Historic Enka Clock Tower Safe from Demolition - TribPapers

Historic Enka Clock Tower Safe from Demolition

The Enka Clock tower will remain a part of the new development by Samet. Photo courtesy of Enka Village resident, Max Cooper.

– For 100 years, the Enka Clock Tower has been the focal point of the Enka community. It is all that remains of the American Enka rayon plant and the namesake for the community which is surrounded by Enka High School, Enka-Candler Library, and Enka Lake—Biltmore Lake. The iconic Enka Clock tower is a major component of the Enka Heritage Trail, a planned and funded Buncombe County Greenway along Hominy Creek.

The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County started a petition in November to prevent the destruction of the 92 year old Enka Clock Tower, when they heard that the Samet Corporation sought a permit to demolish the tower as part of their new development project in the area. The Samet Corp plans to build a 130,000 square foot distribution center on this property, after City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission approve their plans.  This is the same corporation which recently built the Amazon Distribution Hub in Mills River.  The Save the Enka Clock Tower group of the Preservation Society of Asheville Buncombe County worked to make those in the the community aware of the threat and encouraged the developer to reconsider the plan. Apparently, a big consideration was whether the tower was structurally sound enough to be preserved.

Eric Bradford of the Preservation Society stated “On this eve of Thanksgiving, we give thanks that Martin Lewis, Samet Corp and Fletcher Partners along with the City of Asheville are committed to preserving the Enka Clock Tower.  We’re told that the structural condition was such that the Clock Tower can be saved and Samet Corp is committed to do just that.”  Brian Hall,  Samet’s Corporation’s Director of Development, stated, “We are working with the owner’s representatives on an initiative to protect Enka Tower.  All parties involved in the development of this area recognize the historic role the monument plays in Asheville’s history, and we would like the tower to stand for generations to come.”  Samet Corporation is collaborating with the owner, designer, and subcontractors to manage the tower’s incorporation into the site design.

The Company’s History

At one time American Enka was the nation’s largest manufacturer of rayon fiber. It produced, in the 30’s, high tenacity rayon yarn for automobile tires and nylon and rayon for World War II parachutes.  Employing well over 2,000 workers, many current residents in the Western North Carolina area had/have parents and/or grandparents who were gainfully employed there.  American Enka was a major Dutch textile firm that moved into Asheville in 1928, bringing many Dutch technicians and workers from The Netherlands to supervise and train the American labor force. The company became a major employer to thousands of western North Carolinians.  American Enka has had a tremendous economic impact on this area.

In 1970, Akzona Inc. was created by combining American Enka with the International Salt Company and Organon Inc., with other companies being added later. In 1978 the construction of the Akzona Building began in downtown Asheville.  It was acquired by the Biltmore Company in 1986 and renamed. For some time it was known as the Biltmore Building, but now, the Merrill Lynch building. The prominent I.M. Pei & Partners firm of New York, which was also responsible for the glass Pyramids at the Louvre in Paris, the John Hancock Tower in Boston, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, designed the seven-story modernist building. The coated-glass windows, for which the architect I.M. Pei is known, currently reflects the Vance Monument Obelisk until its soon removal, the Jackson Building and the Asheville Art Museum.   

BASF Corporation, the world’s largest chemical maker, acquired American Enka in 1985. By 2008, the American Enka manufacturing facilities had been moved to other areas of the world. The Enka Clock Tower has historic significance to many still living here in this area, having provided employment for thousands for many years. This iconic symbol is a reminder of the factory that stood on the property where they were employed. Thanks to recent City Council and Samet executive decisions, the beloved Enka Clock Tower will remain standing for many years to come.

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