Buzzworm news briefs

Buncombe’s Bookmobile

In 1939, before public libraries had branched out of Asheville into the county, books came to the people on wheels. For 60 years, Katherine Case piloted the Bookmobile along rutted dirt roads to make sure that books were available to people in outlying rural locations.

“For many people, this was their first contact with the library,” says Ed Sheary, director of the Asheville-Buncombe Library System.

Though known to some in the community and especially in library circles, Case’s work is now commemorated for all in a mural at Pack Memorial Library.

Artist Jean Loewer, who worked on the mural over the past few years, says she tried to capture Case’s dedication and her importance in the mountain community. “She was a beloved figure, she really was,” Loewer says.

Sheary says that Case’s visits were social highlights for regions that not only had no libraries, but sometimes no electricity. People would gather for Case’s monthly visits, and as she learned about someone’s reading tastes, she would bring books to suit them.

The 15-foot-wide canvas mural hangs in the foyer outside the library’s Children’s Department, where Loewer works. For the source material, Loewer used photographs of Case (that’s her in the pink dress) and the Bookmobile. The artist also included references to WNC cultural symbols and popular book titles. Children’s books seen in the mural were in print when Case was negotiating backroads and jury-rigging the Bookmobile, titles that remain favorites among young folks today.

Some of the people in the painting were lifted from old photographs, while others who are depicted can still tell stories of knowing Case. Sheary himself is featured standing at the back of the vehicle, holding a video of locally shot movie Thunder Road. “I did take some artistic license,” Loewer says.

Even after retiring, Case worked as a substitute driver on the Bookmobile circuit into her 80s. “I don’t know of anyone who had a longer run with it,” Sheary says. Case died in 2001

A dedication ceremony for “Katherine Case and the Bookmobile” will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, on the lower level of the library. For more information, call 250-4720.

— Brian Postelle

Saving private Asheville

Historian, novelist and Griffin Award winner Wayne Caldwell remembers when Asheville declined from the bustling city of the 1950s to a stagnant backwater by the 1970s. Addressing a Feb. 23 reception staged by the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County at Ambience Interiors, Caldwell recalled, “The Asheville Mall opened in 1974, and sort of like cockroaches when you turn on the light, the big downtown stores ran off to the mall.”

In response to downtown’s dissolution, a group of local movers and shakers formed the Committee of 25, later expanded into a Committee of 36, bent on razing a broad swath of the central business district and replacing it with an enclosed shopping mall. Reading from contemporary news stories, Caldwell explained that the City Council had embraced the idea in 1980, initially behind closed doors. When the city’s plans became public, assurances were given that no public money would be required because of promised outside investment. The following year, however, the city decided to seek voter approval of $40 million worth of general obligation bonds.

In response, Caldwell and others formed “Taxpayers Against Bonds,” and the battle was on. A town meeting was suggested, and three representatives from each side met in a public forum moderated by WLOS-TV. According to Caldwell (who admits to some bias), the result was a full-scale rout of the mall boosters — and corroborating evidence came in the form of a resounding defeat of the bond referendum.

If the mall plans had been carried out, all of the buildings between Broadway and Rankin — from the former Beanstreets site at College Street to Heiwa Shokudo near the Interstate 240 overpass, as well as the block between College and Walnut on Haywood — would have been leveled. Council even went so far as to declare the area “blighted” to pave the way for forced buyouts and demolition.

During the post-lecture discussion, local attorney Betty Lawrence, who worked with the mall opponents, offered her explanation of that success: “This grassroots rose up saying, ‘We want to save Asheville!'”

And a quarter-century later, as Caldwell told the crowd, “My money says we have one of the most successful downtowns in the country.”

— Cecil Bothwell

No ifs, ands or butts

They’re nestled in sidewalk cracks, tucked among the browns and greens of urban foliage, and choking the gutters in a great cellulose-acetate flotilla. Cigarette butts are everywhere, and if you’re like many people, you probably don’t even notice them.

But for downtown businesses, this detritus of addiction is all too visible. Now, however, the shopkeeper’s daily battle with butts may be getting a boost. Local “clean and green” group Quality Forward (in partnership with the city of Asheville and Keep America Beautiful) recently wrapped up a six-month pilot program testing the effects of placing 10 cigarette-litter receptacles on a two-block stretch of North Lexington Avenue downtown.

“We picked Lexington Avenue because we thought the business community on that street would be receptive to our message,” explains Quality Forward spokesperson Lesley Huntley. Many businesses were particularly interested in the environmental ramifications of cigarette litter, which has a variety of toxic effects on wildlife at each stage of decay.

Although it’s hard to prove new receptacles’ precise impact, Huntley says the informal study suggests the program may have reduced cigarette litter in the area by up to 62 percent. And with another five receptacles slated to be added to the street in the coming months, she has high hopes for the future.

“People really don’t want to see cigarette butts misplaced,” Huntley notes. “If people have a place to put them, they will use them.”

— Steve Shanafelt

Twice first

In its annual, statewide competitions, the North Carolina Press Association honors blue-ribbon efforts by Tar Heel publications. Mountain Xpress entered for the first time this year — and promptly garnered two first-place finishes.

Each of the award-winning entries was uniquely Asheville in its own way. Jodi Ford was tasked with designing the cover page for an April 2005 investigation of a secretive, late-night Army training exercise that played out in and around downtown in August 2004. Finding her way to the upper floors of the Jackson Building, Ford snapped a high-altitude shot of the Buncombe County Courthouse, where Delta Force commandoes had swooped in on helicopters. Then she altered the image to mimic the night-vision perspective the soldiers had during their murky operation. The result — an eerie, glowing green interpretation of Buncombe’s hall of justice — snared first place in the photo-illustration category.

Xpress‘ other winning entry was our unofficial guide to the 2005 Bele Chere festival, which was judged this year’s best special section. Published as an insert in our July 27 issue, it quickly became the most authoritative, user-friendly and flat-out most wanted key to enjoying the three-day party. Travis Medford designed it, using a composition-book motif to portray our hometown hoedown. Melanie McGee Bianchi did the editing. Alli Marshall was the lead reporter, and Steve Shanafelt and Stuart Gaines contributed.

— Jon Elliston

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