Walton Street Park earns Local Historic Landmark designation

ASHEVILLE — City Council on October 25 unanimously approved Local Historic Landmark designation for Walton Street Park and Pool, a beloved community venue that is vastly underfunded and undermaintained.

The property, which becomes the county’s 50th historic landmark, according to Alex Cole, the city’s historic preservation planner, is a 4.37-acre parcel in the Southside neighborhood that is home to the Southside-era swimming pool. segregation of 1947, now closed, but once the only municipal park and swimming area for the black population of Asheville.

Council member Sandra Kilgore said she was one of countless Southside residents who grew up swimming at the Walton Street pool, and when she returned to Asheville in 2012 she was reminded of the controversy that surrounded the restoration of the pool – a controversy that still continues a decade later.

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A “landmark” in the black community, Kilgore said it was more than a swimming pool and was a hub for the black community, the likes of which no longer exist.

“In black neighborhoods right now, we don’t have places where we go to actually network as a family that we had years ago,” Kilgore said. “That’s missing in the black community…we really need to work to bring that back if we’re actually going to be able to support the black community and grow the black community and heal the black community.”

The Asheville and Buncombe County Preservation Society first applied for the site to be granted local landmark status in early 2022, and preservation consultant Josi Ward author of historical designation report for the park and the swimming pool.

The African American Heritage Commission and the Historic Resources Commission reviewed and recommended approval of the historic designation.

Jessie Landl was among several speakers at the Oct. 25 meeting and represented the preservation society, which initiated the appointment and paid the consultant.

She also noted that the park was more than a city resource and served as a city-wide hub for the region’s black population.

“In the history of Asheville, the park is literally one of a kind,” she said.

Adding to the park’s significance, she said, is the historic loss of black landmarks, neighborhoods and businesses in Asheville, both during urban renewal and since.

“Our city needs to start proactively protecting the remaining African American landmarks,” Landl said.

Significant awareness-raising efforts have been carried out by the city, including a public inquiry, which revealed that 82% of respondents supported the historical designation of the basin. The survey had 208 participants and 1,599 responses.

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According to a city ​​staff reportthe park was built in 1938-39 with funds from the Works Progress Administration and opened to the public in June 1939. The Walton Street swimming pool and pool house opened to the public in June 1948.

“The park complex retains the arrangement of features established during the period of significance (1939-1972),” the report states. “The park, pool and poolhouse retain the integrity of location, setting, association, feel, workmanship and design.”

By obtaining landmark designation, the city recognizes and honors the cultural and historical significance of the site.

Walton Street Park in Asheville on October 20, 2022.

Landmarks are also subject to design restrictions, and any proposed changes to structures or site require design review by the Historic Resources Commission or City staff if not a substantial change, to ensure that the changes are consistent with the historical character of the landmark. .

Another speaker, Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson, a longtime pool advocate, addressed the council Oct. 25, noting a complex history of pool preservation efforts, including a 900-signature petition submitted to the city. 10 years ago when “our voices were ignored”.

As the third of five generations of his family to use the park, Robinson said it’s the next step in preserving Asheville’s integral history and a lifetime of memories.

“I rise today respectfully to say that Black Asheville has lost enough,” Robinson said.

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Ward also wrote a National Register of Historic Places application for the park and pool.

The Walton Street Pool was one of three sites in the city recommended for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, according to a August 2022 Asheville African American Heritage Resource Surveyas well as the JA Wilson Building on Eagle Street and the Rabbit’s Motel on McDowell Street.

Despite calls from the community to renovate the pool, which officials said in 2017 would require at least $1.3 million to fix, the city pushed ahead with plans to build a new pool at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside about 0.2 mile from the park. . It should open next summer and is under construction.

Although the city has not committed to any restoration of the pool itself, Asheville Parks and Recreation has allocated $500,000 for the redevelopment of Walton Street Park. Survey responses indicated that residents would like to see a paved multi-use trail for walking, biking and/or skating, a redesigned basketball court with new goals, a multi-purpose court, updates to playground and more.

Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Current advice? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter @slhonosky.

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