temporarily leased to the Southern Medical Association, which rented the space for its 22nd annual, four-day convention. On Nov. 13, 1928, The Asheville Citizen reported that some 2,000 physicians, surgeons and specialists from 17 states descended upon the city for the yearly event. According to the paper, these medical experts crowded the Tyler Building, “observing the latest devices available for diagnosis, treatment, and operation, and acquainting themselves with innumerable dietetic discoveries which have been made available within the last decade for the alleviation of human weakness and the strengthening of human bodies.”

Coverage of the gathering continued throughout the week. Reporters focused on both the professional and social aspects of the summit, including a performance by Bascom Lamar Lunsford held at the Battery Park Hotel. “It is, by far, one of the most interesting conventions in the history of Asheville,” the paper wrote on Nov. 14, 1928.

Later that year, Cazel Auto Service Co. took over the third floor of the Tyler Building. In one of its early advertisements, the business featured a list of specialty services, including its “24-hour wrecker service ‘ball o’ fire.’” The exact nature of the service is not explicitly stated. But a subsequent article makes one thing clear: During this time period, automobile fires were not uncommon.

On Jan. 31, 1929, The Asheville Citizen announced that city commissioners declined a proposal to use the second floor portion of the Tyler Building as the new city auditorium. Part of the reason, city commissioners explained, was the location of Whites Service on the building’s ground floor. The business, the paper reported, was deemed “a hazard to any gathering in the proposed auditorium should any of the cars catch fire.”

This concern suggests Cazel’s 24-hour ball o’ fire service had less to do with extinguishing fires and more to do with removing charred remains. Otherwise, it’s plausible that the Tyler Building’s top floor operation would have offered some reassurance to concerned city commissioners about the structure’s bottom floor threat.

Editor’s notes: 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. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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3 thoughts on “Asheville Archives: The Tyler Building’s earliest occupants, 1928

  1. Phillip C Williams

    I recall that a large part of the building was used as a shirt factory for a number of years, and this closed in the early to mid 1970’s and the 2nd and 3rd stories stood vacant for a good while. The bottom story on Lexington I think remained occupied by several businesses down thru the years – mostly junk shops and such. Mr. Terry Levi ran a cigar and tobacco store called the Smoke Haus across Lexington for a few years in the 80s and I used to go and have a cigar and coffee with Terry and watch the people going up and down Lexington – they could be pretty rough in those days. TS Morrison’s and Tops were still located on up Lexington on the next block. I think Tops is the perhaps the business that has been in actual operation downtown the longest – I am pretty sure it is the oldest surviving one on Lexington Ave at least..

    An antique mall opened on the Rankin Ave level and the entrance was on the corner for a while, and the Salvation Army store moved from up on Lexington to the middle part of the Rankin Ave. level and both were there for a few years in the 90’s – Lexington Park Antiques opened I want to say in 1989 or 1990 – among the first vendors were Wingate and Stafford Anders, who used to own Yesterday’s Child antiques, which was up on Wall St for a long time, and moved to Lexington – in that little courtyard near where Le Bouchon is now. I think a coffee house called Vincent’s Ear moved into their spot when they moved their inventory over to Lexington Park Antiques.

    There is still a big “T” in the bricks of the main chimney of the Tyler Building. I have kept a booth at Lexington Park since 2017 – a couple of the folks who work there daily can remember a lot more of the building’s history and stories – having known folks who worked there when the shirt factory was operating.

    • Thomas Calder

      Hey Phillip,

      Always good to hear from you. Thanks for the additional information.

      Fellow historian Terry Taylor recently sent me a photo showing the top floor as Asheville Bowling Inc. I did a quick search on and it appears the bowling alley opened around 1938. There’s a lot of history in the Tyler Building.

      Thanks again for sharing!

      • Phillip C Williams

        I did not know about the bowling alley! Or the history of the building prior to the shirt factory being there….as always, great and informative article!!

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