Letter writer: Vanderbilt Apartments has a story to tell, too

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I enjoyed your article about Battery Park residents [“The Age of Experience: Life, Death and Drama in the Battery Park Apartments,” Aug. 3, Xpress]. Thank you for remembering the downtown senior residents.

Nevertheless, you didn’t mention anything about us over here a block away at Vanderbilt Apartments, which also has its own story and is home to many wonderful persons as well.

Here is what AIAAsheville.org [the website for the Asheville section of the American Institute of Architects] says about our home, built just one year after Battery Park:

“The once-grand Vanderbilt Hotel, built in 1924 and designed by W. L. Stoddard, was modified in the 1960s. At that time, the U. S. government in the 1960s and 1970s was to provide modest housing for the elderly in either new buildings or in renovated buildings. If an ornate building was approved for a federal grant for retrofitting for apartments, it was the policy of the U.S. government to have all of the decorative façade removed by the developer during the retrofit. The thought behind this policy was to demonstrate to the public that public funds were not being lavishly spent on public housing units. Such was the fate of the ornate façade of the George Vanderbilt Hotel.”

Most likely, because Vanderbilt Hotel was never listed on the National Register of Historic Places, our building was stripped of its beautiful facade, while Battery Park, so registered, was kept in all its beauty outside. I invite you inside, however, to take in some of the splendor and photos that show Vanderbilt’s better days.

Also, note that our apartment building, 10 floors of us with up to 14 apartments per floor, is very near the Duke Energy Progress downtown substation. More than 100 older residents may be exposed to electromagnetic waves on a daily basis. We are very close to the 100-foot distance from the substation the city has suggested for siting such substations near residences. Since we are older, does our health not count? Some advocates for no substations in their backyards even suggest that [this] downtown substation be made larger.

Many of us, who have to walk to nearby grocery stores on Merrimon, walk down that small alley between the U.S. Cellular Center and the substation regularly on our way to the stores. No signs about the danger of being that close are posted, only signs that people shouldn’t go inside the fence.

With your story on Battery Park, you missed half the story about elders in downtown Asheville. Do you know we have a resident here who is a famous recording artist? Do you know that some residents meet new friends and fall in love here?

I am probably not the only one who feels badly that we weren’t recognized in your article, especially now that we know the dangers of living so close to the Duke downtown substation.

Come see us sometime.

— Rachael Bliss

Editor’s note: Xpress reporter Thomas Calder responds: “I appreciate you reaching out to us about the article. Vanderbilt was certainly on my radar. I had the opportunity to speak with Vanderbilt resident Joe Wakefield. But time did not allow me to expand beyond Joe’s interview, which meant I had to narrow my focus to Battery Park. That piece has now been published at mountainx.com highlighting Joe’s craft (he is a woodworker who builds birdhouses in his apartment).”



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3 thoughts on “Letter writer: Vanderbilt Apartments has a story to tell, too

  1. Phil Williams

    I believe that the Asheville Biltmore Hotel at the corner of Market & Woodfin is also public housing – the “Altamont Apartments” – but seems to have retained a lot of the neat architectural details.

  2. CLW

    Loads of people live within close proximity to substations and electrical lines – and virtually everyone has them coming into their homes. Most also have wireless routers in the house, and mobile phones – also rumored to be dangerous. Plus, most use harsh cleaning products, pesticides, etc. Even those attempting to live as “green” as possible are exposed to innumerable real and imagined, large and small threats to health. I think we can be reasonably sure that no one is targeting the Vanderbilt, and while the residents there may have fewer living options than some, the decision to reside there is still a choice. Short of living off-grid somewhere, and avoiding all electrical and wireless communications, it will remain a “problem” for which there is no solution other than going dark. I think it can be said with a high degree of certainty, that the treacherous sidewalks throughout downtown pose a far greater and more immediate risk to the health of Vanderbilt residents, than does the existence of a substation.

    • Big Al

      “…treacherous sidewalks throughout downtown…”

      Is this a reference to the state of the sidewalks themselves, or the people using them?

      I continue to be staggered by the increase in the number of panhandlers as well as the rise in both the sophistication and aggressiveness of their begging tactics. It really is getting dangerous out there.

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