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.