Letter: Another layer of The Orange Peel’s story

Graphic by Lori Deaton

That was a very nice article about The Orange Peel’s history [“The Soul of Asheville: Uncovering The Orange Peel’s Black Music Roots,” March 6, Xpress]. It looks to be a great supplement to the work the OP’s staff had already done on the club’s history. And the club’s relationship to the Black history of Asheville is an important part of Asheville’s history that deserves to be known and something we’re all proud of. However, the modern rebirth of the club is, unfortunately, not accurately described in the last few paragraphs.

Public Interest Projects does not own the building and never has. As part of our efforts, financed by Julian Price’s generosity, to revitalize a downtown and a city that had suffered economically since the Depression, we created or financially supported businesses downtown (including a bookstore, a bakery, a number of restaurants, a movie theater, a furniture store, a grocery store and a number of workforce housing apartment buildings). As part of that effort, we had looked for a number of years for a downtown site in which to open a live music club.

Based on our knowledge of downtown Asheville’s nascent but growing eclectic energy and our experience of intimate live music shows at other smaller local venues, we felt a world-class music venue could be transformative for downtown. We heard that the auto parts store on Lexington behind the club was no longer using the site as an auto parts warehouse and were aware that years before it had served as The Orange Peel. We got permission from the owner, then a bank trust department, to view the interior.

We found that apparently the warehouse function had largely been on the lower level. The main floor was still set up as a music club with a wedding-cake-style stage covered with shag carpeting located at the west wall. It had the wooden floors we still have. The entire main room had a drop ceiling hanging about 9 feet above the floor. I pushed up a drop-ceiling panel and saw that above that, high above the floor, was a steel-truss-supported roof. This meant there didn’t need to be any view- or sound-distorting interior columns. We knew we had found our potential live music venue.

In order to amortize the extensive repairs and updating required by modern codes, we arranged a long-term lease of the building, which is still owned by an heir of the auto parts business. We hired and brought Jack and Lesley Groetsch from New Orleans to manage the club. Jack had run a New Orleans club for many years, and he was a big help in setting up the new venue. Many people got the impression that they owned the club. Although we always owned the club and were financially responsible for it in every way, we were happy to stay in the background, as Julian preferred.

During the first years of operations, the club did not do well financially, and after three-plus years, Jack and Lesley left. Public Interest Projects then took over management of the club with able help from a number of young, music-loving managers and with advice from Ashley Capps and AC Entertainment. We wouldn’t be writing this, but we’ve corrected the record a few times in the past, and still, almost 20 years later, this misunderstanding has persisted.

Everybody involved in The Orange Peel’s success is proud of the venue and the part it has played in helping Asheville develop a national reputation for its live music scene. We’ve also been proud to pay homage to and continue the legacy of the original Orange Peel.

— J. Patrick Whalen Jr.
Public Interest Projects, Inc.


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